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STRESS-FREE ZONE / Simplify Your Life

Are You Becoming a Slave to Scheduling?

March 16, 1998|ELAINE St. JAMES | Elaine St. James is the author of "Simplify Your Life" and "Simplify Your Life With Kids."

If your day planner system is roughly the size of Nebraska and is bursting at the seams, maybe it's time to consider the possibility that your life has gotten too complicated.

Entire sections of stationery stores are now devoted to the dozens of categories and refills required to keep your book up-to-date.

The contents of a typical planner include numerous sections separated by dividers; things to do today; week-, month- and year-at-a-glance calendars; one- to four-year planning calendars; monthly, quarterly, annual and four-year objectives; appointments, projects, contacts, delegation, outlines, action lists, work records, diaries and meetings; finances and expenses; mileage records; time maps; tide charts; future projects; addresses; birthdays; holidays; anniversaries; gift lists--and more.

If you're really into it, you can add other paraphernalia designed to fit right into the binder, such as plastic business-card holders, rulers, coin slots, vitamin holders and tiny calculators.

I asked a friend who carries a planner so thick it's starting to split at the spine if it's difficult to keep track of all those categories. She said no, it just takes discipline.

For example, when she makes an appointment, she has to remember to write it down in at least three places: the actual date on the calendar, the month-at-a-glance section and the project list. At least once a week she has to double-check her objectives, future projects, birthdays and anniversaries to make sure that nothing slips through the cracks.

At the end of each day she spends at least a half-hour transferring all the things she didn't get completed today to tomorrow's list. She says it's just like having a personal secretary. It sounds to me as if she is the secretary. In fact, she's added a whole new job description to her already busy life. On top of that, she has to lug this monster with her wherever she goes because, as she put it, "My life is in there." One shudders to think of the consequences if she lost her book.

The daily planner is just one more way we attempt to tame the monster of complexity in our lives. We think that if we can find the perfect system to organize all the pieces, our lives will feel less stressed. But organizing is not the same as simplifying. If you need such a complex resource to control the frenzy of your life, you're doing too much. The solution is not getting a bigger planner; it's reducing the number of obligations.

In my experience, these planning books make life more complicated than it was before. They introduce categories you might not have considered. They tie you down and force you to be attentive to their needs. They compel you to fill in the blanks. Worst of all, they force you to devote so much time to figuring out what you'll be doing a month, a year and four years from now that you don't have time to dwell in the moment. Life passes you by as you organize your future.

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* Elaine St. James is the author of "Simplify Your Life" and "Simplify Your Life With Kids." For questions or comments, write to her in care of Universal Press Syndicate, 4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111.

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