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The Power of a Paper Calendar

tricks for organization for artists

It wasn’t until I reached a certain level of success in my business that I had too much to do, too much to remember. I needed help. I kept missing important meetings and deadlines. I had wallpaper orders coming in from several showrooms across the country and samples to cut and label and mail out. I had kids’ functions at school and court dates to attend for my divorce proceedings. I was a hot mess. 

I finally got clear one day when I noticed that the things that I forgot had typically never been written down. I usually had the intention to remember them, but sometimes I even said at the moment where a new date and time was introduced into my agenda “Yah, I am never going to remember that.” So two things were taking place. 

1) I was committing to things that I had no intention of following through with (or committing time to things that were a drag!)

2) I was delusional if I thought that my flighty brain was going to dog ear the day with all these things to remember and I’d magically be reminded after the kids went to sleep to actually program them into my phone or write them into my calendar.

So I did what any visual person would do. I went to the office supply store and I purchased an old school paper calendar. I picked a bright fuchsia one so that it would be obnoxious and unforgettable. I went home and started writing down the things that I could remember off the top of my head. Then, with no intention or being redundant, I went into my phone and looked at this week and next week for appointments, and I wrote those down in ink on paper.

Something critical happens when your mind watches your hand write something out.

It’s at least 70% more likely to make a mental note for some reason when I write it on paper. I went into my emails and found all the emails tagged with “TO DO” or “TO ATTEND” labels. (Yes, I color code my emails with labels and file them all away under specific categories, never deleting anything. That might be weird to some people but do a brief search on Google about what it’s like to really have ADHD and you will know that this is a ninja tactic to outsmart my own brain.) I also have a few highlighter markers that I use to put anything really IMPORTANT in pink or orange. I circle the times so that even if I barely glance at tomorrow, I know I have a meeting on Zoom at 9! I need to be ready by 9, my brain says. Ready for what? I don’t actually remember. 

Giving dates and time a physical form. Having a place on the calendar sets aside time for an important thing. I started waking up each morning (normally I’d wake up in a panic wondering what I could possibly be missing) and looked at the paper calendar. Sometimes I would even screenshot my paper calendar using my phone so that I had it in my Photos folder just in case I was away from my desk (say on my way home from dropping off the kids) and needed to see a quick look at the crucial times for the day. Now, this practice is a holy practice for me. My paper agenda/calendar doesn’t leave my desk. It’s next to my computer and always staring at me. I fill up each week with goals and appointments and sometimes I even schedule in the mundane. Like haircuts or laundry. Because then I won’t overbook myself or double book that time of day with something else that seems super important. It also signals the hamster to take a water break so I can do brainless shit like grocery shopping. 

a scan of my notebook

Eventually this practice will get easier. Another trick I’ve used for four or five years since things got really busy is to carry a pen and a Moleskine notebook around with me wherever I go. I write down notes at every meeting and I doodle when I listen to other people talk. Usually, when it’s a speaker on a panel or a consultant/coach giving me advice over the phone. I don’t doodle in front of people anymore because I’ve learned that it’s considered rude. They may think I’m not paying attention. Little do they know, I am actually creating a carbon copy rubbing of our exact conversation, so that when my visual brain sees the doodle again, my gray matter reacts by saying “Oh! I know this conversation! We were talking about the sales pipeline for November. That’s why I drew a bunch of pipes weaving in a geometric grid pattern…” My brain actually retains information better when I draw. Some people have a kinesthetic intelligence and they remember better if they’re moving their body. Others are musical and can remember the Table of Elements if only it’s put into a song. I… just need to see it. Write it. Revisit the site of the writing.

Call me old school, but the habit of having a paper calendar always on my desk has been my saving grace in the past 5 years since I started a business. It’s the home base for all things work, kids and personal. I even take a picture of the calendar if I’m out running errands so I can refer back to it at a moment’s notice. If you’re the type of person who has no problem remembering dates and times, then kudos to you my friend. Seriously. I admire this skill. But, my little ADHD mind needs extra help, reinforcement, tricks and hacks to operate at your level. So, I hope this helps you in defining the life you want and all the tiny steps you’ll need to take to get there.

Erin