COLUMN: Sticking to the planner

This is my Sunday column for the May 13, 2012 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Sticking to the planner
By Aaron J. Brown

Living in the north woods one learns whatever you leave on the kitchen counter when you drive to town might as well have been hurled into an intergalactic wormhole. It is gone. For today’s purposes, this item has been vaporized.

Stamped envelopes with bills inside? Signed check you were supposed to give so-and-so? Packed lunch? When left behind, all become items forwarded to the next day in my Franklin-Covey day planner. Unless, of course, the item in question is the planner itself.

We are such a modern people, with our iPod docks and wheel sensors that respond to slippage, but there remains no known cure for 27 miles. That’s the door-to-door distance from my home to work, an hour’s time and approximately $12 round trip at recent gas prices. You’ve got to plan your trips and there’s no going back for frivolous reasons. Or even serious reasons. We’re not even sure we’d go back for a misplaced child, which is why we take such care not to forget them.

I fit the profile of a guy who’d be a mile deep in electronic schedule-keeping. Blog. Facebook. Twitter. Angry Birds. I do all that stuff. But I’ve kept up the habit of a pen-and-paper day planner, including an exhaustive notes page, since I was in college. I once took the planner on a camping trip, to Christina’s amusement, where I essentially checked one item, “CAMP,” each day, completing my to-do list.

So when I left my Franklin-Covey at home one day last week I embarked upon the first workday without my planner in about 10 years.

How did it go? OK. And only OK. I did the main things I was supposed to do, mainly, if you don’t count the ones I forgot. But I also constantly stared down at the blank spot on my desk where the planner usually sits, feeling the tingle of a ghost limb. I’d reach to mark an item complete, or jot down a phone number, and find only an unsatisfactory stack of neon Post-It notes. I’d write stuff on there and who cares, it’s sticky. I just threw out the notes. Start fresh tomorrow.

The day without my planner had me thinking what I really missed, the reflexive documentation of my day. It’s not just a planner, it’s really a journal.

Author Jules Evans writes about the philosophy and psychology of the ancients. He explains how journaling performed an important role in the mental health of early great thinkers. In talking about the philosopher Pierre Hadot, Evans said this in a recent interview on The Browser:

“At the end of each day some ancient philosophers would keep track of what happened during the day – what they did well and what they did badly. The idea is that if you want to change yourself and get rid of bad habits, first you have to track yourself. Humans are such forgetful and unconscious creatures, we don’t always realise who we are or how we’re behaving. So we need to keep track of ourselves.”

Epictetus, for instance, recommended tracking the instances of bad habits in a 30-day period; fewer meant progress, according to Evans.

So my day without a planner didn’t release me from my need to plan; rather, it has me doubling down. I need to be tracking my weight, my state of mind, not just my activities but my feelings about them. I need these reams of planning papers to become considerably more valuable in a court of law. And it begins today. Item B12.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and instructor at Hibbing Community College. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on public stations like 91.7 KAXE.

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