Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Dec 15, 2009

My Color-Coded Calendar or... Keep killing trees so I can keep track of my life

Instructor, Betsy Boesel Sagges, Independent Public Relations and Communications Professional

In today’s fiercely competitive market, we are busier and busier, and working harder and harder to keep afloat. There’s a myriad of influences on our lives, and the critical need to plan, organize and track our hectic days to ensure we meet all the demands on our time.

Has technology driven this feverish activity? It surely has propelled multi-tasking to a whole new level. My Blackberry is a constant beacon of lights and sounds --  my personal connection to the outside world through alerts, messages, notices, feedback, and, every so often... a phone call.

I have a love/hate relationship with the device: Love that I find out things instantly. Hate that it can always find me. The tiny screen shows correspondences that are critical to my world, as well as utterly useless spam that I’m quite sure I did not “opt in.” With such a cacophony in my hand, I relish the peaceful, passive essence of my life-tracking, life-saving, week-at-a-glance, spiral-bound, paper calendar.

In the early 1990’s, when I worked as an assistant to the Editor-in-Chief of a magazine, the only way to keep track of appointments was with a paper calendar. My boss used a purse-sized no-nonsense version that neatly fit all her appointments and travel plans fit into its time slots. I found that style the most useful for my own bustling, single-working-girl lifestyle as well – with plenty of room to keep track of all my meetings and dates and parties and vacations. It was a personal bible that organized my schedule and showed how fulfilling – and filled! – my big city life had become.

Over the years, technologies emerged that offered sleek alternatives to challenge my paper calendar. PDAs and Outlook and iCalendars have all vied for the role of keeping track of my life, and I’ve tried many of them.  But with every digital calendar I have had the same, annoying, time-consuming issues. For example, every recurring entry I add took several steps then went on ad infinitim, so I’d have scroll through and delete it each time it was a holiday, or we were traveling, or for some other conflict. I also can’t see more than the day on that tiny screen, because I have so many entries they wouldn’t fit in one window. And I hate not being able to plan ahead without constantly flipping back and forth from day to week to month and trying to guess what each abbreviated entry signified. I’m done trying the digital options. They’ve left me exhausted, frustrated, and still needing other versions for the rest of my family to share.

My life is blessed (and complicated) with the activities of a consulting business, a husband, two kids, and a dog, all with their own schedules. And I feel strongly that still, the best way to keep track of everyone and everything in my world is my paper calendar (now a desk-sized version) with different colored pens for each member of my family – blue for me, green for my husband, purple for daughter #1 and pink for daughter #2 (the dog is also blue since everything she does is pretty much reliant on my schedule).

My calendar of choice is the week-at-a-glance that shows 7-days over 2 pages when open. Mentally, it helps me prep and plan for what’s coming up – work meetings, blog commitments (!), flute lessons, soccer practice, lacrosse try-outs, basketball games, vet appointments, holiday parties, in-law visits, friend’s birthday, etc.

It always works without battery life, without internet connection, without guilt if I don’t respond. It even works without me being there at all. How wonderful is that?!

I gather my entries from a variety of sources. My husband calls to tell me his plans to be added to the calendar. My kids leave me notes of upcoming events, playdates, or activities on top of the calendar to add in.

One time, my older daughter wrote her own plans on one of the days. She even used her purple colored pen. Perhaps I’m too possessive, or too anal-retentive, or just plain neurotic, but I white’d-out the entry and rewrote it, although not before I lauded her for her for her organizational acumen. Then I asked her to never touch Mommy’s calendar again.

I have a variety of vendors that I use because they are of a good quality and value.The ones I keep going back to are the ones that make the extra effort for my attention:  “Hello Mrs. Sagges, this is Don’s gutter service, it’s that time of year again…” or “Hi Mrs. Sagges, this is Richard Ziff and I’ll be at your neighbor’s tuning their piano if it’s convenient that day for you as well…”

I love to get postcards from my dentist reminding me to schedule my next teeth-cleaning, and from our vet for the dog’s annual check-up or prescription refill. Anyone who helps me keep track of services I need will always be my first choice. Businesses shouldn’t expect me to remember them when I only see them a couple times a year.

As we enjoy the onset of holiday madness at this time of year, traditional holiday cards with photos of our friends and family are being replaced by Facebook videos and e-cards. Wood-burning fires in the fireplace are being replaced by eco-friendly, no-tending, “logs.” We’re living in a world of conservation hyper-awareness, and I will do my best to try methods to preserve our forests for the future and my children.

But for the sake of my sanity, and the perpetual motion of my life, I will continue to embrace the sanctity of my paper calendar.

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