When I was growing up, my mother had a habit of keeping a paper calendar on the kitchen counter right underneath where the phone hung on the wall. These paper calendars were nothing fancy. They were the spiral-bound sort with the random scenery depicting each month on top and the dates below, but she never hung them up - so you never saw the pictures except when changing the month. I don’t think she ever even bought them. They miraculously appeared from the neighborhood real estate agent, or her garden club, or the water company. Every doctor's appointment, meeting, “ladies lunch,” seed planting, and road trip was recorded in her unusual, scrawling handwriting on the small squares (she injured her hand in a freak gardening accident when I was small - don’t ask). She lived and breathed by its authority on our schedule.
She never carried this calendar with her anywhere, because she looked at it so often she never needed to. She did keep one of those smaller freebie ones from Hallmark in her purse - always blank - just to check things like whether or not the 4th of July fell on a Saturday, etc. Because, you know, that kind of stuff was critical in identifying your place in the timeline of life. Sometimes I would see her after a phone call or a church circle meeting working through that kitchen calendar with her readers perched on her nose, adding things weeks/months ahead of time to the squares, scratching others out. Always, always planning, and always aware of what was coming up and what had already happened.
Pretty much as soon as I learned to write, she asked me to put my activities wherever they belonged on the squares. Between the piano lessons and children's choir and eventually band practices the squares got really crowded, but soon I too was in the habit of routinely staring at them for guidance. Daily. I knew my parents’ schedules as well I knew my own. Sometimes I would add a weird doodle or other graffiti I had created on a random date a few months out, just to harass her. But otherwise, the calendar was sacred. My mother's pulling me into that ritual unwittingly left a mark that I don’t think I fully appreciated until recently.
We are now perplexed about how to handle our calendars if, for example, we prefer paper and much of the world revolves around digital. I routinely witness people get all apologetic when they pull out their paper planner as if they had just produced a folding road map or a slide rule. And really, those planners work great…at least until we forget them in the car, or lose them on a trip. Digital calendars have their own challenges when platforms don’t sync, like when you’re a freelancer on Google and your biggest client uses Outlook. Or when your phone won’t “talk” to your computer. We've all gotten meeting requests via email and when we click to accept we get a broken link or a blank page - leading to additional steps we didn’t want to take.
There are no perfect solutions, of course, only good ones. Would it surprise you to know that I keep both a digital and paper calendar? Perhaps no, but the reason has nothing to do with not being able to make up my mind or being incredibly anal about time management. I started using a digital calendar in October of 2008.
The digital calendar is how I run business and family life now (yeah, different areas are color-coded), and I share calendars with my husband who is on the same format. It has worked seamlessly for ten years - why mess with success? Recently, though, I did get intrigued with the idea of writing in a planner again. For posterity, I actually kept the last paper planner I ever used as sort of a relic in my file drawer (that is also now becoming somewhat obsolete). I took a look back at it recently.
I’ve always missed parts of the paper calendar ritual, so I did a little searching and found one I liked back in January (if you're curious, it's The Simple Elephant). This “analog” planner has spaces for goal setting, review of weekly, monthly, and yearly projects, a little journaling space - even a page just for a mind map. You can fill in dates as you go, so there’s no worrying about wasting space if you start after January, or skip a week. And you know, planner does not necessarily equal calendar. I use this planner in a totally different way from the digital one, only pulling it out once a week for review and reflection. It has broad categories of events as opposed to exact times, and it anchors me to the process of goal management. Summarized, the whole ritual for me looks like:
None of this takes as long as it may sound - maybe, I don't know 10-15 minutes max a day? Between the two methods, I’ve found a groove that has not only kept me on top of appointments, but making steady progress on my theme for the year. Is it foolproof? No, but it’s close enough for me to feel comfortable and productive. You might choose a totally different ritual, but it pays to have one, and it doesn’t matter what the format is (or if it changes over time). The key is to work with it, look at it, and use it to your advantage.
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Organizer Coach®, wife, mom, and serial list-maker. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?