My No-Fail System for Getting. Shit. Done.

Hi! Long time, no see! ✨

In all honesty, I haven’t been making time to write lately, and I have been feeling real crappy about it. This blog was totally off my radar, so much so that I’d be taken a little off-guard if a friend asked me when I’d have a new post up. If you’re one of those friends, thank you. Without your reminders, I seriously may not have gotten my butt back in gear.

Ok, on to the topic of the day: PLANNERS AND SCHEDULING, I.E. MY FAVORITE TOPIC

Last week, I was engaging in my favorite procrastination activity — watching Instagram stories. A creative, smart, and funny woman that I really enjoy following, Miranda Anderson, was talking about her lack of organization skills.

She said that, while she may be a good mom in a million other ways, she’ll never be a good school mom. She held up her son’s school calendar and said that she didn’t know what to do with it and that she would probably throw it away. I started giggling, in shock, I think. What does she mean, she doesn’t know what to do with it? She should add all of those dates to her calendar right now, and make sure her husband does the same. How can she not know that?

She then held up a nametag that her son had received in a back-to-school packet. He was supposed to wear it on the first day of school. She just knew it would get lost, and she didn’t know where to put it to prevent that from happening. Again, my reaction was just like WHAT?! What do you mean?! PUT IT IN A SAFE PLACE, WOMAN!

Now, we all have our strengths, and organization just isn’t one of hers. I tell this story with no judgement, at all. Miranda has infectious positivity and a great eye for design. BUT, her Insta story made me realize something that seems silly and obvious now: not everyone enjoys planning like I do and that may mean that they don’t even know how to do it.

I am bad at a million different things: I have terrible handwriting, my balance is a joke, and I can’t carry a tune (that never stops me from singing along, don’t worry).

But I am excellent at schedules and organizing and to-do lists and planning every hour of the day for maximum productivity. And you know I’ve never heard a tip that I don’t want to share with all of you!

If you’re like Miranda and can’t figure out which way is up when it comes to organizing your calendar or your family’s schedule, you’re in the right place.

My No-Fail System for Getting. Shit. Done.

Note: This is my tried-and-true system. I have tried many, many, many alternatives, and this combo is what works for me. Don’t feel like you have to follow this exactly. Take what works for you and leave the rest! There’s no right way to do this.

  1. Use a digital calendar and a paper planner in tandem

This may seem like overkill, but it is so worth it, I promise. Documenting schedules in two places is my secret.

I have a Google Calendar where I log and schedule everything. Upcoming events, planned workouts, upcoming blog topics, date night, must-see T.V. (hi, Bachelor Nation!), what I’m making for dinner, and more. If Grant is invited to an event, I literally invite him via email on the calendar event. He also has access to my calendar, so he can easily check if I’m free next Thursday.

All that said, I am still an analog planner at heart. I love, love, love my Simplified Planner. I have the Academic Daily in Gold Pineapple. The format is of this planner is awesome: an hour-by-hour schedule for the individual day is in one column, and a to-do list for that same day is in the other column.

During the day, I refer to my planner constantly. My to-do list lives there, so I’m x-ing items off, assessing how much time I have to complete the next task, and checking if I’ll have a minute or two to take an afternoon walk.

I typically check GCal in the morning and in the afternoon. First thing, I check in to make sure that I haven’t forgotten any upcoming events or tasks for the day. Towards the end of my work day, I check in again. I assess how much I got done from today’s to-do list, think about which tasks need to be “rescheduled” for tomorrow, and adjust tomorrow’s schedule as necessary.

And, yes, I literally block off chunks of time to write or clean or exercise. If it’s not on the calendar, it is all too easy to “run out of time” for these tasks. Saying that I will work out at some point on Saturday does not work for me. Scheduling a run at 10 a.m. Sunday morning means that, come hell or high water, I’ll be lacing up my sneakers that morning. I have a personal rule that, once I have scheduled one of these blocks of time, it can be rescheduled, but not deleted. That workout has to happen at some point, even if I’m nursing a sore knee.

  1. Download on Sundays

    On Sunday, I open my GCal and my paper planner at the same time. I transfer any relevant info from the GCal to the planner for the upcoming week: coffee with Maggie at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, movies with Grant Thursday after work, early meeting at the office Wednesday morning, etc. Once I have these events in my paper planner, I can start distributing my to-do list throughout the week. If I know I have a freelance deadline Friday, I’m sure to block out several 90-minute chunks of time. I may not use all of the time that I schedule, but a surplus is better than a scramble to meet deadline. (And usually means that I have time for coffee and a book.)

Grant and I do a short pilates workout together every weekday (thank you, The Balanced Life YouTube channel!), so I write “pilates” on my to-do list Monday-Friday. I do this for two reasons: 1. It feels good to cross it off, and 2. It’s a great reminder that’s staring at me all day long if we oversleep and don’t get the workout done in the morning.

If you’re ever in doubt about whether or not you should write something down, WRITE IT DOWN. A superfluous reminder or to-do item is WAY better than forgetting something or someone or some paperwork.

  1. Make it messy

    This is the best tip I’ve got: make your planner a MESS. Do not care if it looks pretty or if anyone else can read your chicken scratch. Being hesitant to mark up your planner because you want to keep it neat is holding you back. It’s not uncommon for me to plan out a busy Saturday hour-by-hour, and then have to cross it all out and start over when plans change. I really do not care if it’s messy, but I know that some women tape scrap paper over their “mistakes” so they’ve got a clean slate to work with.

    Daily messy planner page

I usually keep another small notebook with me, where I can take further notes, or brainstorm various ways that I’ll get all my shit done. It’s a real mess, and it’s full of meal plans, tentative schedules, estimates for how long tasks will take, and more. I carry this notebook so I have more space to write, not so my planner stays cute.

Wrenches will get thrown, and you will have to cross a list out and start over. It doesn’t matter. No one is looking over your shoulder or checking your work. Your planner is only valuable if you use it!

  1. Set up a reminder system

Of all the tips, this one is the most personal, and it’s totally trial-and-error based. No matter how much planning you do, no matter how organized you are — you’re going to get distracted, and you’ll need to be reminded about something. For example, I need to bring my friend a book they want, and we’re meeting for drinks Thursday evening. I would never forget about our date, but sometimes I might forget that I promised them a book. Solution: I set several reminders. First, when they ask for the book, I add a red all-day event to the day I’ll see them next in my GCal (Thursday all-day event: GRETCHEN RUBIN BOOK FOR KARAH). On that prior Sunday, I’ll see the red reminder in GCal, add it to my paper planner, AND I set an alarm on my phone for Thursday morning at around the time I’ll be packing my lunch (Thursday 7:30 a.m. alarm: GRETCHEN RUBIN BOOK FOR KARAH).

Yes, this is a lot of steps. But they take, what, two minutes total? And that way Karah gets her book!

Second reminder tip: clip any paperwork you’ll need to the planner day that you’ll need it! If your dentist appointment is Monday, clip the check for the dentist to Monday in your paper planner. This tip is new to me, and I’m not great at implementing it. But when I remember to do it, IT WORKS! Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s the fact that my bills have always been largely online, but whatever it is — paperwork is my downfall. (Sorry, dermatologist, I know I owe you that form.)

What do you think? That this is overkill? Maybe. What I know is that this level of planning allows me to relax and to get a large amount of stuff done. I work full-time, write freelance, exercise daily, see my friends every week, and make most of our meals from scratch. The only way I get this done is by planning every single day. On weekends, I’m way more flexible. I usually plan the first half of the day with exercise, chores, and errands, and then leave the rest of the day open to veg out and read. And, I know y’all with kids are laughing at me. It’ll be a whole new ballgame once I have kids with their own schedules. (But I can’t wait to get some sort of color-coding system going when I do!)

What I know now, and what works for me now, is that whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, I get my pen and my planner, and I start figuring stuff out.

As my favorite internet celebrity, Ben Franklin, said: “For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.” Do you think I should get that quote as a tattoo? I’m considering it.

How do you plan your life? Is it different now if you have kids? I know you’re just as busy as I am, so what tips do you have for me?


Hi, I’m Caitlin! Thanks for reading. If you're new, here's a little about me: I'm a writer, editor, eater, and reader living in the Kansas City area. When I'm not working my 9-to-5, I'm cooking without a recipe, exploring the city, and probably procrastinating. I start from scratch each morning: progress is way more important to me than perfection.

Connect with me on Instagram and Pinterest, and subscribe to The Fruitful Blog for tips on intentional living, meal planning, and more.

Author: Caitlin

Hi, I’m Caitlin! Thanks for reading. If you're new, here's a little about me: I'm a writer, editor, eater, and reader living in the Kansas City area. When I'm not working my 9-to-5, I'm cooking without a recipe, exploring the city, and probably procrastinating. I start from scratch each morning: progress is way more important to me than perfection. Connect with me on Instagram and Pinterest, and subscribe to The Fruitful Blog for tips on intentional living, meal planning, and more.

10 thoughts on “My No-Fail System for Getting. Shit. Done.”

  1. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve looked at the Simplified planner and then balked at the cost. I think you’ve convinced me to take the plunge though. I spend way too much time rearranging my $12.99 planner to fit my needs (i.e. basically using white out and a ruler to make it look like the Simplifed planner lol).

    I use a secondary notebook too and mine is also a huge mess, incomprehensible to anyone but me (and it sometimes gets incomprehensible to me if I’m totally honest). The biggest tip I’ve learned is to write the date down from time to time in my messy notebook to create reference points. So when it would be super helpful to be able to revisit that one list I know I made back around the time I went to that one conference in Phoenix, I can remember that conference was in April and go back and start thumbing through the pages with April dates!

    1. Simplified Planner is where. It’s. At. Worth the money, imo. She just released the ones that start in January YESTERDAY! She also has free printouts on her site (I believe) so you can try a few days of the format before you buy.
      I think it’s worth the money because it’s an investment in ME and my productivity and also because it’s a cool woman-owned business 💪🏻

  2. Great post! I’ve thought about switching to analog to have a backup copy and to help remember (I’m pretty sure I’ve read that actually writing stuff down helps you remember more than typing). Jack and I use a family email address for bills, plane tickets/trip reservations, etc, and we use the calendar from that account as family calendar. So vet appointments, concerts, etc. While we have access to each other’s calendars, we don’t have to keep them displayed all of the time, and there is built in color coding.

  3. Seriously such good tips. Luckily, I’m on my way to implementing them (even if I did double book a dinner party last night and have to miss the school Pacific. Hmmm. Work in progress.)

    Thank you for sharing!


  4. Oh girl, you’re talking my love language! I’m a planner girl through-and-through and I’m so happy to hear that you do the hybrid digital calendar + simplified planner (my favorite!) as well. Love a good planning sesh on Sundays.

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