My New Organizational Trick

One dollar planning toolThis trick is SOOOO simple to make/use, but it’s been a big game-changer in my life this year. So I thought I’d share.

Basically, at the beginning of 2016, I was evaluating the past year, looking forward to the coming one, and thinking about how I could improve and also avoid making the same mistakes again. One thing that’s been happening in my life since ABM started growing and my career started changing over the past few years is there are times I’m just too busy. I like staying productive, we do a lot of things at ABM, and I have a lot on my bucket list in life. I’m happy with a full life, in other words. But when life gets too full, I can start to feel super stressed, I miss out on time with friends and family, and I don’t allow time for me to do my best work and to also reflect and think on how I can improve or if I’m happy with the direction things are headed. In a nutshell, I’m looking for the same thing probably most of you are looking for – a balanced and fulfilling life.

I want to work hard but not be a workaholic.

I want to spend time with my family and friends, but still achieve work and personal goals.

I want to be a good wife, daughter, friend, and business owner. And someday, mom (this is NOT an announcement, just something I think about).

I want time to reflect, chill, meditate, and hopefully come to realizations that help me be a better person.

Work / life balance is not something I’m an expert at, and I probably never will feel that I have it mastered. BUT, that doesn’t mean I won’t try. 🙂 I decided that one thing that could help me a lot is if I could view my entire year at once. My thinking was, if I can take a more big picture approach to my career and personal life, then maybe I can find ways to have a healthy, balanced amount of both.

Emma's favorite one dollar planning tool
So here’s what I did: I took out a piece of paper and drew nine boxes for the coming nine months. Why nine? I think I just liked the symmetry of the 3×3, and it just so happened to be the last 9 months in the year. 🙂 I have this hanging near my computer at my desk, and I add to it constantly. It doesn’t contain any “regular” activities. All my usual work tasks, or off-duty habits don’t necessarily make it on to the calendar. Instead it’s filled with big deadlines, work trips, vacation travel, work duties that fall outside of my usual stuff, and some personal events (like a friend’s wedding, etc.). And unlike my calendar that closes like a book and buries plans in pages and pages of dates, it’s clean, simple and at-a-glance. It’s a quick macro view of my year.

My goal was to try to spread out my life better. If I knew I had a big work deadline one month, I tried not to schedule vacations or commit to other big personal things around that time (if I could). If Trey and I plan a vacation together, or a family trip pops up, I try not to overlap work stuff with that time frame.

Simple, right? But that’s exactly the point and why it’s more useful to me than any macro calendar you can buy. It’s so simple I almost feel ashamed I wasn’t doing this sooner! But it’s been a HUGE help to me this year. I can’t control every event or opportunity that comes my way, but I feel a lot more confident saying no when I can see that a particular month is already too full. I don’t feel guilty or scared that I’m passing up a big opportunity, because I can see that I’ve already said yes to other things that I’ve deemed are important.

That’s it! Paper, pen and other fun stuff like markers and stickers if you wanna make it cute. Once a month or two has passed, I update it to reflect the next nine months. If you wanted to make it twelve months at a time, that would certainly be pretty easy. I just decided I wanted a bit more room to write, so I left it at nine. But if you try this little trick, make it work for you – that’s what matters! xx. Emma

P.S. The stickers and the cute print behind my calendar are from past Happy Mail kits.

  • What a good idea and something that’s so incredibly simple! I might try this! Thank you 🙂


  • You need a get to work book! It’s really easy to do this sort of thing if you use the monthly spread for big picture items!

  • Good Idea. But to be honest it seems like to me that it’s not that you haven’t had balanced you life last year. This board may actually help you to remember yourself that you have a balanced life. Maybe without it you would have done the same things but without noticing it.
    Well, but who am I to say that? Just you can say that!
    Good luck this year I’m sure you are on the right way.

    xo, Deborah

  • I love having a guiding word also! Right now mine are “stay open” and “bare essentials” as well as “no judgement”. Haha, I have a lot on rotation, but I really do think these simple little words are the most powerful mind-training tools!

  • I just did something similar. I love my mac calendar because it syncs us together but I tend to forget what is coming “next month” until it shows up as “this month”. I bought a large paper wall calendar (not laminated) and wrote only big events and travel on it. So far, so good. It is helping me plan for the summer with kiddos home from school. 🙂

  • Such a good trick Emma! I’ve done this for the first time this year, as I’m completing a year of self-directed college (or an open masters) and so my time has been mine to structure and make sense of. I blocked the year out into 4 semesters, and set goals for each semester. Right now I’m about mid-way through my third semester, and it’s been amazing. I LOVE seeing how much I’ve accomplished that was just words on a piece of paper at the beginning of the year.

    It feels so good to keep the big picture in mind, while in the midst of the daily doings.

  • Love this! Finding a managable way to organize what needs to be done is one of the easiest ways to reduce stress and be more productive. Here’s how I organize a busy calendar of travel and work commitments:

  • This is such a great idea. I always struggle with organization. So the simpler the better : )

  • OMG yes! I live in Columbia too! Are you speaking somewhere?!

  • I love this idea! I can relate to feeling overwhelmed and a need for balance. You’re right, this idea is super simple! But I’m not currently doing it and I bet it will make a huge difference. Thanks for sharing such a personal story. It feels good to be able to relate to others and to get new ideas!


  • Thanks for sharing! I need to start doing something like this.

  • sneaky teaser at a launch in December haha. I really need to do this! My time has been flying at work that I have a hard time remembering my fun things going on until they’e almost upon me.

  • Thanks for sharing this. Simple yet effective!

  • I am probably going to see Kyle Kinane with Trey and some friends. I love his stand up specials so it should be fun. I say “probably” though bc I’m really swapped with work right now and already have some trips and other things happening this month. So I may not get to go, but we’ll see. 🙂


  • Oh it’s no big deal, I just know it’s so easy to misunderstand things on the internet or via text. So I just always put it out there in case anyone is curious. Much easier than me hearing someone ask which tends to make me wonder if I’m LOOKING pregnant lately (which is not usually what people mean, but it’s just there).



  • Yes I need more of this! Organization is a constant struggle, but looking at the big picture like this is so helpful, thanks!

  • Thanks for sharing your trick!

    On another note, I see that you have an event in Columbia on May 10. I live in Columbia and would love to know what event you’re attending (if it’s open to the public that is)!

  • I like this! Simple yet effective, and I think 9 months is a good number because, like you said, you can keep it updated and a little more current.

    You poor gals always having to put in the pregnancy disclaimer! 😉 It’ll probably feel good for a change the first time you end up being able to say “hey guys, this IS an announcement!” hah

  • I think simple things are the most effective. I was listening to a pod cast from Gretchen Rubin last week (I know your a fan) and they were talking about having a daily mantra. Each morning think about what you need that day and make that your “word”. The past couple days I’ve used words like calm, joy, patience, fun, etc and seriously it has helped so much. Anytime I felt overwhelmed or stressed I would just think of my word for the day and it just helped me regain my focus. Sometimes the days just kind of blend and this has helped me keep my days more meaningful and seperate. Kind of a tangent but it’s very exciting when you find something that works for you in the day to day!

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