What Do You Want in an Organizational Tool?

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This is your brain.

This is your brain on paper.

How do you make sense of everything swirling in your head?

As the new school year approaches and with it, a busier schedule, I’ve spent some time over the last few weeks putting together a new household notebook and personal planner. Recently I asked the crowd on Facebook for a better term to describe  my notebook because it goes beyond just the ins and outs of our household. Household notebook just didn’t do it justice. It’s my life — condensed into an itty bitty storage space.

It truly is My Brain — on paper. I would be lost without it. Unable to function. Without a hope of getting anything done. Totally and completely scattered and disorganized. Alone on a vast and wind-tossed sea….

OK, you get my drift.

Make a notebook that works for you.

Each year when I revamp my notebook, I add some new features that help my notebook help my “life as mom.” I keep mental notes of the things that I wished were in my notebook. Then, when it’s time for a makeover, I add those improvements I’ve been looking for, in the planning pages themselves, but also in the physical construction of the book. This year, I’m particularly pleased with all the new bells and whistles.

I wrote an entire book on how to put together a household notebook. I think it will help you immensely. It has for me. (And this year I’ve added blogging and homeschooling add-ons as well as redesigned the original book.)

Next week I’ll be sharing a photo tutorial about the physical construction of planning notebooks (aka Paper Brains) and how you can make them serve you to the utmost.

I wondered what YOU want in your personal planner or household notebook. If you could have a new organizational tool that is customized to you and your life, what would it include?

What do YOU want in an organizer?



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  1. I have many categories in my notebooks. In my “working” notebook I have a calendar- (with daily tasks list, daily menu plans, and our family schedule- who is doing what and when), list of birthdays by the month, personal goals for the year broken down by the month all arranged by the month. In another notebook I have lists of gift suggestions for each family member, what gifts each has received and a spot to mark when the thank you was written, a list of what gifts have been given to extended family members on what occasion. I also keep track of other income from babysitting that I bring in- when, how much, etc.
    I also keep a housecleaning schedule so when I deep clean it gets written down. Another category for dreams for home improvement.
    That is what I keep track of the most often. I am looking forward to reading what others do. Thanks for the post!

  2. I keep mine in a binder as it’s easy to add new sections as needed some of my favorite features….

    I keep a list of Projected Expenses, which list everything from doctors appointments to bulk meat. It helps me keep on track and make sure I put aside enough money to cover those things. If not it’s easy for me to forget that we renew our AAA membership in september. Or we all get our physicals done in october.

    Also, I plan my meals monthly. I pop out my recipes from my recipe binder and pop them into my homemaking binder for the month.

  3. If only a paper notebook could sync with my online calendar, which I share with my husband. I also love using Evernote for misc lists, blog ideas, book lists, etc. But I really miss seeing my life on paper. I’m interested if anyone else out there has found a good synergy between their digital organization system and a paper one.

    1. Yes, this! We use Google Calendar to manage our schedule but it’s completely separate from my household planning. One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to find a way to go digital with my planning lists but paper ultimately works better. What I wish I had was a calendar program that would allow me to attach documents (To Do Lists, Notes, menu and financial plans etc ) to a Day, week, or month. So when I click on a date I have the option to open the list or what have you. My husband is interested in building one for me but there’s never time.

  4. I need a Brain that has pockets or envelopes to hold receipts, appointment cards (until I get them marked in all the right places in my schedule), and all the other bits of paper that I collect each day.

    I need a Brain that allows me to add and remove pages–even though I love spiral binding. I need to keep photocopies of our kids social security cards, birth certificates, and adoption certificates with me for visits to case workers, doctors, and therapists. It would be nice to snap them in my Brain when I’m off to one of those appointments and remove them for safekeeping at home when I’m done.

    I need a place to hold my own business cards, photos, frequent shopping cards, library cards, etc. (another good reason to have a 3-ring binder in a standard size). And maybe space for a zipper bag of tools (pencil, pen, highlighter, scissors, nail file, pocket tape measure, etc.) so that I have what I need with me to make serious plans while I’m waiting at the dentist/doctor/therapist office.

    I’d also like my Brain to include a thin pad of paper so that I have a place to make notes to tear out for someone else.

    I love, love, love all the ideas you’ve shared about your Brain! Mine isn’t quite as complete as I’d like it, but I’m making progress. Thank you for such a great tool!

  5. I feel a little disorganized after reading everyone’s organization tools. 🙂 I just use “to-d0” lists which I often catergorize. I still use a bulletin board calendar that I put events on. I thought about getting a little envelope system for receipts, checks, etc. We use one for our budgeted money.

  6. I need to keep it simple. I love your organizational sheets and all but they don’t work for me. I need to keep things more freeform. My Household Notebook has weekly sheets, menu and freezer cooking sheets, and pages for monthly and weekly planning lists. I keep another notebook, a Sketchbook with unlined paper, for more large scale and general planning lists. I’ve done that for years.

    I think much of it boils down to your organizational style and how you learn. If I h

    1. Oops, my son hit Enter.

      Anyway, I’ve found if I attempt to categorize things too much it disrupts my flow, so to speak. I might have an income projection, a holiday menu plan, random phone numbers, and a syllabus for my private students right next to each other. But it works. Probably wouldn’t if I was homeschooling but then I’d keep those records separate anyway.

      I’m also the kind of person who learns by writing. My husband makes fun of how often I make a list and never look at it again but the act of making it organizes my thoughts.

  7. I can’t wait to see your series. I bought your ebook last week and have started putting together my binder.

  8. I popped into Staples yesterday and was immediately sucked in by the half size binders. They come in great colors and have nice front and binding pockets for your labels. It was totally an impulse buy, but I think it could work. I got a little plastic “envelope” with a velcro flap in a coordinating color to throw those random scraps you collect on errands that need a temporary safe place and cute little mini dividers. Now I need to figure out how to make a calendar the right size that I can just print out myself.

    1. Oh, Staples has a SELECTION of half-sized binders? I’m in love with my household planner/brain/half-sized binder. It is so much more portable that way and it forces me to have it as simple as possible.

      I use Microsoft Outlook to print my half-sized monthly calendars. In “Page Setup” under the “Paper” tab, I select “1/2 sheet booklet” under the Page section. I do have an older version of Outlook, but if you have that program, you should be able to figure out how to make it work.

      I only use Outlook for blank calendars, since we keep our calendar stuff online with Google Calendar. That means I have to write things down separately in my notebook, but it works allright.

    2. I am working on how to print 1/2 size planning pages. 🙂 Maybe I’ll have it by next week.

  9. You know what I want in an organizing tool? I want some kind of way to have my current goals/priorities ALWAYS visible somewhere on the page. I don’t want to have to write them constantly on the page, though. I imagine something like a big sheet of paper that has the goals/priorities on the bottom and then all my regular calendar/to-do/daily docket stuff is on smaller pages that fit on top of that, so that I can always see it. Hard to describe in words, though I have a great picture in my head 🙂

  10. Please let me know if there is a way to print this or get this in half size 8 1/2 x 5 1/2. Thanks this is my favorite size bc it is so much more portable than 8 1/2 x 11. thanks and it looks like you have done a great job.

    1. Right now that size isn’t one that I’ve been working on. Sorry! However, typically, most printers will let you do that if you select two pages per sheet. Alternatively, you can reduce it on a copier.