We’ve been decluttering during July, as we started out with principles of organization, then we decluttered our homes and our home schools. This week, we’re going to take a peek at how to organize our personal lives. For me, a planning notebook, combined with my computer, is essential to keeping myself organized. I thought it might be fun to show you what’s inside each.
I began using a planning notebook in high school, when I first read Anne Ortlund’s book, The Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman. First written in the 1970s, she was one of the first authors to recommend a simple 3-ring binder with filler paper to organize a homemaker’s life. Today you can spend oodles of money on designer binders and refill paper, but I still think her inexpensive system is one of the best. I use a leather binder with a snap and pockets for loose change and my pens, but for many years I just had a simple binder.
Inside the front cover, you’ll find my favorite pen, a small stack of sticky notes, a prayer reminder from church each week, and a dog-eared copy of my daily schedule. My notebook itself is filled with inexpensive filler paper, dividers between sections, and some beautiful planner pages from Grace Works Planners (no longer in business).
The first things in my notebook are “Simplicity Planner” pages from GraceWorks, which I use to write a running to-do list for the week. Immediately behind about 10 of these is a supply of plain filler paper that I use for anything and everything. The first divider in my notebook says “Goals/God.”
- Quiet Time Journal pages from GraceWorks. There is a place to write down a verse I’m memorizing, the reference to the passage I’m reading, a key verse from the day’s passage, a place to journal about what God is teaching me, and a place to write down what I will do today to live this out in my life. While I don’t always journal, it helps me be more consistent in my Bible reading when I do.
- Next I have goals for each year. Because these goal pages go back to before I was married, these are a very special trip down memory lane for me, as well as a wonderful way to see how God is continually working in my heart. I usually make new goals at the end of each year.
- Next I have prayer requests, which I usually update at church or in our morning family devotions.
- Behind these, I have miscellaneous pages, such as the qualifications for a deacon’s and pastor’s wife from 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 2. I have a page listing the books of the Bible that I’ve studied in depth (which will hopefully someday contain all 66 books), a list of goals for my marriage, verses for when I’m discouraged (which author Juanita Purcell calls her “Why Sink When You Can Swim” list), and a section of sermon notes.
The second divider says “Kraig” (and he’s my sweet husband).
- First is a list of marriage reminders from the book, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands.
- Next is a list of notes taken from our last date night, so that I’ll remember some of the issues and prayer concerns that were special to my husband then.
- Because my husband is a pastor and a major way I can be a “suitable helper” to him is by helping him at church, the next section is full of notes and reminders about on-going church projects and prayer concerns.
The third divider says “Children,” and it also contains some homeschooling plans. (I have a more detailed homeschooling notebook in my school room. We’ll peek in there another time.)
- First is a list of “things to do” for my children, from service projects, games, a list of their toys, and things to do outside. This helps when they’re bored, I’m not, and none of us can think of anything.
- Next is a silly page of inventive spelling words and funny phrases I’ve caught my children using.
- Next is a page of possible unit study ideas for the future.
- Next is a page of each child’s love languages.
The fourth divider says, “Home,” and I use it a lot.
- First is a page of jobs I do each week to prepare for our Sabbath, followed by a page of jobs I do to prepare for church each week. Both pages are quite dog-eared, since I frequently remove them from my notebook and hang them on my refrigerator for a few hours each week.
- Next is a Budget/Expense Log. I don’t write everything here (especially our recurring bills), but I do keep track of my grocery, clothing, gas, and cash expenditures in this spot, more as accountability to myself.
- Next I have blank menu planning pages. Usually I print my menu and hang it on the refrigerator, so these are more like a back-up plan in case I’m out with my notebook and come up with a great menu idea I want to use in the future.
- I have lots of other miscellaneous pages here, such as clothing sizes for family members, gift ideas, a section for my garden, furniture measurements, and a little zipper pouch with swatches from our furniture and paint chips.
The final divider says, “Writing.”
- This section is filled with sticky notes and bits of ideas gathered at the oddest times (such during church, when driving, and in the bathroom).
- I have my goals for 2010, on which I notice have a long ways to go and it’s already July!
- I have plans for various curriculum we’re writing.
- I have ideas for future blog posts, even this one I’m writing today!
Finally, I have plenty of blank filler paper, which helps cushion and protect my notebook pages and gives me lots of room for doodling brilliant ideas.
My organizational plan really wouldn’t be complete, however, without my computer. Since being diagnosed with Addison’s disease in 2006, I’ve noticed that I’ve become even more attached to my computer than I ever was. My laptop is my almost constant companion because even when I’m too tired to go up and down stairs or to do active things outside, I can still sit quietly in a chair in my dining room (the center of my home, for sure), working as I’m able online yet still able to interact with my family members. On days when I feel fine, it can go with me to church, on visitation calls, and to coffee shops, where ideas and exchanges still often involve looking things up on the Internet or looking through my notes. Here are the things I can’t live without:
- Gmail, Google calendar, and Google documents are always open on my computer. My husband also uses these on his computer, and we’re synced together so that if he makes a note on his calendar, it automatically updates on mine as well. All my contacts (phone numbers, emails, addresses, and birthdays) are here, too, and these sync with our cell phones. If anything ever happened to Google…. (Update 2021: I have been working to break my dependence on Google.)
- Google Keep acts like a journal for me, and it’s quickly becoming indispensable. I can copy and paste snippets from websites and from all the other programs on my computer to create a reminder system that I can later search through to my heart’s content. I love it! (Update: I now use Standard Notes.)
- Nozbe is my to-do list. I highly recommend it!
- Workflowy is a website where I keep all my dreams and goals for the future, as well as book ideas and plans for future speaking events. Many lists here have turned into books, curriculum, and ministry materials.
- I do all my Bible study on my phone, so I have E-sword, Bible Gateway, Blue Letter Bible, and Parallel Plus open much of the time. My prayer list is still on paper. (Update: I use the Olive Tree Bible app to read my Bible each morning, and all my study notes and highlights are saved in my account there. It can easily transfer to a new phone, should something happen to this one.)
- Finally, I use Microsoft Excel for my budgeting, our scheduling, and much of my brainstorming. I suppose it was never intended for the way I use it, but it’s a valuable tool nonetheless.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this peek into my life. I’d love if you’d share what you do, too. Write up a blog post or Facebook note, then send me a link!
Update 2020: I share updated ideas on how to make a planner during our 2020 Homeschool Family Conference.