I wasn’t allowed to be a Boy Scout. I lacked certain, uh, “elements” that forbade me to join in their adventures into the wilderness and what not. That didn’t stop my parents from continuously reminding me of the Boy Scouts of America’s motto, “Be Prepared.” Even though I would roll my eyes in contempt, I knew they were trying to make it sink in. As an adult, I am forever grateful.
Walks down memory lane aside, modern applications of this kind of ideology are much easier than learning how to build a fire or forage for berries in the forest. And as much as I wanted to collect every patch in their arsenal, it clashed with most of my wardrobe.
Being prepared is vital when it comes to success, and there are so many ways to manifest preparedness without forcing yourself into some kind of regimented system that proves to be neither sustainable nor useful. Honestly, you have enough to worry about. Wake up early. Work out. Answer emails. Sit in meetings. Call your mother. Feed the cat. Water the plants. Have a social life. Now factor in a scheme that some self-help guru guarantees will help you find balance and achieve your goals, and you’ll probably end up throwing your hands in the air, because this whole “do this and this and this to get your shit together” kind of mentality is just too much.
So without having to throw on a khaki shirt and a baseball cap and wander into the woods, you can utilize the motto in a way that aligns with your already chaotic life or state of mind. I discovered this when I got my hands on an old fashioned day planner. I’m not big into journaling, and as much as I love and admire all the intention charts and illustrations that I see on the ‘gram, I am by no means an artist. It’s unfortunately too creatively demanding for some people, and not a bone in my body contains the means to draw anything but a stick figure or a circle with a few spikes that only slightly resembles the sun.
“Be Prepared” means something a little different to me now, and I’ve shifted the meaning more to reflect the ideal of being organized. I’ve always been a list-maker, keeping either a journal in my purse or a stack of Post-Its by my bedside when something pops into my head at an unlikely moment. This is all well and good until that note mysteriously goes missing or I decide my bag is too heavy and the journal is sacrificed to the junk drawer—don’t judge, you know you have one.
Taking the aforementioned factors into account, I didn’t just buy any day planner on the market. I strategize about page layout, size, where I would store it, obviously what color scheme best appealed to me aesthetically, and so on—oh, my parents would be so proud at my “preparedness”. I landed on a version I found at Urban Outfitters because it checked all the boxes. Here are some of the characteristics of what you should look for in a planner, and why, when used properly, it can help you get your brain in check before you drown in a pile of crinkled Post-Its.
Size—and Location—Does Matter
Channel your inner Goldilocks and find a planner whose size is juuuust right. That means something that can’t fit in your micro purse but also doesn’t take up a majority of the space on your desk. Mine was a solid 5×7, but if you need more space, go for an 8×10. Also, keep it in an area where you spend most of your day, like your desk at work or at home if you work remotely. You’ll be more inclined to reach for it when you need a reminder or some motivation, and if it’s cute you’ll level up your decor game.
List Like A Pro
A solid planner has a full day on each page, and enough space or rows to list every task or goal you have on your roster. At the top of your list, write down the smallest, easiest tasks, like texting your coworker about where they want to go for happy hour or making an appointment for a root touch-up. Get those done first thing, crossing each one off as you go. This seems counterintuitive, but sometimes accomplishing the more minute projects feeds your motivation to move on tackling bigger fish. Call it planner-power, if you will. Next, write down the rest that will take a bit more time and focus. This means writing that monthly newsletter for your website, researching a venue for your BFF’s birthday, scheduling a meeting with prospective clients, etc. Once that’s all set in stone, it’s time to get fancy. Number each item on your list, with one being the most urgent and so on, and the last being the least 911-worthy. I like to aggressively strike through each upon completion, but if that’s too aggressive for you, a checkmark works just fine.
Jot It Down…All of It
Say you’re in the midst of task number three and a genius idea pops into your brain that could make you a millionaire. Heaven forbid you forget and it slips away. Write it down, save it for later, get back to work so it doesn’t distract you. Your brain can get back into the zone with minimal interruption. This means finding a planner that also has some free space for random thought or streams of consciousness and sparks of brilliance. Just remember the little guys when you win big on “Shark Tank.”
High key, this is extremely important. Just like working out, you have to keep doing it to effectively see and make a change. Make this the first thing you do when you sit at your workstation. Forgo jumping to check your emails right away for something that will take a maximum of five to 10 minutes and will keep you on track so you can satisfyingly check off your to-dos like the beast that you are.
Notice Patterns and Hold Yourself Accountable
A pro tip is to rewrite everything from the previous day that was not accomplished onto the next day’s list. When you carry over the task as opposed to flipping the page back to the day or two before to see what you did not complete, you are practicing a form of self-awareness and discipline. You’ll gain knowledge about your level of productivity and how much time you take to finish your lists. Maybe you need to spend less energy on a certain project, realizing that you could probably delegate some of the burden so you can free up a few minutes to go over your notes before a performance review.
Every minute counts, and hopefully my OCD tendencies will bring a little more organization and peace to your daily grind.
Feature image Emma Craft