What’s in my box?

Back maybe as long as a decade ago, we Girl Scouts of Central Texas offered a “Meeting in a Box.” Leaders could drive to one of the Service Centers (staff offices) and sign out an physical lidded storage box that contained all the stuff for a particular age’s troop meeting. Feathers, glue, foam cutouts—sure—but also scripts for a game or two, all the instructions for one or two badge-earning activities, and other guides.

The great thing about it was that it wasn’t so much as a meeting outline—do this for about N minutes, then this for Y minutes, then this for V more—as it was a kit. Each element of the meeting could be pulled out and used, and then another pulled out. By its very structure it encouraged the girl-led approach we strive for; each adult could stack it up the way her or his girls needed. The kit gave scaffolding and support, but flexible support.


I may have assembled a lot more of my day-management kit than I’d realized.

Of course, there’s my planner pages. I’ve found those a tremendous help since I found them in, what?, 2010. That they focus on doings and not on the appointments I don’t really have, that there’s only five lines for each day, that all the supporting materials say, “Eh, use them in the way that helps your work flow best; a tool’s only as good as the work it helps you do!” all make them cozy in ways that other planning tools aren’t. (And I do keep checking others out… I am a huge sucker for calendars along with all the other types of paper goods and digital organizers.)

There’s their Action Item Catcher, which fits neatly behind my weekly plans. This one’s merely an item-bucket, but I’m always needing an item-bucket. Witness the drifts of sticky-notes that shift across our home’s flat surfaces-! (Hang on a sec… let me gather up that heap…)

Last winter, I added Laura Vanderkam’s “168 Hours” exercise. It’s the time/activity equivalent of a food log, which if you’ve ever done a food log you’ll remember is helpful for the “ohhhhhh so that’s what’s going on” trend analysis. I use it to visualise where my blocks are. With good forethought, most of them will be big blocks, and not little snips good only for returning a couple of emails. I’ve been practicing this kind of forethought since my SHPC days, back when my schedule first became freelancer-caliber flexible—I had a season where I felt as chopped to bits as my time, and when I figured out the connection I got much better about grouping activities. Errands belong with other errands, and errands probably belong next to medical appointments. Phone calls belong in the car during soccer practice; hallelujah for cell phones!

At this point, though, Vanderkam’s exercise is my semi-annual or seasonal tune-up: my schedule shifts some with my classes, but not radically. I’m moving the same big shaded blocks around and seeing where the white space lies.

When I visualise the white space, I then can loop back around into my planner page for the week. Tuesday has no white space to speak of; on that day the five lines hold three appointments (library, class, class) and two class-assignment placeholders. Wednesdays toggle from acres of white space to judicious afternoon blocks, so Wednesdays are good for morning focusing and big-think work. I can set my expectations to line up with what is likely to occur in real life, rather than surfing the day and later thinking, well, I got absolutely nothing accomplished this day-!

This fall’s new-year Momentum Planner webinar nudged me in the ribs about another tool that I learned long ago, but haven’t been wielding in the aftermath of our empty nest^: what Charlie calls “the 10/15 split.” Fifteen minutes at the wrap-up of the day to see what’s been accomplished and to jot down what’s key for the next day. Ten minutes in the morning, before anyone or anything else gets hold of one, to glance down and say, “Right. That’s what’s needed today.”

Now that I’ve added the 10/15 split to my Habit List prompting tool, my mornings—and days—feel much less chaotic. I don’t know that they are actually any less chaotic—I don’t tend to chaos—but I feel more grounded when I have a plan I can alter. And feeling emotionally grounded works for me like a ground-wire works for an electrical system: my energy goes where it needs to, and doesn’t jump out where it doesn’t.

And lastly? For this little window/season, where I’m tugged between the sugar-water habit of digital distraction and the gnawing stress of academic reading assignments, I heard about a little “No Quiet” practice. Stripped down, it’s the words one tells one’s inner toddler—or inner bully, if that’s who’s showing up in your head—when thoughts arrive that pull one off track: <bubbling thought about checking email…> No; quiet. And then one resumes what one was already doing. I’ve done it three times already as I composed this post!


So! I need to pick a project for the reprise of the seminar I started last April. I made it halfway through the seminar the first time, but embarrassingly stopped right about the lesson footnoted, “This is when people drop out.” I have my reasons, none of which are related to the class I don’t think, but that incompleteness (after I’d solemnly told myself I’d diligently work through to the end!) bugs me. I was invited to participate in this second edition, so I nodded firmly. Though this seminar may be the One Thing Too Many for this fall-! Anyway.

It’s interesting. The frame for project-picking is something that you will need support and scaffolding to complete. (The seminar is titled, “Getting Scary Sh*t Done,” after all.) I started the week musing that building my scheduling kit-of-parts would be my project—while not scary to me as in “upsetting,” it’s something that’s stayed undone for a long time, and bothers me in its undone-ness.

Yet as I got ready for Theology yesterday, I thought about how much nicer my day felt after a few days of the 10/15 split. I decided I’d write about it, and the other day-elements I’m using, to see where I arrived.

Win some, lose some? Tomorrow, on my planner under Saturday/Sunday, it now says “GSSD: define project.”
Since I’m pretty sure I’m done here for quite a while.


^Here’s an odd thing: end-of-day thought gathering didn’t work for me when I had a full nest. I suspect it’s because the following concatenated:
* the pause/stop of my workday was at 3pm, which wasn’t actually at the end of anything
* clearing mental space to collect my thoughts after dinner required such brute force vis-a-vis the others in my household that the cost/benefit wasn’t there
* by the time the house was quiet I was asleep (or before the house was quiet I was asleep; I need a lot of sleep!)

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