Monday Dare: Time management for idiots

Every week, I challenge myself to a Monday Dare. Click on the link if you’d like to see the complete list of Monday Dares or learn more about its origin.

This week: Set realistic daily goals. Learn to manage my time.

I never invested in a homework planner during my years as an unwilling participant in the public school system. I just kept assignments and deadlines in my head or on scraps of paper I found at the bottom of my never-clean backpack. This wasn’t a perfect system, but I had to make a difficult choice at the beginning of every school year- spend two or three dollars on a planner or use that money to buy one of those retractable 4-color ballpoint pens. With just a flick of my fingernail, I could switch from red to green. I’m stunned I even gave this any thought. Young Elizabeth was obviously very stupid.

Because of these early decisions to choose flair over function, I didn’t learn how to manage my time properly. While all the other kids were flipping open their planners and saying things like, “I can meet from 4:18 to 5:23 tonight to work on the cell model,” I just casually rooted through the margins of any stray papers laying next to me and replied, “Yeah, sure, I don’t got nothin’ written down it seems,” while focusing on how many color changes I could click through before jamming the barrel opening of my pen. I don’t want to brag or anything, but my record is 63 changes in 60 seconds. I might post a video later to show you.

I don’t record daily goals or appointments on scraps anymore. I’ve upgraded to note cards. Each day gets its own note card. I just write a bunch of shit on each card without taking into account the priority of each item or the duration of time it might take to complete the task.

At the end of each day, I feel like a failure because I never get through my entire To-Do list. My solution is to transfer everything I didn’t accomplish that day to the next day’s card. Around 9:57 every evening, I can be found hunched over my desk, editing my note cards and saying FUCK THIS SHIT loudly, over and over again.

I looked into getting one of those fancy Franklin Covey planners recently and decided against it. I drove down to a Franklin Covey store and learned a few things. 1. Those bitches are really expensive. 2. They are called “planning systems,” and you can’t just go in there and buy a planner. You “get” to customize a “planning system” binder to “suit your needs.” 3. Those bitches are really expensive. 4. Those bitches are really expensive.

Things hit rock bottom last night when Cal walked into my office with a stern-but-in-a-gentle-way expression.

Cal: Mommy, we need to have a talk.

Me: About? (Please Jesus, don’t let it be about boys, sex, drugs, or why her slice of pie is missing.)

Cal: Your time management skills. You don’t have any.

Me: Do you want to talk about boys instead?

Cal: PAY ATTENTION. For the next three days, I want you to write down how you spend every minute of your day. When I get home from my field trip, we can talk about setting realistic goals and how you’re wasting your time.

Me: Are you trying to punish me for something?

Because I’m an excellent parent, I will be following my daughter’s request for the next three days and writing down exactly how I spend my time. On a note card. Perhaps she’ll reveal some gems later this week. I will buy her a 4-color pen as a “thank you.”

Best time management tips? Do you use a planner? Paper or digital?

P.S. I’m sorry I’ve been such an asshole about replying to your blog comments lately. September was a crazy month, and I, um, had some time management issues. I’ll be going through this week and responding. Thanks for taking the time to leave comments. I know it’s an extra step to do it, and I really appreciate you for it. They are a motherfucking joy to read.

P.P.S. Stacy W., Natalie Figueira, and Elizabeth Barnes, please email me at flourishinprogress at gmail dot com with your mailing address so I can send you Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home.

P.P.P.S. I’m part of the Expressing Motherhood show in Los Angeles. Four shows down, four to go! If you live in the area, come by. Please email me to let me know, because I’d love to buy you a glass of wine and bore you with my awkward conversation skills. Stay in the loop by “Liking” the Flourish in Progress Facebook page for pictures/updates/thug life thoughts on the show.
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  • the Blah Blah Blahger

    I’d be LOST without Outlook! If it’s not in my calendar, it doesn’t exist. : )

    Good luck!!!

    • Mel Mel

      I feel the same way haha!

  • Cassandra Stanke

    I use a paper planner – digital ones never work for me – I’m old -fashioned :) The ones I like the best have the big ‘ol calendar on them and I just write in whenever get an event for that day. Check out galleryleather dot com. I buy mine at Barnes and Noble and they only cost about $15. Helps me stay way organized!

  • Jennifer Clark

    Our lives went from zero to crazy at the beginning of September; school started, the girls started swim lessons 4 days a week, and the youth program all the kids go to and Miles & I volunteer at started. Plus the Boy has Boy Scouts, at which Miles also volunteers, all of a sudden he’s got side work coming out his ears AND he has a regular meeting every Thursday night. All of this led to what my good friend the psychologist calls “cognitive overload”. I started forgetting things, the worst of which was when I left my minivan idling in the church parking lot for 2 and 1/2 hours.

    I use Google calendar. Miles is scrupulous in maintaining it (mostly) and I’m getting better at checking it and using it. I can check/update it from my phone or tablet, in addition to my desktop, and have it send reminder email and alarms. I can see Miles’ appointments and he can see mine, we can share the calendar with other in our blended family, etc.

    Whatever system you use, a paper calendar or an online calendar, the key is CHECKING it. In the evenings to see what coming up the next day. A couple of time in the day to make certain you’re not missing 2 doctor’s appointments in a row like someone I know. (ahem)

    Best of luck, dearie!

    • you gotsars!

      I agree – more reasons to bring us Vodka and have dinner :)

  • Becca (aka SMC)

    Time management… long topic, here’s the Cliff’s Notes. 1. Prioritize your day into no more than 5 MUST DO ITEMS, fill those in appropriately on your calendar. 2. The other items group into A, B, C categories (ie A to do today, B to do tomorrow, C to do this week), and keep moving the items from list to list as they are completed. 3. Choose one organizational method and stick with it, if you use your phone’s calendar don’t start using a paper and pen planner, and vice versa. Also you can’t successively use both means either, unless you want missed appointments or like copying things over a lot….

  • Becca (aka SMC)

    PS You can always call me, I’m happy to help organize your day, your week, your life, etc ;)

  • Nicola

    I like the Rhodia Weekly Notebook. The week’s calendar is on the left, for appointments, and the right page is a graph-paper space that I use for making lists, taping fabric samples to, drawing aliens, grocery lists, random thoughts…it’s got little perforated corners so you can tear off and find the week easily. Plus I can use all manner of colored pens!

  • Kelly

    I’m of no help, I’m a list maker too. I even do it at work, on Monday I write down all the task that need to be complete by Friday. I mostly get them done but they move in priority and I have to squeeze in the emergency now and again just for fun. I might need a new system, my boss looks at me like I’m daft when I forget something. You know like my lunch in the microwave.

  • Misty

    Oh Crap, Liz. You’ve actually hit upon my achilles heal. Or tendon. Or some such. I don’t know, I’m just really bad at the organization and time management. Of course, I am the one to keep the family straight, but I have a calendar on my phone (updated occassionally, but also where I keep everyone’s bdays and reminders), a paper wall hanging family calendar with all the kids sports and events and shit, and then the inside of my noggin for things like bill paying and my own appts. Can you guess how often I am late to pay a bill or miss an appt? Yeah, all the fucking time. When you figure out how to organize your life, give a sistah a clue, yeah? (And fuck those Franklin Planner peeps. Those things are HELLA expensive. My hubs has one, but his company foots THAT bill).
    And, I have 2 questions . . . 1. why do you never pick ME, aka your favorite person of all time, for any of these rad contests? And 2. Why don’t you live closer to me so you can buy me wine? I like wine. It’s like, almost my favorite thing in the world. Sometimes, my ABSOLUTE favorite, if the kids are being ridiculous!

  • Rachel Smith

    I found a free online organizer called where I log EVERYTHING I could possibly do/see/go in a day. It’s great bc it sends text reminders to our cell phones in case we forget!
    I just might win Mother of the Year this time!

  • Amber Holt

    If it’s a bill and it’s not in my iCloud it doesn’t get paid, birthdays and dinner plans go in there too with alerts. If it’s anything else and it’s not in my outlook calendar at work I will totally flake on it. I’ve found that paper is super easy to toss, but I’m so not losing my iPhone/iPad or work computer. That shit is far too expensive.

  • Brittany Rae

    I love and live for my day planners. It is what I do. And I start in October transfering dates and b-days, etc. I love them. But I am learning that I compartmentalize everthing in my life so that helps me tons.

  • Erma Basila

    I was one of those nerds who kept a planner throughout middle and high school, only because they were given to us for free every first day of school so we were kind of brainwashed into keeping our time managed. I kept planners for ever year of college and even as a mom I still keep one to keep track of my work schedule, bill payments, and tv show premieres (I’m serious about the 3 shows I watch). I’m thinking of going digital, though. I want to get an Android device (that’s all I’ve decided, I don’t know brand names, I’m a techie luddite) and use a calendar app that will allow me to put in the same info but also allow me to sync it with my boyfriend’s Android phone just so he has access to my work schedule before he goes and blindly makes plans with friends when it’s supposed to be a kid-sitting night. (because he does that and it’s annoying as fuck)

    And yeah, those Franklin Covey planners are unnecessarily expensive.

  • Are You Kidding Me?

    I don’t have a planner. I rely on the post-it note method of reminding myself of stuff.

  • gtaylor619

    I have to write everything down, usually on paper until I’m near my laptop again to make a record of it in iCal. Also, Evernote is helpful since it syncs with my Mac and iPoverty device. Very helpful to “check my schedule” in order to find a way out of a meeting!

  • Alison

    It’s all in my head. The storer of information. For realz.

  • Mel Mel

    I use a little bit of both-At work I have a to-do list, one on a notepad with all of my voicemail messages and one in Outlook “tasks” that I set alarms for. About half of each list gets done every day, and sadly I feel pretty accomplished when half gets done. I’ve found that setting deadlines on the Outlook tasks helps-I get pop up reminders.

    At home….that’s another story. No time management skills whatsoever! Which is unfortunate since I’m in the process of applying to business school and should have had all of my essays laid out a month ago….

    Sorry I don’t have more helpful advice-some good stuff to think about here though. Thanks for sharing!

  • Jessica

    My husband is always telling me to get a planner. The thing is that once I write in it, I forget that I even wrote in it and never check it again. Planners don’t work for me.

    Jessica recently posted, My Interview with a 2-year old.

  • StaciW

    That sounds like a lot of work, but Cal is worth it. I always try to follow a 2-2-2 plan. I must do two things for myself, two things for my job and two things for my home each day. Today, I went running and made a banana and spinach smoothie. I washed the dishes and ironed clothes. I also edited my class master list and distributed the letters for Art club to the teachers. That’s my 2-2-2 plan carried out.
    I am not big on electronic gizmos. I tend to write out my to do lists in a spiral notepad. I get a big kick out of writing a giant check mark next to a completed item or crossing them out with a big black marker.

  • Elizabeth Barnes

    I’m really good at buying planners and writing things in them. And then forgetting to do and/or procrastinating most of the things.

  • Mel

    I used the agenda in high school because we had to buy them, and they were actually pretty useful. Then I got to college, where agenda books weren’t as easily found. I went to Target and Staples to look for some, but they were too damn expensive. So I just memorized schedules in my head or wrote it down in my phone.

    ONE YEAR after I started college, I found out that my school’s been giving away agenda books FOR FREE every fall. WTF. I got one now, and it’s a game-changer. I write every homework down, every task, every whatever. There’s nothing like crossing things off your to-do list on a FREE agenda book.

    FREE. That’s where taxpayer money is going to, and I’m okay with that.

  • Jen Reinmuth

    My time management system at work consists of a white board with multi-colored markers and a shit ton of saved emails. At home, we have no time management system. As I am so rarely home anymore that time is sacred “hanging out with the short people building blanket forts and eating Doritos” time. Dishes will get done and carpets vaccuumed eventually; I don’t want to miss those few hours I have with the shorties between work and bedtime.

  • Natalie

    I’m totally OCD when it comes to keeping a day planner. In college I even color-coded it. Like I said…OCD. However! I will tell you that it keeps me feelings completely sane and in the loop. I highly recommend one. Even if you just use it to keep track of appointments and nothing else, you’ll feel a million times more organized. I promise!

  • you gotsars!

    I do believe I may be Tuesday Daring myself to write you a lesson….

  • Meredith L.

    In school I used to write homework down on my hand. Or jeans.

    These days my “time management skills” go like this: 1. Wait until baby goes down for a nap; 2. Turn on TV for older kid; 3. Get shit done.

  • mommyonthespot

    I am always in quest to find the perfect organization system. I feel that if I care enough for everyone, then nothing can go wrong.

    My shrink has suggested I *may* be taking on too much responsibility for things that are not mine. She has a point.

    But I still organize my affairs. I use Cozi. You can color code and use it on your phone and print it out. It’s glorious!

    I print out two months at a time and keep them where I can see them. I also use the Reminders app that comes with the iPhone.

    It’s not a perfect system, but nothing ever is, right?

  • FearlessFibro

    Is it *possible* you got your baby mixed up with the baby of some together motherfuckers at the hospital, and your natural child is some crazy glue-sniffing twitchy girl that forgets where her glasses are, and which language lesson she is late for, causing severe distress to her over-achieving family?

    My mom thinks the same thing happened to her, almost 40 years ago. It sounds like there’s an epidemic.

  • unitedstatesofbecky

    Ug. Time management. I once went to see a counselor about being depressed and shit. When I told her I spend great chunks of my day laying around, watching television and berating myself for it, telling myself I should be doing other useful stuff, her suggestion was actually that I just enjoy the laying around doing nothing.
    Things that involve more than just laying around, I put on my kitchen calendar. Also, sometimes I scribble stuff on a piece of paper. That’s about it.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Hm. This actually addresses an important point. It’s the GUILT I feel about not doing shit that is harder on me than the actual not accomplishing anything part. I should just learn to embrace it. Give myself permission to veg the fuck out once in a while.

  • Kaelyn Paige Allen

    I bought a ridiculously large planner for college this year, thinking it would help me remember I have to actually turn stuff in if I don’t want to fail. I’m fantastic about writing in the damn thing, but I don’t do half the shit I write in there… For example “Study your ass off you have a mid term worth 36% of your final grade on Thursday” usually ends up as “read that whole damn text book in the 30 minutes before that class…” Then I get frustrated because a planner was supposed to make me a time managing god, but alas, I still suck at it. I also turn my homework assignments in with GIANT coffee stains on them, so maybe my problem is I just suck at college.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      I know this is kind of off topic, but knowing that you’re in college makes me feel old. But who cares…at least when I’m REALLY old, like next yr, I’ll have one more college educated person I know to answer hard questions as I lose my mind.

      I bet the prof appreciates the coffee stains. It adds a little something extra and I bet it smells nice.

  • Delfin Joaquin Paris III

    I carve reminders into my leg with a letter opener. It’s a great way to not forget stuff and to remind myself that I’m alive.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress


      I want to be you when I grow up.

      • Delfin Joaquin Paris III

        You’re right to want this.

        • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

          LMFAO. You delight me.

          • Delfin Joaquin Paris III

            We need to write a book together. Something like “A Honky and an Asian Talk About Shit” – it would be great.

  • Jennifer Peters-Ahnberg

    My time management technique is to make my teenager enter shit into my phone and set various obnoxious alarms so that I can’t ignore it. It’s surprisingly effective.

    • Elizabeth-FlourishinProgress

      Guess what I just added to Cal’s chore list? =)

  • RollerScrapper

    I highly recommend using google calendar as a planner if you have gmail, and I totally dug those multi color pens!

  • Sarah

    OMG. I’m so late so please don’t hate me. I’ve been working 60-70 hour weeks and I’ve been spending my non-work time sleeping or doing things that ensure that I sustain life (i.e. eat) and look decent enough to not show that I’ve been dead ass tired.

    So, I guess that even though I’m late this is a good way to segue into planning systems? I don’t use planners, calendars, etc. I use email, a note pad and a white board. I know that sounds scattered and possible not efficient but it works for me. Anywho, anything that still needs to get done stays as an email in my inbox until I complete it, or written on my white board. And I keep my note pad with me where ever my work goes (I’m pretty sure if I lost/misplaced it I’d lose my shit). Luckily I know this works because everything that I’ve needed to get done has gotten done so far.

    Um, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  • newfoundjoye

    I used to keep planners when I was in school. It helped me realize the importance of each task and how to prioritize. Once I knew that it took me longer to do certain things, I could get other stuff out of the way to focus my attention on the one that mattered. Because of that, I don’t need to keep as many detailed lists of what to do. Now, I know the big picture, and I can do all the small things at my leisure knowing an estimate of how long they take.