Have you ever woken up and the very first thought that goes through your head is, “Today is going to suck.” Usually, it’s a Monday and it probably happens even before you open your eyes. That feeling of dread that comes over you because you have a long to-do list with so many things on it and you don’t even know where to begin. And just like that, you have set the tone for your morning and quite possibly your entire day.
I can’t even tell you how many mornings I started like that. In a frustrated mood even before the frustration got there. The problem was I fed off that frustration. I had a to-do list that rivaled the Mississippi and I wore that badge with pride. I remember bragging to the other moms that my list was soooo much longer than theirs. I really felt that the more I had to do the better mom and wife I was.
I was super mom, or so I thought, and the fact that I was running throughout my entire day meant that I was busy and that made me just awesome.
I was a list making ninja. Oh yes, I had that skill down to an artform.
My house was overrun by lists. I had them in the kitchen, in the office, on the mirror in my bathroom. They were everywhere and covered every topic you could possibly imagine. And I honestly believed that if I had those lists I was productive….right?
Well not really.
In truth, I was flying by the seat of my pants. I felt like I was getting everything done with those lists but I was only jumping from task to task picking things I WANTED to do instead of things I NEEDED to do. I thought as long as I was always busy, I was doing awesome and nothing would fall through the cracks.
Then things began to happen.
Balls began to drop.
I made an error in our checkbook to the tune of $1,000. (Not a mistake you can make up easily just by cutting back on Little Debbies.)
I lost my son’s registration papers in a pile of paper clutter causing him to miss his last Junior Olympics.
I left an important date off of the calendar and my son missed a speech he was due to give at a local meeting.
I missed an important birthday of a family member, one that should never have been forgotten.
Yes, not my proudest moments but I finally realized I needed to fix things and began looking for systems I could use that worked for me and my scatterbrained personality.
I needed a way to not only make a list but to also know what to work on and when.
If you have tried to schedule out your week before only to find things to be complicated and confusing then your mind might work a bit like mine. You need things simple with the fewest amount of steps that will get you from point A to point B quickly.
Complicated just doesn’t work. You need straightforward. No bells and absolutely no whistles.
And that is just what this is.
A handful of steps that will help you to get all of that clutter out of your head and down on to paper. Why is that so important? Because once it is written down you have officially taken the first step to getting it done. Seeing it in writing is all you need to get it completed and off the list. When you keep things in your head they tend to get covered up by what you think are more important things. Tasks that you FEEL are more important, cover up what you just don’t want to deal with at the moment. Easy to do when the list is in your head. Not so easy when the list is down in print.
The biggest problem with planning is the need to add to our lists constantly. Let’s face it, papers come into our home every day and those papers can tempt us to make adjustments to our lists. Adjustments that can throw our gameplan on its ear.
This system helps deter those adjustments by corraling those papers for the week. Rather than deal with each paper as it comes into your home, you will instead collect those papers to deal with on one day each week. This will not only save you time, but it will also ensure that each paper is given the attention it needs to ensure it is taken care of and not forgotten.
This system is what I like to call and Weekly Planning Basket and it’s going to completely change your life just like it did mine.
How to Set up and Weekly Planning Basket
Before we dive into the specific steps, let’s go over exactly what it is.
A Weekly Planning Basket is my favorite of my to-do list methods. It is a place that holds all the things that need to be on your to-do list. From those tiny scraps of paper that say, “Make an appointment for the dog to be groomed” to the registration form for your car. By corraling all the things that you need to get done into one easy to access place, you will never EVER forget to do something that is important again.
A pretty liberating concept don’t you think?
The idea here is to collect anything that needs to be dealt with in your schedule as it comes into the home. School events, doctor appointments, recipes, mail, catalogs, you name it. Whatever you feel needs to be read rather than shredded and tossed.
And one of the key components to this system working so well is in the setup. Don’t rush this. It is important to think things through a bit here so you can better create a setup that matches your family’s size, your schedule, and most importantly your personality.
Step #1. Choose a Basket
When I first started doing this system I used a clothes basket. It was big enough to hold everything I needed in a tidy way and it was simple to carry when I was ready to work on the contents inside.
Later as I worked through the paper clutter I was able to downsize to a smaller hinged basket that I still used today.
Your basket will need to hold more than just random papers, you will also need a few supplies. This way when you are ready to plan you are not running all over your home looking for rulers and tablets and pens. Keep a small plastic bag with the tools you need tucked inside.
Step #2. Choose a Location
This step is more important than you think so don’t skim over it. You want to keep your basket in an area that is easy to get to. “In sight is in mind” for this system, so I suggest keeping it out so you can easily toss papers in as you go about your day. If you are using a clothes basket then a corner in the kitchen may be best until you get the hang of things. If you are using a smaller bin then keeping it out on your counter may be best.
The key is to have it out so you can have that visual reminder.
Step #3. Choose a Planning Day
Before we get into how to organize your to-do list we need to pick a planning day. Most people do their weekly planning on Sunday and I am one of those people. There is just something about having a set day to plan each week that keeps me from feeling out of control. My planning day is set in stone and I make sure I have at least 1-2 hours set aside each Sunday. This way I always know my schedule will be set for the entire week no matter what is going on that day.
Step #4. How to use your Weekend Planning Basket
Find yourself a nice area so you can spread out. A kitchen table works best here. Begin planning by going through all the papers inside of your basket. We are only sorting at this point, so try not to take action. Just glance at each item and sort it out quickly into piles. These piles will become your set categories that will make the scheduling part of your system easier to set up.
I like to use index cards or Post-It notes to label my categories and I keep these in my Weekend Planning Basket with my other supplies.
A few ideas for action categories are:
- School Activities
- Sport Activities
- To file
- Put away – (Magazines next to your bed or receipts in your receipt bin.)
- To be tossed
- To be shredded
Once everything in your basket is either sorted, your next step is to deal with each of your to-do list items. Go to your first pile and take action on every single piece of paper. Remember, we ARE taking action at this point so try not to be tempted to just set the paper off to the side. The key to this system working so well is taking action.
D/M Pro Tip: If you have an item that is a week or longer down the road then make a not on it and return it to your basket. This way you know it will get the attention it needs when it needs it.
Go through each pile one at a time:
- Shred anything in your “To be shredded” pile.
- Toss anything in your “To be tossed” pile.
- File away any items (or put into a file bin to do at the end of the month) If no action is needed.
- Put any financial papers in your bill paying area. Use a Post It to make any notes such as “Pay by Friday” or “Call regarding”.
- Make notes on your calendar as you are going along. Place any corresponding paperwork in your calendar file and mark and * next to the calendar note.
- If a paper needs to be seen by another family member then make a note on it and deliver to them. If you have a Family Command Center put that paper there to ensure it gets seen.
- Anything you find that you yourself need to handle should be put onto your list. Next to each task put a * so you know there is a paper that goes along with that specific task. Get yourself into the habit of always doing this. On your shopping list, an * means you have a coupon. On your calendar, a * next to a party means there is an invitation to reference. This one tip alone will really help you to be more efficient with your lists.
- Put any coupons or sales flyers in your errand bin. Make a note on your calendar the day before errand day to go through this bin.
- Jot down any calls that need to be made or emails that need to be sent. Put a * next to each task if there is an accompanying paper.
- Continue doing this with each paper in every single pile. Again, if you find something in a pile that does not need to be handled this week then make a note and put it back into your Weekend Planning Basket to deal with next time.
Step #5. File in the Rest
Once you have gone through all the papers in your Weekly Planning Basket you should begin to see your schedule take shape. How far you take your schedule from here is up to you. You may want to stop here or maybe be as completely thorough as you can so you are leaving nothing to chance.
This may include cleaning tasks each day, a dinner menu, even personal items you want to be sure you take care of. A morning and/or evening routine may be something else you will want to include.
How thorough you get with your schedule is up to you.
I like to do a weekly brain dump. This is something I find not only efficient but also incredibly therapeutic. By emptying out all that clutter from my head I can free up space for more important things.
Not sure what a brain dump is? Let’s talk about that for just a second.
A brain dump is simply the act of writing down all the things in your head no matter how big or how small they may be. To do this you will need a sheet of paper and a pen.
The trick here is to just start writing. Include everything on your brain dump sheet. No matter how much you may think you will remember, still write it down. By getting everything on paper you will reassure yourself that nothing is being missed.
When finished, go through your list and highlight anything that is important. Be careful here. These highlighted items are the ones that need to go on your list for the upcoming week so you will want to be particular about how many you highlight.
Next, go back to your schedule and fill in those highlighted items.
Be sure to really see your schedule and do not overbook yourself. If you find a day with few items yet you know those items are time-consuming ones do not be tempted to cram a few more things in there. The key to this system working is to keep the overwhelm out of the picture.
You want to coast through your day not sprint through it. Be mindful of the time you have and include only those tasks that will fit comfortably.
When your schedule is done find a central home so you can refer to it often throughout the day. Remember out of sight is out of mind, so get that schedule out where you will see it all the time.
Step #6. Rinse and Repeat
The more you do your weekly planning sessions the easier it will get.
As you custom tailor your own system you will begin to see that morning frustration disappear. Now you can go through your day with most of it on autopilot. Simply wake up, do your morning routine and follow your structured list. It’s all there set up in a way that is meant to be easy and non-overwhelming.
All you need to do it follow along and start checking things off.
Set a reminder on your phone to do this each week. This will help you develop this system into a habit. One you will use to keep that schedule a tool rather than a heavyweight of frustration. Remember a weekly to-do list is meant to be helpful and not overwhelming. Instead of wearing the size of your list as a badge of honor you can instead take pride in how much you are getting done all while coasting through your day.
Now, it’s your turn.
What is your favorite to-do list methods tip? Share in the comments below, I would love to hear from you!