Decide on the Next Action

I’ve mentioned before that I can be a procrastinator, haven’t I? Now, I’ll admit that I have piles of books that need to be dropped off. We’ve had various ideas about what we want to do with them. Yet the piles continue. Then I got fed up and decided to take one box each week to Half Price Books – at least with most of them. One day I headed to the pile, ready to grab a box and go. Only they’re not all in boxes, a bag was the easiest to reach, and the bag disintegrated in my hand. Guess what, none of those books made it to the car, nor did I go to Half Price Books.

Often when we’re stymied by our stuff, we’re undecided about what we need to do with it. Sometimes when we procrastinate, we’re reluctant to tackle this or that item. These things require us to make a decision. Too often we aren’t even aware of what decision we need to make.

Decisions, decisions. Life is filled with them. Too often, we’re racing through life just trying to get everything done and not stopping to think about how and where we are spending our time and energy. Some piles of books on the three-season porch were frequently the least of my worries. You’ve probably heard the saying “When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice.” (by William James)

Most of the time we need to consider what the next step we need to take is, specifically. It’s great that you can identify the things you want to do. You want to clear out the basement, or spend more time with loved ones. Sometimes we are talking about a “project,” whether we realize it or not. A project is typically any task that takes multiple action steps to complete.

Regardless of what you need to do – ask yourself “What is the next action for this item?” If you can do this, you will have clarity about your to do list. It also amazingly can motivate you to start tackling items you might have been procrastinating.

In fact, an extreme statement (especially from me) – never make a to do list that includes anything except those specific and concrete next action items. If you don’t write out to do lists – when you’re deciding what you’re going to do next, figure out the action.

If you can consistently take a moment, yes that’s all it takes – just a moment, to ask yourself what the next action is for each task you have, you can reduce the amount of time you spend on tasks and work through your tasks.

Unfortunately, the piles of books are still there. When I decided to deal with the piles of books, my next action was to take one box in. Lately when I look at my to do list, I see ‘take a box to Half Price Books,’ I avoid it. In my current situation, the piles of books moved from an action to a project, since I need to box up the books that I want to take in before I can take them in. I also cannot tackle my to do item immediately – the books aren’t ready to take anywhere. I can see how I’m procrastinating it since it’s more than this easy step. Now the to-do list is modified, my next action item is to box up the books.

What will your next action be?

PlanetSafe Planners

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

PlanetSafe Planner 30-day planner

Undated 30 day calendar planner


  • customizable
  • adjustable; easy to rearrange (with post-it notes)
  • environmentally friendly
  • reusable (depending on style used)
  • great for visual people
  • thin and sturdy


  • restricted to home- not possible to carry around
  • limited space on some calendar squares
  • not reusable, with some styles


This is another product that I discovered through the NAPO expo, at last year’s conference (and this year’s too) – PlanetSafe Planners.  I love the idea that you use a dry erase marker on the calendar, how easy and clean to change things.  As well, they enable using post-it notes for other areas, again so easy to rearrange and move things. The flexibility and ease of using their planners is exceptional.

My husband and I might be unique; we have no calendar in the house to record events.  We have our Google calendars synced, and these are always with us.  Without kids or any other reasons, we’ve found no reason for a wall calendar to tell us about our appointments.  Nevertheless, I think this can be a superb calendar for some people – as long as you need that household calendar.  The only condition is that you use it and don’t rely exclusively on what (if anything) you carry with you.

Considering what my schedule often looks like, the squares look too small for extensive schedules, and then trying to add in other people’s schedules too seems unrealistic.  Thus would depend heavily on how much you need to keep track of.  If I only put in rough hours of when I’d be otherwise occupied, there’s potentially enough room for several people’s obligations.

I think I might be a little odd – for I found myself resisting the idea of this environmental calendar that I’d need to replace every year – and how “environmental” that it is.  Then again, it’s not paper.  Although reading about their development, these calendars are a 100% green product after struggling to find a natural adhesive. They also offer options for undated calendar options.

Although for myself I’m not interested in their calendars, I am tempted by some of the goal planners- the idea that my husband and I could have a very visible post-it note planner for our joint goals, for the house and other plans.  This is one the strengths of PlanetSafe Planners – they are a great visual – with the different color post-it’s, you’re unlikely to miss it!

PlanetSafe Planner Yearly Goals

Yearly goals with post-it notes

In some ways, the intriguing part of their planners is how a number of them also focus on goals and tasks – having a space included separate from the calendar for these items.  It would be very rewarding to take down the post-it notes after completing tasks.  The limited, yet not small area would encourage people to NOT over schedule.

PlanetSafe Planner 30 day calendar and tasks

30 day calendar with task or customizable section

From my limited perspective here in the Midwest, it’s sad that this company is not better known.  Although there are some limitations to some of their products, they are worth keeping in mind to help you plan – depending on the contexts relevant to your life.

Note: All my reviews are done without consideration for the company (sorry!) – as unbiased as possible! I don’t receive anything from any of them and most don’t know I’m even reviewing their products.

Look Out – Papers Incoming

I’ve got the NAPO conference on my brain – from the three and a half days education in San Diego – to the state chapter meeting just four days after the end of the national conference.  I have absorbed some of the mass of information available and gathered even more, for when I can handle more!  This may not be a situation that happens regularly, yet it’s important to have ways to deal with it.

For last year’s national conference I printed out all these sheets – the map of the hotel and expo, the slides for the presentations I wanted to attend as well as some back up slide presentations in case I changed my mind. I took lots of notes in the workshops and gathered flyers from most, if not all, the companies exhibiting their products.  Lots of paper.  Within a month I had the business cards and flyers organized.  Those notes though, those are still sitting in the binder I took, waiting for my good intentions for organizing them.

This year I had my nifty iPad, so I decided to take a risk and load all the slide presentations and maps on that.  I took a small spiral notebook just on case I couldn’t make do with typing on the iPad.  I’m thrilled to say that using the iPad was a complete success.  I’m even more excited that I won’t need to worry about transcribing the notes – as they’re all electronically searchable and ready for me to use the information when I’m ready.

I took with me 2 empty document envelopes, like Peter Walsh’s,

Peter Walsh's Document Envelope

Peter Walsh's Document Envelope

and at the end of each day separated the flyers and various papers I’d accumulated into 2 piles.  One pile was for things that I want to follow up on in one way or another – companies I want to look at their websites, articles to read, or people to e-mail after conference.  The other pile was for things to save, but more for archiving – things I might want to refer to later but needed no action or attention in the short term.  Each pile went into one of the document wallets. I’ve begun the process of dealing with the small collection of papers that need action, and it’s easy since they’re all together.

With the small context of our local meeting, I simply made a list of the things I want to act on, separate from the notes gathered during the presentation.  I’ve figured out that taking notes electronically is ideal for me – no need to make time to transcribe notes, and I’ll keep them organized in my Evernote account where I can search and access them anytime.

Although this can be an ideal way of handling any information you get – making a separate list of action items – for me, the amount of information from the national conference was overwhelming and I wanted it to be simpler.  I’ve already started acting on the items, though I’ve certainly got more to do.  Yet now I’m ready to add them a to-do list, therefore simplifying things even more.

Papers are often the biggest struggle – despite the aim toward a paperless society, we continue to have a plethora a paper bombarding us.  I was excited to limit that some by not printing the handouts, yet I certainly brought a good amount of additional paper home.

Having a plan for what you want to do with those papers is important – figure out whether you want/need to take action and you need the physical papers to remind you or if you simply want to archive them for reference at a later point.  Or do you want to pass them along to someone else? What is the next thing you want to do with them?  This will help you deal with any papers coming into your life.

Note Taking for Virtually Everything

If you’ve been following me for a little while, you might have noticed a recurring mention of elephants.  Yes, I like elephants.  Now what does that have to do with anything I would share with you? Well, when I was browsing various smart phone apps, I saw an elephant.  When I decided to find out more, I discovered Evernote and started using it.

Evernote logo

I’m a slightly skeptical consumer, so after creating an account (free) with Evernote, I only used it on my phone and via the Internet.  I put off downloading the desktop version and used Evernote for only limited things.  Yet, I loved how I could use my phone to make notes, copy webpages, and bookmark sites, while waiting for my appointment to start.  I also had the grocery list and other task lists always accessible – since my phone is always with me.

Of course, I asked my husband if he’d heard of it – and he hadn’t, but he checked it out and uses it regularly.  More than me of late.  He even decided on the premium service, quite reasonable at $45 a year (or $5 a month) with some nice additional benefits.  I’m considering upgrading eventually too.  One of the features he uses and appreciates is how Evernote gives you an e-mail address so that you can just e-mail notes into your account.

They also offer the ability to share your notebooks or just notes with others.  This is one of the first things I read about – a parent of a special needs child using Evernote to coordinate information between the doctor’s office and school, by having an account where certain people were given permission to access and modify (when appropriate) all the notes related to the care of her child.  I might need to start sharing Evernote notebooks with clients on the various research I do for them!

I appreciate the layers of potential organization with Evernote, as you can create notebooks to gather like items together and that you can create tags as well for each item you add.  Although I’ve not needed to try it out, Evernote says that everything is searchable, so if you’re struggling to find something you could probably find it even if you only remembered some obscure word.

I’ve been a bit frustrated, as one of my shopping lists has become problematic – in that it doesn’t want to load properly – on any of the devices.  I just need to delete and make a new note.  I’ve heard of problems with formatting issues between devices.  Yet, I believe that Evernote will work to resolve any issues.  The range of how to access Evernote is quite impressive; just about any device now has a platform to access it – and it syncs once you have an Internet connection again.  There are some limitations with some devices – like my smart phone and Evernote don’t always work well without Internet or modifying notes on the iPad, again without Internet can be problematic.

I’m excited to explore Evernote even more, and especially since I’ve finally downloaded the desktop version for my computer.  From what I’ve seen the benefits far outweigh the few struggles they have and the improvements come regularly.  There are so many possibilities and ways to have Evernote work to benefit you – as an individual, to fit your needs.  This is the ultimate goal for anything you use.

Drop Files You Use – Here

A little less than a year ago, my husband found this file sharing service and persistently talked to me about it, as ‘we need this.’  Have I mentioned how resistant I can be about new technology?  I didn’t mind the old school way of e-mailing each other attachments.  Or worse case, I’d paste the information into Google Docs where he could log in and see it (minus formatting, of course).  Yet, did you notice the phrase “didn’t mind”?  If I were working with someone, that phrase alone would make me pause and ask some follow-up questions.  Is it worth settling for a “don’t mind”?  I’m on the lookout for ways that it can be simple and maybe even enjoyable.

Dropbox, this file sharing service my husband was so excited about is just that – simple and enjoyable to use.  It’s also free, at least for anything under 2GB, which works for us without problems.  You can also “earn” additional free space by having friends join.

One of the reasons it’s easy is that is puts a folder, appropriately called Dropbox, on your desktop if you use Windows, or under Places in the Finder on a Mac.  You take any files you want and put them into the Dropbox folder.

What’s so special about that?

Well, first you can install Dropbox on any computer and it connects your files with each computer.  This is not all though – it also works on most smart phones.  There’s also the ability to access it on the web if you want.  This also means that you can work on a file even when you don’t have an Internet connection, and it will sync when there’s a connection again and your work is then available everywhere again.

Second, you can share folders with anyone.  If you’re going to be working with a group, you can create a folder that you all have access to.  What this means, is that each person can work on any given file; you won’t need to track which version is the most recent.  This was the important aspect for my husband so that we could coordinate various files.  Although I’ve not tried to use it, Dropbox provides access to old versions of a file for 30 days with the free version, and longer for the paid versions.  It also apparently will create two files if there is a conflict, like two people making modifications at the same time, so it works hard to protect the data.

It’s funny to me that many reviews of Dropbox group it with online back-up services like Mozy or Carbonite.  Although it certainly offers that service, it functions uniquely as it offers a free file sharing service.  Certainly at the free 2GB option, it’s not going to be superior for backing up most files on your computer.

Also, since you’re likely to put files in it that are in progress or important to you, it offers the security that they will be there when you need them.  This is exactly where Dropbox excels in my opinion.  I don’t want access to all my files from every device, yet there are many files I’m working with or want access to, and Dropbox gives me that access easily and simply.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not backing up all my files each time I modify them, so Dropbox keeps them safe until I’m ready to back them up elsewhere.  It also means that when I’m on the go, but have some time, I can open Dropbox and get things done.  It allows my husband and I to make lists for shopping or financial things.

There are additional services that I’ve not used or explored much.  You can e-mail a link to a file or folder to someone so they can access the files you want to share.  The photo folder apparently creates a public gallery for slideshow sharing of your pictures.

I mentioned earlier that it would sync your files across devices.  Sometimes this takes time.  My mom was frustrated at one point when I uploaded a video we’d taken because it took a long time before it was available in our shared folder.  It was a big file though and cannot imagine how long it would have taken to attach and mail only to need to be downloaded later.  You need to be aware of the fact that it can take time for files to get synced to the cloud, and then synced to the various locations.  I’ve found this to rarely be an issue, and I’ve been quite pleased with the speed of syncing.

This is a must have service if you use multiple devices or work with other people on files.  Since my only minor struggle has been an occasional delay in syncing, I’ve found no other drawbacks to Dropbox.  That alone seems extraordinary!  Consider how you might improve your productivity by getting this.

An Organizing Mission for You: Make a List of Things That Inspire You

Your organizing mission this week, should you choose to accept it – make a list. I hope your stomach didn’t just drop to your knees. This is a special list, one that will give you pleasure and one that you will refer back to regularly. The list I want you to make is of the things that inspire, motivate, and rejuvenate you. It needs to be compiled of things that touch your very being, excluding things that are mindless or allow you to zone out.

This list is important for several reasons. One is that, once it’s done, in moments of need (more on this later), you will not need to take time to think of things that motivate you. Second, the items on the list can be used before beginning a task or as a reward for completing an arduous task. Third, this list also tells you the things that you need to make time for even if you do not need a pick-me-up at other points.

A while back I was preparing a presentation and was thinking about the things women stereotypically report wanting time for, the luxurious bubble bath, time to label and organize photographs, or time to bake, yet everyone has their individual ultimate in relaxation. For me, the greatest contentment I can imagine happened for me one New Year’s Day, when I spent the majority of the day lounging on the couch reading. I spent the next several weeks feeling light and free, motivated to get things accomplished. Therefore, this is on the top of my list, though there is not always time for a day of lounging and reading.

There are three moments when having our personal list of motivating and inspiring things is helpful, times when a concrete set of choices that will benefit us. First, we all end up facing situations where our motivation is lacking some oomph. Second, there are times when our skills at procrastination reveal themselves more fully. Third, life sometimes seems even more overwhelming and we look up and see no end to the demands on our time, energy, or money.

Without a list, without that fast and easy way to remind ourselves of what helps us, it is easy to dismiss the things that benefit us. When we find that we are procrastinating or feeling overwhelmed, it is often a clue that we need to take time to care for ourselves. It is often the hardest time to stop and re-direct our energy inward. Having the list means that we can pull it out and refer to it, and we recognize the importance of self-care, and even that we are willing to try it.

Doing something off that list then can help revitalize us; sometimes we need to energize ourselves to work on the next task. Having a list that is comprised of the things that inspire and motivate us is useful in rejuvenating our energy to accomplish what we need to. Sitting on the couch and zoning out to the latest television program does not result in our feeling more energetic.

On the other hand, knowing the things that benefit your state of mind can also be a great “reward” after completing a project. Out of curiosity, I took an online procrastination quiz and many questions dealt with the idea of treating yourself to something nice after getting a dreaded task accomplished. The list that you create would be the ideal place to turn for any reward you want.

There is a fine line between using this list to motivate yourself and abusing it by avoiding the tasks you need to accomplish. Yet the benefits of recognizing the things that benefit your state of mind are immeasurable. This list might offer ways of combining unpleasant or dreaded tasks with things that also motivate you.

Is there music that touches you deeply or one that makes you bounce around with energy? There is no reason that you cannot put that music on while you work on something else. A while back there was a television show on during the day that I was inspired by, so I combined my watching it with my daily stationary bike ride.

The things that rejuvenate you are the very items that need to be on your list. They are things that hold meaning for you and therefore deserve to be done regularly. It is too easy to get caught up in all the things that demand our attention and energy, neglecting the things that can help keep us going. By making time to do some of the things on this list we decrease the burnout that life can bring our way. Doing things for ourselves from this list can also benefit our friends and family for we have more patience and energy by making caring for ourselves a priority.

So I challenge you to make a list of things that inspire, motivate, and rejuvenate you. You can choose to share it or not, but make sure that you can refer to it easily. Make sure that you do not forget about it, use it, remind yourself that you are important and deserve some pampering.

Organizer Problem or Personal Problem?

I have been exploring planners and date organizers lately, being dissatisfied with my current setup and wanting to find something that accommodates my preferences and limitations. In talking with my husband about my personal pros and cons of different systems, he brought up his struggles and said, “I don’t have an organizer problem, I have a personal problem.” I knew exactly what he meant. There are systems and organizers aplenty out there, yet they are not the answer to all our problems. Finding the perfect one is not going to solve the struggles we have in using them.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there are personal preferences and different ways that we all process and function, so there are organizer systems that will work better for some people than for others. Yet, some people can bounce from one organizer to another searching for the one that will somehow “fix” the ways we manage ourselves.

I could argue that most planners are all relatively the same concept with slight differences. The market continues to keep producing variations, offering more selections and in some ways propagating the idea that there is a perfect solution for everyone. The temptation is to try the newest, latest versions. This is further complicated by the ever-growing electronic choices. Now we need to choose between paper or electronic, or find a way to work with both.

When I was in high school, my dad was quite persistent about getting me to use a planner, and he was (and he still is) a huge advocate of the Franklin Covey system. Due to the price of getting started and possibly due to my resistance, I began with a DayTimer planner. After using the DayTimer and even liking it, he moved me to a Franklin planner. And for most of that time, it worked for me – in fact, for the past 20 years, I bought purses so I could carry that good-sized Franklin around with me, to the point I was getting shoulder and back pain.

In recent years, I found myself using aspects of the organizer, but there were facets of the system that I was resisting. I find the month at a view crucial for tracking my schedule and I use it consistently. Yet, the daily task list was either empty or it was overloaded with items. I was either significantly overestimating what I could accomplish in a day, or avoiding listing anything so I would not feel bad at the end of the day. In using the task list, I ended up doing the very things I encourage others to avoid: underestimating the time you think a task will take and overestimating how much you can get done.

Attempting to compensate for my resistances to daily task lists, I started making a general list of tasks on a blank sheet of paper, referring to it periodically where I would pick and choose what I was going to work on. The problem with that was it was a huge list, had varying degrees of importance, and could easily feel overwhelming just to look at.

Recently I have begun making weekly lists, working at keeping them relatively short and limited to the important tasks I want to accomplish in the next week. Finding myself processing things in this way I started thinking about the PlannerPad system. It has a two-spread page with a section at the top for the task list, under it the tasks can slide into specific days, and finally at the bottom is the schedule with time slots.

Despite my struggles with certain aspects of planning, I recognize that I have slipped in my own discipline. I was feeling overwhelmed with all the things I wanted to get done and overestimating how much I could do in a given day. This is the very reason I have talked about being careful in our thinking about how long things take us.

We need to stop looking outside ourselves for the answer to the difficulties we have.

As I have been looking at and considering different systems, I am focusing on what would benefit me, the aspects that will assist me in the areas where I am struggling. There is no telling how long the planner I choose will work for me and I will need to re-evaluate its functionality regularly. I have identified how the monthly view and concrete schedule continues to work, but the area where I have faltered is the tasks. Now considering where I slipped into being more lax, I want something that will help me strengthen those skills again. It will not happen overnight, and no organizer will cure that problem. Nevertheless, there is a system that will support me while I improve my techniques.

If you are struggling with a planner or day organizer, step back for a moment and consider: is this a planner problem or a personal problem? If it’s a planner problem, there’s plenty of alternatives to choose from and try out. However, if it’s a personal problem, no amount of money spent on planners can help. It takes discipline, attention to the areas where you are struggling, and most of all, a commitment inside yourself that, no matter what, you will work to be more organized.

To-Do for Room Re-Vamp

Clearing Room
Box up magazines
Gather husband’s papers together
Go through papers on my desk
Clear off top of desk
Empty desk drawers items into box
Move stuff out from under desk
Move desk top unit into another room
Move dresser to basement
Move desk to basement
Empty out small file cabinet
Move small CD cabinet out of room
Move art and decorative items out of room
Move etc. pieces out of room – book boxes, scratching post…
Empty bookshelf
Empty most of 4 drawer file cabinets (enough to move them)
Move computer chair upstairs for husband
Take shelf down & patch holes

Room Cleaning
[Paint] – Sweep, mop, & dust

Moving Furniture In
Move bookshelf perpendicular into room
Move other library bookshelf downstairs, into room
Move small bookshelf into room (possible another bookshelf in too)
Move chair into room
Put rug in room?
Put folding table into room?

Moving Everything Else In & Decorating
Hang art back up
Arrange books on shelves (maybe catalog as I go?) 🙂
Move plants in
Find place for computer components
Find place for office supplies