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We live in a world that requires constant change. We naturally resist change. It is just human. All aspects of my work relate to creating deep systemic changes. It often feels huge and overwhelming, both for the individuals I work with and the organizations that want this huge change.

Yet, personally, I have discovered that small, daily, incremental steps go a long way in creating the sustaining change that I often seek in areas that matter. I am deeply comforted that science backs this up as the way to create lasting change.

My practice in my coaching and workshops is to ask humans to begin to practice small daily habits towards the ultimate life and society that we are all building and looking forward to. I practice what I preach. I often find myself introducing my clients to some of my daily practices to help them develop their daily rituals to support their own personal transformation.

Fine example: Because of the visual impact, it is easy to talk about exercise as an example of transformationMe and exercise! Phew! This has been a huge challenge to me for many years. But my lived experience now shows that if I just take a few steps further than I did the day before, at some point, magically, miraculously, amazingly, I discover that I can do so much more than I imagined.  I now easily walk for an hour to an hour and a half a day. The other day, I walked down a big hill dreading it because I knew I had to walk back up. After a while, my walking partner said, “You just made it up that huge hill talking, and you are not out of breath!” I was totally unaware. That is the power of daily, small increases.

Transformation happens. If only all the changes I need in my life are that easy!!! Truth be told, it is easier in some areas than others, but still, transformation is reachable.

All my clients come to me because they want to create change and/or they are stuck. Ultimately, every workshop I teach is about a form of transformation.

What I do know is this: Transformation occurs when we are mindful, take actions that are consistent with who we say we want to be, and we love ourselves in the process.

It is literally that simple.

Write your life down:

A key tool that I use with clients is writing things down. I ask each of my clients and workshop participants to do the same thing. We have to codify what we know in order to discover what we do not know. Writing is a powerful way to draw things out, to discover our own selves. I am not talking about writing your life story, which is fine if that is what you want to do. Nope. Not that.

I am talking about using a daily planner. This is the first secret weapon I introduce to my clients.

My invitation to them is to use a planner on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis.

Why? Because, a planner, when used in the way I describe, helps you keep your eye on the big picture as well as the little steps to get there. Therefore, it creates transformation.

A well thought out planner system helps you:

  1. Get stuff done.
  2. Reminds you of your big goals.
  3. Reminds you of who you are.
  4. Helps you evaluate if you are living your life the way you want to.
  5. Helps you take small daily incremental steps towards what truly matters.

Of course, a planner is only effective if you actually use it.

After many years, I have come to know that my early morning daily ritual is the greatest act of self-care that I can create for myself. This ritual includes the use of a planner. This daily habit reminds me that I am much more than what I experience on a daily basis.

Needless to say, I am a planner fanatic and I have used many planners. I am a huge advocate of planners. Using a planner is habitual for me. I have used one for many years and I am so used to using a planner that I did not realize how many people do not use them or start the year out with them and then abandon them.

Planners are not just for business people or people who have too many things going on. Planners are for everybody.

A planner is not a calendar. These are two different things.

I am going to share details with you of how I use my planner so that you have a model and feel empowered to create your own system. The one thing I want you to know is that you MUST customize any planner system to you specifically. You have my permission. There is no right way or wrong way. Just do it in a way that works for you.

The other thing I want you to keep in mind is the purpose of the planner. The purpose is to keep your mind on the things that are important to you. It is not just a to-do list. An effective planner plays multiple important roles in your day.

Why Use A Planner:

For most of my life, I have started out on January 1 with a brand new shiny, pretty planner and abandoned it by February. I would berate myself for not being consistent with it and then just abandon it. But again, I try the following year.

I began to think that I was just not disciplined and maybe I am not a planner person. However, no one really laid out a system for me and I figured it out by trial and error. Finally, I had to pay attention to the fact that I kept being drawn back to using a planner over, and over and realized that meant something. So I did not give up and started researching it and learning about productivity tools and discovered true liberation by using planners.

For the last few years, however, especially as I began coaching, I found it easier to keep using planners. I use a planner to balance the “discipline” of keeping my core values in front of me and designing a way to bring myself back to them over and over again, versus keeping track of my “to-do” list because I get distracted and I am often unable to focus. I have particular problems with switching tasks. My pattern is to hyper focus on one thing and when I emerge from that, it is almost impossible to switch tasks and get into something else. And then, I just enjoy forgetting all sorts of details in my life. So, I write everything down. If I don’t write it down, it never happened! LOL.

My consistent use of a planner has helped me tremendously with all these quirks I have.

Step #1: To use a planner effectively, first become familiar with your own patterns of attention and how you focus. Figure out what you are trying to use the planner for before you can determine what type of planner to use. I need to be able to refer to this planner all day long, in multiple contexts, to stay on track. So, my planner is my anchor. It is like my Bible. Some people can do this online. I cannot. I need the tactile feel of pen and paper.

Step #2:  Determine what are big picture items in your life and what are small picture items. Big picture items are your values, your priorities and dreams you have about your particular future.

Your small picture items are your daily your obligations and activities. Make sure the vast majority of your small picture items fall under a big picture item. Carting the kids to soccer falls under the big picture item of having a quality relationship with your kids. Note which things don’t bring you joy and which things do. Note what you do that sucks up your time but does not relate to the big picture items.

Step #3: Determine how much structure you need. For me, I thrive when I have about 30% structure in my life. So, waking up at the same time, having a morning quiet time, getting in some exercise, planning my meals – these things help me tremendously to have “flow” in my day. I often need reminders about drinking water and phone calls. I have to have blocks of time where I am not being micro-managed by a to-do list. I also have discovered that it is not in my best interest to schedule lunch and dinner with people on the same day because the block between lunch and dinner becomes useless and unproductive. Track your discoveries and let your planner help you flourish in these areas.

Step #4: Select a planner that can help you keep the level of structure that supports your day (#3) and gives you access to big picture and small picture items (#2).

Another thing I have found important is to keep my old used planners on a shelf in my office in chronological order because sometimes, I have to go back to them to reflect on something I was doing this time last year or something like that.

How I Use My Planner:

Bear in mind, I work at my home office desk most days. I am not roaming about town:

I like pretty things. I keep a small pretty notebook in my handbag and when I am out, and I meet someone, I take copious notes so that I do not forget anything. When I get home, or every couple of days or so, I deconstruct this and put check marks on the things I have completed that came up while I was out. This is a temporary space. I either put items on my to-do list or follow up or put some of the information into a note on my laptop.

I am religious about my online google calendar and for specific appointments, everything must be on there. This serves as my anchor for time.

Annual planner: I like a planner that allows me to have a gratitude list, help me reflect on my values, and put down big things that are important to the shape of my life. This kind of planner also has monthly and weekly formats. I can keep this flat open on my desk on the weekly format and glance over to it as I do my work daily to keep in mind the bigger picture for the week. Whenever I have the discipline to do this, my week is phenomenal and amazing. For each week, I write down the big things that must be accomplished that week although not necessarily on any specific day. The benefit of this system is that when I want to procrastinate or decide what to work on next, I am reminded that tomorrow I am not sitting at my desk all day and I have stuff to do so I must plow through.

On Sundays, my ritual is to write this newsletter but also plan for next week by reviewing the previous week in my planner. I reflect on how much exercise I got, where did I enjoy a social life, how much work did I do, how many people did I reach out to about coaching and I also reflect on the new habits I am trying to develop. Monthly, I reflect back over my month and plan for the next month paying attention to my gaps the previous month.

Reflecting on my week helps me revisit with my priorities and tweak my plans for the following week. I am frank with myself as to what I did not accomplish and why I did not accomplish it.

I ask myself questions like: Why did that gap occur? Was it that it is not a priority, or did I focus too much on urgent things and not important things? I often discard things I thought were important that no longer serve me. From this place, I craft a new month, tweaking what did not work and congratulating myself on what did work.

My intention is to tap into what my most ideal day, week, or month will look like and begin to work towards it. It is not a benchmark. It is an aspiration, a possibility.

My continuous challenge is not equating checking things off my to do list and getting stuff done with “a good life” or as the only measure of my accomplishments. When we write things down, it is too easy to become a robot and think that as long as we do the “thing,” that is all that is important.

This is why my weekly reflection time questions how much rest I got, how much play I got and sublime moments of joy I experienced during the week.

The To-Do List: 

In addition to my planner, I have a small yellow pad that I place on top of the open planner above. I write my task list on here. I cross stuff off and each day, I tend to write a new to-do list. This list has all the little details: Phonecalls, daily tasks, and follow-ups. When ideas pop into my head I scribble them down on this list. I generally trash this list daily and make a new one every other day. If I have to go out, I take the yellow piece of paper and fold it into my phone case and refer to it daily. If something is important  – I met someone – or I am tracking phone calls, I move that information to the planner so that when I reflect weekly or monthly, I have that data there.

I find myself, all day long, toggling between my online calendar, my yellow notepad and my desk planner as I keep track of, or should I say, remind myself of, specific appointments, tasks to be completed, values and priorities that I want to make sure I honor.

Things I Love In A Planner:

  • It must be very well made – it must have the ability to endure. I love a spiral bound book, so it can lay flat.
  • I love pretty – colors, great fonts, quality paper – the beauty of it draws me in and it is important that it does not feel utilitarian.
  • Tabs are important especially if I want to quickly access the monthly part of the planner. If I have to start flipping pages and getting lost and distracted, not good.
  • I love undated formats as sometimes I am not consistent and then I do not feel bad about blank pages.
  • It has me toggling between right brain stuff and left-brain stuff.
  • I love space to keep a daily gratitude list of maybe 5 things.
  • I love space to write down my top values and big picture items.
  • I love quirky, whimsical suggestions, quotes or questions that I can return to repeatedly throughout the day.

For me, a pretty notebook with lined or blank paper does not work as a planner. I require more structure than that. I use such books for journaling. Some people work well with this especially if their thoughts show up in the form of drawings or doodles.

I find that when life gets crazy, I easily get away from using the planner regularly and then I miss it. I feel a loss of direction and that is painful and very difficult to get back on track, but once I do, my mental muscle memories flood back in and I pick it up easily.

This anchoring effect of a planner helps me start over again, and again.

Too often, we resist starting over again and again and we believe that starting over means we have somehow failed.

Ultimately, my planner is my secret weapon for starting over again and again. That, Beloveds, is the secret weapon of transformation.

Start again. As long as you are starting again, you are not failing.

My biggest admonition is this: It is an experiment and a method of discovery as to how you can help yourself be better. I used to be very harsh with myself when I fell off track as if my planner was my military drill sergeant. The more I treat my use of a planner as a relationship, the more I get out of it. The more I can use it reflectively and let it “talk to me,” tell me what worked, what did not, the more I want to use it. It is an experiment and a fun one at that.

I take the time to tell you all of this because I find that with my clients, this is a tool that is key to we create a lifestyle of transformation.

Daily use of a planner as a reflective tool, moves possibilities into clearly defined probabilities.

As restrictive and counterintuitive as a planner may sound, it is actually liberating and keeps us on track with the various possibilities of our lives.

Tell me, do you use a planner and how is it working for you? I hope this post helps. Let me know what you think and how I may continue to serve you.

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I am committed to the success of all peoples. I actively work towards the equitable thriving of all human beings regardless of race, ethnicity, physical ability, sex, gender or national status. I offer a sliding scale for single parents, active-duty military, veterans, military spouses, the long-term unemployed, refugees and the formerly incarcerated.

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