Organizing the Mind for the New Year with Smitten on Paper

This post was sponsored by Smitten on Paper but all opinions, thoughts, and tips are my own. Smitten on Paper is a paper company based in Monrovia, CA. They have daily planners as well as wedding services including invitations and thank you notes. They also host a number of workshops, for those into stationary and calligraphy.

In 2019, I was repeatedly asked the following question: How do you juggle it all?

As a dentist and President of my dental SCORP, a small business owner of a cottage food bakery called Aero, a baker and manager of that bakery, a dog-sitter on Rover, a cat mom, a writer on this blog (and others), a wife, a daughter, and a sister, amidst other relational obligations and labels, I can see why many people wonder. And if I am being completely honest, at times, it is very, very hard. The juggling part I mean … But the secret itself isn’t so tough.

There is one trait that I attribute all of this juggling to, and I would call it my one and only “super-power”. It is an ability to organize my thoughts and mind in a systematic way so that I can take on more activities than an average person.

In essence, I am able to do more by organizing my mind in the form of planning ahead.

At an early age, I was taught the power of organizing the world around me. My mother recognized that I have an artistic way of thinking. My mind wanders and I reside in an imaginative world of my own making. I saw the world in minute details and failed to see the big picture even when it’s staring me in the face. I substituted reasoning with emotion, and  made all decisions based off of how I felt. I think she realized that with this creativity, I would never be “successful” in the way that the world views success. So she set me up for that success by instilling a number of simple habits that would take the place of the logical reasoning that I lacked.

These habits entailed:

  • writing things down
  • prioritizing tasks
  • grouping thoughts and tasks together and
  • planning ahead

She appealed to my interest in play by getting me to think of tasks as things to be categorized and re-categorized. She promoted experimentation with my organizing skills, and taught me to not lose heart when something  fails, but to always try again. She saw my affinity for small details and equated that with the power of small steps. Lastly, she taught me that by planning ahead, I could accomplish all of the wild dreams that I conjured up. This was in the early 90’s when computers and smart phones didn’t reside in every household. We were living in a third world country. All she had to teach me these habits was pencil and paper.

I am a person who still uses a paper planner. I carry notepads with me wherever I go. My husband jokes that I plan more than I do, and occasionally will sneak silly reminders such as “BREATHE” or “SHOWER” into my daily plans. But anyone else on the outside looking in will comment on how much I actually do, which goes to show that planning is the fuel necessary get things done.

I owe what I’ve accomplished in my life to those first few years when my mom honed in my skills.  I wanted to share with the world how it is that I can juggle so many things.

Tips on Planning the New Year

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  • Start with Goals: There is no need to create a vision board, but having a clear vision is necessary for success. I like to start every month with a set of goals. My goals fall into multiple categories: personal, work, home, health, finances, and other. After I have identified my goals, I ask myself the questions “why?” and “how?”. The former is to identify if the goal is actually aligned with my values and worth the effort. The second is to decrease the effort by formulating the game plan. The more detailed, the better. Below, I share with you some examples for January 2020.
    • Personal – Let go of desire for fame and wealth by saying no to opportunities at this time in order to create more space and time for myself. Be present and grateful by docking the phone when at home and keeping a gratitude journal in order to decrease the feeling of overwhelm.
    • Work – Take initiative in order to be more proud of your work – you need to own it by practicing leadership and setting more boundaries with your clients, patients, and co-workers.
    • Home – Keep a tidy space by assigning a location for everything you own and keeping all surfaces clear to prevent the mental clutter that follows physical clutter.
    • Health – Adopt a healthy lifestyle by signing up for SFW’s health and wellness program to maintain a balanced lifestyle, getting into a daily yoga routine to improve posture to increase the longevity of dentistry, wearing sunscreen daily to improve the skin, and eating more veggies and fruit to improve digestion.
    • Finances – Increase the monthly student loan payment to $7k a month in January and then to $7.5k a month in June after the car has been paid off in order to snowball method our way to financial freedom in 3-4 years.

By these examples, you can see that the goal is focused by a habit or task with trackable progress and with a “why” attached to it.

  • Track Habits:

“Motivation won’t always be there, but good habits will.” – Michaela Puterbaugh of SFW

In order to pave a path to success, you need to start with building your habits. Little habits will add up over time. If you want to be physically fit, create the habit of exercising daily. If you want to be less dependent on social media, create a habit of docking the phone once you get home. If you want to be financially stable in the future, make a habit of paying off credit cards in full or saving 10% of your income after every paycheck. How will you know if you are on your way to success? Track your habits. See how many days you were able to stick to a regimen. Find the habits that work and those that don’t. Maybe you’re pursuing habits that don’t align with you. Readjust accordingly.

  • Write everything down. Immediately! In fact, write it down as it comes into your head. Your brain switches from passive creativity to rigid logical reasoning continuously. It is during the passively creative phases that you come up with ideas. But if you don’t write it down, you lose the accessibility of these ideas. Most times, they are forever forgotten and this is when you miss out on opportunities. Don’t rely on memory. We are notoriously bad with recall, and you never know when the idea will resurface. I carry paper and pen with me wherever I go so that an idea never has the chance to escape me.
  • Prioritize: Prioritizing is key! Without proper prioritization, we would all be running around like bunny rabbits switching from one task to another, without getting anywhere. We would feel accomplished, in a very delusioned way. A trick that I’ve found very useful is to write down the top 3 things that are easy to do and the top 3 things that need to get done TODAY. I start with the easy tasks first because it gives me that motivational boost! Then I make sure that before I sleep, I accomplish the MUSTS, to set myself up for the next day. Everything else can wait.
  • Have a checklist: Motivate yourself by checking off each task. Our brains release dopamine whenever we experience novelty and having a checklist is a way for our brains to register that we have completed something and are starting on something new. I keep a checklist of other tasks separate from my TOP 3 EASY and TOP 3 MUSTS. It’s a running checklist that rolls over to the next day (or the next week). It’s a log from which I can choose the following day’s prioritized tasks. In a way, it also acts as a reminder of all the things I can do. This checklist is more flexible than my schedule or my priorities.
  • Set Aside Time for Yourself: Here is where I can improve. Mental fog and brain exhaustion is REAL. Let me tell you. There are days where I’ve switched between so many roles that I feel almost insane. Our brains are not multi-taskers. When we think we are multi-tasking, we are actually attention switching. We are switching from one task to another very quickly. Research has shown that this is energy consuming for the brain. We need to reset the brain in order to keep going, otherwise we may suffer from overwhelm and fatigue. Suggestions include surrounding oneself in nature, with art, with friends, or my favorite, setting aside daily 30-minute blocks of do-nothings so that our thoughts can simply wander.
  • Organize your day into blocks. As mentioned previously, it is quite costly to switch from one task to another. Not only does the brain use up oxygenated glucose with every switch, it also increase the amount of decision-making necessary. It has been shown that small decisions take up as much energy as big decisions do, so trying to multi-task and filling your day with small decisions detracts from your ability to focus and get things done. The best thing to do is to avoid having to switch between tasks, especially tasks that are unrelated. Group together cleaning the kitchen and cleaning the bathroom back-to-back rather than using the dog as an excuse to take a walking break in between. Have a designated time to check e-mail once or a few times a day instead of checking every five minutes. Don’t use your phone when you are walking from place to place, or watch TV while you are doing homework. Think of ways to group activities, in much the same way that you would organize the home by grouping like-minded items in the same containers. And most importantly, avoid distractions!

How to Use a Planner

As you may already know, I try to be intentional with each purchase I make. When it comes to planners, I am especially diligent in researching the perfect planner that fits my lifestyle. This year, I chose Smitten On Paper’s Weekly Agenda to accompany me in 2020.

I chose this planner because it is very attuned to my personality and lifestyle. Additionally, I think that it has many of the principles of organization that are crucial in balancing a busy life.

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The first few pages include a monthly overview that shows important dates in list form. Each month is then preceded by a calendar which I use to visualize important dates and events.

Each month also begins with goal-setting. It is set up exactly the same as the goals that I wrote about above. Next to the goals are two habit trackers, but off course, two habits are not enough, so I use the trackers to keep me accountable for four habits. I list two habits that I want to implement and mark each day with either an “X” or an “O” or both. There is a space to write down a reward if you keep up with the habits, which could be very motivational for some!

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The weekly agenda is separated into three columns. The first is a schedule, where I write down how I plan for the day to go, assigning specific time periods for each task. Events or appointments that are non-repeating are highlighted with marker. When the day is especially busy or the schedule feels cluttered, I use Smitten on Paper’s Legal Pad to break my day down. If it is even busier than that, this larger notepad has worked for me.

The second column is a checklist of tasks. This is where I list my to-do and these tasks run into the next day or week. Throughout the day, I carry this notepad with me and every time an idea or thought pops into my head, I write them down so I won’t forget. I have no trust when it comes to my memory. These thoughts include reminders for things I that need to get done. I then transfer the tasks to my weekly agenda at the end of the day and throw out the note. There is no deadline to these tasks, which relieves the pressure to complete them by a certain time.

The last column is the most important and is highlighted in blue. It is a box for priorities. I list my MUST DO’s in numbered form and my EASY TASKS with bullet points. This is where my focus for the day is.

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At the top of each week, I also write down “how I want to feel” for that week and I try to write a word at the very beginning of the week. Then at the end of the week, I write down one thing I am “grateful for”, and three “weekly wins” – things I have accomplished that I am especially proud of. At the end of the year, it is nice to read over these weekly wins to see just how much was done. And since I am especially hard on myself, the moments of gratitude keep me grounded and remind me to acknowledge that although it may not seem like it, I have already come so far.

So there you have it! All the secrets of maintaining my lifestyle and juggling my hobbies and passions. It was one HECK of a year, and definitely a HECK of a decade!

Wishing you all the best, and happy New Year!

XOXO

 

My Favorite Things

1.This bakery

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for all the joy its brought me and for giving me something to be thankful for.

2. This stack of books

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for reminding me of that special day.

3. This cat curled up in a ball

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for keeping us warm in the night.

4. This matcha latte and agenda pad

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for keeping me energized and on task, respectively.

This hand-thrown espresso mug

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for mornings full of pondering and reflection.