I spent some much-needed quality times with my sisters over the Thanksgiving holiday. We sat in companionable silence, ignoring each other in favor of our various quiet pursuits while eating mass quantities of junk food–and it was utterly glorious.
I snapped a photo of my baby sister’s afternoon pastime (forgive me, she’s in her late 30s now, but you know how it is–the youngest is always the baby. I’m the oldest, if you didn’t know!) She was earnestly carving out time in her planner for this, that, or the other thing, and while she was doing so, I snapped a photo and shared it to Instagram. It garnered such an interesting response! Some folks were much like me, in that we can’t be bothered with planners, but still find the concept and execution fascinating. Some people thought it was quite a work of art! And others were keenly interested in learning more, for they too, yearn to make sense of their schedules and set things to order.
She and I decided that it might be fun for her to put together a little guest blog for the New Year, when everyone is trying to pin down their plans and get organized for 2018. See below for her journey from a sad, struggling soul who felt like life was something that happened to her, to a woman with purpose …and plans! She discusses regaining a feeling of control and a sense of empowerment through the use and implementation of her planner (and all of the little gadgets and doohickeys that make planners so much fun! Or so I hear. Still not a convert tbh.) And additionally, we have a bit of a Q&A, wherein I encourage her to spill the beans on all of the incidentals and details and accompanying planner fripperies.
The late May sun was just starting to set in the west; another day in the deserts of Southern California was drawing to a close, exhausted by its own unending heat. The pinkish-gold glow of the sky made the brownish lumps of the San Bernardino Mountains (piles of god-shit, as I sometimes sourly observed) against that sky curdle and hulk in surly, resentful, passive existence.
At that moment, though, I could scarcely register the brilliant sunset or the hulking mountains; my eyes kept blurring with tears.
I was driving my colleague, Dustin, home from a work party. He kept glancing over at me in vague dismay–this snivelling, exhausted, melancholic woman in the driver’s seat was a hollow echo of the brash, boisterous colleague with whom he had become familiar. He knew I was experiencing a bout of depression, but he didn’t know the causes–such as my own failure to execute basic acts of self-care (LIKE TAKING MY ANTIDEPRESSANTS), the fact that, despite my knowledge of my husband’s repeated infidelities, I had just committed with him to a 30-year-mortgage on a house in a place that I hated more with every passing minute. I would grow old in that house, with that man, and life–if I could call this existence “life”– was simply happening to me, with neither my consent nor my dissent, nor any effort on my part to steer things. I was good and trapped–so I thought.
Like any man who has no profound emotional attachment to a person, Dustin simply wanted me to stop crying. He tried to cheer me up. “Do you have something nice to look forward to? You should make some plans. Everyone needs something to look forward to.”
I tried to pull myself together. I stopped snivelling (on the outside, at least), and carried on with my evening, but I had heard Dustin’s words, and I didn’t forget them in a hurry. Or ever.
Not long after that, I started to plan.
My immersion into “the planning community” has been very gradual. In 2012, 2013, my forays into “the planner life” consisted mainly of weekly lists and goals, broken down into categories. But I was lacking a grasp of the big picture (who am I kidding? I still am), and I knew it wasn’t enough. I flitted about from one planner to another, not ever quite finding the right fit for me (I know now that “the right fit” has a name: “Planner Peace.” Go on, roll your eyes. I’ll wait.) But in early 2014, my Middle Sister directed me to The Life-Changing Magic of Erin Condren, and by extension, “The Planning Community.” What can I say about Erin Condren Life Planners? They aren’t everyone’s cuppa, but they are mine. They aren’t hideously expensive, but they aren’t cheap, either. These customizable planners have helped me organize my life (I currently juggle three jobs and try to have an active social life), direct my intentions, energies, and projects, and generally just help me stay on top of things. I like being busy and productive, I like setting goals, I like checking things off my lists, and if you think that I am the type of person that would schedule sex in my planner, well…I’m here to tell you, if I actually ever bothered to have sex, I absolutely would.)
Since using Erin Condren, I’ve noticed more and more that life is no longer something that happens to me. More and more, day by day, I happen to life. I’m not saying that joining “the planning community” got me to divorce my husband, find a new job (or 3) , move across country, and build a whole new existence–but I AM saying that these accomplishments of mine were a hell of a lot more easily achieved through maintaining a planner and a planned life.
Recently, I traveled down to Florida for my annual Thanksgiving jollifications with my sisters and their partners. From Orlando with Middle Sister to Daytona with Eldest I traveled, and it wasn’t until I was getting settled into the captain’s bed in Eldest’s office that I realized I had left my planner behind in Orlando.
Not long after, Eldest’s partner observed, not without amusement, “Your sister’s been without her planner for half an hour, and she’s a bit of a mess.” I had to chuckle; it was true. As soon as I realized I was without my planner, I promptly began making a to-do list for the next day on a piece of scratch paper. It wasn’t my planner, but it would have to do.
“It’s the ritual, I think, that you need as much as anything,” Eldest observed. And she’s right! On Sundays I light some candles, play some music, drink some wine, and plan my week ahead. In the mornings, I settle down with some coffee and contemplate what needs to be done in the hours ahead. It’s a ritual, a routine that helps me feel like I have agency in my own life. The sense of control is fictional, of course, but the planner in my hands, the intentions, the goals are very real, indeed. The Black Dogs of my depression and my anxiety–not discussed here, but no less potent for that–are longtime companions of mine, and I’ve found some ways to manage their less-than-cherished company.
Some folks laugh at me, I think, for trying to plan and stay on top of things, but I know now: planning is my way for me to perform self-care when I am anxious. It’s my way channel my energy and to try to give my struggling, sometimes sad life some intention and purpose. I invite you to find a way to incorporate planning into your life to achieve your own kind of comfort and care.
You mention Erin Condren planners–what makes them so great?
Well–and bear in mind, everyone is different in what they like and need in a planner–for me it’s that the EC planners have a certain amount of regimenting, and a certain amount of customization. (And space for lists–every week, every month, and at the back of the planner.) Each year, the designs change in response to what people ask for, and each year, they just keep getting better!. When I first started using EC planners, they were only vertical layouts, non-time-slotted, with chunks for morning-noon-and-night, Now you can get horizontal or vertical layouts, time-chunked or non-time-chunked, and you can decide how your days and priorities and projects are broken down and planned out. Furthermore, there is plenty of space and ways for folks to get all artsy-fartsy and shit.
Plan out you typical day for me!
Okay, so, I use the Erin Condren vertical layout planner, which is divided into three sections. I use the top section for my scheduled stuff, the middle section for my to-do list, and the bottom section for self-care/adulting stuff. So, here’s my Monday:
📖 7:30 AM Labwork at Clinic
📖 8:30-5 PM Work
📖 5-6:15 Run to campus, grab dinner
📖 6:30 Movie with Joelle
📖 8:30 Go home, do chores, putter, etc.
📖 Pick up library books
📖 Renew professional membership
📖 Fold laundry
📖 15 minute clean
📖 Work on packing
📖 Text my friend Jo
📖 Take pills
📖 Hail hydrate
📖 Continue Dryuary Project
📖 Cuddle Cats
(For the record: I am in the middle of moving, so pretty much all of my energies are focused on that, and not so much with anything beyond the very basics of self-care. Long-term goal: Get better about that.)
How do you differentiate or prioritize different kinds of plans? Need to do vs. want to do?
For me, to a greater or lesser extent, everything is a NEED to do! But I tend to categorize my plans and to-do lists and action items and routines: Work, Health, Home, Social Obligations, Correspondence, To Buy, To Read, General To-Do Errands, Project Steps, and then under each category, try to list stuff in order of descending importance.
What are some of the other planners currentpopular in the “planning community?” What are some “planner trends” right now?”
📖 BuJo (Bullet Journaling) was HUGE a year ago. (I tried BuJo, but it was too time-consuming.) This year, it’s Travelers Notebooks. Both of these are more customizable than your manufactured planners.
📖 Other planners that seem to have quite a devoted following are Passion Planners, Plum Paper Planners, and Kikki K Planners
📖 PenGems, I’m told, are a thing, although I suspect that they could be more a flash in the pan.
📖 The planning world, much like the makeup world and the crafting world, is one that responds to the free market, as far as I am concerned. If there’s an interest in it, then by god, there are products to fulfill your interest!
📖 Planner Conventions
I know there’s some facebook pages (and probably LJ communities and reddit groups, etc.) dedicated to “the planner life”, what can you tell me about them and the communities built around them? How do you find them helpful?
📖 Again, it’s going to depend on what you need. Do you need inspiration for ways to plan out your ECLP (Vertical)? Do you need to be reassured that you are not the only one with 7+ planners? (You’re not.) Are you just going through some shit and need to reach out to someone? There are many, many different planner communities out there, but I would suggest for a general, and gentle, introduction, Planners with Manners would be a good starting point, and they can direct you to other, more specific groups.
📖 BohoBerry, a really fantastic lady who has a website/blog about creative goal setting and bullet journaling, has a tribe, which includes a facebook group; I’m actually really excited to look into this more. She also encourages a lot of journaling and self-reflection.
📖 Lisa Marie Landreth, of Paper and Glam, designs her own planners and stickers, and runs a bit of a planning community and book club. She might be a bit feminine and conventional for many folks’ tastes, but I find her to be very earnest and sweet, and her “glam family” seems to grow every month.
📖 “MAMBI” (Acronym for the brand name Me and My Big Ideas) produce “Happy Planners”, which I actually use as a bit of a scrapbook (there seems to be quite an intersection between the planning and papercrafting communities), and the Facebook Group Mambi The Happy Planner Divas focuses on that particular brand. And of course there’s always the We Love EC Facebook Group for the Erin Condren fans out there!
I’ve peeked through your planner and have seen all kinds of wacky decorations–what’s that all about?
STICKERS, dude. It’s all about the stickers. There are so many different stickers that will help you theme and customize your planner, day, week, month, Gallifreyan regeneration cycles, whatevs.
Do you have any planner recommendations for readers of Unquiet Things? I think you know our aesthetic. I think you referred to it once as “dead people stuff.”
Cor blimey, that’s a tough one. Because I feel guilty about type-casting folks. I mean, here I am using those cutsie-pootsie stickers from Switzerland, but then I am listening to Dropkick Murphys and contemplating the feasibility of open relationships as I plan my month. So, folks can be a bit…eclectic in their tastes? But then again, I am a liberal librarian who rejected California for Indiana and says “dude” and I am also burning a Bath and Body Works candle and drinking some Starbucks coffee as I plan, so perhaps some tastes will out and folks are hard to pin down, so hey hey y’all, let’s make some assumptions…
ANYWAY. Customizing planners is one of the big things in “the planning community”, so I would say that Etsy shops that supply stickers, covers, and charms according to the aesthetics that I am PRESUMING y’all have, would be something I would recommend.
Naked Eye Studio on Etsy unfortunately only has a few items up for sale, but some of their stuff would be PERF.
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