Planners, calendars, and making to-do lists

photo-164The SHU Box has a post today about her planner, which is a top-of-the line version. I thought I’d write about my system, which is much less advanced, and also some thoughts on how systems structure behavior.

For many years, I’ve been writing out my weekly priorities before the week starts. This is a universal list, encompassing work and personal. Then I think about when during the week I want to do those things. I make daily to-do lists off that. Anything that is time specific goes on my little pocket calendar, which is just a cheap week-at-a-glance type thing. I try not to schedule much in the morning if I have deep writing I need to do. I also try to leave space in the afternoon sometime so I can go for a run.

I write my to-do lists in a regular spiral-bound notebook. But about a week ago, I got this little Mom Corps You note pad in the mail (see photo). I don’t think I’m ready to give up my little notebooks yet, but I do like that it is on one page, but broken up into the three major categories: work, family, self.

Having all three categories represented nudges the brain to think that, oh yeah, maybe I should put something in all three categories. It’s easy to forget to be mindful about “self” to-dos. I may start structuring my to-do list like this to see if that helps me deliberate about down time. But this notepad seems like it has an awful lot of spots on the list. Eleven self to-dos seems like a bit much — unless you need to remind yourself to shower!

What system do you use for to-do lists and scheduling?

For all time geeks out there: The results of the annual American Time Use Survey will be released on Wednesday! This BLS survey has thousands of Americans talk through the previous day, describing what they did. As such, it is not subject to the same biases that plague other surveys that ask people how many hours they devote to X, Y, and Z. The problem is that we often don’t know. Or we make something up that fits with the overworked, sleep-deprived visions we have of ourselves. I’ll take guesses on how much sleep the average American got in a 24-hour period. The winner gets bragging rights.



30 Responses to Planners, calendars, and making to-do lists


  1. Chelsea says:

    I like planners rather than a calendar/notebook set-up only because it’s one less item to remember to move if you need to take them someplace or switch bags. For the sleep question, I’ll guess 7.76 hours.

  2. Ana says:

    I like to keep it all in the ether, on my google calendar. I schedule in time-sensitive stuff (deadlines, meetings), but also add in reminders for little things I need to get done. I do have a cheap planner I use during the day simply to jot things done that need to be done before I leave my desk.
    I’d also say somewhere between 7.5 and 8 hours. 7.75 I’ll guess.

  3. Shelly says:

    I used to use a simple two year day planner for appointments now I put all that in my phone and they are written on a white board calendar at home so my husband and I can coordinate for appointments. For work I’m embarrassed to say that I write my to do list on a large sticky note for the week. It really is not working and I need to ramp it up to keep better track of the items I need to do and to be more productive and not let my days slide so much. I’m thinking of using something simple electronically like notes or something similar. Although I do like a journal book for brain storming and planning. I need the feel of writing for those things.
    I’m going to guess 8 hours.

  4. My husband uses a lab notebook. #2 uses Google Docs. I use the backs of scratch paper. It’s more… modular, even if neither organized nor searchable.

  5. oilandgarlic says:

    I mainly use the Cozi app/website because my husband and I can both access it. This has helped us greatly in terms of household management especially doctor appts. He enters his appts and meetings and we both update kids-related stuff as needed. We can now easily see the family schedule and also share a grocery shopping list. I highly recommend it.

  6. sara says:

    I am going to guess 8:17 on the sleep.

  7. Katie says:

    The Planner Pad! It’s changed my life. It has a “funneling” layout that lets me set out priorities for the week in the categories of my choice, then slot those into specific days, then slot them into actual times on the calendar.

  8. ARC says:

    Ah, this is a topic that makes me happy :) I am a reformed planner junkie. I love having my calendar on my phone, so ever since 2003-ish when the first Windows “smartphones” came out, I’ve had my calendar all electronic. I used Outlook religiously until I quit my job since that’s what we used for work and it was easier to just have one, but now all of my stuff is in Google Calendar and I use Outlook *just* for work hours/meetings. I can see both overlaid on my phone so it looks like it’s all in one place.

    I’m STILL trying to find the right to-do list solution, though. I love notebooks, but can’t seem to keep them with me all the time.

    • Laura says:

      @ARC – I guess this is the upside of my life. Sometimes I feel like a hermit, but on the other hand, I don’t have to worry about losing my notebook with the to-do list. It’s on my desk at all times. If I remember something at 8 p.m., I walk over from the kitchen and write it down.

  9. oldmdgirl says:

    7.5h on the sleep, but honestly? Unless they used wrist actigraphy, I’m going to have a hard time believing any of it.

    You should take a look at the studies that used wrist actigraphy to measure the amount of sleep medical residents got before vs. after residency work hours reform was introduced in 2003. Pre-reform they got 6 hours per night; after reform it was something like 6 h 20 minutes. Horrible. Can’t remember what the confidence intervals looked like though.

  10. I haven’t looked at this year’s data but according to my stats exam solutions from 2011-2012 it was 531.8292 minutes (531.3143 in 2011 and 532.3457 in 2012, by comparison it was 522.1296 in 2004), give or take, but that includes everybody age 15-85. Men sleep 526.2646 and women sleep 536.223. People over the age of 60 sleep 536.5566 and people under the age of 60 sleep 530.0507.
    *
    But what you really want for your argument is prime-aged workers because there are extremes on either end (15 year olds sleep 601 min, topcoded ages sleep 577 min). Let me check on them if I can find the dataset I made… 25-55 year olds slept 522 minutes in 2011-2012.
    *
    Looking over time, it looks like sleep minutes has been creeping up since 2008. Still, I don’t know why, so I can’t just guess the 2013 data will be a minute longer or not — if it’s unemployment I’d hope that number would be going down, not up.
    *
    And, as oldmdgirl notes, we know nothing about the quality of that sleep– chances are midnight wake-ups aren’t counted as not sleeping.
    *
    Kids do decrease sleep. Prime-age men with kids get 507.2085 min, without get 526.0076. Prime-age women with kids get 525.0308, without get 534.4828.
    *
    And if I can find that employment variable…Here we go, looking at people who are at work (not on vacation, unemployed, or NILF)… prime-aged people at work get 510.3018 and people not at work get 558.6222.
    *
    Leaving the numbers in minutes so you can do the big reveal. :)

    • That was kind of fun… maybe I should do your ask the grumpies question.

      • Laura says:

        Yes, please do!

        • ok, check your email

          if you catch me before I close the dataset I can probably run additional questions

    • Laura says:

      @nicoleandmaggie – thanks for all this! Now I don’t have to crunch this for Mosaic! Of course, my readers are smart enough to divide by 60… :)

      Over at FB I posted the same question and am having a lot of people guess between 6-7.5 hours/day (not night — naps count!). They are going to be surprised at the answer which, given how little huge populations shift in a year, won’t be more than a few minutes off what you posted here.

      I interviewed one of the BLS researchers last summer on the sleep question. They do ask about lying in bed and going to sleep time, so beginning of the night insomnia is going to be at least partially captured. Wake-ups with kids are captured at least for parents of babies who are really getting up with them (hearing a shout that then quiets probably wouldn’t register — hurts quality, but it’s only a few minutes). Quality is hard to know, of course, but people tend to be obsessed with the number, and that’s something we can look at.

      • I don’t really see why it should be surprising when people think 8-9 hours is ideal. Why wouldn’t people on average get the ideal amount?
        *
        There’s a lot of heaping in the sleep data so people do estimate how much sleep they’re getting. It’s unlikely that 162 people got 120 min of sleep when only 13 people got between 106 and 119 minutes, for example. There are much bigger heaps at the more normal sleep amounts… 420, 450, 480, 510, etc.

    • Laura says:

      Also, yes on sleep hours and work hours being inversely correlated. In Mosaic we found they were (p<0.05). Since everyone had kids I don’t have a kids vs. non-kids number, but age of kid didn’t actually correlate with sleep to statistical significance. Sleep is a biological need, and people probably make up what they can somehow even if it’s interrupted and irregular.

      • Minutes sleep = -0.187* minutes_worked + 559.55, significant at the 5% level in the 2002-2012 data, about the same limiting to 2011-2012. Of course, kids and the elderly sleep more and work less… so limiting to prime-aged… wow, very close to the same relationship.

      • gwinne says:

        Biological needs aren’t always met, esp in the cases of insomnia (which is not neurologically the same as sleep deprivation). Gayle Greene’s analysis of insomnia is fascinating…if you’re going to be writing at all about sleep, looking at the “outliers” seems critical.

        • Laura says:

          @gwinne- I agree that outliers are interesting. In Mosaic, I do look at the women who got the least (and most!) sleep. However, I think that focusing too much on outliers is where we get incomplete impressions. In the Mosaic logs, around 90 percent of women got at least the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep, averaged over a week. Maybe that makes for a less interesting headline, but do I think that’s worth looking at too.

          • gwinne says:

            I guess what I’m saying–badly!–is that you study time, not sleep. And sleep research shows that when it comes to sleep, minutes are not interchangeable. Napping plus 6 hrs of night sleep does not do the same restorative work as 8 hrs (or whatever a body actually needs). And sleep deprivation can lead to a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation, not more sleep.

    • p.s The median is 510 min, and the middle 50% for everyone is 450-600 and for prime-aged people is 435-595 min. I vaguely recall mentioning these ranges on an earlier post.

  11. WOW about the above, i am so impressed people sleep so much! (i am also always shocked when i hear about the amount of tv watching that goes on. how do ‘normal people’ have time for both!?)

    and — thanks for the shout-out :)

    • Laura says:

      @sarah – it may be because they aren’t working that much. Averaged over the entire population, the “average” American only works for just a bit more time than he/she watches TV. But that’s because a lot of people aren’t working (they’re retired, students, not in workforce, etc.). However, even full time workers are pretty close to 40/week (and for women with kids are slightly below that, if I remember correctly). If you work 40 and sleep 60 that leaves 68 hours for other things, and TV is the dominant leisure time activity (by a long shot).

  12. I started using an Erin Condren planner this year an I love it! I color code all of my lists, and use the calendar pages to to track workouts and blogs posts. For me, it’s definitely been worth the expense!

  13. June says:

    I love planners – it’s symbol and signal of all of the possibilities. However, I need a space where I can just periodically dump everything in my brain. Then I organize the items by topic and assign everything an estimated time I will do it (e.g., Tuesday AM). So notebooks and legal pads are my best organizer, though I am still a sucker for a beautiful planner. (I’m now off to check out some of the recommended brands).

  14. arden says:

    Put me down as a planner lover! Actually after I read the SHU’s planner post, I dug out a weekly journal I had bought for food/exercise logging and started using it!

    Anyone know of a cute address book? I may be the only one on the planet who actually wants to keep a physical address book but I like it.

  15. Shanna says:

    Laura, where can I get one of those Mom Corp pads? Are they available to purchase? I had the very same thought you had– It will be perfect for making sure I put something in each category.

    • Laura says:

      @Shanna- good question! They sent it to me as speaker swag since I spoke at a webinar. I don’t see a spot on the website where they sell stuff, but you could try just emailing them and asking.

      • Shanna says:

        Thanks! I have sent them an email.