Posted in Blog

Weekly Task List and Daily Planner Printables

I’m certainly the type of person who benefits mentally from creating structure in uncertain times. I find the act of organizing my spaces, schedule, money, what-have-you makes me feel like I have more control of a situation than I actually do. It sets me up to adopt good habits and routines.

I’m the type of person who needs to create a list or I can’t stop thinking about whatever it is that’s on my mind. If I start my work day just responding to whatever is in front of me…emails, IMs, Slack chats, etc., then I get to lunch not having anything to show for my time and feeling panicked that I’m behind, without really knowing what I’m behind on exactly. Cue instant stress.

I’m also the type of person who absolutely LOVES crossing things off my to do list. I get great joy in adding that checkmark or crossing something off the list with a swipe of a pen. That’s why I’ve found that having a paper and pen to do list and tracker is immensely helpful for me.

Today I’ll share the weekly task list and daily planner pages that I’ve started using. I first searched online for planner books and printable pages that others offered, and I didn’t find anything that I loved. After trying a few free printable pages, I decided to create my own. I share them here today in case they are helpful for you as well. They are Word files so you can customize them to your needs.

Weekly Task List

The weekly task list in light gray to allow the ink of my colorful pens to shine through.

This weekly task list purposefully has me focuses on no more than three major tasks or activities per week. I keep it short so I stay focused, and I make sure it covers the items that MUST get done this week without fail.

Then I list all of my projects and the activities associated with each. For me, I need to track my to dos, people I need to follow-up with because they don’t reliably get back to me (grr!!), and meetings I need to prepare for (whether that’s research I need to do, agendas to prep, or folks I need to connect with in advance). Luckily, I only have three major work projects right now, and then I use the fourth section to tracker personal / household activities.

Typically, I take less than 30 minutes every Friday afternoon to create my weekly list, which I do while reviewing last week’s list, looking ahead to the next week’s electronic calendar, and reviewing project schedules.

Daily Planner Page

The daily planner page helps me keep my days focused.

I’ve been using some version of a weekly tracker for a while, and then I’d start each morning listing on a sticky note the 3-5 things I want to accomplish for the day. That worked just fine, but I wanted to try something a bit more structured.

In this daily planner page, I list the three must dos I have to accomplish for the day. These are more focused than the three major focuses listed on the weekly task list. The weekly task list may include the need to submit X deliverable; whereas, the daily task list may say to review section 1 of X deliverable.

I then list any major activities coming up for the day in the calendar section. I’m NOT spending time repeating what’s in my electronic calendar really. I’m just painting the landscape for the day and making sure I’m aware of what’s coming up. You could also list meals you’re planning in this section, but that’s not something I’m tracking.

Then, there’s a section to include any nice-to-have to dos that I’ll get to if I have time available. Under this list is a spot to note any exercise accomplished for the day and my water intake. The notes section at the bottom is to capture any quick items I may need to record based on meetings I’m in, like future to do items or phone numbers.

If you use different printables or have another approach, let me know! I love hearing about how others manage their time and tasks.

Photo by Stefan Cosma on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

Money Planning Series: #1 Our Budget Tracking System

I’ve given some thought and space here to time tracking, but money is another limited resource that gets a significant amount of my intentional planning efforts. I want to give this topic the attention it deserves, so every Wednesday for the next several weeks, I’ll cover a different aspect of financial planning and budgeting.

Now, I’m not a certified financial planner. This isn’t a place for me to discuss or offer advance on what you should do with your money. That’s not the point of the series and certainly not my expertise.

In this space, I will share the systems and planning we use to manage our financial resources, in case it is helpful to others. It is a bit of a look under the hood. (And I know I would naturally just be curious how another family makes it happen!)

To start the series, let me share how we set up our budget. Our budget is organized in an Excel file that is managed essentially like a set of virtual envelopes. All of our envelopes (a.k.a., budget categories) are listed along Column A. There are about 40 envelopes capturing all of the regular expenses we’re paying (from homeowners association dues to utility bills) and things we’re saving for (including Christmas presents and retirement). Anything we can think of that costs a “significant” amount of money that we can anticipate and reoccurs gets its own envelope. There’s an emergency savings envelope for those expenses you can’t just plan on.

Then, each month gets its own column (Column B through infinity). For each month, we denote how much money is in each envelope. Every new month starts out with amount the previous month ended with, and we subtract any expenses and add any additional money we put in the envelope. For example, we know our mortgage payment is X. We make sure to end each month with X in the envelope.

Some budget categories are more variable, like automobile gas. We start out with what is in the envelope from the previous month, subtract out receipts for gas purchased, and add a set amount each month. Basically, since I’ve tracked our expenses for years, I know our average amount spent per month on gas, so I always put at least that much in the envelope every month. Some months we have extra in the envelope, which just carries forward to the next month in case we need it (like months with long road trips or heavy commuting).

Many of our budget categories are for various items we’re saving for. Now, we could always have one pot of money called savings and then spend it on whatever we wanted if and when we have enough money saved. That’s a fine strategy, but I like saving for something specific. It allows us to better set savings goals and see how long it will take us to save for it.

For our savings budget categories, there’s typically not much money coming out of the envelope. We just keep adding a designated amount month after month. This is how we pay for our vehicles. We act like we have a car payment and pay ourselves every month. We don’t buy a new car until we have enough saved to buy it with cash.

The key to the entire budget is all of the money in the envelopes has to equal the total money we have available. To check this, I compare the sum of all of the money in our virtual envelopes to all of the money available in our financial accounts. Luckily, in Excel, I set up simple formulas to do this comparison for me.

So that’s the basics. I’ll cover additional topics later in the series, like how we leverage Mint and how we use this budgeting system when an emergency occurs.

Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

Staying Prepared with a Medical Information Printable

As a planner, I like to be prepared for possible emergencies. I’m that person who packs medicines for kids when we take trips and has an emergency kit stashed in the house in case we need it.

One of the ways I prepare is by having a one-page print out of my medical information in my wallet in case I need it. I can’t tell you how handy it’s been to have at doctor visits to either help fill out paperwork or to give to the doctor for reference. My husband knows it is there as well, so he has all of my information available if I’m incapacitated.

I made some updates to the file this weekend. Now I’m inspired to make one up for both of the kids too!

In an effort to help others avoid reinventing the wheel, feel free to download an editable Word template of the medical information printable below.

Template of my medical information printable
Template of my medical information printable

The printable includes the following sections:

  • Personal Information: List what you want medical professionals to see right away and they most frequently ask for: blood type, allergies, contact information, etc.
  • Medication and Purpose: List the medication taken regularly, what it’s used for, and how often/what dosage you take.
  • Personal Medical History: Here I include dates and my age when I had various medical procedures, but I could see others listing different relevant information here about illnesses or diseases.
  • Vaccinations and Tests: Here are the dates and results of various tests run and vaccinations received. In the printable template provided, I left in the vaccinations and tests in my file, but there is space to add others.

Of course, the glory of having a Word document printable is that you can edit the form as you see fit. This is a starting point to think about what information you think is important to caption for you, your loved ones, and your doctors. If you adopt this tool, I encourage you to customize it to fit your needs.

Posted in Blog

What’s Made Working from Home and Parenting Simultaneously Work for Us

I have said throughout this pandemic response that my family is one of the lucky ones. Sure, the kids aren’t in school, my husband and I aren’t going into the office, and our calendars are bare. But, there is food on the table, money in the bank, love in our home, and the ability to stay in this hold pattern circling normalcy indefinitely. That does make every day fun or easy (though some are both of those).

I have read many articles of other families describing how they parent and work from home, and it sounds like a disaster. Thankfully, we’ve gotten into a good rhythm. Our new normal and daily schedule still look like our days in late March. Here’s why I think it’s worked for us.

  1. There are two parents at home. I acknowledge that benefit has been key to maintaining our sanity (for the most part).
  2. Our jobs (or at least mine) allow for flexibility on WHEN we work. It’s not an issue if I get my work done at 6am or 11pm, just as long as I meet my deadlines and produce high-quality work. Now, that doesn’t negate the need for meetings in the middle of the work day, but at least my focused work can happen whenever works best for our family. Heck, I can even put in hours over the weekend, cutting down on the time crunch during the week.
  3. When I’m with the boys during the day, I’m not working. I block my calendar so meetings can’t be scheduled then. I have informed my teams of my working hours. Everyone is aware of my situation. Folks can call or text me if there’s an emergency, but nothing is typically that time sensitive. Being away from my computer for two hours is no different than being in a long meeting.
  4. Set work priorities and boundaries. I turn down meetings that don’t really need me there. I delegate opportunities that management invite me to participate in if others would contribute more or better benefit. I’m protective of my time and priorities. If an opportunity doesn’t align with my professional goals for the year (which already were selected to cascade from leadership’s goals), then I pass. This is easier said than done and likely worth it’s own blog post.
  5. My shifts with the boys are kid-focused. I use my two-hour shift with the kids to get their school work done, sure, but I’m also giving them A LOT of attention. After two hours, they are done with me and happy to play independently or with each other. This helps make my husband’s shift immensely easier.
  6. We have a routine, so everyone knows what to expect throughout the day. I recognize that my structure and plan can seem rigid to some, but it’s the one thing I feel we can control right now. That, and I know it makes the boys more willing, for example, to focus on worksheets when they always do schoolwork at 9am.

Photo: Picture of all of the worksheets and paper we completed March-June during the school year. Not pictured? All of the online work they did on top of this!

Posted in Blog

Mid-Year Goals Review

Earlier in the year, I posted my 2020 goals. Whelp, I had no true idea how badly the crap would hit the fan this year, so I’m going to need to modify these a bit. Ha!

  1. Take a family trip to Florida – I just don’t see how a trip to Florida will happen this year. We were hoping to visit during spring break this year, so perhaps we can make it happen in 2021.
  2. Read 25 books – With the extra time at home, I’ve already hit 37 for the year and updated my goal in the Goodreads app to 50. I’ll have to post my recommendations from the second quarter of 2020, but my favorite reads from Jan-Mar are here.
  3. Donate a set amount of money to charity – Thankfully, we’ve donated a good portion of our plan already this year and are on track to meet this goal. I’m thankful my husband and I have reliable incomes that allow this goal to be met.
  4. Go on at least 25 dates with my husband, with at least four of them being to new locations – Well, we got about halfway to our goal before COVID started. In its place, we are occasionally adopting screen-free nights to sit outside on our deck or by the fire pit and talk.
  5. Complete two home projects – Done! Our deck has been stained and redecorated, and we created a mudroom space in the garage. I may attempt to talk my husband into working with me to tackle a few more projects this year.
  6. Complete a 5K race – Ugh, well I was hoping to sign up for a race in May, but the ones I was considering were cancelled. Perhaps this fall?
  7. Floss daily – I’ve officially made a habit of flossing. Finally! Yay!

So, I’m going to choose to take the good with the bad and be happy with what I can accomplish and not focus on what can’t be done. I have an easier time accepting these goals won’t all be met because the cause is outside of my control. There was a time that the lack of control would really get to me, but I’m okay with it in this instance. At least that’s some growth, and that’s really my driver behind having annual goals in the first place.

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

Moving Forward with Uncertainty

I haven’t been writing much since schools closed their doors in March. At first I was blaming it on a lack of time, as my schedule blew up and had to completely change. But now, the family and I are in a routine and, truth be told, I just didn’t include writing for fun time. I’ve had time to read a fair number of books and complete a few home projects, so there’s time to write.

I’m afraid I don’t know what to write. Everyone seems so polarized these days that I haven’t been willing to wade into the murky waters of political topics for fear of the riptides. Then I decided that I don’t have to enter the water at all. This blog is mine and I can write about what I want, and that doesn’t negate my strong opinions related to the news of the day.

So then I start to think about what to write, which often seems so privileged in this time where others are dealing with sick family members, lack of childcare and jobs that don’t allow you to work from home, job losses, etc. I’ve decided I’ll acknowledge that privilege here and then outside of this online space, take action to give back to others.

Overall, our family is very lucky. My husband is working from home at least through the summer. I’ve always worked from home and will continue to do so. Neither one of us is likely to lose our jobs because of the economy and everyone is healthy. The kids are home 24/7, but they have adjusted to it amazingly well and in some ways have thrived with the one-on-one academic support. Our kids have never been closer with each other. There is food in the refrigerator and money in the bank.

In the grand scheme of things, my concerns and gripes are minor. I’m sad school didn’t end the way we envisioned, summer vacations are cancelled, and school next year is going to continue to be virtual, at least partially. I’m coming to terms with the notion that it’s okay to be disappointed about a change in plans and with the uncertainty of when “normalcy” will return. I will do my best to see the positives though.

Photo by Mariam Soliman on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

How Do You Move from Thinking Operationally to Strategically?

A colleague recently asked me this question, and I’ve been reflecting on my answer. It’s a good one that I’ve never asked someone else before nor thought about conscientiously.

I feel like my comfort zone, especially in this shelter-in-place time with no childcare while working from home, is to just focus on daily operations. Make a reasonable to-do list of the work that has to be done today and get it done. But, my role on projects and as a consultant is to be strategic and support my clients in developing and delivering on a strategy every day. I need to see the forest and the trees. How do I make sure the strategy isn’t forgotten?

First, let me define how I use the terms operationally and strategically in this context. Operations is the trees, the work that needs to get done now for the deliverable that’s coming due soon. It may include teamwork, doing the work myself, or collaborating with others, but it is focused on keeping the project moving forward. Strategy relates to the forest and thinking about the big picture, like ensuring the project team is solving the real problem, involving the right people, and anticipating how to overcome obstacles.

Now, some strategic work is built into project management tasks. Just the act of creating a project plan with a work breakdown structure, schedule, budget, staffing plan, etc. leads to the need for a strategy. It’s also not uncommon to analyze financial reports, create risk mitigation plans, and make adjustments based on what is learned throughout the project, which may cause you to tweak your larger plans.

Here are some concrete ways I’ve expanded beyond daily operations to think more strategically about my work. These tiny, regular habits have impacted how I approach all of my work.

Tip 1: Schedule Time for It on Your Calendar

I set aside 30 minutes a week on a Friday afternoon to schedule my work to dos for the next week. I block out time in my calendar to focus on major deliverables across projects and schedule meetings with people I know I need to coordinate with to improve the work. Although this practice is rather tactical, it’s also at this time that I’m asking myself what to anticipate for each project, what risks exist that may throw off the plan, and what can I do to mitigate any risks.

Tip 2: Delegate

Delegation is an age-old tip, but I had to make this practice a daily part of my work processes for it to occur more often. I’ve done this by adding “What can you delegate?” to my daily to-do list. By asking myself this question, I’ve added a forcing mechanism that allows me to support other’s professional development, offload work that I really shouldn’t be doing at my level anymore (even if I’ve done it before for years), and frees up my brain for more strategic work.

To delegate, though, you need someone who is available to take on the work. That’s not always easy if you don’t have people who report directly to you, so it comes from fostering relationships on your project teams to understand everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, figure out what their professional development goals are and how you can support them, and then build a network you can access over time. The bonus is that this network can also help you find professional development opportunities too.

Tip 3: Constantly Communicate and Connect Others

I’ve made it a habit every time I finish a meeting, read an email, or conclude a phone call to think about what I learned and who else needs to have the information. I’m trying to think about how information relates to each other, how the people connected to the project work together, and what impacts there will be based on what I just learned.

Now, I’m certainly not trying to overload people’s inboxes with unnecessary information. Instead, I’m trying to connect people. For example, if we’re updating a training course that’s based on a policy we’re rewriting, then I need to make sure the training team knows when the policy changes. If I suspect more changes late in the development cycle, then I need to make sure leadership knows of the risks and impacts and come up with a plan to help mitigate the risks.

Alternatively, if I’m in a meeting and learn about a new innovation another project has adopted, I’m thinking about how it will benefit my other clients. I then have to add items to my to-do list to make sure I follow-up on those thoughts or they will escape my brain, never to be thought about again. I live and die by what’s on my to-do list.

I think it’s important to conclude that during this turbulent time in our work lives and careers, that it may be difficult or impossible to think about long-term strategy in the same way or as frequently. But, if you want to add more strategic thought to your work, then I suggest developing tiny, regular habits like these examples I provided. They don’t have to be the same habits because they have to work for you, your workflow, and your needs. Once they become habits, though, you won’t have to think twice about it.

Photo by Anastasia Petrova on Unsplash

Posted in Blog

“You Do You” – My Motto for the Latest (and Every) Parenting War

I see it starting now: another great debate for parents to fall into camps regarding how to “best” raise their children. When schools starting closing a couple of weeks ago, it started. There have been articles all over my newsfeeds claiming how parents should approach homeschooling their kids during the coronavirus shutdown.

One side of the divide is to just focus on play and not worry about educational activities. Teachers are professionals, and they will catch students up when they return to school. Focus on making family memories and having kids feel safe and emotionally secure during this turbulent time. Academics will come later.

The other side of the spectrum includes a focus on academics. There are articles advocating color-coded schedules, sharing lesson plans, and talking about the benefits of creating academic structure. These parents have scoured the Internet for educational activities to keep their children on track academically. They may come across as too rigid and inflexible during this unprecedented time.

I just want to put this out there now, before the flames of this debate ignite, that parents need to do what works for them. Find what your normal looks like right now. We’re all battling different needs, ranging from the needs of others (kids/parents/employees/employers/etc.) to our needs (don’t forget about yourself).

Ultimately, come up with something that works for you and your family. Give yourself some grace. Recognize that what may work for you this week isn’t necessary going to work for you in a month. Try to roll with it.

I think many of these articles touting how to handle this situation are trying to offer support. If you’re overwhelming yourself searching for ways to educate your kids or up late at night thinking of ways to teach Timmy how to grasp common core math, then cut yourself some slack. On the other hand, if you’re unsure of what you can do to support your kids so they’re not watching TV or playing video games all day every day, there are articles offering ideas and schedules for your consideration.

Although my personality certainly leads toward structure in an effort to save my sanity, I’m trying to be flexible and follow my children’s needs. I typically work in some activity or lesson (requiring very little prep and low stress) with my kids sometime between 8am and 10am every Monday through Friday. (Support from my kids’ schools is now rolling in and supplementing whatever I plan for the day.) One day this week Mr. 4-year-old wouldn’t have it. He took off to build a train track instead. I let him go, called it a STEM activity, and focused on supporting Mr. 7-year-old one-on-one instead. Last Friday, I wanted my house cleaned. It’s irrational and not REALLY necessary, but I wanted it done. So, we spent 30 minutes working on schoolwork and then worked as a team to tackle the cleaning to-dos.

Ultimately, each day I’m trying to focus on being present with the kids sneaking educational activities into play. I’m trying to take Mr. 7-year-old’s advice that he wrote on our driveway earlier this week: HAVE FUN! I think, from the kids’ perspectives anyway, that it’s working. Mr. 7-year-old notes in his homeschool journal almost every day that he’s happy. That’s success enough for me right now.

Posted in Blog

The New Normal: Our Coronavirus Isolation Schedule With Young Kids and Working From Home

I’m always interested in the details of others’ daily routines because there’s always something new I can tweak in my schedule by learning from others. Assuming others might be like me or just be curious, here’s our newest normal.

My husband and I are both authorized and encouraged to work from home for at least the next severals weeks (thank goodness!), so we get to tag team Mr. 4-year-old and Mr. 7-year-old. We tradeoff two-hour shifts and aim to maintain some flexibility as work calls and issues come up. Here’s the nitty gritty.

6am – 8am – I’m still getting up to an alarm just to get a few hours of work in before others start to stir. As much as I hate waking up to the beep of an alarm, I love having the quiet time for deep work, without IMs, emails, and other distractions. The kids wake up at some point during this time and play ABC Mouse.

8am – 10am – My husband logs into work while the kids and I eat, get dressed, and sit down to tackle whatever my one big learning activity is for the day. This is when reading and writing occur because I’ve already learned Mr. 7-year-old is exhausted after lunch and less forgiving of his errors. We’ve researched animals and started a book documenting where they live and what they eat, read books about how the human body works and then drawn diagrams, charted the colors of a basket of Easter eggs, and played with STEM toys to learn about electricity.

10am – 12pm – I return to work to respond to emails and take meetings. My husband is with the kids, typically having them complete worksheets, running around outside, or whatever. He has his work laptop with him since he’s always on call for spontaneous needs, so he’s focused on keeping the kids occupied with self-directed activities. If he has to take a call, the kids get educational screen time with PBS Kids or ABC Mouse.

12pm – 2pm – Sometimes I rejoin the family with lunch on the table, thanks to my husband, or sometimes I’m starting this shift making food. (I’ve been having the boys take turns making sandwiches for lunch too. They love the responsibility….for now.) When the weather is nice, post-lunch is outdoor time. We play games in the backyard, take walks throughout the neighborhood, or ride bikes. If we can’t go outside, then we find indoor activities like reading, playing with Play Doh, drawing or painting, hiding Easter eggs, doing household chores, whatever.

2pm – 4pm – This time slot is essentially a repeat of 10am – 12pm.

4pm – 6pm – My husband returns to work until everything he needs to do for the day is wrapped up. I’m back with the kids keeping it low key at this point. The kids will read me stories to earn marbles. If they haven’t gotten any screen time at this point in the day, they’ll likely get some now. I also have Mr. 7-year-old write a few sentences as a journal entry about his day. I’ll aim to have dinner ready by about 6pm.

6pm – 8pm – We eat dinner and clean up as a family. The kids then get ready for bed, and we wrap up the day watching an episode of The Great British Bake Off or reading a chapter from one of the Harry Potter books.

8pm and onward – This is my time to catch up with my husband (unless he’s retired to his man cave to play video games), read the news, review emails from the kids’ schools, and read books until I pass out only to wake up and do the whole thing all over again the next day.

I have to say, being thrown this curveball of having the rest of the kids’ academic year cancelled threw me off. I might have driven my husband a bit crazy obsessing about how to create a new normal for us because I’m the kind of person who always needs a plan. I’m open to changing it as we go, but I need an idea of how things are supposed to function. For instance, we started out working half-day shifts instead of these two-hour shifts. We found that too hard to balance work and kid needs, so we switched it up to something else.

We’ll see if or how this plan will play out when Mr. 7-year-old starts official distance learning with his class in mid-April. Right now, though, I’m happy enough with this schedule. Boy do I miss my alone time though.

Photo by Emma Matthews Digital Content Production on Unsplash.

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Nights Off

Earlier this week I shared on social media the sad new reality of our family’s monthly calendar update for April — blank and boring while sheltering in place to combat this coronavirus.

Since about the only “event” left on the calendar are mom and dad’s nights off, it sparked some interest. Let me share these with you and how much I love them! I look forward to my night off coming around ever week.

We started these nights off when Mr. 7-year-old was a baby and it’s been a tradition ever since. The person with the night free is off the hook from making dinner, cleaning it up, and putting the kids to bed. Typically, we are free to leave the house and do whatever we please or lock ourselves in the basement and binge watch Netflix or play whatever video game.

Why once a week? It works for us. Typically we share evening duties at home, and it’s a weekly chance to take a break. I know myself. If it’s not scheduled, I’m not going to take time for myself. It’s a way I hold myself accountable.

Of course, we’re flexible. Typically there’s one Friday night a month that I get to hang out and drink wine with my neighborhood friends for ladies night, so we switch off. My husband recently took a weekend off to binge play Dungeons and Dragons, which was completely fine.

These nights off have been particularly important for my mental health now being trapped here homeschooling and working what feels like 24/7. I think I’ll use my next night off to go to bed early!

Photo by Mutzii on Unsplash