Being prepared brings a sense of peace, we’ve learned it’s not IF but WHEN is disaster going to strike. The recent COVID-19 quarantine, and various levels of shutdown of business and life in general, likely had you assessing just how prepared you are for the next emergency.

Under those stay-at-home orders, Lisa Woodruff and her family hunkered down in southwestern Ohio just like so many other families across the country and around the world. They got a lot of to-do items completed around the house; which was an unexpected golden window of opportunity to tackle projects! 

Now that we’re slowly resuming what we’re calling the new normal of life and work, there IS a way for you to plan your calendar so that you can continue to get projects done. Creating a calendar, and going through this process of planning, will help you keep your to-do list from stressing you out. It will help you move forward in a methodical and organized way.

Let the Expert Help You

Lisa Woodruff, founder and CEO of Organize 365, a teacher, professional organizer, motivational speaker, productivity expert, podcaster, and the author of The Paper Solution (August 2020, Putnam). Yep, she’s one of those crazy-productive, ultra-organized people you love to hate. As a kid she was always organized and kept a running to-do list and delighted in marking finished tasks off the list! 

Lisa says she’d be lying if she told you that even in her organized life that the quarantine didn’t throw her off kilter for a minute. As a businesswoman she was moving her company into a much larger warehouse space and had to regroup on how to handle the book tour for her newest (and about two dozen other important things!). Having Lisa’s calendars and plans in place, even though she quickly realized those plans were changing daily, gave her a starting point to move forward. 

Lisa’s newest book, The Paper Solution (August 2020, Putnam) has simple, easy-to-follow instructions to help you get organized, clear the paper cluttering your home and life, and to create a calendar you can live by going forward. Yes, you can stay on track and organized. You can get your copy of her book from your favorite bookseller.

Choosing the Right Calendar for Your Lifestyle

You’ve got three methods when it comes to choosing your calendar: 

  1. A paper calendar that you physically write on
  2. A digital calendar that you access on your phone or other devices
  3. Both a paper and a digital calendar

Lisa uses both. (page 148) she uses a digital calendar because she can access it from her phone on the go, and share it with her work team and family. It’s easy to add in to-do items, to schedule driving time (this crucial time may be what’s hindering your productivity if you’re not planning for it), and prioritize how to spend business hours. Honing the use of her digital calendar over the past five years has helped Lisa increase productivity!

Lisa uses her paper calendar to keep track of the big picture of her schedule, life and her family’s lives. (page 149) She tends to put only big events on her monthly calendar. For example, for 2020 and 2021 Lisa mapped out all her book tour events for The Paper Solution. Seeing the book talk dates laid out against holidays, family birthdays, and company initiatives helped her see more realistically how many days she could be gone at each stretch before she needed to be home again.

If you go with a digital calendar, you’ll need to choose your calendar system or platform. And if you go with a paper calendar, decide how much of the week, month, or year you want to see at a time. At the time Lisa was writing The Paper Solution (in 2019) most people she spoke with were using a hybrid system with both digital and paper calendars. Only you will know what’s best for you.

Get Honest With Yourself About What Your Life Looks Like

This exercise may seem easy at first glance, but Lisa says she wants you to take an in-depth inventory of your life. (page 147) You must figure out where your time is going in order to find more time and to prioritize your tasks. Here is a list (and you may have other items to include) to consider as you work on getting a genuine picture of what your life looks like today:

  1. Which days do you work? How many hours of each of those days? Remember to factor in travel time!
  2. What is your time like before you leave for work? What do you hope to accomplish during that time? 
  3. What time do you get home most days? And what activities are your evenings filled with? (Think: dinner prep, errands to run, laundry, exercise, etc.)
  4. If you have kids, factor in their schedules and your part(s) in their activities at home, school, and elsewhere. Remember, factor in travel time!
  5. What regular activities do you need to consider for your schedule: church or other spiritual/religious practices, exercise, pet needs, “play” time with family and friends, reading, etc. 

This exercise may have you wondering how you manage to get done all the things you have on your list. It also may have you questioning which of all those activities are vital and which can (and may need?!) to be removed. 

(page 147) Properly using a calendar will validate your workload, increase your productivity, and allow you to give yourself grace in challenging times. So many of us use our calendars only for appointments that involve other people. We miss adding routine tasks and personal to-do items. This creates unrealistic expectations on our time and a lack of fulfillment at the end of exhausting days.

Plan Your Ideal Week & Go from There

This exercise is hard for some people, but Lisa wants you to plan an ideal week. She wants you to think about what a PERFECT WEEK would look like in your life:

  • When do you do your best work?
  • Will your perfect week include hair appointments, reading in your favorite chair, napping, having coffee with a girlfriend, taking a daily walk, etc.
  • Consider how many hours per week do you want to spend cleaning?
  • How much food prep time do you want to spend?

Once you have a perfect week planned for yourself, the next step is figuring out how you might work toward that goal. Think about different ways to make your dream come true: Can you hire a cleaning team occasionally? Send laundry out to be done? If there are things in your real life that you dread doing then have a heart-to-heart talk with yourself about which of those activities are necessities and which ones you can give yourself permission to stop doing. 

(page 157) As you learn what kinds of questions you need to consider in setting up your real week, it can be helpful to make a list of those considerations and keep it with your calendar. You’ll have a running list of the important things to keep in mind as your continue to schedule your life.

Let’s Get You Organized Together

Time is finite. You are limited in how many activities you can schedule into a week. It’s important to find a balance between obligations and desires. (Page 158) The frustrating reality is that we generally have the time, energy, and focus to complete only one to three tasks a day. So focus on the few important things and call it day. This behavior is not failure, this is living a proactive life!

Lisa’s book The Paper Solution (August 2020, Putnam) will take you through the entire process of choosing and creating the right calendar(s) for your life. There are so many more details in the book that can’t fit in this article. So when you order your copy of the book order a copy for your friend—she’s likely trying to figure out how to get it all done, too (or she’d have shared her system with you).

Organization and calendar planning is a learnable skill. Trust Lisa, she knows. She taught two children with ADHD how to be organized and each of them has grown into young adulthood with solid skills in their organizational toolbox.