Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Problem with Day Planners

A few weeks ago, I was squeezing avocados with my hands and squeezing my cell phone with my neck and shoulder so I could grocery shop and have a business phone call at the same time. It was 8:30 at night. The colleague on the phone and I are both moms. Our children were in bed. We could talk without opening the Go-gurt or explaining why the purple grape juice must be in a spill-proof sippy cup with a very tight lid.

In the cart seat where my little daughter usually sits, I had my planner open, my notepad handy, a folder of plans, and a grocery list. My office was open and I was getting things done.

I'm lucky to have some flexibility in the way that I work, but very few books are written for women who aren't necessarily trying to have it all, but who are trying to achieve some sort of home-work-life management. But having flexibility sometimes means having business meetings while deciding whether an avocado is ripe enough to make guacamole.

A lot of women with 9-to-5 jobs that take files home. Other women have flexible jobs. The point is that a lot of women--especially moms--work this way. Unfortunately, day planners are not designed for us. Planners usually label the space for after-six events as simply "Evening." "Daytime" usually starts between 6 and 8 a.m. Do you know how much can happen between 6 p.m. and business hours the next day? You do if you're a mom. Watching American Idol or fishing a Lego guy out of the toilet may or may not be on that list. My evenings are rarely simple, and I haven't met a mom whose evenings are.

Ruth Klein recommends using a blank calendar and dividing the days into fourths (morning, afternoon, late-afternoon, and evening) so you can try to balance days. She recommends looking at the days side by side and trying to keep a day that's heavy next to a day that's not so heavy. Ruth would never try to separate work-life-home. Instead, she helps women jump in with both feet and get things done.

I found Klein's book Time Management Secrets for Working Women about the same time that I found Laura Vanderkam's book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. Vanderkam really got me to thinking about time in new ways. I needed this because I came out of the legal profession where time had to be recorded in increments of six minutes on green worksheets that started--you guessed it--at 8 a.m. Laura got me to think about my entire 168 hours per week and how to divide them up a little more realistically. 

(By the way, Vanderkam is now tackling money, and you can read her critique about  “Redbook’s 30-day money cleanse.)
Vanderkam helped me see the hours in the day for what they are: hours in a day. No one hour needs to be revered more than any other. And while things like sleeping and eating do need to be accomplished every 24 hours, no one, except all the 9-to-5 day planner people, thinks I need to do those things during specific hours. She helped me see that Klein's fourths don't necessarily need to fit into my current day planner. Instead, my fourths might be early morning, morning, afternoon, and evening.

For example, I often get up early to finish some work. But, I found that getting up at 5 a.m. wasn't that useful because by the time I read the Internet and caught up on email, one of my children was awake and liked the idea of some time alone with me (which, let's be honest, I like it, too). So, I'd try to stay up an hour later and finish one more thing, but that time wasn't that productive either.

Then, one day, I woke up at 3 a.m. with a cramp in my arm from where a child had been sleeping on it. After I got to the Tylenol, I decided I didn't want to go back to that sleeping arrangement, so I did some work. By the time the first child awoke around 6, I'd read the Internet, answered email, and gotten some substantive work finished.

The next day, I did it again.

And again.

And then I was hooked. Three to five mornings a week, I get up at 3:00 to work. My evenings changed as a result. I no longer fall asleep with my laptop thinking I'll get something finished at night.

I recently came clean about how I work. If I write the email at 3:30, I send it. Today (Saturday), I started at 4 o'clock. I'll finish around 6 or 7 when the first child awakens and we'll have a family day. My email will be somewhat at bay (not caught up, unfortunately, but a little more managed).

I need to worry about email on Saturday morning because one of my colleagues (also a mom) needs information, and she, too, works on weekends. I don't want to wait until Monday to answer her questions.

Because this is the way women really work. We conduct business meetings and examine avocados. And we work in the hours that most day planners ignore.


(p.s. If you need a 24-hour calendar, Microsoft has a template created by user Esoterixia.)


  1. I am right there with you!

  2. Charlsye,

    I'm glad I found your blog. This is a great post. I think these issues confront all of us, male or female.


    Tim Hadley
    Texas Tech