10 (thousand) words about choosing a personal planner

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Every single year around this time I have a mild panic about how disorganized my life is and how all my systems are crap and how I JUST NEED TO PULL IT TOGETHER ALREADY. This coincidentally coincides with planner season. Oh, you thought as adults we structure our years based on the monthly calendar? Well some people (students, teachers, and moms) still revolve their schedules around the academic year. I am a mom, but I think my July stress really has more to do with omg-we’re-halfway-through-the-year-where-does-the-time-go-I-haven’t-met-a-single-goal-HELP type of thing. 

I asked on Instagram stories what paper planners people used and liked, and I got more responses and DMs than anything I’ve ever posted ever. People have BIG FEELINGS about planners. But although many people replied with their recommendations, just as many replied with their own planner angst. People have planner decision fatigue, people feel like they keep choosing the wrong planner, and on and on. Apparently I’m not the only who gets overwhelmed at this decision. 

There was also a lot of questions about why I want to use a paper planner in the first place. Everything in the world is digital these days, plus we always have our phones on us, so why not adapt to one of the zillion apps out there and go paperless? The answer is that I do use a lot of digital organizing tools (Google calendar for scheduling, Trello for organizing projects and lists), but it is still extremely helpful for me to look at a hard copy layout of the month/week/day. I haven’t found an at-a-glance calendar that keeps events, lists, and reminders all in one place. There’s also scientific evidence that writing things down in your own hand helps you remember them

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For ten years or so, I was quite content with my weekly moleskine planner. And in some ways, this is still the most ideal, minimalist planner out there. I always loved the week on one side and the lined pages on the other, and during the years developed a good way to section off my lists on that one page. This was all I needed before my kids were born and when they were babies. At that time I was keeping track of family stuff and my former blog and the occasional home renovation project. As the kids have gotten older with more activities and my online work has become more varied and complicated, I’ve just needed more than a minimalist approach.

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For the last two years I’ve used the Nomatic planner, and I love the layout which features built in habit trackers and daily priorities and is especially helpful for project management. However, it’s just not big enough. I need more space to write. There are dozens of lined journal pages at the back of it that you’re supposed to use in a bullet-journal type of way, so this really is a perfect hybrid of structure and not structure for a lot of people. But after nearly two years, I never use the pages in the back in a way that is helpful to me. 

So once or twice a year I fall down the internet rabbit hole of personal planner culture. People who are into planners are REALLY into planners. And while there’s a a certain aspects that’s fun to look at all the options (much like going to The Container Store instantly makes you feel more organized), it can get overwhelming. For me, it also usually ends in frustration, evidenced by my inability to change up my system even though I’ve needed to for awhile now. 

Here are my personal needs/desires:

  • Size. I used to require it to be small & slim enough to slide into my purse. I don’t need that anymore. I’d rather have one big trapper-keeper like notebook instead of the multiple small notebooks I’ve been defaulting to.
  • Weekly Vertical layout. This is just how my mind thinks about the week. I don’t like the horizontal layouts and I don’t need a daily layout. It’s also important for me to have a spread of the whole month. This is mostly standard, but not entirely.
  • Tabs. My current Nomatic planner does not have tabs for months or sections (though it does have three ribbon bookmarks that you can use however you want), but tabs would be helpful.
  • Customization. This is a want and not a need, but it really is cool how you can customize your own habit trackers and various sections of your personal planner these days. I am easily swayed by a monogram, and this is even better than that.
  • Style. This is a way bigger hiccup for me than I care to admit. It’s not that your planner is an extension of your truest soul or anything, but if it’s something you will be looking at every day, you don’t want to cringe, either. There’s a wide chasm between the cutesy, cheesy, mom-type planners, and then the all business, non-nonsense planners. It’s actually strangely hard to find a modern style I like. In many ways, planners are the new scrapbooking. (I had this exact same problem when I briefly fell into scrapbooking in the early 2000s.) There are TONS of embellishments out there, some that might even be useful, but they tend to be a swirly font flower explosion. 

 

After many hours googling and following link after link of reviews and examples and on the various planner home pages themselves, I narrowed it down to these three popular choices:

 

Erin Condren Life Planner

The Get To Work Book

Plum Paper

 

There were quite a few others suggested to me, but I ruled them out for various reasons:

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Day Designer (which I’ve actually ordered before and is good quality and good style), but I don’t need a whole page for one day. I think in weeks and not days (typically). If a person really did need a daily planner, I do like the Day Designer

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Agendio. A ton of people messaged me about the fully customizable Agendio, especially after my friend Jamie Golden has been singing its praises all over the internet. I love all the customization, but the website is pretty overwhelming. I don’t think it’s a place to start for me. Maybe if I get really into the all-in-one planner thing I’ll approach an Agendio planner next year.  

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The Simplified Planner. I like the style of these but a) they are all sold out except the pineapple one (not for me) and b) the weekly version only has the horizontal layout while I prefer the vertical. 

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The Passion Planner. I love the layout of this planner! But alas, they do not offer the larger size I want. This is one that will stay in the running for me, though. 

 

When I really forced myself to look at what I wanted and needed (instead of just clicking around on every pretty planner picture), the choice actually became pretty clear and it was a total surprise to me.

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I really, really, really liked the Get To Work Book for two reasons: layout and style. Both of those are super important to me, and both of those the GTWB had (although I would have to add stickers or something to make the cover a little more personal). However, it’s not the size I wanted and there’s zero customization. Still, this is an excellent backup option for me if I don't love my final choice.

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So that left my final choices between the Erin Condren and the Plum Paper. It started when I read this blog post. At that point, I had almost made a different decision. I had an Erin Condren Life Planner cover picked out and sitting in my cart. But then when I saw that the Plum Paper lets you add in custom sections for home, blog, social media, and fitness/health, that tipped me right on over the edge. To have EVERYTHING I’m managing truly all in one place was exactly the new system I wanted to try. 

Plum Paper it is! At 2am, I finally clicked PURCHASE. 

You can customize all these sections within the vertical weekly layout (choose the ME layout), and then add on sections with their own tabs. 

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Truthfully, I also preferred the style, colors, and fonts of the Plum Paper options. That wasn’t going to be the deal breaker, but it’s a bonus. Amidst all the customizations, here’s what I choose:

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8.5x11 Lined Column Layout

Tropical Palm Leaf cover with my name at the bottom in Simple font in Fuchsia 

Section Add ons:

My Home

Blog Planning

Social Media

Reflection

Dispersed Checklist Pages (one after each month)

I’m super excited about it and Plum Paper has already sent me an email saying it’s on the way. 

Will it be too big and unruly as to be impractical? We shall see. I promise I’ll do an update in November/December, when most people will be looking to make a new purchase for the start of the next calendar year.

Thank you for indulging my planner mania. I am too old for this craziness.  

 

10 Favorite restaurants in Los Angeles

10 Favorite restaurants in Los Angeles

One thing about living in a city like Los Angeles, folks are always stopping through. Since I moved here nearly 17 years ago, friends, acquaintances, heck even strangers have reached out looking for recommendations on what to do, where to eat, and where to stay in L.A. Hotel recommendations are always the hardest because, um, I live here. So while I can give a thumbs up to general areas in the city, I rarely know much about the inside of local hotel rooms. 

Food, however, food is a different story. In the last few years, LA has become quite the foodie scene (after a history of coming in behind cities like New York and Chicago on this front) and I have a running list of places old and new that I’m dying to try. In my 20s I couldn’t afford the great restaurants (and there were far fewer) and then I lost a good five years of the baby stage when Jeff and I were simply too tired to make much restaurant effort. 

Also, my tastes have changed dramatically in the last five years. Without going off on total tangent, suffice it to say that I’ve had lifelong food anxieties (texture issues and such) that have waned quite a bit through my husband’s gentle prodding. I’m still not an adventurous eater, but I (sometimes) venture off the kids menu. 

I often share new places we're trying on Instagram, using the #10TTTY or #10TTTYfood hashtags.

This is the type of list that fluctuates, of course, but right now here are my favorite restaurants in Los Angeles:

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Thoughts on a 6+ week social media break

Thoughts on a 6+ week social media break

An extended social media fast had been brewing with me for a long time. Facebook has been a thorn in my emotional side since the 2016 election, honestly, but it has been hard to cut the cord because the platform is the only way I communicate in certain personal and professional relationships. Twitter hasn’t ever been a problem for me, it isn’t even a time suck. I check twitter every single day, it’s my favorite source for news and opinions, but I rarely use it on my phone, nor does it make me emotional in any way. 

Instagram has long been my social media app of choice, but more and more I found myself losing (literally) hours to it over the course of a day. I use it to avoid feelings and chores and delude myself into thinking it’s “work” or that I’m actually connecting with people. When my husband left in January to make a movie for five long months, I knew after just a few weeks of solo parenting and general life chaos that I should make some dramatic changes to my personal routines and that included removing the distraction and emotion-swirling effects of social media. 

But I am addicted to this stuff, there is no doubt. I enjoy the creativity of it and the gratification of instant feedback. I genuinely like seeing other people’s creativity and work and their lives as depicted on a little screen. However, by the time I officially started my social media break - using Lent as a loose time frame - I was so ready to make the change that I didn’t suffer the withdrawal I thought I would given social media’s prominence in my brain. 

A few things I did notice, based on notes I took along the way…

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10 Podcasts to binge

10 Podcasts to binge

It's hard to imagine that just a few short years ago I didn't listen to podcasts at all. Now they are such a huge percentage of the entertainment and information that I consume, barely a day goes by that I don't listen to something.

I subscribe to dozens of shows, but it's rare that I listen to episodes on the day they drop. I'm a binger. I will wait until a series is done before I listen to it for 8 hours at a time. If you're a fellow binger, I have a few suggestions for you:

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10 Best Fiction books of 2017

10 Best Fiction books of 2017

End of the year lists are the best, I love keeping a record of the best things about a season, and my year-end book lists are my favorite to compile. On average, my goal is to read about 1 book a week, or roughly 50 - 55 books a year. I hit that goal in 2017, but it was a little uneven.

Mid-way through the year I became a little disappointed with what I’d been reading. It’s true that I had a small slump in the spring where I didn’t read much or read things that I didn’t love, but I kicked it up a notch and now that I look back on the whole of 2017, I can see that I read some truly phenomenal things. The types of books that when you’re finished with them, you think to yourself, “I want to read more stuff like THAT.” Not in content, but in caliber. 

Here are 10 of the best:

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WHY 10 Things To Tell You?

Picture us as best friends, life’s busy-ness means we haven’t caught up in several weeks and we are in dire need of a night out, or a lunch, or a long walk together. Imagine we meet at a favorite restaurant, you beat me there and order drinks first, and welcome the bowl of salty chips plopped in the center of the table. 

I arrive, slide into the booth breathless with excitement, and say “I have 10 things to tell you!”

“Oh, good!” You say. “I have a ton to talk about, too.” 

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This exact scenario plays out in my life regularly. In that booth, or on voxer, or over text. I have friends who live all over the country, and even though modern technology makes it easier for us to keep up with one another, it’s not the same as a marathon session catching up. Even my local friends here in Los Angeles are just as busy as I am toting children around and hustling work, and this culture of busy, achieving, overscheduled families means we go days or weeks without a proper conversation. 

10 Things To Tell You was born out of these marathon talks with friends and the desire to share what we're reading, watching, and listening to that is helping us grow. 

Sharing yourself is the only way to forge and deepen human connection. Giving and letting yourself receive from others makes us better friends, family, parents, and partners. I’ve been sharing my life and recommendations online for nearly a decade, and it has changed my world. The internet makes it so easy to share, but the real magic is face to face.

I have 10 Things To Tell You, but I REALLY want you to go tell your own 10 Things to the people who matter to you. Tell your friends about the books, shows, movies, podcasts, and whatever else that is making you think, making you laugh, expanding your heart. Share the things you can’t stop thinking about. If you don’t tell them, how will they know? Don’t be shy, and definitely don’t listen to that little voice that says your opinion doesn’t matter. TELL PEOPLE your ten things! Or twelve things. Or the TWO things you really want them to know.

Share your stuff. It makes all of us better.

10 Notes on starting a blog when blogging is dead.

1. Blogging is over, right? Donzo. Lame.

Was it always lame? Kind of. I mean, it was never cool. But there was a time when everyone was into blogs. A lot of people blogged and a lot of people read blogs and it was both an embarrassment and awesome. Everyone wanted other people to share their most personal stuff on the internet so we could read it. A lot of us fell on that sword, giddy over having a voice for possibly the first time. Now, it wasn't all rainbows and roses, even in its heyday blogging got a bad rap. Sometimes the people who were the most critical of personal blogging were also the most avid readers. But the most important part was real and true: people shared themselves and connected with strangers across the world. The blogging eruption was a history-making, world-shrinking miracle. 

2. And then, sure as sky, the big backlash happened. Popular blogs became too commercial, babies of mom bloggers grew up, people who wrote eloquently about their life struggles were outed as being insane. The monkeys ran away with the circus, as they say. 

3. I had a blog, back in the day.

Writing on the internet saved my life in some ways, kept me company during some lonely years and was one long course in personal essay writing. I enjoyed it, it opened a lot of doors for me, I traveled around the world three times on invitations stemming from my blog. But then I killed it with worry. Strangled it under the crushing fear of other people’s opinions. I grew tired and stressed over my blog and when the opportunity came for me to jump off that train, I gladly took it. 

 

4. But I’ve actually missed blogging in the intervening years. Not chasing page views and navigating algorithms, that part makes online content creators fully fetal. But the genuine sharing, on a site that’s not being manipulated by a foreign entity, or governed by a character count. I like writing on the internet. 

5. You know what else, I like? Lists.

6. And my real gift to the world is bossiness. Among friends and family and online acquaintances, I am known for telling you EXACTLY what you should do, the books you should read, what to order, how to feel, align, organize, breathe. My obsessions come in fast and deep and then I have an uncontrollable desire to share them with the world.

7. The internet has been great for me.

8. And also, not so great. I have true concerns about how all this screen time is changing our brains and hearts and culture at large. 

9. But every time I start to think about stepping away from the internet forever (I’ve never truly contemplated stepping away from the internet forever), I come back to the piece about sharing. I think that people sharing their stuff - the personal, the trivial, and life's most important lessons - is the key to connection and peace.

10. I might run out of things to say after the first six months. But for now, I have 10 Things To Tell You.