Day Planner: the Backlog

Some might refer to it as a "mind dump." My preference is "backlog" as it's exactly that. Simply put, it's a list of everything that needs to be done. However, don't let that idea scare you away!

Creating a Backlog

As overwhelming as it sounds, it can be helpful to write down every to do in one place. Remember, it's somewhat like taking an inventory so that you can make a plan to get things done. That plan isn't to get it all done at once.

Assess the items on the list. Often when I've created a backlog there have been a few items that I can immediately cross off the list. These are things that I thought I would want to do, or thought I should do, but have been putting off and just know it's not going to happen. Sometimes we have to be super honest with ourselves that suggested book, complex recipe, or even an invite to an event just isn't our thing, and that's okay!

Purpose of a backlog

Think of the backlog as a base list for all other to-do lists. It can be tempting to want to be productive and go through your backlog directly. Personally, I keep my backlog close by for when I'm planning my day, and my week. It's easily accessible when I need it so that I can move items over.

I treat my weekly notes section as a weekly backlog sometimes when I have a task that I'm not sure where to place, but I'd like to get it done that week. Daily, I pick around 5 - 7 tasks a day and work away at them. Those are what I focus on and I start with the higher priority items. Check one off, move to the next.

Continually adding to your to-do list is much like moving the goal post and by doing so we won't feel we got anything done - just that we have so much to do still.

The details

The details are really all about preference. Backlogs can be on paper or electronic. They can be ongoing, weekly, monthly, or even used on an as-needed basis when getting started with day planning, or getting caught up when tasks have piled.

The list doesn't need to be beautiful or categorized, but can be. It can also be specific to a project or contain everything that comes to mind. As I often mention with day planners / getting organized - you can be as creative, or not, as you want to be - as long as it helps you simplify and create less stress.


Monthly Planner: Goal Tracking

Without really taking the time to plan our goals, they simply stay a wish.

There are many methods and resources out there around goal setting. One of the most important steps in my opinion is making sure that our goals are measurable. This allows us to track our progress - and what better place to have one than our monthly planner!

For example, if I wanted to eat more vegetables, I wouldn’t simply say I want to eat more vegetables and it would happen. Chances are I’d stick with it a couple of days, but go back to my less veggie eating self three days later. Without a timeframe, there’s no motivation. It could feel like I need to eat more vegetables forever and the goal might become overwhelming - or maybe I felt like two days was enough because with no real plan it feels like a done deal.

Nope.

If I wanted to set the goal of eating more vegetables I would sit down and make a plan. 

1. Set an objective / unit of measurement

For my veggie goal, I would first look at how many vegetables I eat now. Say I only have a serving with dinner (it’s just an example, Mum) then that would be my baseline. A reasonable goal would be a bit challenging, such as adding two more servings versus just one, but not so much so that I’m going full herbivore over here. So I would set my objective to eat three servings a day. Now I know once I’ve eaten three servings of vegetables that day I can give myself a checkmark for completing my objective.

2. Pick a timeframe

For timeframe, personally, I like to set goals for a month at a time where possible. Anything shorter seems too short and I can always continue the goal for another month to make it longer. If a month seems overwhelming to you when picking a timeframe, as with the unit of measurement, pick a timeframe that poses a bit of a challenge without being too daunting.

3. Next - set a start date.

Since I set goals monthly, I typically plan to start my goal at the beginning of a new month. Ideally, I try and plan a week in advance. However, you can start your goal whenever you want. Don’t wait for New Years or even until the beginning of the month or week. Just make sure you’ve done your planning and you have what you need in order to get started.

4. Track your progress

Start tracking your progress. This could be a simple checkmark on your calendar or you could get creative and design a custom goal tracker with colourful markers. Whatever works best for you. Some like to keep a “habit tracker,” but I find there’s often too much to track on those and tracking everyday things like flossing and washing my face doesn’t interest me or seem necessary. I liked the idea, so I created a goal tracker for my monthly planner that uses a similar concept and only tracks up to three goals at a time.

5. Don’t wait until completion to assess

By tracking your progress you can see how you are doing as you go. Seeing you are doing well is often motivation to keep going while seeing otherwise will allow you to make adjustments along the way. Maybe the three servings of vegetables goal is just too darn hard because you’re learning new recipes. You could adjust to working toward two a day or perhaps pick some recipes that work better for you.

6. Reflect

Take some time to reflect on your goal. What helped you make progress? How can you improve? What did you enjoy? What would you do differently?

Also think about your next steps. Is this a one time goal? Did you accomplish your goal and you want to step things up, or maintain it? Do you want to try again?

7. Repeat

Create another set of goals. You can carry forward goals you're already working on or try something new. Just remember not to set too many at one time or else you might burn yourself out. I typically set between one and three goals at a time myself, depending on the complexity.

If you're an avid goal setter, I suggest jotting your ideas down so that they don't become a distraction from your current goals. That way you'll remember them for later as well.

Conclusion

Tracking your goals is absolutely crucial when it comes to goal setting. It will help you set objectives, know whether or not you are on track or need to adjust, and let you know if you’ve reached your goal. It can turn your goal from a wish into a solid plan.

I’ve included a goal setting sheet as well as a goal tracker in the monthly planner I designed available on Etsy. It’s perfect for those who want a monthly planner without the frills and allows plenty of room for creativity - or not.

What goals are you going to set and tackle?

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If you enjoyed reading this post, you might also like my post on budgeting inspiration for your monthly planner.

 


The To-Don't List: for Your Monthly Planner

Much like how our to-do list is a reminder of what we need to get done daily, a to-don't list is a list of things we do that we'd like to let go of. Our to-don't list allows us to reflect on what we'd like to change and reminds us to make those adjustments. It can include things that don't add value to our day and we wish to stop entirely. It could also be things that do add value that we'd like to ask for help with. 

Even if we aren't making those changes in the moment, we're jotting them down for a later time when we can visit them and make and action plan.

1. Changing or Eliminating To-Don’ts

You can do whatever works for you of course. I designed my own day planner to have a monthly to-don’t list. That way I’m jotting down items that come to mind monthly. As a result, if I haven’t already addressed them during the month, the list will be there as a reminder for next month.

For example. You might find yourself mindlessly scrolling through your social media news feed. You realize it’s the third time that day you’ve done that for ten minutes. That’s a half hour! You write it down in your to-don’t list - “stop mindlessly scrolling of social media. It’s a waste of time.” By the end of the month if you haven’t addressed this yet, make it a goal for next. For instance, check in on your newsfeed once in the evening when you have time, or even less depending on how much you want to reduce your screen time. 

Some other examples might include:

  • Avoid listening to gossip. It isn’t helpful to anyone
  • Don’t say yes to be nice. Unless it genuinely works for me, I end up giving half-arsed help
  • Stop beating around the bush. Because others can’t guess what you want - tell them

 

2. Getting Help with Your To-Don’ts

On the other hand, you might be doing tasks that are too difficult for you, you simply don’t have time for, or you’re just plain sick of. 

If it’s work/business related you could use your to-don’t list as sort of a wish list of tasks you would delegate to someone if you were able to make a hire or outsource to a freelancer. Not only will it help you to decide or make your case when it’s time, but it will also help you create a better job description, and ensure you have enough work to make it worth the employee or freelancer’s while. 

If it’s not work-related, maybe there are things you can ask your spouse or a family member to take on. Maybe there’s a task or two a friend, or neighbour can help you get off your list if it's not too much of an ask.

Also if you’re a parent, your to-don’t list might help you decide on some chores your children can help with.

Some examples here are:

  • Ask for help with email marketing. It takes me a while since I’m not an expert
  • Ask for help with meal planning. I’d like opinions before not after the meal
  • Ask for help putting away the dishes. It’s not a complex chore, but I’d like some extra time to relax after dinner

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Conclusion

While you won’t be able to let go of every task you dread, keeping a to-don’t list will certainly help you reduce some of the things that don’t add value so you can fill that time with things that do.

Why not give it a try? Mine is a simple list I keep in the back of my monthly sections of my journal. That way I know where it is. If you need some help getting started with your monthly journal, I have a printable version available on Etsy.

Thanks for reading!

 


Monthly Planner : Budgeting Inspiration

What's the cost of a cup of coffee? You might be thinking around two dollars. So every morning on your way to work or school you grab a cup of coffee because "what's two dollars?"

Five days a week for four weeks is $40, and that's if that cup of coffee is only two.

However, the point of me sharing this article is not to shame you for buying a morning (or second) cup of coffee. It's to help you think about spending with intention. Maybe you want to include $40 a month in your budget for coffee because it's important to you, maybe you had no idea you were spending that much and want to start bringing a travel mug most days.

Whatever works for you. I just know how helpful it is for me personally to include a budget in my monthly planner so I thought I would share some ideas for inspiration.

Why include a budget in your monthly planner?

I’m by no means an expert in budgeting or finance. My math skills are average at best, my accounting skills basic, and the system I put together in order to track my finances is nothing more than simple addition and subtraction. 

I think the reason it works for me is that it creates structure beyond glancing at statements and balances. It gives a bit of perspective having everything all in one place. Tracking spending can also be a bit of an eye-opener.  Below I’ll share the pages I use in my monthly planner as inspiration for you to create your own. You can also download them in my monthly planner kit on Etsy you don't feel like making your own.

1. Monthly bills checklist


These numbers are made up for the example.

I believe a bill checklist is an important tool for anyone to have. A week before the beginning of a new month I gather my bills (mostly emails) and fill mine out. If its different each month and I don’t have the amount yet I use the average amount and adjust later. I then total the amount of all bills due that month and move the number over to my budget sheet.

Note: this might seem obvious, but it’s helpful to use this list to put due dates in your day planner.

2. Monthly budget 


These numbers are made up for the example.

On my monthly budget sheet, I include how much income I expect to come in as well as how much I expect to pay toward common categories like bills, groceries, entertainment, gas etc.. Sometimes it’s helpful to think ahead here. Do you have any events to attend, gifts to buy, or maintenance to schedule this month? Write down what it is, and how much it will (or you think it will) cost. Once you have all items in there, total all the amounts and that will be your budget for the month.

3. Budget tracker

This is exactly as it sounds. My budget tracker is simple. It includes a column for date, description, and amount. I write down any purchases made that month. At the end of the month, I total the amount to see how much I’ve spent in total. I also categorize my expenses (using the categories in my budget) to see how much I spent in each area. For this layout, using highlighters is helpful for distinguishing the categories when adding the numbers. I found it blended together simply writing the word.

Conclusion

At the end of the month, I compare my budget to my actual spending. I look to see how I did overall as well as in each category. While your numbers might be way off the first month you try, I found by tracking how much I was spending each month, I was able to set a baseline. This helped me set better and more realistic budgets for myself later. Personally, I find tracking helpful in itself as you’re holding yourself accountable. Since everyone is different, it’s a matter of finding what you’re comfortable with.

If you'd like to check out my monthly planner on Etsy - here's the link to my store - Autumn Smith Creative

If you enjoyed this post you might also like my post on goal tracking using your monthly planner.

 


Daily To-do List: for Your Monthly Planner

How many times have you picked up a new notebook, day planner, or even an app with the intention of getting things better organized? You get it all set up, only to stick with it for a couple of weeks and forget about it. I think of it kind of like the first day of school. We tell ourselves, this year I’m going to be on top of my assignments, and take tidy notes. However, a month in and that plan goes out the window.

I’ve done it many times. In my late teens and early twenties I was particularly bad for buying a day planner and forgetting about it for a few weeks at a time. During my time away from my planner I was basically flying by the seat of my pants. Mistakes were made. Tasks fell between the cracks or snuck up on me last minute. I still performed well at work, and on college assignments, but inside it felt like chaos.

I simply wasn’t taking the time to plan my days properly and I was paying for it.

Things got better when I started creating my own journals. I found the layouts I created were less limiting than the day planners that were available to me. 

I also changed the way I planned my day. Certainly, I’m still not perfect, nor do I strive to be, but I think this method is what has kept me planning consistently for the past few years.

1. First things first

The method means nothing if you don’t dedicate a little bit of time each morning or evening to planning. I’m not talking a half hour. I’m talking ten to fifteen minutes tops. Take a look at your journal in the evening, reflect on our day, and plan the next. Alternatively, this is done in the (early) morning, reflecting on yesterday, and an action plan is made for the same day.

2. Create lists to pull your daily to-dos from

When you’re first starting out, this will take a bit more time, but it will be worth it. Start by creating a backlog of items you need to do. I typically give it a time-frame of one month so that it isn’t just one continuous blob of text. You might also want to create a “later” list of things to explore later that aren’t a priority now. A “to-don’t” list is another one I recommend if you’re feeling ambitious. It’s simply a list of tasks that you would like to phase out or explore doing differently. It can also become an inspiration when goal setting.

3. Find a daily/weekly spread that works for you

Some folks like the pre-made day planners that offer time blocking / appointment slots, others like plenty of blank space. Be as creative or not as you want. It’s all about preference. If creating your own from a notebook or binder, I recommend completing the layout for at least the month in advance, if not the entire year. That way you can plan ahead a little. Also, you might lose some gusto when it comes to the end of the week and you haven’t yet drawn the next (been there). Mine is simply the days of the week and a notes section with space to write underneath.

4. Start planning

Here’s some tips and tricks:

  • Put appointments under the proper date as soon as you can - write it elsewhere or text it to yourself if you don’t have your planner on you
  • Pull daily items from your mind of course, but also refer to your notes and backlog 
  • Pick five to seven priorities for the day - if you don’t have that many or want to focus on less that’s okay too! 
  • Also, pick one or two activities that will get you active, or that you find relaxing and put them in as well

5. Task management

  • Avoid simply putting the project name such as “build fence” or “PowerPoint presentation” - break it into tasks like “pick up supplies for the fence” or “write presentation copy”
  • You might also want to avoid including tasks that are too small or simple like “email Jeannie,” unless emailing Jeannie is a task that’s going to take a considerable amount of time you may want to simply jot it down in your planner as a reminder
  • Carry incomplete items to the next day. Alternatively, you can move them to the next week or cancel them completely.
  • Don't include items that you do every day. Writing things like “do the dishes” or “make dinner” daily will result in boredom

But what about weekly?

I have tried to plan my week out in advance before, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans. It honestly made for a messy bullet journal as I had to keep moving this around. It also came with undue pressure - I’m not done this yet or I can’t do that yet.

If I have an appointment or due date, I write that out in advance under the date absolutely. If I have something I want to get done that week, but I’m not sure which day yet, I add it to the notes section in my weekly spread.

Note:

Also, I thought I would add. When you finish your tasks (work, projects around the house, chores, homework etc.), don’t keep adding onto the list and burn yourself out. The idea is to remind yourself to keep a proper work-life balance. Enjoy yourself. Get active. Relax. 

Conclusion

I know I’m more productive and motivated when I have an action plan each day and I’m hoping you will too.

If you’d like a head start on your planner layouts, I have a printable version available in my Etsy Store.

Happy planning!