Best Laid Plans

BLP Ep #85: Q&A: Digital Planning, Unstructured Days, and a MakseLife Mini-Review!

March 14, 2022


1- Kelly from AL writes in curious about digital planning (ie, planner-like templates you can purchase for tablet / laptop / phone). I have to admit that this realm of planning holds little inherent appeal to me personally, but I have to imagine there are some listeners out there that are into it!

2- Busy PhD student with unstructured days – listener M writes in with a need for a product to help her find more structure in her days. My recs: a great structured daily planner, like Full Focus, MakseLife, or EC Daily Duo. Alternatives: a flexible bullet journal with your own daily template!

3- Jen wrote in with a tip for those that were excited about Christine‘s family wall calendar from the last episode but didn’t want to draw their own — The Essential Calendar to the rescue!

4- Carolyn (who has her own podcast, Wellness While Walking!) asked about solutions for “that very long term task list that you want to remember to do, but those things aren’t pressing”? To me, this sounds like a Someday/Maybe list! Locations I have used: back of my planner, Apple Notes, Todoist

MakseLife Mini Review

I purchased the 6 month MakseLife Undated Weekly Planner & Goal Setting System for review! Price is $64, cover is quite sturdy, and the paper is fantastic and highly functional 80 lb / 120 GSM bright white recycled paper.

Here’s how I used the weekly spread:


AM events

afternoon events

planned workouts (moved to the top row in subsequent spreads!)

to do list

kids’ activities / family notes

dinners / evening events

Review Summary: A very well-made product with great paper and many goal setting features. On the pricier side, but you get a lot (and high quality) for the price point. The goal setting content may be too much for someone that just wants a simpler planning system, but if you’re looking to have it embedded into your planner, this is a really great system!

Daylight Savings . . .

Best of luck to everyone as we adjust today!! I’m already tired . . .


  • Reply Emilie March 14, 2022 at 6:39 am

    Just fyi the audio on the first two questions are swapped

  • Reply Coree March 14, 2022 at 8:07 am

    Re. unstructured days, I found a few things helpful while I was doing my PhD and now as an academic with quite a lot of control over my schedule.

    I liked working an 8-4 schedule, being in sync with the rest of the working world. I tended to start my day with writing, have lunch and a walk, and then come back for lower energy activities – grading, teaching prep. For the last hour of the day, I do what I call “admin power hour”, blasting through emails and any admin stuff. I save these things in a folder and just do as many as I can. Sometimes I do this in a cafe with a cup of tea and a snack. Having things in this folder also helps for if I’m waiting for a meeting to start, on a bus, in the doctor’s office etc. I can chip away at these little things.

    During the teaching term, I tend to timeblock my weeks rather than individual days. I find it pretty unlikely that I’ll get substantive writing done during teaching days, I’m already a bit knackered after lecturing, so I try to shove all my meetings, admin, and teaching prep into those two days, clearing the decks for writing on the non teaching days. I’ll round it off with lunch or coffee with a colleague (and call it networking!)

    I have a small child so weekend working is harder now than it was, but if I have to work at weekends, I try and work at really defined tasks. Either writing one specific thing or completing all my grading, to clear up the week ahead.

  • Reply Sindy March 14, 2022 at 8:24 am

    Hey Sarah, I think the first and second questions have their answers swapped in today’s podcast (I use google podcasts). Miranda’s question played when you answered Kelly’s answer.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger March 14, 2022 at 8:32 am

      Oh nooooo! I will talk to my sound people and figure it out!!!

      • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger March 14, 2022 at 3:44 pm

        Fixed now (for new downloads or streams). Whew! Thank you!

    • Reply Charlotte March 14, 2022 at 8:48 am

      Same for me! Was very confused at first.

  • Reply Susan March 14, 2022 at 10:55 am

    Makselife has “imperfect” planners on sale for 40% off

  • Reply DVResident March 14, 2022 at 11:56 am

    When I was a PhD student, I used a Hobonichi, but as my ‘second line’ planner. What I generally did*** was look over the experiments I had planned to start in the next 48h, experiments ongoing, and any data/info I anticipated getting back in the next 7 days, and make a checklist for each project with each experiment. Then, I would tetris my schedule (I literally would even write down: “Make FBS media-2 bottles, 15 min”…with those random 2 hour incubations a lot of stuff, like putting away reagents, making solutions, splitting cells, can happen.) Once that was figured out, it went into my planner, but I kept the checklist pinned, so I could physically cross off what got done as well on the master list and I felt less bad using giant arrows/highlights on that to move things to a following week or readjust.

    Then, for the paper stuff, I would look at where I had blocks of time and map out time for the Deep Thinking (usually a weekend AM, or early AM, like 4 AM), as well as low brain power tasks, like writing a methods section. The easier tasks could be squeezed into an incubation period, but I made a rule that at the end of a 7-14 day planning period, I had to make progress on that as well.

    Obviously, meetings/conferences were also scheduled in this time as well. As I got more senior, I was more discerning about which conferences I was willing to skip out on if experiments just didn’t happen.

    Also, morale needed to be kept up. 9 AM daily was my time to grab my friend, and do a quick walk around campus +/- coffee

    ***This didn’t happen every Monday AM. Usually, it was a weekend task, but typically, I found my lab time was divided into ‘focus areas’ for my experiments and projects, so I typically did this deep planning every 10 days or so based on when I anticipated moving into a new period of project focus or a huge experiment was wrapping up. Some blocks were analysis heavy, others were experiment heavy.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger March 14, 2022 at 12:03 pm

      Love this!!

      • Reply Jessica March 15, 2022 at 1:06 am

        So interesting to see people’s advice for unstructured time. For me, honestly the biggest thing that helps is to plan meetings and deadlines strategically.
        Meetings: I am not someone who can focus easily with a full day free – I get so much more done if I have a meeting or two. So in non-meeting-heavy jobs, I would be careful to schedule any new meetings on days that are currently totally open, to help break up the day.
        Deadlines: if I find myself dragging my feet on something, telling someone that I will get something to them by X date or setting up the next review of my progress will almost always help me to focus and get it done.

        • Reply Coree March 15, 2022 at 5:51 am

          I’m similar in struggling with big blocks of open time, I think because I am quite extroverted and I feel lonely on my own all day? I need some social time – teaching, meeting, coffee with a friend all count – to boost my energy levels.

  • Reply Lisa of Lisa's Yarns March 14, 2022 at 1:34 pm

    I am finding the comments from those in academia super interesting because it is such a different world from my line of work, and then I am sure their schedules/approaches to planning are very different depending on the nature of their work, too.

    I’m tired today but was actually welcoming DLS with open arms. I used to love falling back and hate springing ahead pre-kids. Post kids, it’s the opposite. I was hoping that springing ahead would mean the baby would wake at 6:15 instead of 5:15 like he has been lately. But nope. He was up at 5:15 again today. Le sigh. I think he probably needs to drop down to 1 nap at school but he doesn’t change rooms for several months… At least he isn’t nursing anymore so my husband and I can take turns getting up with him. I had to wake the 4yo this morning after letting him sleep a bit later and he was NOT happy but he seemed to adapt. I’m looking forward to more daylight hours in the evening and being able to hopefully go outside after dinner soon. I just need the weather to warm up a bit more here in MN!

  • Reply Leah March 15, 2022 at 12:35 pm

    I love using Cal Newport’s time block planner but the lack of laying flat drove me nuts! I now take the new planner to Office Depot and have them spiral bind the pages for $4.35. It makes a big difference to me and they also are able to add some additional notes pages to it which I missed.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger March 15, 2022 at 3:54 pm

      I bet his second edition will have better binding. I’m sure he knows it’s an issue!

  • Reply Allee March 15, 2022 at 1:24 pm

    As a PhD student who is also in the phase of only writing this has all been very helpful. I have found that it works best for me to only plan 1-2 days ahead because things will take different times than I expect. Mentally, I have to remind myself that everything on my list needs to be done at some point, so as long as I am making progress, I am doing a good job. I think the hardest part is having days where I wake up in the mood to do certain tasks that aren’t actually scheduled. I am really bad about not wanting to do the work that I actually have scheduled for myself.

  • Reply Jeanette March 15, 2022 at 5:57 pm

    Hi Sarah! I was curious if you’ve heard of the Inamio 24-hour planner before. I was looking for a monthly planner similar to Ashley Shelley’s because she is always sold out — but I ran into this and it reminds me a lot of the Hobonichi! I can’t speak to paper quality since I’ve not actually held it, but functionally it looks amazing! Especially love that there is a really big 9×7 option! Inamio 24 Hourly Planner 2022 – 24 Hour Planner – Weekly and Monthly Appointment Book 2022 – Hardcover, Japanese Design – Minimalist Annual Planner with Time Slots – 6 x 8.5 Can’t remember if you covered or reviewed this at any point, but want to put it on your radar!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger March 15, 2022 at 7:13 pm

      I literally just ordered one to review and it arrived TODAY!!!!!!!! I accidentally got the enormous one but I can absolutely see the appeal. Question is – is the layout plagiarism to Hobonichi Cousin?!

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