Dr. Phil’s two sheet simple planner

My planner consists of two pages of 8 1/2 by 11 inch copy paper. Page one has the hours of the day and check boxes followed by a short line for small tasks. I have one full week at a time on that page (some people like planners that are laid out one page per day which gives them lots of little chunks of time). Page two is full of lots of lines and wide-open space to jot notes and thoughts down. That’s it. I guess it uses about 5¢ worth of paper. I made mine up on a computer and copy it over and over onto 3 hole-punched paper. I keep it stored in a three ring binder. Originally it was a plastic one, but now I have a cool leather binder I received as a birthday present (20 birthdays ago). I write the dates in by hand and double check that I am doing it correctly. I keep three months of calendar paper in my binder at a time. I choose not to plan out past about a month. Far away plans like weddings or vacations I keep on a monthly calendar in the back of the binder. Pretty simple. Let’s look at each part and how it works.

 Figure 4: Section A and Section B: Daily Calendar and Do List

Section A: Hours of the day - The chunks

When I commit to doing something that is time related I write it down, in pencil, on the correct line (I do mean “correct” line. If you are not careful, you will show up at the wrong time. Embarrassing, done it!). I write it in pencil because things change. If need be I can move things around.

If you and I commit to getting together at say, 3:00 PM Thursday, May 27, I would go to that day in my planner and write it in. I print so that I can read it on May 27th. I may also jot a short note to myself to jog my memory.


3:00 PM Loyal Reader / talk about planner


This does two important things for me. It lets me forget about Loyal Reader until May 27th, and it will jog my memory about our last conversation. This is important. If I have to keep track of everything in my mind, I will end up completely stressed out. Also, I will never really be able to focus on what I am doing in the present. As we will discuss later, this lack of focus dooms most people to being mediocre.

I have a huge Must Rule, I do not commit to anything without my planner. I keep my planner close by—but safe. If I’m in the dojo getting my butt kicked, my planner is in my car. If I’m at work, my planner is at work. If I’m at home, my planner is at home. My planner is an extension of my frontal lobe. It is part of my brain matter. If I lose my planner, I am fishing in the desert; I’m royally screwed.

I also write projects in my planner. Such as:



Lunch with Geri

Pick up Josh

Write report / Smith, A


I schedule my life. I write specifically what I will be doing and when. If I just said to myself, “I need to get some exercise later today”, I would just keep putting it off all day (I’m still basically lazy!). I would justify my way out of doing it. But, when I have a planned meeting with myself, I do it. So I set a specific plan and write it in my planner, “3:00 Jujitsu.” Then I go do it. It is in my plan, the one I set for myself, based on my personal values. I am in control of my life whenever possible.

If I put on my “Do List”: Write report / Smith, A. I now have to find a time slot when I should do it. If it is only on my mind’s worry list it is very easy to keep putting it off  (the “Do List,” Section B, will be discussed on the next page).

I plan things that count: meetings, quiet time, drive time, and naps. If I think I should do it, I plan it. I also plan obligations, responsibilities and wishes. Every month I plan, “Write Checks”, a task I detest, but I don’t want to forget to pay the electric bill. In my business I pay my bills around the 25th day of the month. I will know which day, because every night I review my upcoming days. I plan which day I will tackle the bills, either the 23rd, 24th, 25th, or 26th, depending on other obligations in the flow of the business month. On a few occasions I have, unfortunately, had to do it at midnight on the 26th. Not my first choice, but for that particular month it was my best choice.

You may have noticed that my day starts at 10:00 AM and ends at 10:00 PM. Remember this is my planner. It is customized for me. I find that I’m stupid before 10:00 AM so I avoid pre-ten as much as possible. Your calendar should reflect your life. I have a friend who loves 5:00 AM. He tells me, “It’s quiet, I get my best work done when I’m fresh.” I have no idea how he does it. There is only one five on my clock.

You make your daily planner fit your life-style and make sure you can get your sleep.

Section B: Small item check boxes.

On page one, next to the hours of the day, I keep my Small Item Check Box List. Most people call it a “To Do List.” I tend to think of it as a “Do List.” I like to be proactive; I get things done (self-talk slipping out a bit there).

I put things on the Small Item Check Box List page that tend to take less than ten minutes, or bigger things needing to be assigned a time slot.

For example, I may have three phone calls that I would like to make. Each might take five minutes. If I did them all at once, I would need at least fifteen minutes to get all three done. Or, as it may turn out, the people aren’t by their phones so I get nothing done in fifteen minutes.

What I do is keep my small stuff handy. When a chunk of time opens up, I grab one of these little projects and I get it done. So, if my five o’clock appointment is late by ten minutes, I’ll use the 600 seconds given back to me. I leverage my time. This leveraged time adds up to hundreds of hours every year (it feels like found time, but we know that we only get 86,400 seconds per day).

Instead of staring out of the window, or feeling rejected by the late arrival, I use the time to complete a small task. Throughout my week I will leverage time to:


Open junk mail (I like it)

Make a quick call

Read short articles

Read part of a longer article

Write a thank you note (I have a lot to be thankful for, so I write lots of thank you notes.)

Pick up messages

Stretch my lower back (I’m getting old)

And, my favorite, pee!


This type of “small stuff” takes up a lot of time. So, I use my time wisely. If I’m waiting my turn at the doctor’s office, I have a book to read. If I’m stuck—I get little things done. I plan for it, life is inconvenient, and so I can find lots of leverage seconds floating throughout my week.





Figure 5: Section C - Dr. Phil’s Big Stuff

Section C: The big stuff

The page I call the Big Stuff is for big stuff that I want to do, but I can’t or don’t want to assign a specific time for doing it. If I get an idea, hear an interesting saying, or think of a ‘wish I could’, I jot it down on this page. Most of the stories and sayings in this book started life on the Big Stuff page. Stuff stays on this page until I find a better home for it.

For example: the cartoon at the beginning of Chapter 4 started out as a punch line that I hastily wrote down during a meeting. The presenter was very boring and my mind wandered. It tripped over the punch line somewhere during its wanderings and I wrote it down. A few days later, as I was planning my day, I went down the battered page of Big Stuff and made sure that I had found homes for all the stuff that had ended up on it. The last thing I did was to cut out the punch line. Then, I threw the rest of the page away, and dropped the punch line into a red plastic box in my den. The red plastic box is the repository for all potential cartoons. There it sat for months.

One day, months later, I was on the phone with an insurance company. I was trying to get them to pay for therapy for a kid who needed it. I got placed on hold. While listening to the ‘on hold music’ I checked out my red fun basket. As I read over the first few notes I wondered how I ever thought that they were funny. I tossed them into the trash. Then I found the punch line “Even if I get Alzheimer’s, I’ll remember what you just said!” and played with it in my head. Out of leveraged “phone hell” time I found a usable cartoon. Sure beats just listening to the phone-hold band.

You may have noticed the two boxes per line on the Dr. Phil’s Do List. The small one is the traditional check box for when the task is done. The larger box is for a prioritizing number. Sometimes I want to prioritize parts of the list to help me easily keep track of what needs to be moved to today’s or tomorrow’s do list.

The Big Stuff page tends to be the repository of stuff I have hope in. My page today has these four time consuming listings:


Birthday present for Geri

Find garage floor

Drop dead trees

Call Barbara about meeting


These are not tasks—these are part time jobs. But I still need/want to do them. In three weeks my bride is going to have another birthday. After an eternity together, what do you get the woman who has everything and always says, “I don’t need anything but time with my family.” Or, “Whenever I suggest what I want for my birthday you always say, ‘That’s not a real present, just go get that yourself!’” Finding a cool present is going to be difficult.

The garage is a nuclear waste site without the radiation. Organizing it is at least an eight-hour job. I haven’t had eight free hours to “waste” on a garage in ???? Actually, never have, but I would like it cleaned up.

I have twenty dead or dying trees just off the driveway. Pine Beetle I am told. This is probably a forty-hour job that needs to be done. I need to dry out the trees by sawing them up to interrupt the two-year life cycle of the little beasties.

My job will be to break these tasks down into manageable parts and take on each part. Please notice none of these big jobs are “work” related. These are life related tasks. I don’t just plan my workday (or school day), I plan my life. That way I get stuff done.

Another thing on my Big Stuff list was Call Barbara about time of the Red Cross meeting. This ended up there when Barbara called and left a message asking about the meeting. I put the note next to a check box and forgot about it. I was really busy when I got the message, so I put the message in a safe place.

At the end of my day I will take ten minutes to plan for tomorrow. I will check down the lists and move stuff that needs to be moved. Tonight Barbara will go from the big stuff and notes list to the small stuff today list. Tomorrow, during leveraged time, I will call Barbara and tell her the time of the meeting. (Interesting note: Barbara and I were both in the room when the Red Cross meeting was scheduled. I wrote it down and forgot it. Barbara planned on remembering it, but now isn’t sure and called me. Sweet lady but disorganized.)


What else is in the planner binder?


  • I keep a pencil
  • My phone book (Printout from my computer. Updated whenever I remember to do it. Usually twice a year.)
  • Plain paper
  • Up to twenty pieces of paper to read. An article cut out of a magazine, a letter with a map I will need next week, and jokes or articles people give me. This is for leveraging time if I’m stuck away from my normal haunts (waiting for kids after school, waiting for a meeting to start). I’ve leveraged time at all sorts of places. Movie theaters, baseball games, waiting for a friend in the hospital to wake up and visit with me. One kid called me an intellectual Boy Scout. I guess I am.


What to avoid:

I suggest you avoid sticky notes, scraps of paper, the backs of envelopes, or writing on yourself. All these types of notes tend to get lost or washed off or build on themselves. Sticky pads were a great money-maker for 3M, but do not really help people stay organized.

Ten minute planning time every day

If you use the simple two-page planner described above, you will find that you get lots more done. Once you become clearly aware of what you wish to accomplish today, you have a better chance of getting it done.

Probably the best thing the simple two-page planner does for people is it relieves worry. Worry? Yes worry. Many people spend lots of time worrying about forgetting stuff or getting stuff done. Lots of people have a hard time going to sleep at night because they play their next day over and over in their minds, hoping not to screw something up. This is emotionally draining and dysfunctional.

For example: If I want to call Bob tomorrow, I write it on my Small Item do list and don’t think about it until my next planning time. My planning time is the last ten minutes of my “work” day. At the end of my day, whenever that is, I open my planner and look over tomorrow. I read down Section A and make sure that I understand what I expect out of myself. I double-check things like drive time or location. If I have a 3:00 at my office, I make sure that I can be at my office before 3:00. If I have to be across town, I make sure I have the “drive time” calculated correctly so I can be on time. I double-check that I have what I need for my set appointments.

Next, I look down my Section B. I appoint larger items to open time slots. So, if I have a report to read for my 3:00 meeting, I appoint 30 minutes to read the report at 11:00. I move the item from my Do List to a time slot. It is now an appointment. I have an appointment with a stack of paper. With experience I have learned about how long it takes me to read a page, so I allot my time accordingly. If tomorrow at 10:50 a friend calls and invites me to coffee, I will check my calendar and politely decline, “I have an appointment at 11:00. I can’t get away right now.” At 3:00 when I attend my meeting I will be a lot happier with myself because I read the report, rather than had a cup of coffee with a friend. At 10:50 I may have wanted to go for coffee, but I attended the appointment that I made with myself to prepare for my 3:00.

I never explain why I can’t sneak off for coffee. I simply state the fact, “I have an appointment.” No guilt involved. I am not disrespecting my friend, I am staying focused. I have an appointment. When I hear people explain themselves it makes me think of them as weak-minded.

“I’d love to go for coffee with you, but I can’t. I have to read a report for my 3:00 today. I’m sorry.”

I’ve even heard people try to talk their friends out of doing what they should do.

“AAAH, come on! You can glance over the report later on. It’ll only take a few minutes. I really want to have coffee with you!”

This seems selfish to me. His want for coffee is more important than your want to accomplish your task. True friends don’t sabotage your goals, they advocate and support them.

Some people like to start their day with a planning session. They start off fresh and they organize their day. I advocate that you plan at the end of your day. That way you don’t need to worry about tomorrow because it is all planned. However, if you are really a morning person, it makes sense to do your planning then. The most important part of the ten-minute planning session is that you truly focus on what you want to get done. For those ten minutes you are 100% focused on the task of prioritizing your day.

Appointing big projects

Let’s look at some real life examples of appointing the parts of a big project. First we will take on a term paper then we will vanquish the garage from hell.

Big project example one: A term paper

Big projects often cover days or even months. Lots, if not most people, find big projects overwhelming. For some this feeling is so powerful that it immobilizes them and keeps them from achieving their life goals.

In the real world, big or bigger projects have to be dealt with. They cannot be avoided. They need special care. I advise you to deal with big projects backwards.

Let’s use an example of a term paper (It could be any big project like planning a wedding, organizing a school fund-raiser, or developing your career). This term paper is a big deal, 50% of your grade. Today is April 9th and it is due April 30th. You have known about the paper all semester, but finally, today, the instructor defined the parameters of the damn thing. So you turn to April 30/2:00 PM and write: Hand in Term Paper, Psychology 310.

For most people this makes their chest tight. Lots of thoughts cross their minds. Some think, “I’ve got lots of time, I’ll worry about it next week.” Others think, “I only have a few weeks, I’ll never get this done, why did I sign up for this damn class!” An organized mind thinks, “Another task… lots of parts. How am I going to break this task down so I can easily conquer this term paper?”

A big project can feel like an elephant was shoved down your throat. A big project can feel like it is going to choke you.

So, how do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time. If when you put that piece into your mouth it is still too big, and it’s choking you, you spit it out and cut it up some more. The trick (or art) to dealing with big projects is to make them into lots of small projects. Once they are small ones, you organize dealing with them backwards. Read on, it will become clearer in a few minutes.

Your assignment is to write a term paper on how children learn. It kind of sounds interesting, but you don’t know squat about how kids learn. Your first thought is “…they go to school.” But, unfortunately, that isn’t much of a term paper. I’m going to take you through the process. We are not going to actually set up the term paper we are only going to look at the process.

What you will need is your date book, a pencil, and a monthly calendar with squares for every day.

The facts—

Today’s date is: April 9th

The report is due: April 30th

You have 22 days to learn about and write a great report (1,900,800 seconds).

Before this report was assigned, you had a pretty full life already. It is going to take some organization skills to use your time to its fullest and get this report done on time.

What do you have to do to write a great report, and how long will each part take? When it comes to the project time be realistic, not hopeful. If you schedule too much time, great—you’re done with time left to do something else. But, if you schedule too little time, you’re screwed! You can’t make more so you will be stressed.


Parts of the Big Project: ~ Estimated Time

Research the subject  ~ (8.00 hours)

Organize research into outline  ~ (3.00 hours)

Expand on outline into paragraph form  ~ (4.00 hours)

Type first draft of report  ~ (4.00 hours)

Give draft to proofreader ~ (0.25 hours)

Pick up draft from proofreader ~ (0.25 hours)

Make changes to draft ~ (1.00 hours)

Research to fill gaps in paper (polish) ~ (2.00 hours)

Type changes and further polish ~ (2.00 hours)

Give second draft to proofreader ~ (0.25 hours)

Pick up second draft from proofreader ~ (0.25 hours)

Make final changes, put project to bed ~ (1.00 hours)

Print out final paper ~ (0.50 hours)

Total: 26.50 hours


It will take you 26.50 hours to do a great job on this report. The next question is when?

Figure 6: Your working calendar

Organizing big projects backwards in small chunks on a monthly calendar

I recommend that we organize your big project time backwards. We start with April 30th. In the square for April 30th write, Hand in Term Paper, Psychology 310, 2:00 PM. Your monthly calendar now is in sync with your daily planner (Hand in Term Paper, Psychology 310, is written in the 2:00 time slot).

Before we go any further, what big events are scheduled in your life from April 9th to April 30th? On the 28th you are planning to go to Sally and Tom’s wedding. That day is shot for studying, but the wedding should be fun. Write Sally and Tom’s Wedding in the April 28th square. In fact, while you’re at it, you need to write, Buy present for Sally and Tom, on your daily planner. You can’t go to the wedding empty handed.

Back to April 30th. What would be the very last thing you would need to do before you could Hand in Term Paper, Psychology 310, 2:00 PM? Think small chunks.

You need to print the completed paper out of the computer. When would you like to do that? Don’t say April 29th at 11:59 PM. That is cutting it too close. That is stress inducing. That could put you in a terrible spot. What if at 11:59 PM on April 29th your printer dies, or the electricity goes out, or you have the trudging trots from the cheap food at Sally and Tom’s wedding? $#@* happens. Murphy’s Law says: What can go wrong will go wrong and usually at the worst possible time. The worst possible time for this term paper would be 11:59 PM on April 29th.

You don’t need that aggravation. Planning is supposed to make your life less stressful. Wouldn’t it be a lot less stressful if on Saturday, April 27th, you printed out the paper? Assuming all goes well, you’re three days ahead of schedule. I guarantee that is stress lowering. Also, when you’re at the wedding, you can relax and have a great time. If the paper isn’t done, you may find yourself stressing over it and not focusing on fun.

On Saturday, April 27th, write: Print out finished paper. In parentheses put in the time it will take you to get this done: 30 minutes.

Now you take all the parts from above and place them into your monthly calendar. Keep in mind your nature and your other commitments. For example, if you work long hours on Wednesdays, it would be unrealistic to come home and throw yourself into a valuable term paper. Also, be realistic on how much you can really do on one project at a time. Most people can really focus for about four hours. So, if you plan on doing eight or twelve hours of work one day, you’ll probably only get four powerful hours out of your brain.


In the appropriate squares write the following:


April 27:

Pick up second draft from proofreader (0.25 hours)

Make final changes, put project to bed (1.00 hours)

Print out final paper (0.50 hours)

April 26:

Give second draft to proofreader (0.25 hours)

April 25:

Research to fill gaps in paper (polish) (2.00 hours)

Type changes and further polish (2.00 hours)

April 23:

Pick up draft from proofreader (0.25 hours)

Make changes to draft (1.00 hours)

April 21:

Give draft to proofreader (0.25 hours)

April 20:

Type first draft of report (4.00 hours)

April 18:

Expand on outline into paragraph form (4.00 hours)

April 14:

Organize research into outline (3.00 hours)

April 13:

Research the subject (4.00 hours)

April 11:

Research the subject (4.00 hours)


Once this is done and it looks realistic for you and your skills, appoint it into your daily planner. Now you’re acting organized.

Let’s look at a few sticky places in the big project organization:

Make sure you understand that rewrite is a major part of writing. Do not plan on your report flowing easily from your mind to paper. Writing is work. A common statement between writers is, “I sat at my computer and slit my wrists!” You will have to rewrite, and for most people the rewrite is as hard and time consuming as the first writing.

You will need to have a competent proofreader or two. You wrote what is on the paper, so when you try to proof your own work, you know what is supposed to be written. Often you will read what you meant to write, missing the little mistakes. If you have to be your own proofreader, put your paper down for at least a day. This will give your mind a chance to really read what you have on the page. If you read your own work out loud slowly, you have a better chance of catching errors.

Before you give your work to the proofreader, make sure it is ready. Your proofreader is not supposed to fix your shoddy paper, she is supposed to be “a set of new eyes” to catch mistakes.

You need to respect your proofreader. You cannot expect your proofreader to drop everything to proof your work. It is usually best to set an appointment to have your work proofed. If your proofreader states that she can do it, “Wednesday night”, it is your job to have it to her before she is ready for it. This takes some planning and coordination. Often college students trade off proofing each others papers. You need to appoint when she will have the proofed paper returned. Your project will come to a halt if the proofreader can’t get to your paper. It is crucial to have a good working relationship with your proofreader.

One last thing about working with your proofreader. Don’t take their advice personally. If your paper comes back with lots of red marks, it is not a character attack on you. It is the normal process of rewrite. It is much better to fix the mistakes than to turn them in and get a lower grade. A good proofreader is hard to find, so when you find one, treat her like a trusted advisor.

Sometimes life gets in the way.

What if you are down with the flu on April 25th? You have no choice but to rework your schedule. It is usually pretty easy to rework your schedule if you have planned it well from the get go. The rule of thumb is to try not to move stuff around too much to fix a problem. In your present schedule you have 1.5 hours of work to do on April 25th. You need to find that time somewhere before April 26th at 6:00 PM when you are scheduled to give the paper to the proofreader. If you have to bump the proofreader’s time back, you are looking for trouble. What if the proofreader can’t get to your paper in a timely fashion?

Sometimes you have a block of time open up. Let’s say Friday, April 19th, your date falls through. You now have all evening to fill. You find that you’re kind of in a funk. It would be easy to watch TV all night and snack on junk food. But, what if you used this free time to get ahead? You could start on the April 20th work. It will get your mind off your lacking love life and fill you with feelings of accomplishment. OK, it may not be all that, but you won’t have anything to show for watching TV all evening (except a few more ounces on your butt), so taking control may actually feel good. It is a way of getting more time. Your canceled date is found time. Also, if you are done with April 20th’s work, you can plan something else (no, not TV) or start working on April 21st’s part of the project. You should not give yourself permission to not do your assigned work, but it feels good to be ahead of the project. And, if you get the flu, you won’t be too screwed up (Murphy’s Law demands the flu on real busy and project vital days).

Judging time takes practice

It takes time to know how long stuff will take to do. You have to be open to learning as you go. You start off using guesstimation to put a project together. Then, with experience, you will learn more about yourself. Some people find that two hours is the most brainpower they can give at one sitting. So this person will need to schedule two sessions at the library, maybe on the same day, with a lunch, or a class in between. Know thyself and don’t work against your own abilities.


Big project example two: Taking back the garage!

(Hear the horror music)


What you will need is your date book, a pencil, and a monthly calendar with squares for every day. When you read through how to organize a term paper you had someone outside of yourself determining when you would turn it in. As my friend Irene would say it, “You had a drop-dead date.” Irene ran a large printing enterprise and regularly had to juggle hundreds of high dollar deadlines. Even though she was a woman in her sixties, see seemed to get energized as the day went on. Irene used the concept of “drop-dead” to keep the fear of failure at bay. I heard her say many times, “This will be delivered on time, or I’ll drop dead trying.”

In this project you have no drop-dead time. The only task completion time restraint is you. So let’s get a little background on this project.

You are playing the role of husband homeowner. You have a nice home, amazing wife, and two lovely children. For over a year when you return from work you park next to your wife’s car in the driveway. You see the garage door and feel the pain of your self-talk.

“I can’t believe the garage is so messy. All this money for the house and the garage is full of junk. Will my sister ever come and get her boxes? It must be months that she has stored them here. What a fire hazard. The kids just throw stuff around in there as if they don’t care.”


The facts––

Today’s date is: February 1st.

The garage has been a mess for years.


Walking into your home, past the garage door, you feel just a little bit more beaten down: as if the job, the bills, and the commute traffic weren’t enough.

As you walk in the door your wife greets you. “You have to do something about the garage, the tree sap is ruining my car, and I got sap on me as I was going into the office this morning. You said that I would be able to park in the garage months ago. (She was being generous; you actually said it many times over the last two years.)

You have a pretty full life already. It is going to take some organization skills to use your time to its fullest and get this garage project done.

While you’re changing out of your work clothes you think, “What do I have to do to clean the garage, and how long will each part take?” The reality is that you want the garage back. But, you just haven’t moved it up your priority list.

After dinner you go survey the landfill you call a garage. It used to be a spacious two-car garage with a laundry area and a workbench. The laundry area is regurgitating clothing, and the workbench is weighted down with half finished projects mortared together with old magazines, more clothes, and a writhing garden hose. Your stomach feels heavy. There are boxes upon boxes parked where cars should be. Bikes and old bikes, and even older bike parts interwoven with another garden hose, are stacked against one of the garage doors. That door may never be opened again.

To top it all off, cat poop. You can’t miss it visually or olfactory, the neighborhood cats are using the place as a litter box.

You’re going to have to deal with your sister. Some of the boxes are hers. But at least her boxes are stacked neatly in your parking spot being held down by another garden hose.

Start with breaking down the job into manageable parts. How much time will this really take? Be realistic, not hopeful. If you schedule too much time, great—you’re done with time left to do something else. But, if you schedule too little time, you’re screwed! You can’t make more so you will be stressed.

Parts of the Big Garage Project: ~ Estimated Time


Make project into parts ~ (0.15 hours)


With clipboard in hand, go out into the garage and survey the project. Break it into areas and responsible party(ies). Also, list any fix-it jobs that need to be done.


Area: Laundry area

Issue /Responsible party(s):

Piles of laundry: Kid 1 is using the area as extra closet space. ~ 30 minutes

Piles of laundry: Kid 2 is using the area to store dirty clothes. ~ 4 hours

Messy soap storage area. Shelf broke back during the Jurassic period. ~ See fix-it

Area: Workbench

Issue /Responsible party(s):

Kid 1: art project mess ~ 30 minutes

Kid 2: school project mess ~ 30 minutes

Wife: boxes for donation ~ 10 minutes

Self: the garden sprinkler incident. ~ See fix-it

Area: Car one area

Issue /Responsible party(s): Sister’s Boxes ~ 1 hour

Area: Car two area

Issue /Responsible party(s): Self: Work boxes, junk storage, stuff that needs to find a home. ~ 4 hours

Area: Garden tool area

Issue /Responsible party(s): The cool garden tool storage rack is mostly empty. Tools are hopefully intertwined in car one or car two area. ~ 1 hour

Area: Fix-it 1: Side door doesn’t close correctly.

Issue /Responsible party(s): The cats are most likely coming in by the side door. It doesn’t latch and the wind or the kids leave it ajar. ~ 2 hours

Area: Fix-it 2: Fix shelf for soap storage by washer

Issue /Responsible party(s): Need sturdy shelf for soap storage. ~ 2 hours

Area:  Fix-it 3: Garden sprinkler

Issue /Responsible party(s): Locate and protect the $200 worth of sprinkler parts. ~ 30 minutes

Area: Fix-it 4: Kill fleas

Issue /Responsible party(s): The red itchy bumps on your legs are fleabites. ~ 15 minutes


 Total: 16 hours 25 minutes


It will take you and your family 16 hours 25 minutes to do a great job on this project. There are only two problems: When do you do it? And, how do you get the others to help?

Organize the garage projects backwards in small chunks on a monthly calendar

You now peruse your monthly calendar and look for 17 free hours to take on a thankless job. You know without even looking, you’re not going to find 17 free hours this month. Why this month? The garage has been a mess for months (years), so maybe next month. Stop. Your goal is to clean the garage; you need a drop-dead time.

Without a drop-dead time, you have infinite time. You can easily procrastinate this job far into the future. You need a drop-dead time. You have to give it to yourself as a direct goal.

 “I will have the garage spic and span by the end of this month.” Now with your drop dead time, you can work backwards, one chunk at a time, through the project.

On the 28th you write: Take photo of both cars in the neat garage.

As you look over the rest of the month you see you have a lot of obligations. Saturdays are full, and many evenings are full. Work hours are full. Your task is to place all the small project chunks on the calendar. And don’t forget––if a chunk is too big, break it into smaller chunks.

Not including work and sleep, your calendar looks like:

Figure 7: Calendar without the garage project


It is now time to organize. However, the garage has fleas. So, before you can assess the project any more, you have to deal with the little beasties.

On today’s calendar you write: Buy flea bomb (15 min.) It is getting late, so you decide to run to the overpriced little hardware store to get the flea bomb. It will cost you a few dollars more, but you can set it off before bed tonight. This will allow you to air the garage out first thing in the morning, and start dealing with the project tomorrow afternoon.

After you get the flea bomb; bomb the garage. While the poison is doing its job, you can fill out the rest of the calendar.

The laundry area is the first priority. Sunday looks like this:


All clean clothes removed. Kid 1 ~ (30 min)

All dirty clothes washed. Kid 2 ~ (4 hrs)

Buy parts/fix shelf & fix Door ~ (4 hrs)

Wash down area ~ (30 min)


This looks like 9 hours of work, but it is going to be split between three people. All 9 hours can be done Sunday afternoon.

At Sunday breakfast you explain your project to the family. The kids are not impressed. You let them know that your goal is to do the above by 5 pm today.

Not that it would happen at your home, but let’s suppose that Kid 2 is all bent out of shape about doing 4 hours of work. You have to use this as a teaching moment.

“The washer and the dryer are doing most of the work,” you point out. “Your job is to keep them working efficiently.”

Helping your children ask themselves, “What is the next action?”, will help them go far in life.

Sunday evening you leave a message for your sister, asking her to come pick up her stuff. You have given similar messages to her over the phone and in person. This time you politely add, “If you haven’t picked up your boxes by February the 18th, I will have them delivered to your apartment door.”

Without a drop-dead time, your sister is liable to neglect her responsibility. Even with the drop-dead time, you will probably find yourself delivering the boxes to your sister’s apartment hallway.

On February 18th you write: Deliver boxes to sister (1.5 Hrs). Note that this is .5 hours longer than you originally planned. The reason is drive time.

For Tuesday the 4th, you write: Get storage boxes on way home from work. You will need them next Sunday.

Sunday the 9th, the troops work together to find the workbench. School projects are finally cleaned up, and the sprinkler parts are found and boxed safely. The garden tool rack is put back into service.

The project is coming along. For Sunday the 16th, you write car area two (4 hrs). This will be a full afternoon of tossing out, re-boxing and storing correctly.

Hopefully, your sister will also come over on the 16th to get her boxes. (Maybe you’ll invite her over for dinner on the 16th.) If not, after work on the 18th, you are delivering them to her.

There is a good chance that you and your wife will be parking in your two-car garage by the evening of the 18th. That is ten days before your drop-dead time.

Your calendar now looks like this:

Figure 8: Calendar with big project

Motivate the workers

One huge drawback of your plan is that you will have to motivate your children to clean up their mess. In the next section on goal writing, I point out that you can only write goals for yourself. However, this project list is intertwined with parenting. So let me give you a little parenting advice. You can’t make your children do anything, but you can motivate them to do lots.

You could simply pick up after the kids, but that will not teach them any responsibility. Also, I’m assuming that the child that is dressing in the garage is breaking some sort of family rule. For a fuller explanation on how to motive your children please see my book, Basic Parenting 101—The Manual Your Child Should Have Been Born With.