They are three little words that make my heart sink every year at this time as the Brownie leaders, soccer coaches and carpool czars call parents together to arrange schedules for the year to come.
It'll be a short meeting, they always say. "Just bring your planners."
I know what that means. I'll sit, empty-handed, watching those around me leafing through the pages of their Day-Timers and Filofaxes, or punching buttons on their fancy electronic gizmos.
"Forgot my calendar," I will lie, as I fish in my purse for a scrap of paper (usually a wadded-up grocery receipt) to take down my assignments to bring snacks or drive or host a session of arts and crafts.
Down the road I'll curse myself for my poor planning, when I realize I've got a team party to host for one daughter on the same day that I've got a doctor's appointment for another and the third has a science project due.
Because the truth is, the only planner I have is inside my head. And it's been on the blink for as long as I can recall.
Am I the only grown-up in America who does not rely on one of those fancy life-at-a-glance devices to impose order on the chaos of his or her days?
According to time management consultant Christine Reiter, the answer may be yes. Most everyone these days uses some sort of planner. And those who don't, should.
"I don't advocate the big fancy leather ones," says Reiter, a former systems engineer for IBM who started her own company, Timefinders, when she was downsized out of her corporate job.
"If you're already on brain overload, you don't want some big thing you're likely to put down and forget," she said--"especially if you're a person that's not inclined to keep a calendar anyway."
That would be me.
I have no shortage of organizational equipment. There are several calendar-type devices collecting dust on a shelf in my closet, ranging from a giant Deluxe 1991 Calendar book--with three entries and hundreds of blank pages--to a credit-card sized gadget I got last year as a gift from some high-tech company.
There's the elegant, leather-bound burgundy volume I bought as a Christmas gift to myself the year I made a (failed) New Year's resolution to organize my hectic life.
It was too beautiful to be treated casually. I didn't want to mar it with scribbled notes, so I jotted dates on little Post-it notes instead and stuck them to the inside cover . . . then lost them in the jumble of my purse before I could transcribe them into the book.
And there's the fancy electronic organizer my late husband bought for my birthday one year, after I forgot to show up for a dinner party at his co-worker's home. It's still in the box, crumpled instructions stuffed inside. I was never able to program it to do more than beep and scroll indecipherable instructions across its tiny screen.
There's a reason folks like me are calendar-averse, Reiter says: We're just not naturally inclined toward order.
"Most of the people who need my services are creative people . . . right-brain people. Putting things in tidy, 1-2-3 order tends to be a left-brain activity. If your brain doesn't go that way, you can have the equipment and the vision to see it, but you don't have the wherewithal to correct the problem."
For starters, she says, I need a brightly colored calendar book, "something that'll stand out when you open your purse, so you're not tempted to skip writing something down because you can't get your hands on it right away."
How do I tell her my purse is already crowded with brightly colored objects, like hair scrunchies, giant gum balls, a slightly damp swimsuit (don't ask), and a pink dog collar whose owner we have yet to find?
Every appointment I make on the run should go in that book, then be transferred to a master calendar at home.
"You'll need to spend a half-hour each week blocking out the things that need to be done," Reiter explains. "That'll make it easy to adjust schedules, rearrange carpools, do whatever needs to be done so the week runs smoothly."
And a family like mine, with multiple schedules to consider, should use colored highlighters to note each person's activities, so we can tell at a glance who needs what each day.
Just keep four different-colored highlighters at the ready, Reiter says. Right . . . in a kitchen that can never produce a sharpened pencil or working pen to write a phone message down, no matter how many I stuff into that handy mini-organizer I keep on the counter next to the phone.
It's not just my problem, Reiter assures me. It's becoming harder all the time to keep track of all the activities in our lives.
"Why do you think so many doctors and dentists now have somebody call you the night before to remind you when you have an appointment? We're on overload," she points out.
Which has made professional organizing big business. The 13-year-old National Assn. of Professional Organizers now has more than 1,000 members. The Los Angeles chapter--which Reiter heads--has grown from 60 to 100 members in the last year alone.
Some focus on time management, others on organizing clutter in offices and homes. The common goal, Reiter says, is to impose order on "people who've reached the point where they feel they're going to run screaming down the street, tearing their hair out."
I know she's describing me, and I make a mental note--which I'll later jot on a scrap of paper, then toss into my purse--to stop on the way home for a calendar book . . . and clear some more space on that closet shelf.