Best Laid Plans

Episode #26: Q&A – Tracking complex work tasks, meal planning, planning during maternity leave, and more!

January 18, 2021

Questions/topics discussed in this episode:

Q1: An attorney writes in as her office has just gone paperless. She is looking for ways to track the complex array of tasks that come with having many cases going on at once with constant data coming in.

She thought perhaps I had some ideas due to my clinical practice but — not really, because that organization and data management is pretty much done for me in the electronic medical record! So if anyone has ideas for her, let us know! I’m happy to share in a future ep.

Q2: Meal planning! I talk a little bit about my process, which is not super elaborate but seems to get the job done! (Hoping to someday have a great meal planning expert on as a guest – we will see!)

Q3: Planning during maternity leave. I’ve had 3 chances to practice that, so I shared my experience + methods. Planning doesn’t have to go by the wayside, but often becomes a bit stripped down. This is also a great time for very simple memory planning.g

Q4: Use of the quarterly planning pages of the Wonderland 222. Confession: they are still blank as of this posting. But hopefully pretty soon they won’t be! I have ideas . . .

Q5: A brilliant idea about managing podcast questions — the app Todoist!

Q6: A classic q: “How are you able to do it all?” Two main answers: a) I don’t; and b) childcare and help with household work.

I hope you enjoyed this Q&A! Keep the questions coming – they are one of my favorite parts of doing Best Laid Plans!

Show Sponsor

Wear Your Power e-course from Real Life Style! Get more details here and mention Best Laid Plans when you register for a free upgrade – a 30-minute Zoom chat with Lani at the end of the course!!

Interested in sponsoring BLP? Email me and I can send you the info.


  • Reply Krishna January 18, 2021 at 7:20 am

    For Q1, as a senior IT person I have a similar scenario of tracking tasks across many projects. I have tried many things over the years and now I follow the GTD principles in OneNote. And I am so happy about it.

    I use the tags feature therein a lot – the various projects are sections in my digital notebook and I have pages corresponding to each aspect/meeting for the project. In these pages, I record minutes/my notes and tag them as either Tasks/WaitingFor/FutureTasks. There is a “Find Tag across notebook” feature that allows me to check for my Next Actions that I have marked as Tasks! In this way, the tasks remain in their relevant pages so that I get the context and at the same time I am able to look for what all I need to act upon – in a way, Best of Both worlds…pun intended..

    • Reply Jessica January 18, 2021 at 11:21 am

      Seconding OneNote!

    • Reply Jessica January 26, 2021 at 12:06 pm

      This sounds amazing! I haven’t used OneNote much… do you have a notebook for each project?

  • Reply Marjorie January 18, 2021 at 8:30 am

    I’m not an attorney, but I used to follow this blog called because I was fascinated with how small firms organize their complex workdays. That particular blog focused on helping law firms become paperless and virtual, and it’s since grown into a mini-empire that includes a podcast, conference, coaching program, and a library of resources.

    I recommend any attorney — even if they’re not in a paperless and/or small firm — check it out for its breadth of coverage on all things tech, law firm organization, and career development. But you can start with this article, too:

  • Reply fellow attorney here January 18, 2021 at 9:37 am

    For Q1, I’m also an attorney and this is hard because the document management softwares I’ve used aren’t designed for this. I know some folks who use onenote but I don’t think it integrates well (or at least wouldn’t with my firm’s system). What I use is a rocketbook, and scan in my notes (which it converts to pdf or word so then it can be searchable) every few days. It’s not the most elegant but it’s the easiest way to get my notes in the electronic file.

  • Reply TAS January 18, 2021 at 10:35 am

    For the attorney: wow do I feel your pain. I no longer practice but my project and task list are even longer and more complex in my new world. I faced this same question in my practice days and all of my friends in software were immediately trying to get me on board with GTD systems. Which I’ve moved away from as my work now is more complex in scope, although not in depth. Depending on your system, I’m sure there is some kind of docketing that makes sure you don’t miss important filing dates etc. if not, you want a calendar double check system that builds advance notice so you have time to write briefs etc. But from there, I’d use a Kanban system like trello, or asana which has some good options like forwarding email. Trello is what I use now in my complex environment. There’s a lot of flexibility how to build boards depending on your practice (ie, boards by case, etc.) That wasn’t an option for me when we went paperless, so I used an excel spreadsheet with contexts, and another as a reference location. It worked, but I was Constantly afraid of accidentally deleting things, so I’d probably default to Google sheets now.

  • Reply Kersti January 18, 2021 at 11:49 am

    I’m a litigation attorney and have created a system that is similar to GTD. I keep a list of active cases (my assistant helps me keep this up) and that is my project list. When I get each new case I ideally spend time thinking about the case and creating a plan (just in Word), which has a timeline of all the deadlines and a chart of the elements of each cause of action, along with client goals and what would be a positive outcome. From there, I record the upcoming one to three tasks on my outlook task list to be done in order of priority in comparison to my other tasks. As evidence comes in (from client or opposing party) I review it and record a note on the chart. Every Friday afternoon I think about each case and record new tasks on my task list as needed. Outlook calendar has deadlines and reminders obviously.

    • Reply Kersti January 18, 2021 at 11:54 am

      I should say I also write notes on paper from client meetings, calls etc. I transfer any relevant material to my project planning or task list, scan the notes into Worksite, and shred the paper copy. I’ve tried taking electronic notes and it just doesn’t work for me. I also keep a paper working file for each case that has, for example, a copy of the “hot docs,” like a complex contract, so I can easily reference them when needed.

      • Reply Kersti January 18, 2021 at 11:59 am

        And, I try to break big tasks down. So I would not write “draft brief” on my list but would put “brainstorm brief” first. I have found that the worst thing for me is working by the calendar, ie not starting a big project until a one week reminder pops up. Sometimes I have to start big projects months in advance. I hope something in here is helpful!!

  • Reply Katie January 18, 2021 at 11:00 pm

    Okay I almost wrote a book so here’s my short answer that is just an essay?- transactional attorney and paper and pen list (or draft email updated daily) is what I do, GTD like but GTD lite (today; this week; not this week) alongside a planner to plug things in. Too difficult to force what I do into software and I want to plan without looking at a screen.

    I have adhd and if it is not written it is not only not done it is forgotten and so I DO use my email as a second to do list, to double check my paper list- Cross check them. I have tons of outlook file folders by matter. I read/address and delete it sort things daily. If a matter is not in my court, ALL of the emails get filed. Maybe I calendar a follow up in Outlook and in my log of all my matters (when I’m good about keeping it), but it’s off my list (clients or counterparty will remind me when I need to do something, unpredictable when that will be and totally unlike litigation/ I don’t drive the schedule and neither does a court!) If anything is in my court, at least one email about it remains in my Inbox, I try to keep at 20 or less and generally overlapping with to do list. If it’s a short admin task, sometimes I’ll drag it onto my calendar somewhere and delete the task… and not include on task list; just add to calendar the day it pops up… I write out my calendar for the day based on my paper list and outlook calendar! Sounds complex but the simplest I have found?!?

  • Reply CNM January 19, 2021 at 11:39 am

    Also a litigation attorney! In civil litigation, primarily defense. My organization system has evolved over the years. (And, you might want to look at what your malpractice insurance requires in terms of calendaring.)
    But, this is what we do at my small firm.
    1. A list of all active cases by plaintiff and defendant so we can refer to it at any time. I keep a print out of this list on a corkboard near my desk.
    2. An Outlook calendar, maintained by my paralegal, with all case management deadlines, hearings, and so forth on it. There is also a reminder posted for upcoming deadlines – i.e. a reminder a month before experts are due, a reminder a week before an Answer is due, etc. This is the most important part of a litigator’s practice– making sure things are done on time!
    3. Now this is where my personal organization comes in. At one time, I had a “tickler” system, which was a numbered accordion file. Each number corresponded with the day of the month. I would put slips of paper in the file with things to do for any given day, to make sure nothing fell through the cracks. Each morning, I pulled that day’s slips and reviewed them, added and substracted as needed, and that is how I kept the balls in the air. (I’ll put an asterisk here for during trials, as that was a different set of tasks altogether. This is just the day to day.) I would also review the Outlook calendar and write the deadlines I was responsible for in a Dayrunner planner. I did this because sometimes Courts would not let you take in a cell phone and if there was a calendaring discussion, I needed to have an analog version to refer to.

    Now what I do is this: I review an entire month’s Outlook calendar at the beginning of every month. I write down in my Hobonichi all hearings, meetings, etc. as well as any big deadlines in my weekly pages. I also review the calendar weekly, on Friday’s usually, to see what is ahead.

    Then, for daily tasks, I have started using a Cal Newport timeblocking system. I set a block of time for a certain task or case- i.e. 3 hours for drafting response brief, 1 hour for various calls and emails (and then I list the calls). I set up my daily tasks in a general form on Fridays for the week ahead, and then refine it at the end of the day for the following day. I also make sure to put in at least 2 shorter time slots for entering billing every day. I also keep an ongoing list of things to do on a given case (just on a pad of paper) that don’t necessarily have a deadline but need to be done anyway. I refer to this when blocking out my day’s work.

    For BIG deadlines, like upcoming trials, I keep a list on a whiteboard near my desk. These trial dates can tend to change and are usually set super far in advance (like a year), so writing them in my Hobonichi isn’t all that helpful. But a whiteboard helps me visualize a year in advance and can be referred to when a Court is trying to schedule other things. so for example I can notify the Judge that I am already in a trial the week of November 2, 2022, so another trial cannot be set for those dates.

    Hope that helps!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger January 19, 2021 at 11:51 am

      This is awesome – thank you so much for sharing!!!

  • Reply Caitlin January 19, 2021 at 6:54 pm

    As far as Q6, just something I’ve been rolling around in my head for a while: sometimes staying home seems easier, especially, I assume, when there is more than one child (I currently only have one child myself). It sounds exhausting to round up children every morning and get them to daycare or manage a nanny, go to work all day, then come home and deal with dinner and bedtime. But, as I was reminded during the early part of the shutdown and again with some sick days, it’s exhausting to spend all of your time with small children and that is not something all of us want to do. Also, it’s not just taking care of small children–you become the default household manager, which by itself is a HUGE job.

    I know all of this has been said in multiple ways on this blog, LVK’s blog, and BOBW, I just think it’s worth reiterating. It sounds counterintuitive, but working full-time (or part-time, or something in between) can force you to schedule everything and ruthlessly prioritize. Plus it is really nice to be able to throw money at problems/pain points.

  • Reply Jessica February 5, 2021 at 9:44 am

    For Q2 and meal planning – I wanted to share something that I use for meal planning that I haven’t heard on the podcast so far. I use an app called “plan to eat” and I can not say enough good things about this app. I used to plan meals on paper and I struggled with a couple things this way. I could never remember recipes my family enjoyed so we would frequently get stuck in a cycle of the same few things that would pop into my mind. I also was spending more than I had budgeted for groceries (buying things I thought I needed because of insufficient planning and also buying things I already had). This app has saved us from the rut of making the same thing over and over because it stores all your recipes in one place for you to scroll through and assign to a day/meal. It’s so easy to input recipes too (can be done automatically by pasting in a URL). You can add individual items to the schedule too, so snack time I add the item “oranges” so that I’m intentional for every part of what will be on my weekly grocery list. Financially this has helped our family because you can search recipes including ingredients. For example, if a pork roast is on sale one week I’ll search recipes for pork roast to plan. The app also auto populates a grocery list based on what you plan so I can do a quick “shop” in the pantry to cross out what I have so I’m not buying things I don’t need. You can also add non food items to the grocery list too. Since using the app we have saved so much time and money. I’m a paper person for 99.9 percent of everything that I do but this app is the only thing I enjoy using that is digital. I always have the list on me and I can update/change it at any time.

    I know this sounds like some kind of affiliated review, but I’m not. I’m just genuinely so happy and grateful that I found the app and want to share it with as many people as possible because it has saved me time, money, and some sanity while I transitioned into motherhood. I definitely think it’s worth looking at and maybe even a review episode to share the love for an awesome resource.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger February 5, 2021 at 11:23 am

      Wow!! That is so cool – I will delve deeper and share your comment on an upcoming ep as well! Thank you for the rec!

    Leave a Reply

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