Goals Planners

Daily Planning & Mental Clarity

January 8, 2020

Spoiler alert: I recorded a guest spot on one of my favorite podcasts to be aired on Friday! YES, I get to check off one of my 20 for 2020 goals already (#12: guest star on a podcast that I enjoy).

The discussion is all about planning and of course I’ll share a link when it airs. During one portion of the interview, we started talking about lists, since the pod’s host wasn’t completely satisfied with her list-making habits/technique. She wrote out everything that was going on, essentially, and then crossed out items until most of them were gone, and then created a new list.

This method is probably pretty popular, but it gives me hives to think about putting all of my to-do items in one space that I have to refer to. And in delving into the reason, I realized it was because I AM A HIGHLY SENSITIVE PERSON WHO WILL BE OVERWHELMED AND WANT TO GIVE UP ON LIFE IMMEDIATELY if I have to repeatedly look at a list showing that I have 27 potential tasks to complete at any given time.

OF COURSE we all have 27 (or many more!) tasks. But I don’t want to look at them. I need to be able to easily look at a (manageable) master list for any given time frame and then pull out JUST what is reasonable to get done that day. Or even slightly more than is reasonable (I don’t always get to check everything off, especially if unexpected things come up!) — but certainly not 27 things.


LIST OF 27: I stress out, feel overwhelmed, can’t decide what to even start on, and end up stress scrolling for an hour instead of getting anything accomplished.

LIST OF 4: I feel calm enough to select an item and build some momentum. I get 3 things done and feel pretty good about my day! (OR ALL 4 and feel like a total rock star. OR, total dream scenario — maybe I finish early and get to reward myself by doing something fun.)

This has become more important since my transition to PD. When my job was almost entirely patient care, the next action was always pretty apparent – see & care for the next patent and write a note! There were personal checklist items (which can also be overwhelming) but no swathes of unscheduled work time in which it becomes essential that I focus in on the RIGHT tasks (and there is usually a logical order to things, but it’s not always immediately apparent).

I am happy to say that I am getting better at planning my days, and my weekly & daily lists are two of my most important tools. Every morning, I sit with my trust HTC and:

  • Use the weekly view to pull up any scheduled items – patient blocks, meetings, kid activities, etc
  • Fill out the timeline to ensure everything is logistically feasible
  • Create a task list based on the amount of open time I anticipate (ie, yesterday morning was an open work period for GME stuff in the morning, so I put several medium-sized tasks on the list!)
yesterday’s daily page

Then that’s it. Typically I don’t go back to look at any task lists. I have ‘assigned’ myself what is going to happen, and do not need to stress myself out by looking at other tasks looming in the background. I’ve looked once (when creating the page) and that’s enough.

This isn’t exactly the method David Allen recommends in his famous book Getting Things Done, but his phrase Mind Like Water comes to mind (and even inspired me to choose my “lake view” planner cover this year). This state of mind is — in my interpretation — when you know you have all of your open tasks captured and you know exactly what to prioritize at any given moment. You can immerse yourself (sorry, last water metaphor) in the tasks and your experiences, and let the part of your brain that is always on high alert trying to triage life’s potential calamities just go into inactive mode in the background.

Okay, I will jump off my daily planning soapbox. But if you haven’t at least tried it, you should. Happy Wednesday, and I’ll share the guest pod link here when it airs!!


  • Reply Laura B. January 8, 2020 at 8:28 am

    This post makes me really look forward to your potential future book! So helpful!!

  • Reply Lisa of Lisa's Yarns January 8, 2020 at 8:53 am

    I’m looking forward to listening as I am a total planner geek and super type A! I think I might be the odd duck that doesn’t have a ton of to dos to keep track of. I tend to make to do lists at work but those don’t go in my planner. So my to do lists are for the week and usually aren’t super long. But my work and life are VERY separate entities so it kind of works to keep them separate, and keeps the bullet journal list shorter? Hard to say. I used to have a monthly to do list that I would put on my monthly bullet journal spread and then I would add it to my weekly to do list. I haven’t done that recently, but might start doing that if I have some longer term/not immediate things I need to do.

  • Reply Lori C January 8, 2020 at 9:24 am

    Ahhhh you finished Station 11! Dying to know what you thought. It’s one of those books that still haunts me. Also, side note, but given your affinity for Asian culture have you seen any of the Studio Ghibli films? I watched Spirited Away this weekend with my 4 and 2 year old (probably a bit much for the 2 year old but he was into it) and I was fascinated!! Miyazaki does such a great job capturing the Asian culture (particularly the food- funny to see people drooling over fish heads!) definitely check it out if you havent seen it.

  • Reply Sarah K January 8, 2020 at 10:48 am

    Which podcast was it??? I also freak out when I see a long list, which is why I love a daily planner – some things are on the list for the month, but I only move them to a day when I know it’s reasonable to get them done. And sometimes tasks get migrated several days into the future because other projects are taking up all my time.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger January 8, 2020 at 4:26 pm

      I’ll post a link and graphic when it drops – I don’t want to jinx it 😂

      • Reply sharon November 13, 2020 at 12:29 pm

        Did I miss the post with a link? I’d love to hear the episode! thx!!

  • Reply Ellie January 8, 2020 at 11:55 am

    Looking forward to hearing you on that podcast! I am also a planner / list freak and for a long time, I was working with this giant to-do list… and felt miserable for the exact reason you describe! I was feeling overwhelmed, even if the list included things I was not supposed to deal with before three months or so. Since I moved to having “master lists” for different things and using the Hobonichi, it feels much more manageable. I only look at limited time periods and I know the rest of the tasks are not lost somewhere in my brain. They are listed somewhere, ready to be pulled when needed. Life-changing!

    This year I even went further in planning by creating a list of recurring tasks that need to be done every year. I hope it also clears my head of all these nagging things that I keep forgetting about, even though they always happen.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger January 8, 2020 at 4:26 pm

      Ooh I LOvE the recurring tasks list idea!!!! Thank you for sharing!

      • Reply Ellie January 15, 2020 at 12:52 pm

        Loved hearing you talking planning on the Mom Hour! I am so fascinated by those conversations. Fingers crossed there will be a book by you on that topic someday! ☺️ #plannerfreak

  • Reply Dr Eva Lantsoght (@evalantsoght) January 8, 2020 at 12:56 pm

    Looking forward to listening to that podcast! Most of my work days are unstructured time (university professor with limited teaching and administration load, so that I can focus on research), and I also use a combination of timeline for the day (in Google calendar) and list of 3-4 tasks for the day (in a notebook), based on my weekly goals. For my weekly and monthly goals, I have 3 main categories (work, self, relationships… you can guess where I got that from), and work is subdivided into writing, research, teaching, service, admin. I also use an overview per semester (task list) of all research projects and deliverables (including the projects of my grad students), a list of the papers I want to write/coauthor, a list of committee/service work that needs to be done (mostly development of technical documents in my field), list of conferences, and teaching tasks (including undergraduate theses that I’m supervising).

  • Reply sreedevi mydam January 8, 2020 at 1:19 pm

    i cannot get it into your Instagram what happened where do i get links to that favorite things podcast

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger January 9, 2020 at 11:46 am

      Favorite things at bestofbothworldspodcast.com
      I did suspend my Insta for a bit 🙂 It will be back!

  • Reply Omdg January 9, 2020 at 2:04 pm

    I too struggle with the overflowing to do list. The complete list has to be somewhere, but how do you pare down to a manageable daily list? What happens if you don’t get to every item? I always have so many “must do” items that sometimes I feel drained by the time I get to the bigger things that require deeper thought.

  • Reply LEE January 10, 2020 at 12:50 am

    I love almost everything about GTD, but I can’t handle the enormously long task lists. If I don’t schedule things for certain days, they won’t get done.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger January 10, 2020 at 7:18 am

      YES AGREE!!!

  • Reply Liz January 12, 2020 at 10:15 am

    Loved The Mom Hour pod ep! Makes me super-excited for your book, and I still think you could host a terrific planning podcast of your own, similar to LV’s “Before Breakfast.”

    Planning question – While I love the beauty of the HTC, I don’t love flipping back and forth between sections, which is why I use a separate weekly planner to make my daily task list. What do you practice? Do you flip back and forth or take a pic of your weekly pages to fill out your dailies?

  • Reply Louise September 18, 2020 at 7:10 am

    This is the most helpful post ever! I kinda knew I had to tackle things like this because I too get overwhelmed and then tend to swerve off the main topic, but it seems more real and less just my quirck seeing it all laid out like this – love it! You and Laura do make a wonderful team, I came here on the back of her books and your joint podcast and it’s just a great addition to all the useful tips I picked up – thanks!

  • Reply The Evely Pack November 15, 2020 at 8:44 am

    what is the pen pictured with your planner? I like the dark contrasty look of the ink!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger November 15, 2020 at 2:09 pm

      the red pen? It’s just the Uniball Jetstream 3 color that comes with the Hobonichi (also orderable on JetPens). 0.5 size!

      • Reply The Evely Pack November 15, 2020 at 3:33 pm

        the pen in the picture above in this post is gray? and slim…

        though your love of the uni jetstream has convinced me to look into their line! i think the edge 0.28 is the first one i want to try!

        • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger November 15, 2020 at 6:20 pm

          oh sorry about that! thought you meant the wonderland post. that is a staedtler triplus fineliner. in my opinion/experience, those are not great as main writing instruments on Tomoe River Paper – more for accents.

    Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.