The Four Commandments of Using a Planner

I was taught these four “commandments” of using a planner when I first started therapy to learn how to manage my adult ADD. At first, I found these statements to be amusing, but they did prove to be very useful. These four commandments come from a treatment manual my therapist was using, so I  won’t be able to provide the source. This post is a bit lengthy, so grab a cup of coffee! Of course if you just don’t have the patience, I understand – you can still get something out of reading the commandments themselves.  I hope you will find this as useful as I did, and still do!

I. THOU MAY HAVE ONE PLANNER AND ONE PLANNER ONLY.

If you are like me, you have over a dozen half used journals/planners/notebooks lying around, each of which served a different purpose at one point. The first several pages illustrate your excellent penmanship, but sadly it doesn’t take long before it looks more like a physician’s scribble. Then, you stop writing in your journal or using your planner for a while, could be a couple of days, could be a year. When you’re motivated again,  you decide to rip out (or carefully use a razor) pages to begin anew. Alternatively,  you may decide to visit a local Barnes and Noble and walk over to that aisle next to the coffee shop, the one you promised to avoid.  And you just can’t help but touch them, like a little child in a grocery store. You let out a deep blissful sigh after breathing in the fresh leather and suede. You flip through the crisp sheets of paper, and adore the cute leather strap that ties the book shut. You lie to yourself that this time it will be different; you will not rip out any pages, and you swear you will fill it all the way to the end. Bullshit!

Commit to one planner and one planner only!  I can not tell you how much this concept has saved my sanity. But before I could actually make that commitment, I had to first let go of my all-or-nothing thinking, aka perfectionism. Of course changing this thought pattern is not easy, but it is doable if you apply that change to just one thing at a time. For me, that one thing was how I used my planner. I had to accept that it was OK if my entries looked messy; it was OK if I “forgot” to use my planner for a week, it was OK if I had to scratch something out because there was white out handy.

There are so many options out there now, whether it is digital or paper.  Digital planners are less time consuming in that it is easier to schedule repeating events or tasks. Digital also provides a much cleaner look, because you can easily reschedule, change, or delete items. There are plenty of cell phone apps that have both a planner and journal all in one, and most of the time there is unlimited space to type in information. However, while there are many benefits to using your cell phone, you have to consider your day to day environment.  For example, maybe you are required to tuck your cell phone away while at work – out of sight, out of mind. A paper planner on the other hand can be taken out of your bag and placed right in front of you, if you are sitting at a desk most of the day. However, if you are on your feet most of the day, that might not be a viable option. Ultimately, you have to find out what works best for you. Either way, just make sure you commit to one planner only!

II. THOU MUST CARRY THY PLANNER WITH THEE AT ALL TIMES.

My cell phone easily slips into my purse, and I hated the idea of caring around a paper planner with me at ALL times. So, my first inclination was to go digital and use my phone. But I had to really think about this. I have years of practice in remembering to always carry my cell phone, and still I do forget from time to time. The thought of having to remember yet another item to keep track of, seemed daunting (especially as a person with ADD).  Yet, I knew that having a separate tangible thing, would help me to be more aware of it’s existence.

I had to give up the cute purse and start using a tote bag to put all my items in.  I could have used a larger purse, but I gave up on deep purses years ago as I found myself very flustered trying to find anything. I know some of you women will feel a little awkward carrying a tote bag when a purse would be more fashionable. And for you men, I can imagine how carrying around a planner doesn’t seem very sexy. So, do what works for you. Just remember that the above rule is to be treated like a commandment, and is therefore, non-negotiable.

III. THOU SHALT ENTER EVERY APPOINTMENT AND TASK INTO THY PLANNER.

If it is not written down, it does not exist! Might be cliche, but it’s true. This is especially true for those with ADD. We think about so many things at once, and if it doesn’t spark our interest, our brain simply pushes it further away (has to do with a lack of dopamine). We know that trying to retain information is often impossible. So write it down!!! This is why having access to your planner at ALL times is so essential. Thoughts pop in, and pop right back out.

If you forget your planner (like I have on many occasions) remember to write it down in your planner as soon as you have access to it. Personally, I found this to be extremely challenging.  It doesn’t matter if I put it in my phone, or on a napkin, or on the back of a receipt, I will forget all about it.  I know it looks ridiculously adolescent, but the only thing that worked for me, was literally writing it on myself! Sometimes it was my wrist, other times on my finger. Hence, sticky notes do not work in my case. It makes having a job difficult.

Also, you never know when you might bump into someone that you haven’t seen in a while. You can plan a date right then and there to catch up, IF you have your planner with you. Otherwise, here is what will happen: Something will remind you to call that person to schedule a date, but then you quickly get distracted by your own thoughts, and before you know it, months have passed and the opportunity has come and gone. Now imagine if you bump into someone you had an interview with several months ago, and they tell you that the person who they were going to hire bailed out, so they suggest that you call the office if you are still interested in the position. I think most people would agree that depending on the level of importance they place on any given scenario, they would remember to make that call in a timely manner. But if you are like me, mental reminders no matter how important they are, will always get jumbled up with all sorts of other distracting thoughts. And if I fail to deliberately write it down in a place that I know I will look at again, all too often I find that I missed out on an opportunity.

IV. THOU SHALT CONSULT THY PLANNER EVERY MORNING, EVERY MIDDAY, AND EVERY EVENING. 

I am not going to lie, I barely remember to take my second dose of medication in the afternoon (even with an alarm reminder!), so trying to remember to look at a planner three times a day..eh..wasn’t so sure I could really pull that off. Consistency has always been an issue for me,  and we all know that consistency is a key factor in reaching success. But I have learned to ease up on the all-or-nothing thinking which is also an important factor in reaching success.  While I am still working on cultivating this habit, I have found some helpful tips along the way that I will share with you below. Remember this – Your planner will have no impact on improving you life if you don’t consult it on a regular basis – as regular as going to the bathroom.

Morning  – This is the time to consult your planner; focus and what tasks need to be done throughout the day; reminder of any appointments you have scheduled.

Tip: Create a cue for yourself. Do you make coffee every morning for example? You are more likely to be remember to consult your planner when you pair it up with something that you are already doing every morning.  I usually do this when I am sitting down for breakfast.

Midday – Allows you to revisit your plan; focus on what still needs to be done; gives you the opportunity to revise and re-prioritize.

Tip: Use your lunch break if it is scheduled at the same time every day. If you usually use that time to socialize with your co-workers, break that time up and give yourself 10 minutes to focus on your planner before or after. If you have a job like I did in which lunch breaks didn’t really exist and you were forced to eat on the fly, schedule “poop” time and disappear in the bathroom for 10 minutes if you have to.

Evening – This is the time to reschedule unfinished items; plan out what you want to accomplish the next day; write down any additional items you need to take with you before you leave the house in the morning.

Tip: As a single parent, evenings for me are often packed with things to do, so looking at my planner has to happen right before I go to bed at night. Trust me, this is not easy, so one thing I plan on doing once I start working again is to place my planner right next to my bed when I come home. To pair it up with something else, think about creating a ritual like making a cup of tea while you sit with your planner, or complete your planner before you allow yourself to read in bed or turn the TV on.

Hope you enjoyed this article and find the commandments useful! Please comment if you have any tips or experiences you’d like to share!

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