I have a love/hate relationship with calendars.
I love the idea of a fresh start!
I love the gorgeous artwork!
I crave organization!
Empty squares offer endless possibilities!
A new year, a new month, a new week, a new day!
As a corporate-cubicle-prairie-dogger corralled in overwhelming blandness, it wasn’t New Year without a fresh new calendar! There were years when Georgia O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams, Gustav Klimt, Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa, and Louis Comfort Tiffany graced my padded walls. I still have some of them. Each Christmas would bring my desktop (and I mean the top of a desk, literally) 365 days of New Words from Merriam Webster, Bible Verses, or Dilbert! I always gifted my husband with Farside. One year, I got my son a Spanish Word-a-Day Calendar to assist him in his foreign language study (it’s still in the original wrap…).
Yet, I struggle with commitment to my planner.
But when you get to the calendar with the species name “planner,” it becomes problematic. I start out the year with the best intention of keeping appointments, prayer lists, project timelines, Scripture memorization, billable hours, field trips, daily schedule, Boy Scout meetings, AHG meetings, piano lessons, Co-op, menus, grocery lists, Target lists, To Do Lists… And really, have you ever noticed there is never enough room on Saturday and Sunday ?
Remember Daytimers? We used them to keep track of everything, vendor business cards, receipts, addresses and phone numbers, appointments, schedules and to-do lists. Indispensable! A colleague and I used to chuckle at the early adopters of the Palm Pilots (Remember those?) around us. We would watch them pull out their device (and we’re checking our watches), turn it on and wait for the program to open (and we’re tapping our foot), simply to note an appointment, while our Daytimer books were already noted and packed up (and we’re smiling). We win! Paper is faster. Now, a decade later, moms use their phones, or scheduling software. I find it too time consuming to use irritating calendar software which does not allow one to change a simple regularly scheduled music lesson from 3 pm to 1 pm without having to delete the entire occurrence and re-enter the entire event. Paper is easier.
I left the corporate world to stay home after the birth of The Daughter, and went that entire year with an empty planner. I was still subject to the corporate “I must plan my day” mentality. But with my youngest, it was quite literally, impossible to plan. There was no schedule. I never knew when she would sleep, and subsequently, I never knew when I would sleep. Any planning I did proved fruitless and therefore frustrating, and seriously, who wants to resent their newborn? For those of you who think I should’ve invested in one of the put-your-obnoxious-baby-on-a-schedule-programs designed for infants like mine. It wasn’t going to happen. My husband’s work schedule is equally unpredictable. We can be sure that the best way for him to get called in is to plan something special. What do you think I should do about that? Cry it out? At year-end, I went through my expensive Calendar Refill and found that my page-a-day, and two-page-a-week planner inserts were largely empty; and I had no idea where the time had gone.
Where does the time go?
Years later, as a stay-at-home mom of one teenager and homeschooling mom of one pre-teen, I still tried to have a planner. Actually several if you counted the Sonlight schedule (in a notebook 3 inches thick), and the schedules for Math, Science etc. This was only for the homeschool work, and didn’t include some other sort of planner in which to schedule life in general. It was a bit overwhelming. Sometimes there were whole weeks when I didn’t get anything down in any type of planner. These were not the weeks where there was nothing happening. These were usually the weeks I was buried, or drowning, pick your metaphor. It’s not that we didn’t eat, or have clean clothes, or get to piano lessons, or co-op. I just didn’t write in a planner that I needed to do those things. Somehow they still got done, but that fact escaped me. Meanwhile, I kept looking for the perfect planner. Because if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Isn’t that right?
If you like paper, and I do, there are lots of “free printable” calendars all over the place on nifty designer-mom blogs, and thrifty frugal-mom blogs and fifty-ways-to-organize-your-day-mom blogs offering clever layouts, large variety of formats, and helpful time-saving ideas! I’ve tried a few. I’ve printed out pages and pages of colorful organization. Made Binders, with dividers, and an index. Filled out the first week. Made copies for an entire month. (Annoyed Mr. Garner by using up large quantities of ink.) There were pages for Meal Planning, pages for Household Cleaning (Interior and Exterior), Auto Maintenance/Repair, Chore Charts, Garden Planning, Christmas Planning, Christmas Card Planning, Birthday Gift Planning, Christmas Gift Planning, Reading list and Library Due Date Planning, Medical Appointment Planning, Canning Planning, Vacation Planning. I collapsed under the pressure of planning so much planning, and kept looking for the perfect planning system. Because if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Right?
After completing this ritual a few times, I began to wonder what I really wanted in a planner. How much planning do I really need to do? How much of that planning did I need to record in a book, rather than on a disposable lined sticky note? How much time did I really need to put into that planning on a daily, weekly, monthly basis? How many of those tasks were really already internalized? How many needed to be planned rather than acted upon on a need-to-do basis? Ultimately, how did I want to perceive of my life? Does my life consist of a never ending series of things to do, or is my life a series of events experienced, conversations, walks, music, books I’ve enjoyed? Looking back over a year, do I want to see that I crossed off meal planning and weed the garden, but moved clean the oven forward for an entire month; or do I want to remember a great wine pairing, that The Daughter and I found caterpillars everywhere on the fennel, that #1 Son made Rockin’ Rum Rolls for his team dinner, and that Orion sparkled like diamonds on indigo velvet?
Planners have no space or line or square for unscheduled happiness.
Then one day my life changed...in late December, on a whim, I purchased a handsome, hardback Barnes and Noble Desk Diary with stitched, golden-edged pages, featuring lovely old book covers. I told no one. Quietly, unobtrusively, my evenings ended with a cup of Samurai Chai tea, my Desk Diary and a pencil. Always, a pencil. Reflecting on the day, my writing began to focus on what we had accomplished that day. Oh, to be sure, I noted upcoming events like library book due dates, and swimming lessons, but I also noted what we did, where we went, and joyful things or beautiful things, and even…the weather!
Not a lot of writing, just a jot or two to record the days doings. And it worked.
A year later it was still working, and while I occasionally have some catching up to do, particularly on those nights when exhaustion wins out, this Jotting the Day method seems to be a better way of keeping track of where the time goes, and what really happened. Instead of feeling defined by the never-ending task list, I end my day feeling satisfied, despite any tasks that weren’t accomplished. There are smiles to record and unscheduled happiness to comment upon. A husband with a twinkle in his eye waxes triumphant upon repairing the dishwasher. A boy comes home reporting a B on a particularly challenging Physics exam, and sharing about his great day on the water. A girl twirls around the room telling about a funny episode in class at co-op, before snuggling in for the Read-Aloud. Joys jotted down, but not crossed off, because they weren’t planned, the happiness just happened!
Jotting the Day: Recording Unscheduled Happiness in the pages of a gorgeous Desk Diary. It works.
Originally published on April 2, 2012, and re-edited on November 29th, 2013. Thanks for reading!