Replacing Day Planner With Index Cards

Dear Ms. St. James: While cutting back to a 3-inch-by-5-inch calendar that never leaves your desk may work for you, to assume that the rest of us can do without a planner is ludicrous. I'm a sales rep. On an average day I visit 12 clients, many of whom request that I send them materials. Without my planner, I'd have no way to keep track of what they want. Excellent service and prompt follow-up are essential in my business.

By the way, I simplified my life five years ago by changing from a two- to a one-career family when my son was a year old. We decided my husband would stay home and take care of our son and finish his degree at night so that we might switch roles someday. We moved to a smaller house and got rid of a lot of our stuff--which we haven't missed.

We keep a family calendar in the kitchen, but if you can tell me how to go without my planner and not lose customers, I'm all ears.


Dear Patricia: Using a planner that weighs 5 pounds, takes up half your desk space and requires vast amounts of time and money to maintain--that's ludicrous. Transferring to a simpler system is merely challenging--though doable. It's not that these huge systems don't work, it's just that they're overkill and take time away from things we'd rather be doing.

If you're committed to using a smaller system, here are some things you can try:

1. Tonight plan your next-day schedule as usual, then write it on a 3-by-5 card or two.

2. Tomorrow when you meet your clients, take a deep breath and leave your planner in your car. Keep your 3-by-5 card with you in your purse or pocket, making notes as needed. These can later be transferred to your planner or taken care of directly from the card.

3. Continue to refine the 3-by-5 format over the next few weeks while evaluating how you could make a smaller planner work. Only you know the intricacies of your schedule; if you put your mind to it, you can figure out how to simplify it. Are you spending too much time transferring uncompleted tasks to tomorrow's schedule? Then be more realistic about what you can do in one day. Are you keeping things in a planner you could easily keep in your office? Can you keep a smaller address/phone directory in your car? Assess your actual needs vs. your psychological dependence.

4. Then, using your planner as an emergency backup system/security blanket, graduate slowly to a smaller planner.

When I simplified my hectic real estate investment career with a schedule similar to yours, I weaned myself--over a period of a year or more--from my 11-inch-by-16-inch system to an 8-inch-by-10-inch one to a 5-inch-by-7-inch one to my small stay-at-home planner. By using index cards, you can skip those in-between sizes and the expense and duplication of effort that occur when you change systems. And yes, as long as you're on the road, you'll need to take your smaller planner along.

5. Realize you're ahead of the game because you've already simplified other areas of your life. Using those same principles--that it is possible to live more simply, that we can't have it all, that we don't miss it once we get rid of it, that the workload expands to fill the planner space allotted for it--you can readily come up with a smaller, simpler system.

Write and let me know how you do.


Elaine St. James is the author of "Simplify Your Life" and "Simplify Your Life With Kids." For questions or comments, write to her in care of Universal Press Syndicate, 4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111.

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