organization

6 thoughts on setting structured goals (even if you don’t have a planner like mine!).

love when bloggers write posts about the goals they’re setting and how they’re doing with achieving them. It’s some of my favorite blog content to read.

So I was pretty excited when I found out that people were excited about reading my goal posts : )

When I write my goal posts (check out the last two here and here) at the end of every month, my favorite planners — Passion Planner and PowerSheets — figure heavily into things, but the truth is that you don’t need to be a total stationery maniac like me to get in on the action. Since I’ve been getting so much good feedback about my goal posts recently, I thought I’d put together some more general thoughts on the process of setting regular goals like this that you can use whether you invest in structured planners like me or just want to start thinking about your approach to goals a little differently. Being deliberate about setting goals like this has been huge for me ever since I started working for myself, but I think everyone can benefit from being a little more intentional about breaking down their New Year’s resolutions or to-do lists so that things actually get done. Here are some thoughts that will hopefully get you inspired…

  • Write things down. I’m a big believer in the power of writing things down, so find a place that works for you — a sticky note on your bathroom mirror, a list on your phone, etc. — and just do it. I promise it will immediately make you feel more accountable. I wasn’t always totally addicted to planner systems like I am now. About four years ago, when I was still working in my corporate job, I got in the habit of writing out some goals for the year on a piece of printer paper and hanging it in my cubicle. The goals didn’t necessarily all have to do with work, but I knew that hanging them near my desk at the office would force me to keep them top of mind every day. I even found the Instagram evidence way back in my feed!
  • Pick a deadline. You see me posting about the goals I’m setting to achieve within a week, a year, or a month, but I put more specific deadlines on goals sometimes, too. In 2016, when I knew I needed to make a transition in my career, I decided that I needed to do it by my birthday. I drew a big star on the calendar on September 20 and worked backward so I had a plan to make that happen. Choose a significant date or an arbitrary one and write. it. down. Until a goal has a deadline or a schedule attached, it’s more like an idea. I love ideas, but they’re not always actionable.
  • Tell people about your goals. It doesn’t need to be a big, formal conversation, but letting the people in your life in on what you’re hoping to achieve is an added measure of accountability that will make it more difficult for you to make excuses. If your friends know that you have a certain goal in mind, they’ll be more likely to casually ask you about it at your next happy hour, which will motivate you to take baby steps toward achieving it. If you want to make yourself extra accountable, share some of your goals with your social media followers.

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  • Be realistic when planning over time. This is one I really struggle with, since I set specific monthly goals. As you’ve probably noticed if you follow my goal posts closely, I tend to create a pretty long list for myself every month… but since my schedule and responsibilities are different every month, that doesn’t always make a lot of sense. Give yourself “margin” (one of my favorite concepts from the Cultivate What Matters team) on your goals during more hectic periods. Just because you set (and achieved!) ten goals for yourself last month doesn’t mean you need to set ten — or eleven — goals for yourself next month. I’m going to try to follow my own advice here, too : )
  • Your goals don’t need to be super serious. I think that people get spooked at the idea of setting structured goals because they associate it with quotas at work, meeting financial milestones, and the like. These things are important, but not always “fun,” right? When I’m setting up my goals for the month, I include things like weekly date nights, places I want to check out in my neighborhood, friends I want to see, and days off. This makes the process more fun and ensures that I’m achieving a little more balance.
  • Don’t fear the rollover! When I don’t achieve a goal I’ve set within the original timeframe I determined for myself, I swallow my pride and simply move it over to the next timeframe. This can be especially hard when you’ve started sharing your goals with other people (no one likes to feel like they’re failing or behind schedule!), but it’s way more important for you to make them happen eventually than it is to be sneaky just so you can impress your family and friends. Just roll those goals over, friends.

Do you set structured goals? If so, I’d love to see your suggestions in the comments below! 

 

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how i handle to-do lists.

As soon as I started working in my first full-time job out of college, I became addicted to to-do lists.

You already know that I have a thing for planners (if you’re new to the blog, it’s worth noting that I use both a Passion Planner and Powersheets on a daily basis), so I was thrilled with the prospect of graduating from the academic agenda I used in school to something a little different. If you’re wondering where I got this weird obsession with stationary and calendars, you can blame my mom. Growing up, I watched her fill the pages of all kinds of planners with colorful pens and neat handwriting, so it felt natural to me to do the same. I was meticulous with my agenda as early as middle school — although I did go through this weird phase where I covered every inch of each page with a highlighter mural that, in hindsight, was very messy — and I developed different systems with each year that passed. By the time I got my corporate job, I knew that a paper planner was necessary for me to stay focused and organized. I picked one out from Barnes & Noble, packed it in my new bag, and got on my first early morning commuter bus to New York City.

Within a few days, I realized that I would need to go a step further in order to keep up with my new workload. I started sticking Post-It notes to the pages of my planner, each one with a list of must-dos for that day, the following day, and the day after that. When I got tired of juggling all of those Post-Its (and when it became clear that I was responsible for using most of the sticky notes in our department’s supply closet), I streamlined my process by keeping daily to-do lists in the same notebook that I used for projects and meetings. I lived and died by those to-do lists.

When I first went out on my own as a freelancer in September 2016, there was honestly no need for a to-do list system. In those early days, I was still building up my workload, and since I wasn’t managing deadlines at that point, there wasn’t much to prioritize! I would make notes in my planner about what I wanted to accomplish, but it was much less specific than what I’d done before. And for more than a year, that worked!

At the end of 2017, I started to hit overwhelm. I’d taken on a bunch of new clients and projects in a short period of time and was forced to make some major adjustments to my schedule and routine. I struggled in that place for a long time, and while I still have my moments, I’ve been feeling a lot better lately. So, what’s helped? I brought back the to-do lists. And the Post-It notes. So many Post-It notes. 

In that spirit, I thought I’d share a few specifics about how I manage my to-do lists in hopes that they’ll help you the way they helped me! I know it seems like a pretty straightforward subject, but I always find that it’s helpful to break things down into their smallest details. Plus, I just love talking about systems and productivity and all things related to my planners! Here we go:

The Do’s of To-Do Lists

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  • DO… be consistent. Once something becomes a habit, you don’t have to think about it anymore. I write my to-do list every night and stick it in the same place (the bottom-right corner of my planner page for that week).
  • DO… make your to-do lists chronological. I add all of my deadlines and assignments to their respective days in my planner as I learn about them, but I’ve become so much more focused — and so much less overwhelmed — since I started creating a separate daily list of what I need to accomplish in order. I determine the order based on urgency, when I know I’ll be mentally freshest, and how different tasks will slot in around meetings.
  • DO… add the easy stuff. I’m a big believer in setting yourself up for easy wins. Once you start checking things off your list, you’re going to crave checking more things off your list over the course of the day. Even if it feels silly, add something super simple to the early portion of your list.
  • DO… write your to-do list the night before. I started doing this back in my corporate days, and I think it’s really important. It cuts out a lot of mental energy first thing in the morning when you can open up your to-do list and already know what your priorities are. In my experience, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed at the end of a workday, but if I start listing out to-dos for the next day — especially anything that I didn’t get to that day — I can wrap things up without feeling too far behind.
  • DO… include meetings and appointments. This is especially important if you’re writing out your tasks chronologically! It’s also an easy way to ensure that you’ll have something to check off.
  • DO… include email maintenance as part of your list. I don’t know about you, but managing my inbox is easily one of the most — if not the most — stressful parts of my working life. It seems like there is no end to the messages that come in, and it can get pretty overwhelming sometimes. If I don’t plan out specific blocks of time for email as part of my to-do list, I tend to feel like I need to respond to every message as it comes in, and that’s just distracting. I usually keep track of follow-ups and outreach that I need to send in my planner, and that dedicated email time gives me a chance to go through all of those at once, too.
  • DO… make your to-do list dynamic. I typically write a rough to-do list for the day as I’m finishing my work the day before, but I come back and take a second look at it right before bed. Taking some time away gives me a chance to gain fresh perspective on my priorities and have a more realistic sense of what I can accomplish the following day.
  • DO… use your inbox to support your to-do list. If there are important messages that you need to respond to within a certain period of time, keep them in your inbox so they’ll stay top of mind as you figure out how to prioritize. I tag my emails to make it easier to see what needs to happen in my email and why. I talk more about my email systems here.

What kind of systems do you use to get things done in work and life? I’d love to hear more in the comments below! 

 

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shoutout to my passion planner.

Dear Passion Planner,

Thank you for helping me get through this week. It was full of all kinds of ups and downs — some I expected, others I didn’t. 

You helped me stay focused and motivated in my new daily routine, despite the fact that I’ve really struggled to keep my head together and be creative in my work amid all the ugliness of our world these past few days. 

For the last eight months, you’ve indulged my crazy obsessive behavior, provided me with plenty of space to doodle and draw, and given me an excuse to invest in lots of colored pens. When I look through all of your pages, I see a full record of my first full year working out on my own, and that’s pretty cool. On the days when I wonder if I’m actually getting anything accomplished, you remind me that I’ve already made so much progress. 

Basically, Passion Planner, you are one of the better decisions I’ve made in the process of revamping my work and life over the past year, and you can consider me a true lifelong fan. 

Thanks! (No, seriously, thanks so much.)

Alli 

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Working on putting together my schedule for next week. 

For the record, this is not a sponsored post, and I am not a Passion Planner affiliate. I just really love this product, and I want to give it the credit it deserves. 

People often ask me what’s helped me be successful working from home, and my Passion Planner is easily one of my best secret weapons. But why should I keep it a secret? You can get your hands on one, too, and I totally think you should.

I’ve tried so many different planners and planning systems over the years, so why do I love this one so much? It gives me so much space. I use the classic size (instead of the compact), and it allows me to break down my day into hourly chunks. Since I make my own schedule, I find this really useful. I also love being able to get creative with all the white space! I keep a set of colored pens (I like Paper Mate Flair felt tips!) with me at all times, and noting my appointments, deadlines, and to-do lists in such a fun and colorful way makes the chaos seem a lot more approachable. If you’re someone who likes journaling and periodic goal-setting, the Passion Planner is especially perfect for you, because it prompts you to reflect on the progress you’re making both personally and professionally at the end of every month.

I wanted to let you all know that Passion Planner is currently running a Kickstarter for pre-orders on 2018 planners. There are tons of product options (including a new eco-friendly line), and for every planner sold during the campaign, Passion Planner will also plant a tree. What’s not to love about that? Inventory is often backordered later in the year, so if you’re interested in getting your hands on a Passion Planner for 2018, this is the right time to do it. I, for one, pre-ordered my Rose Gold Blossom planner earlier this week, and I can’t wait to get my paws on it in a few weeks when the Kickstarter is finished.

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Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you have about how I use my Passion Planner. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I seriously love talking about it.

Are you pre-ordering your 2018 planner? I’d love to hear which one you picked in the comments below!

Have a great weekend, everyone! I’ll see you back here next week for the AUGUST GIVEAWAY!!!!!!

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6 lessons from my inbox obsession.

Hello. My name is Alli, and I’m obsessed with my inbox.

OK, so I don’t lose sleep in the quest for inbox-zero. (Ugh, only in my dreams do I have inbox-zero.) But the tendency toward hyper-organization that you’ve probably noticed in some of my other posts really rears it’s head when it comes to email. From the late-nineties days of my first AOL email account (#flashbackfriday, anyone?), I can remember feeling super overwhelmed anytime messages began piling up in my inbox. To this day, when email starts to get out of control, I feel a little extra twinge of anxiety. Sound familiar?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week as my inbox has exploded with post-Fourth of July sales junk mail and as I’ve gotten all of my communication back on track after spending the holiday in Turks + Caicos. People often ask me how I’m able to stay organized and (mostly) calm, cool, and collected as I’ve learned to run my own writing business, and I honestly credit a lot of it to my somewhat annoying tendencies in this area. As far as I’m concerned, a well-tended inbox is the key to tackling a busy day or a long to-do list. If I’m feeling overwhelmed by email (and, believe it or not, I’m actually really sensitive to things like this), I can get pretty freaked out — and I start to wish I could have what my parents used to call a “do over day” when I was little.

Email is such a major part of our lives both in the office and at home, and I know I’m not the only one who craves order there! More than a few times over the years, people have commented on how crazy-controlled my inbox is (if there are ten messages hanging out, that’s a lot for me), so I thought I’d share some of my weird and obsessive tips with you today. Here’s hoping they help you take on another week with a perfect (at least on the outside) composure — but not before you enjoy an amazing weekend!

Check out my six inbox tips here:

1. Don’t overdo it on the go. I only do two things on my phone’s email app: 1.) respond to urgent messages and 2.) delete messages that are clearly trash. Obviously, you may need to make exceptions to this rule if you’re constantly traveling for work, but I find that managing the vast majority of email in front of my computer forces me to stick to more of a system and to be more consistent with the other tips below.

2. Make morning and evening email purges part of your schedule. If you’re usually the kind of person who doesn’t care about an overflowing inbox, but you’re trying to get some new email habits, this is a great place to start. Kick off your day by going through your messages, deleting junk, and marking priority follow-ups. Do the same before the day ends. Even if your more relaxed nature (I’m jealous!) keeps you from purging your inbox continuously throughout the day, these two checkpoints will help you make progress!

3. Don’t be afraid to delete. Yes, I know that the new Bed, Bath & Beyond coupon you received today has you all excited about buying some new sheets, but you probably have (at least) five other Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons already in your inbox — and you haven’t cashed in on any of them yet. Get real about what you’re actually going to use, and then delete the rest. Trust me: streamlining your email is going to be really good for your productivity and for your mental health overall… even if you end up doing a little less online bargain shopping.

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4. Use folders, labels, and color coding. I’m not even going to tell you how many folders and labels I use in Gmail. Let’s just say it’s a lot (what you see above is only a handful of them). If you didn’t know you can create these in Gmail (I’ve found that a lot of people don’t!), you can get an easy how-to here. My favorite thing about this system is that it allows you to label things while they’re still active in your inbox and when you archive them later on. PLUS, you can color code them, which I love (duh).

5. Figure out a different place to track follow-up items. Instead of letting emails linger in my inbox simply because I know I need to reply to them later on, I archive them (in the folders described above!) and note the day I want to follow up in my trusty Passion Planner. You could do the same in your to-do list app or Outlook calendar. You’ll be amazed by how much this helps with clutter.

6. Stop procrastinating and just reply. Even on a good day, I can still feel really overwhelmed by emails, and sometimes, I just want to cover my eyes and pretend there aren’t more coming in. We all know how this ends, though. It just makes the problem worse. I’ve learned over the years that replying to emails is pretty much the last thing I should procrastinate on. Getting back to people quickly allows me to clear out my inbox… and everyone appreciates when you make a habit to respond ASAP!

Do you have any other email tips you’d like to share? Please tell me I’m not the only one who’s a total freak about this.

: )

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