Treading Lightly
Treading Lightly

What I read this month: January Books

Last year’s books were all so good that I was feeling a little uninterested in reading for parts of this month. I didn’t want to be dissapointed. (There isn’t anything quite like following an amazing book with a lackluster read. It feels like such a letdown.)

I shouldn’t have worried. While not every book blew my mind this month, I have regained my insatiable hunger for books. Despite not feeling it for a while I still ended up reading eight books this month. Not too bad.

What I Read In January

January Books

No Baggage

I’m all for packing light, but I never considered taking no bags at all. No Baggage is the story of a woman’s (real) travels through eight countries over three weeks. More than the story of her trip, I appreciated her openness about her struggles with depression in the years before her trip and what it was like to finally make it out of that. Also, their extremely light travel made me think hard about what I will pack for my next trip. (Spoiler, I’m definitely still going to travel with layers and tooth paste, even if it means I need a bag. Sorry, Clara and Jeff.)

 

The 4-Hour Body

Tim Ferriss recommends just reading the 150 pages that interest you the most in his massive book. Well I hate being told how to read a book. I read the whole damn thing, index and appendix included. So there, Mr. Ferriss.

I doubt I’m going to “lose 20 pounds in 30 days without exercise,” “increase fat-loss 300 percent with a few bags of ice,” or gain “34 pounds of muscle in 28 days without steroids.” But I didn’t read it for those things anyways.

Things I didn’t like about The 4-Hour Body:

  • It often feels gimmicky and too good to be true
  • It’s based on self-experimentation and the experiences of a select few people
  • The advice is often contradictory depending on what outcome you are going for (losing weight vs gaining muscle vs just being a stronger, better athlete).
  • So many supplements and unnatural substances!

Things I liked:

  • I really appreciate Tim’s self-experimentation beliefs and his encouragement to find your own answers. It’s refreshing to have someone remind you that you know your body best and you are your best hope of figuring out what works for you.
  • His chapter on injury prevention and finding imbalances was right up my ally.
  • The book was a nice reminder to find your minimum effective dose, but things often felt too reductionist. Sure, maybe I could increase my strength or muscle mass in less than 2-hours a week, but that completely leaves out the other benefits of exercise like enjoyment and stress relief.

Bottom line? Tim was probably right about only reading the parts that you are the most interested in.

 

Future Sex

I picked up this book after hearing Emily Witt talk about writing it on the Longform podcast. I expected an open-minded, curious exploration of the ways that people seek out and experience sex. And it was sort of that, but it was also a snaking journey of her realization that she may never have the life she thought she wanted.

Future Sex left me feeling depressed and like her searching was still unresolved.

 

Come as You Are

Through sheer fate of the library request system, this month turned into a bit of an exploration of female sexuality. Overall Come As You Are was interesting, but not life changing. It was definitely geared toward women who were experiencing particular problems or frustrations. It was relatively interesting, and I certainly learned things, but I don’t think this is one I will be widely recommending to my friends.

 

Designing Your Life

Designing Your Life left me with mixed feelings. I expected to feel uplifted and ready to create the life I want. Instead they (unintentionally) destroyed my fall back plan and added a lot of items to my to do list.

Overall, I really recommend it. They lay out clear steps toward creating a life that will leave you fulfilled and happy. Just be ready to do a lot of work and not have them hand you any easy answers.

 

Carry On

So good. If you can set aside Harry Potter and try to forget about how magic works in that world, Carry On will suck you in. I never read fantasy, despite reading it as a child. I only picked this up because I can’t get enough of Rainbow Rowell, and it was the story the main character in Fangirl writes fanfiction about. Even the boy, a master fantasy/sci-fi reader, enjoyed it.

 

Homegoing

This was a rough way to start the year. I finished Homegoing on New Year’s Day, but it stuck with me long after that. No part of this book is easy. I had to take breaks and come back to it when I was ready to absorb more. People do horrible things to each other, and it’s a lot to take.

The writing is beautiful. I love the structure of the book as it follows the decedents of two half-sisters. You hear from so many people, but the story feels like one. Read it, but be kind to yourself and know when you need some space.

 

Female Chauvinist Pigs

In an effort to read some of the books that I added to my to-read list in 2012 (or before…), I picked this up before the holidays. Originally published in 2006, Female Chauvinist Pigs felt almost nostalgically dated and also a little too relevant. It’s a bit too outdated to be a really important read, but in a way it felt like a precursor to Girls and Sex.

2-Ingredient DIY Mold Cleaner Recipe

This winter I have been waging a battle against some resilient mold in the bathroom. We replaced leaking, cracked calk around the tub of our shower this summer, and since then it has been slowly growing a pink mold. I’m not about to rip out the calk and do it all over again (although it has crossed my mind!), but the mold is driving me crazy.

I scrub our entire shower weekly with castile soap, but the mold kept coming back until even the castile soap didn’t seem to do much at all. Recent heavy rains in California meant our grout also started to grow black mold in some patches along the calk. (Lesson learned, always pay extra for the mold resistant calk.)

I finally got fed up and doused the entire shower with undiluted vinegar. When I stepped in the next morning, I was pleasantly surprised! While it was a bit extreme, it gave me a nice starting point.

DIY Mold Cleaner Recipe

DIY Mold Cleaner Recipe

1 part white vinegar
2 parts water

This is a strong solution. After the first few rounds of using the cleaner I would recommend reducing the amount of vinegar for maintenance. You can just add some more water to your partially-used container.

How to Use the Mold Cleaner

I filled an empty (completely rinsed) dish soap container with 1 cup of vinegar and 2 cups of water. After a couple of shakes I squirted the liquid onto the grout, tile, calk, and our reusable shower curtain. Then I Let it sit overnight or until completely dry.

Our reusable, fabric shower curtain still has quite a bit of mold trapped in the hem at the bottom, so I have been drenching the bottom with the solution and letting it sit overnight after every shower (every two days or so). The mold is almost completely gone, and the vinegar has been slowly removing old mold stains as well.

If you are applying the liquid to your entire shower, the squirt bottle works great. For everything else, I would use a spry bottle. It’s less wasteful and makes it easier to apply to smaller areas. While the squirt bottle works well, it also floods the whole area with more of the cleaner than necessary. I will eventually upgrade to a spray bottle.

Once you have let the vinegar dry completely, you can add more of the cleaner and scrub with a microfiber cloth to remove any surface mold and soap residue.

It’s important to let the vinegar sit until it’s dry. This allows the vinegar (an acid) to slowly remove the mold on the surface and deeper into the fabric/grout/surface. I leave it overnight because it’s easy and it has been too cold and humid for it dry quickly.

Warning

Do not use this on natural stone! Vinegar is too acidic and may permanently etch the stone.

Your entire bathroom (or house/apartment if it’s small like ours) will also smell heavily of vinegar until it dries. It’s best to apply it before bed so the smell is gone by morning. You could also add some essential oils like tea tree oil or lemon essential oil to help reduce the intense salad dressing scent and help boost the mold removal process.

Digging Through the Trash

We don’t produce anywhere near the 4.3 pounds of trash the average American creates every day, but we could definitely do better.

The indoor can fills up about every two weeks or so. It doesn’t smell at all since we compost all food scraps so we tend to let it fill up completely. But every time I toss something into it or take it to the curb I am flooded with sadness and frustration.

Our trash is full of plastic bags.

At least 75 percent of our total trash volume is non-recyclable plastic food packaging like chip bags, cracker containers, and the plastic film that goes around jars or over hummus containers.

Zero-Waste Bulk Grocery Shopping – Skip the Trash

What’s in our trash (by volume):

1. Chip/snack packaging
2. Tissues
3. Plastic films and safety seals
4. Floss

I’ve known for months that we could cut our trash down by 50-75 percent just by no longer buying packaged potato and rice chips. At 4-8 bags per week, we are stuffing ourselves and the trash with junk. But the habit is much harder to kick than I anticipated.

 

How we can reduce our trash:

1. Ditch the packaged snacks.

In my dream world we buy crackers, chips, and healthy snacks from bulk bins. Our local bulk bins have nuts, granola, and cooking staples, but very few snacks. There are only 1-2 pre-made snacks that I could conceivably eat out of the bins since I am allergic to nuts and gluten-intolerant.

But that doesn’t mean we have to starve or overfill the landfill. A recent trip to Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco gave me hope that we can find more snacks and staples in bulk bins – we just may have to travel a ways for them.

Actions:

1. Buy tortilla chips from a local restaurant in bulk to replace our packaged rice/potato chips. This makes it more likely that we will skip the snack isle at the grocery store, and it helps us increase our daily calorie intake (important with our training schedules).

2. Make more snacks at home. In the past I have massively struggled to not only come up with zero-waste snack ideas, but also to then set aside the time to make them. When I did manage to make something like granola bars or homemade hummus, we quickly got tired of them and I’d have to find a new recipe and start all over.

The good news is that I now know we get tired of snacks every 2-4 weeks. We can plan a snack for each week and rotate them to keep things interesting. It’s time to dig into some of my snack ideas and make snack preparation part of our weekly meal prep/cooking dinner habits.

3. Eat more whole foods for snacks. In the past couple of months I’ve been eating salads as snacks. It’s an easy way for me to sneak in more greens and also not feel like I’m loading up on junk throughout the day. More options are veggies with hummus, leftovers from dinner, and hard-boiled eggs.

4. Schedule monthly trips to better bulk bins.

 

2. Use Handkerchiefs

This switch has been on my list for months. Due to allergies, I use at least a couple of tissues each day. After a ton of research and decision paralysis, I finally chose a pack of reusable organic cotton baby wipes to use at handkerchiefs. Well, the internet was wrong. They make terrible hankies.

My failure was disappointing, and I lost motivation. But I need to go back to my list and find a set that will actually work the way I want them to.

 

3. Compost Tissues

My boyfriend is less than enthused on the handkerchief idea. Since I make the bulk of tissue waste anyways, this isn’t going to impact our trash greatly. To make composting tissues easier, we can add a small paper bag next to (or inside of) our trash can to collect tissues.

 

4. Floss

Eventually we may switch to completely compostable floss, but for now we should start with reducing how much we use in the first place. Most of the floss we pull off the roll each night doesn’t get used. We need to use shorter strands each time. I might get super nerdy and make a guide for the smallest amount of floss for comfortable flossing so we don’t have to think about it each time or accidentally take too much.

 

Related:

Zero Waste Grocery Shopping Inspiration

The Truth About Plastic

Toxins Hiding in Your House

Zero Waste Tea

Can I Recycle This?

Tales of a Paper Towel

My Favorite Fair Trade, Organic Teas

I love tea. I drink it year round with at least a cup in the morning as I settle into my workday. Some days, especially in the winter, I have another cup after lunch.

But tea has a big impact.

Tea is a mono-crop, and it comes with the heavy pesticide and herbicide use that mono-cropping is known for. The industry has a long history of worker exploitation, poor working conditions, and unequal profits for growers and distributors that lead to unlivable, low wages. Child labor is still widespread, and the tea industry is ripe with trafficking children and women. Deforestation, lack of natural biodiversity, and soil erosion are also rising concerns with an industry that is both growing and being pressured by climate change.

My Favorite Fair Trade Organic Teas

It’s important to me to fill my cup with something I feel good about.

There isn’t a way to know the true impact of the tea I drink and if it contributed to any of the horrors above. But I still think that looking for certain certifications is a start.

I only buy organic teas because it’s better for the workers who pick and process the leaves, for me, and for the environment. I do my best to also opt for fair trade when available. Thankfully fair trade tea is getting a lot easier to find.

Coincidentally, every company featured below is a Certified B Corporation. This means that they are a for-profit company that “meets rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” It’s an easy way to know if a company is invested in social good, especially in the locations that they do business.

 

My Favorite Fair Trade, Organic Teas

Quick note: While I am trying to transition to loose leaf teas only, some of my favorites still only come in bags. (If you have a favorite loose leaf please share!) I am still searching for a good local source of loose leaf, fair trade, organic teas in bulk. (Bay Area friends, do you know a place?)

 

1. Numi Decaf Ginger Lemon

Taste: This is the one of the two green teas I like. Okay, I haven’t tried a ton of them, but once I had this one I couldn’t see why I should bother switching. The flavor is light and not at all grassy. A squeeze of lemon juice makes this tea divine and a nice wake-me-up in the morning.

To put it frankly, I trust Numi. They don’t use any ‘natural’ flavors or perfumes. They instead rely on high quality spices, herbs, and teas. I know exactly what I’m drinking when I make a cup.

Impact: Fair Trade. Organic. While I wish this tea came in loose leaf, its bags are made from unbleached hemp paper. They are biodegradable and can be composted at home. The boxes are made from recycled cardboard with soy-based inks, and they don’t use any plastic wrap. They are actively working to create home-compostable, plant based wrappers for the tea bags, according to their website. (Their current wrappers have to be sent to the landfill, a fact that many tea drinkers like me take issue with.) They purchase carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates to offset their production emissions and energy use.

 

2. Numi Golden Chai

Taste: A hot, spicy chia can turn any day around. Once you start making your own chai, you won’t go back to the boxed, concentrated shit they sell at most coffee shops.

I’ve had a lot of chais in my life, but this one is by far my favorite to make for myself. It’s robust and spicy, and it holds up great when flooded with milk (or made entirely with milk instead of water). You can add a sweetener if you like, but for the most part it really doesn’t need it. Take note! The Numi’s loose leaf by far is more flavorful than the bags.

Impact: Fair Trade. Organic. Loose leaf and bags (although the loose leaf is superior in every way).

 

3. Traditional Medicinals Green Tea Lemongrass

Taste: In case you haven’t noticed yet, I love citrus flavors, especially in tea. This tea is refreshing without letting the lemongrass overwhelm the green tea. I feel virtuous with a cup of this in hand.

Impact: Organic. Fair trade. Certified B Corp. 100 percent of their electricity comes from local renewable sources. Traditional Medicinals supports many social good projects in India including building schools, helping provide water security for 3,100 people, increasing opportunities for girls and women, and more.

 

4. Numi Breakfast Blend

Taste: This tea is as smooth as breakfast teas come. It’s not bitter or astringent, and it pairs perfectly with a splash of milk or cream.

Impact: Organic. Fair trade. Loose leaf and bags.

 

5. Numi Moroccan Mint

Taste: Minty with a subtle sweetness, this tea is great for curbing a sugar craving or giving you a little after-meal pick me up. I’ve been in love with this tea for years, and I finally bought it in bulk. It turns out a pound of this mint tea goes a looooong way at 1/2 tsp. per cup. I gave it out for Christmas gifts and still have at least a half pound leftover.

Impact: Fair trade. Organic. Loose leaf and bags.

 

6. Yogi Ginger

Taste: This strong ginger tea used to be my secret weapon when I had a sore throat or an upset stomach. These days I drink it even when I’m not sick. The spicy ginger flavor has grown on me. The lemongrass helps add depth and smooth out the ginger taste.

Impact: Organic. While it doesn’t come in loose leaf, the tea bags are compostable and the outer box can be recycled. Yogi is also a Certified B Corporation. You can learn more about their environmental and social impacts here and see their B Corp. score card here.

 

PS. This is not a sponsored post or an advertisement. I don’t receive free products or any other perks for any posts. There isn’t a single affiliate link on the blog. These truly are my favorite teas.

Simple Morning Routine for a Productive Day

How I spend my morning can make or break my entire day. It has taken me almost a year of working at home to hone in on what works for me, and what completely derails the rest of my day.

One of the most important things, I think, is how personal a morning routine is. Over the past few months I have tried different iterations of routines that people swear by: exercise first thing, clean out email, no email, reading, journaling, start working immediately after breakfast, and on and on.

Many of the things that are conventionally accepted or that highly productive people swear by were complete failures for me. Exercising in the morning, or even before 11 a.m., led to a minimum of three hours were I felt like nothing got done. Email quickly leads to me reading newsletters and then the entire internet.

Simple Morning Routine for a Productive Day

 

Trial and Epic Failure

Working from home was a shock to my system. So much of my routine was built around getting to the office and settling in. When I no longer commuted and had the routines of the people around me to feed off of, I felt unmoored.

For the first month or so I completely threw out the idea of a morning routine. I was so excited to start over and do whatever I wanted. It felt like summer vacation after a grueling nine months of college. I slept in when I felt like it. I did whatever I wanted first thing in the morning. I went completely rogue.

I thought it would be glorious, but I ended up hating it.

I am a person who thrives on routine, especially a morning routine.

The right morning routine sets me up for a good day. It helps to make me feel grounded and present. My morning sets the tone for how I will approach my work and how I feel about the rest of my day. If my morning doesn’t feel productive, I often feel like the whole day is wasted. It doesn’t matter if the afternoon was actually wildly successful.

 

Simple Morning Routine for a Productive Day

 

My Morning Routine

These are my general guidelines. Some of them are more strict than others, but in general they are meant to help me transition from a foggy, sleepy brain to a productive, creative mindset.

1. Wake Up

I wake up between 7 and 8 a.m. during the week. Most often it’s 7:30 am.

 

2. 9 Minutes to chat and check the weather

I got into a really bad habit of lying in bed for 15-20 minutes after the alarm went off. Instagram and blog posts would capture my attention, and I would laze about in a semi-conscious daze. The longer I was in bed the less motivation I would have to get up and get moving.

What I read could also completely alter the rest of my day. Some posts or stories could inspire me, or they could leave me upset and off-kilter. In the aftermath of the election I realized that reading the news from bed left me feeling unsettled. A single headline could change my mood for the rest of the day. All it took was me swearing off news for a week or two for it to really settle in.

Now I give myself the time of a snooze to talk with my boyfriend and accept the fact that I have to get out of the warm bed. Once the alarm goes off again, I need to be out of bed getting dressed (or you know, putting on the sweats I will spend the whole day in).

Important: The snooze is not for sleeping! I spend the rest of the day exhausted if I drift back off to sleep after the alarm goes off.

 

3. Breakfast

Always! I often wake up hungry in the middle of the night or early in the morning. Breakfast is essential and nonnegotiable.

 

4. Tea and 30 minutes of reading

For the past two years (at least) I have started every work day with a cup of tea and the internet. I loved to catch up on the news and my favorite blogs. But it often left me with dozens of tabs open that I felt compelled to finish before starting work. What I didn’t get to would distract me throughout the day. Minimized windows would sing their siren songs as soon as I sat down to work on an important task.

Not anymore.

At the beginning of January I realized that this reading was the biggest detractor from my day. It left me with a busy brain full of facts and random thoughts that made it impossible for me to hear myself through. I couldn’t focus afterwards.

I hated starting the morning feeling overwhelmed with information. 

Instead I have been experimenting with reading a physical book for up to 30 minutes. This gives me a chance to let my brain get used to thinking again while still leaving me relaxed and ready to work when I’m done.

I don’t know if this will stay, or if the time will change, but so far I’m really enjoying it. Fifteen to 30 minutes of reading in the morning has completely changed my mindset. I still feel like I get to relax and indulge a bit first thing in the morning without overstimulating or draining myself.

 

5. Five Minutes of Journaling

So far this bit is more conceptual… as in I haven’t really done it. But doesn’t it sound great? Usually I get started on a blog post or skip this little bit in favor of jumping in on first big work task for the day. I’m keeping it here because it’s still a goal for me.

 

6. Work Through Until Lunch

It’s so tempting to jump on the internet and start voraciously reading all of the blogs and news sites that I put off in the morning as soon as I’m done with the first thing on my to-do list or during my first Pomodoro break (you can read more about how I use this productivity technique/tracker here).

But that quickly spirals out of control and before I know it it’s time for lunch and I’ve only done 30 minutes of actual work.

It took me months to realize that the morning is my best writing/working time. I get the most done during this time when I stay disciplined and give myself room to actually do the work. And if I get stuff done and feel productive, the rest of the day feels productive and successful. The mornings that I succumb to procrastination and time wasting end in frustrated evenings and late nights to catch up.

1 Productive morning = 1 Productive day. 

Every day so far has been a fight to stay focused and not slip back into bad habits, but so far I haven’t slipped up.

 

Why Stick to a Morning Routine

I’ve known for months (if not the whole year) that my mornings were not going the way I wanted. But I finally decided I was ready for change when I realized:

When I waste the morning I struggle to regain momentum all day. I run out of time to get things done. My work bleeds into the evening. It pushes dinner later and later and causes us to go to bed late. Then I wake up tired, lay in bed too long reading, and put off work. It’s a vicious, stressful, disappointing cycle.

And I am breaking that cycle. One morning at a time.

Simple Budget and Spending Tracker

Tracking your spending and frequently checking in on your monthly expenditures is key to sticking to a budget. But it doesn’t have to be so complicated and confusing!

Simple Budget and Spending Tracker – Free Download

I’m one of those people who loves a good budget and can easily tell you how much I spent on groceries in the past month (it’s a frighteningly high number). I should be a dream user for most budget and spending apps/services. But after playing around with a few of them I realized they were either too complicated, time consuming, or rigid. I needed a budget spending tracker that could easily fit my typical expenses and the random purchases that most apps don’t know how to categorize. And I really didn’t need all of the extra junk that just got in the way.

So I made one myself.

For the past four years I’ve been tracking my expenses and planning my monthly budgets in a simple Google spreadsheet. It’s not fancy or complicated, and it works great.

It takes me maybe 20 minutes a month to track all of my purchases, adjust my budget, and transfer my savings from one account to another. I used to spend more than that trying to get my purchases properly categorized.

 

Download my free, simple budget and spending tracker

All you have to do is open the link and copy the spreadsheet to your Google Drive. You can also download the spreadsheet and save it to your computer as an Excel doc under File – Save As – Excel.

 

Simple Budget and Spending Tracking Tips

1. Consistency.

I like to update my spreadsheet with my most recent purchases twice a month. Payday is a great reminder to update and check in. Once a week or even once a month would also work. But keep in mind that the more frequently you enter your spending into the tracker the easier it is and the more likely you will keep doing it.

 

2. Be honest.

A budget is worthless if you aren’t honest with yourself about what you are really spending and what you can actually save. It’s tempting to leave off purchases that you regret or didn’t have control over (like that insurance deductible), but this won’t give you a real picture of what you are spending.

 

3. Make it your own.

Change the categories. Create a new color scheme. Make fancy graphs. Do you.

 

4 Months Post Peroneal Tendon Surgery

Life is creeping back toward normal, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Four months post peroneal tendon surgery I’m sleeping without mummifying my leg. I am just starting to get back into squatting again. I got the go-ahead to finally leave the brace behind for daily life. I’m physically moving on.

In the day to day it’s hard to see the progress I’ve made. And it’s even more difficult when my pain and mobility fluctuate wildly. Some days are great, others feel like I’ve lost weeks of progress overnight.

But I’m slowly slipping toward normal and my obsession about my progress is going with it.

I was wrong.

My expectations about my recovery were woefully incorrect. I was under the impression that I would be back to where I was before surgery after three months. At four, I’m still not there. But I’m also not worrying about it anymore.

My outlook on my recovery post peroneal tendon surgery is heavily skewed by the nine months I spent desperate to get better before anyone realized I needed more than physical therapy could offer. I feel like this has been dragging on forever, that I will never actually get better. But when I can set all of that aside, it’s clearly not true. I’m making strides, I’m inching forward and the steps backward are much less frequent.

Healing is slow. Connective tissue like tendons is particularly sluggish. I’m doing what I can, and I’m not worrying about the rest.

I’ve stopped comparing myself to Lauren Fisher, the CrossFit athlete who had her surgery within days of mine and has shot past me. We aren’t the same person, we have different goals, and frankly, it just doesn’t matter.

2017 is my year.

I’m so excited to start the new year feeling a bit more like my old self. I can throw on my sneakers and head out the door (for a walk, but still). I am working on my leg strength and aggressively building my balance. When it stops raining I can ride my bike outside instead of being cooped up in the gym. My physical therapist has given me a great deal of space to try things out on my own and decide what feels right for my body right now.

I don’t want to be too bold, but I have a feeling I’ll be running in the next month. I’ve already done some really short jogs on the Alter-G treadmill at 80 percent of my bodyweight. If things keep moving like they have been I think I’ll see pavement soon.

Yoga has brought back my sanity (and some of my flexibility). I’ve left each class with a huge sense of relief and space in my body.

My body is forever changed, and it still hasn’t quite figured out what that’s going to be like, but I’m starting to get a hang of the way things are now.

 

In Case You Missed It:

I thought I could still play basketball
One Month Later
Two
Three
Four
Five
Six
Eight
Nine
10 months and surgery
11 Months + Surgery
What I learned from a year of being injured
Three months post peroneal tendon surgery

How I use a planner to stay organized

I’ve tried a few different techniques to stay organized and productive, but by far writing things down by hand in a planner is best for me. It helps me to break down big tasks into smaller to dos over a few days. I can visually see all of the things I need to get done and feel like I have a grasp over them all. Plus, you just can’t beat the feeling of physically crossing something off your list.

How to Use a Planner

After at least 15 years of using a planner, I finally have a system that works for me. What started as a place to keep track of my homework has morphed into how I organize my entire life. I use my planner to keep track of my work tasks, daily errands and chores, habits, and personal goals.

How to Use a Planner

How to Use a Planner

 

1. Plan Big Three

Each day I set aside my main three (or fewer) tasks for the day. These are my main priorities that need to be done before I can call it a day. If I only do these three tasks, my day is a success. My last work task for the day is writing out what needs to be done the next day.

 

2. To Do List

Laundry, quick emails, and other lower priority tasks go to the side of my big three. In theory I should do my big three before diving into these quick to dos, but in general I tend to sprinkle them in between.

 

How to Use a Planner – Blogging Editorial Calendar

 

3. Monthly Editorial Calendar

For years I would hand draw a calendar for my blog in a lined notebook. It was tedious and didn’t make it easy for me to actually sit down and plan out my posts for the month. Now all of my tasks are in one place, and I can quickly flip to the front of my planner to see what I have coming up for the blog.

 

4. Deadlines and Dates

Meetings, appointments, and deadlines all have a home (and a symbol) in my weekly planner. While I also have all of these in a digital calendar, I find it really helpful to have it written out. I can easily take them into consideration when I’m planning my tasks and priorities.

 

How to Use a Planner Habit Tracking

 

5. Habit Tracking

There are so many great ways to track habits. But I find I won’t actually mark it as complete (or do it at all) if my tracker isn’t front and center. Each week I hand draw my own habit tracker right into the weekly spread. Lately I’ve been tracking habits related to my ankle physical therapy including how often I contrast bath, do scar tissue massage, eat or drink foods high in anti-inflammatories, and other ankle-related tasks.

This is a great way to track multiple habits, but there are so many ways you could do it. You could highlight the days you completed your main habit (or New Year’s resolution), put a mark on each day, have a symbol you draw on the day when you’re done, or create a little logbook style like I have.

 

6. Sketch It Out

In college I got into the habit of planning out my priorities and to dos for an entire week at a time. While this was helpful for me to plan out when I needed to get started on things and to space out my workload, it was terrible for actually getting it done. If I didn’t finish something it caused catastrophe.

After years spent working off of yesterday’s (or last week’s) to do list, I finally learned how to frame out my big projects and take it a day at a time. These days I will take a big project and break it down into individual tasks that have to get done. I then add them to do my to do list one day at a time so I have room to move them from one day to another if things aren’t chugging along perfectly.

This technique is key for my freelance writing assignments. I will have anywhere from 5-10 articles due in a month. At the start of the month I sit down and roughly sketch out when I will do each step for each article so I don’t get overwhelmed or miss a deadline.

Because this process is messy and constantly shifting, I use a piece of scratch paper so I can cross things off as I go and rewrite them as necessary. My rough frame lives in the back pocket of my planner, but you can also include it in the notes section. Or you know, use a pencil.

 

7. Move It Forward

Any main priority tasks that don’t get completed are automatically the top priority for the next day. Sometimes I just don’t realize how long a task will take me and my top three for the day are really more than I can tackle. Instead of feeling like a failure for not getting it all done, I just move it forward to the next day.

There are exceptions to this rule. I will always meet hard deadlines. Typically I have it all planned out so I’m not doing anything last-minute, but things happen.

 

8. Set Yourself Up for Success

Like most people, I could easily write out 20 things that I want to get done each day, but that’s never going to happen. I am strict with only having three top tasks for the day. No matter how many times I try it, four isn’t realistic. I just can’t get it all done.

There are days where three is way too many as well. Know what your priority will take (time, effort, energy, focus, someone else’s time, etc.) and plan accordingly. If something is going to take you six hours to complete, don’t add two more priorities to the list under it. You’ve already filled up your day with your main task.

 

How to Use a Planner – Goals and Intentions

 

9. Set Goals or Intentions

I put my goals for the week front and center so they are always on my mind. Sometimes these goals are big projects I want to tackle that week or my general focus for the week (like reflection, goal planning, inspiration gathering). I don’t always have an explicit goal for each week outside of just getting my normal tasks done. On those weeks I just leave the space blank.

 

Planner

The planner I use isn’t special. I searched for hours (I wish I was exaggerating) for a sustainable, ethical notebook that did everything I wanted, but I ultimately came up short. I’m currently using Moleskin’s 18 month, weekly planner. In the past I used a handmade, 100 percent recycled paper planner from Etsy.

 

Related:

I haven’t tried bullet journaling, but I am fully intrigued by it. I mean look at these examples! The colors and perfect penmanship make me happy. If only I knew how to draw (and could write legibly).

How to Get It All Done