Aging is inevitable—on this, I think we can agree. I’ve always accepted that time would march on—probably right across my face—and that there is precious little I can do to stop it. What I’ve always refused to accept, however, is that I would succumb to those habits that indisputably distinguish you as an “old person.” Drive in the car with no music on? Preposterous! Avoid eating spicy or deliciously greasy foods for fear that indulging might upset the delicate equilibrium of my digestive system? Never! Complain about it being too loud in the restaurant serving that deliciously greasy food? Over my dead body!
Fast forward about 20 years, and would ya look at me now. I drive in silence—glorious silence—every chance I get. I find myself choosing the grilled chicken sandwich over the fried, a baked potato over loaded cheddar cheese fries, and just the thought of a plate of queso-drenched nachos is enough to make my stomach go on strike. And yes, I have to confess, you can often find me sitting at a restaurant table wrinkling my nose while cupping my ear in a futile effort to hear my tablemates’ conversations. I am basically a walking billboard for middle-age banality. And as much as I hate to admit it, the evidence that I’m getting older is only mounting.
Over the past few months I have taken to enjoying a nice cup of hot herbal tea in the evening. My 20-year-old self wouldn’t have dreamed of a nightcap of anything less than 30 proof. And to make matters worse, after I’m done sipping my tea, I’ve recently found myself unable to drift away into peaceful slumber without first slathering on the hand cream. Yes, hand cream. The more heavy and lavender scented, the better.
And while all of these things are all fine and well and have probably enriched my life in some way, I dare say that nothing I have done recently has revolutionized my life in quite the same way as this little beauty. Behold—the small but mighty paper planner!
The monthly planner, once ubiquitously dubbed the DayTimer and considered the mainstay of busy moms everywhere, was unceremoniously dumped by the wayside after smartphones took over our lives. Electronic calendars, easily accessed on any smartphone, seemed to render paper planners horrifically out of date.
With electronic calendars, you can quickly and easily share events with other people. You can even share every detail of your entire life’s schedule with other people. You never have to worry about leaving your electronic planner at home, because chances are it’s easily accessible in your back pocket via your phone. All details of an event can be easily stored and accessed electronically, and easy to set-up reminders of events ensure you never forget about anything. Ever. Again. Or would they?
My electronic calendar worked pretty well for me for a while…until it didn’t. As my children grew up and activities became more numerous, my approach to time management and organization was haphazard at best. I felt like I was managing as well as I could by diligently logging all important dates and tasks in the calendar on my phone and routinely reviewing what the next day and possibly week held for me, but this approach left me feeling like I was crawling in the slow lane while life was coming at me fast. I never really felt like I was ahead of the game. Important dates and deadlines seemed to creep up on me—and only then if I was lucky. In many cases, they blew right past me before I even had time to blink.
One day at my daughter’s dance class, I asked a mom of three kiddos who was definitely on top of her game how she managed to keep up with the projects and the deadlines without missing a beat. answer was immediate as she reached into her purse and pulled out a spiral daily planner stuffed to the gills with paper and sticky tabs. “This thing,” she said as she hoisted the book into the air. “I am lost without it.”
I was impressed. “But what about your calendar on your phone?” I asked her. “Do you not keep up with it too to share with your husband?”
“Oh, I do,” she said. “I do both. But I find if I write something down, I’m way more likely to remember it later than if I just type it into my phone.”
Her statement really resonated with me. I have always found that writing things down is a critical step in my retention process. If I write something down, when I later forget the details (as I inevitably will do) I can often visualize where I wrote them down or the way they looked when I did, and this jogs my memory. I thought back to the last time I felt really organized and realized it was when my oldest child was a baby and I still kept a weekly planner. I started to wonder if I was doing myself a huge disservice by not physically writing down the important details of my life when I knew full well that doing so would help me remember them.
So shortly after the turn of the new year, I went out in search of a planner. I was tempted—so very tempted—by the expensive daily planners that included all of the bells and whistles. Erin Condren’s beautiful patterns and customizable options called my name. The thought of recording my goals and gratitudes spoke to my soul. And yet although I really like these types of inspirational planners, they seem to distract from my main purpose: to keep track of my daily to-dos.
Recognizing that this was an experimental venture at best, I decided to suppress my overwhelming urge to go crazy and spend $100 on an amazingly beautiful planner and instead opted for a very basic and compact version that would get the job done and fit easily in any bag I decided to carry. It doesn’t have pockets or clear zippered pouches. It didn’t include stickers or clips or colored pencils. But what it does have is a two-page spread for each month followed by weekly detail pages where I can outline the specific tasks for each day of the week.
I am only three months into using this thing, but I can tell you it has made all the difference in the world in terms of increasing my awareness of when events are coming up and time in general. When I would look at my month on my iPhone app, I wasn’t able to see the forest through the trees. Each day’s details were visible to me, but the big picture completely escaped me. Using my planner, every day is very clearly laid out for me, and I can also easily see what’s on the horizon in the days and weeks ahead.
Another bonus of carrying a planner is that I have one consolidated spot on which to write all my notes of the day. Before I started using the planner, I would write thoughts on random scratch pieces of paper which ended up littering every corner of my house. Sometimes I would remember to reference them, sometimes not. I had also tried recording my thoughts via Notes and Reminders in my phone, but somehow, even with their handy alarm notifications, both systems failed me. I’m convinced this failure stems from the fact that I remember things better when I write them down.
If any of this sounds familiar or resonates with you, might I suggest that you give the ol’ paper planner a whirl. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get started, and in fact, if you really want to test it on a trial basis, you can even just print blank calendar templates off the web and staple them together until you feel ready to commit.
A personal planner isn’t going to help me cope with loud music in restaurants, and it certainly isn’t going to help me bake the cookies for the next baked goods fundraiser. What it is going to help me with, however, is remembering that the bake sale is coming up, which will prompt me to make sure I have all the ingredients beforehand, which in turn will save me yet another 10:00 P.M. run to my local CVS. And for that, friends, I am eternally grateful.