Three simple ways I manage my schedule–and my life

Forget birthdays? Double-book dates? We have a lot in common--and here's how I deal.

Yesterday I introduced this week’s topic: A sneak peek at The Happiest Mom‘s Chapter 8, Have A Plan. As I explained in the post, the chapter will help you work through your own tendencies and weak spots to come up with a simple and doable approach to managing your time, staying organized and getting things done. In that spirit, I want to give an example of a problem I have long struggled with and then a few easy habits I’ve been developing to help me overcome it.

The Problem: I am a chronic double-booker.

I don’t do it on purpose, mind you–my brain simply seems to have a block when it comes to lining up dates and events. So, for example, you could tell me your birthday is January 31. Then you could tell me that today is January 31. But I often still will not make the connection that those two January 31s are the same thing and that in fact, today is your birthday. The same thing goes for those dentists’ appointments I made during a time when the sitter would be out of town, or the school play that was on the same night I’d promised a friend to go out to the movies.

After kicking myself many times and having to make embarrassing bow-out phone calls a-plenty, I realized that usually when I double-book, one of three things (or all three things at once!) is going on:

  • I’m not paying close enough attention to what was being asked.
  • I respond to requests too quickly, not taking enough time to think them through first
  • I was trying to keep track of too many details and dates in my head

The Fixes:

1. I make sure I know what I’m committing to.
Like most moms, inside my brain there’s a constant little marching hymn of tasks I need to attend to: sign the report card, pack the snacks, don’t forget the milk… When a new piece of information is introduced, it doesn’t always “take” right away. So I make sure I get it, even if it means I ask my friends and family to repeat themselves two dozen times: “So, I know you just told me this a minute ago, but when exactly do you need to leave?” And then follow up with a text message. Just to make sure. Sorry if it drives you crazy: it’s better than being stood up, though, right?

2. I practice using the phrase “Let me get back to you.”
I used to say “yes” immediately whenever anyone would ask if I could do something. Girl’s night out? Sure! Lunch meeting? Absolutely! November 10 deadline for a feature article? Of course! Only later would I realize that the girl’s night was planned during a family wedding, the lunch meeting was on the day I’d agreed to read to my first-grader’s class, and that feature article due November 10? Umm, that would be my oldest son’s birthday. So now, I don’t commit unless I’m sure I’m free. It’s made for some awkward moments and sometimes necessitates a return phone call or email, but it’s better than later realizing that I’ve got three things scheduled during the same time (or not realizing it until I get an angry call because I accidentally blew somebody off.)

As an aside: I love getting voicemail. It’s why I rarely answer my phone when you call (sorry.) Then I can take a few minutes–or even a few days–to think about what’s being asked before I just blurt out “SURE!” Most requests do not demand a response within five minutes, and we all have the right–and the responsibility–to make sure we can really do something, and really want to do it, before we commit.

3. I simplified my calendar system.
I used to have a heavy planner with eight different places any particular calendar item could potentially get written down. But I’d always forget where I wrote them down. Heck, even getting past the zipper closure was a deterrent to using the planner; and it didn’t help that it took up my whole purse, either.

I now use a month-at-a-glance calendar (which I then duplicate on Google Calendar every few days for my husband, who refuses to deal with antiquated “analog” systems), paired with a daily paper to-do list and a large dry-erase board where I keep a master list of tasks (those things I might not get to this week but that I need to get to soon.) It’s not fancy, but it works–for me.

Because really, that’s what the chapter is all about–creating habits, techniques and systems that play on your strengths and help you overcome some of those weak spots (we’ve all got ’em.) In short, a system only works if it works for you.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting a great getaway in cooperation with AboutOne and Buttoned Up. We’ll be giving away some products that you can use to manage the details in your life in a simple and fun way. Don’t forget to check back, or subscribe via email or RSS feed if you want to make sure not to forget!

What’s one area of life management where you particularly struggle? Do you frequently forget to enter dates in your calendar? Lose school paperwork before you’ve even had a chance to look at it? We tend to repeat the same mistakes over and over, and usually there is an underlying habit or two that’s tripping us up.  I’d love to hear about your most frequent time-management snafus and your guesses as to what might be behind them.

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