Using Passion Planner to Support Your Back-to-School Routine

Back to school blog header

Today was the first day of school, and you know what that means… a fresh start! A do-over! A chance to reboot my family’s routine! We’ve had a lovely summer in the Diamond household, but we’ve picked up a few bad habits along the way. (Exhibit A: very pokey mornings. Exhibit B: copious amounts of kiddie TV. Both of which drive me nuts, make me short-tempered, and exacerbate my already overgrown guilt complex.)

I’m taking advantage of the externally imposed schedule (public school for Big Sis, preschool for Little Bro). And I’m making routine my personal focus for September.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about my habits… those little shifts that I can easily initiate and track, shifts that can have (I hope) a hugely positive domino effect. Check it out! These are the items I want to accomplish at each routine point in our day:

routines close up

Now, how did I land on this particular list?

  • I tracked moments in our day when I felt I was going off-track (anxious, yelling, feeling burned out on the whole parenting thing). I asked myself why I was feeling that way. What was really bothering me, what could I actually control, and what concrete actions could I take to affect assured change? (Example: while I can’t force my children to get along and/or be cheerful in the afternoon, I can institute a daily period of independent quiet time.)
  • Based on my reflections, I chose 3-5 things to focus on during three key times of the day which already have a certain rhythm to them (greater chance of success if the shift in routine feels manageable!)
  • How did I narrow down where to put my focus? I wanted to pick habits that, if I can make them automatic, will yield the greatest positive reward. For instance, I hate feeling anxious and rushed in the morning. I also hate yelling at my kids. Usually, I’m cranky because I’m trying to fix breakfast and lunches simultaneously. Meanwhile, we’re running late to the bus stop and everyone’s shoes have gone mysteriously missing. Ergo my resolve to make lunches and locate our outerwear the night before.

To make this shift in our collective routine, I’m using a trifecta of habit-forming strategies. As explained by Gretchen Rubin (author of Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives), these strategies include the clean slate, scheduling, and monitoring. If you want to know more about each strategy and how they impact your psyche, just follow the links (but if you’re actually reading this post, odds are you already love leveraging these strategies in your groovy paper planner).

So how does this all play out in my Passion Planner? Well. Usually, I pencil in vague plans for my day and then later record what actually happened with Sharpie pen and color-coded pencils. (Want more details? Read about my regular process here.)

This month, I’m switching it up. I’m planning to track my plans and my actual activity side-by-side. Will scheduling my plans and monitoring my progress help me put my plans into actual practice? I hope so! To that end, I added my routines to the habit tracker boxes I make in my “personal to-do list.” (I find myself intensely motivated by check boxes, all the more so if meeting my goal for 7 days straight yields a perfect rainbow. Make of that what you will.)

habit tracker

Want more pics? Here’s this week’s attempt at a split layout (Plans only thus far… and I’m starting to doubt I’ll have room for what actually happened!)

this weekForecasted plans on this week’s layout

I’m already prepping a different strategy for next week. I’m guessing I’ll want my plans to be less obtrusive, so I’m just marking off the routine sections of my day with some cut-up Avery labels.

next weekNext week’s layout: not as pretty, but more space to record actual activity!  

I’ll be tinkering throughout the month and definitely plan to share my favorite layout when all is said and done. In the mean time, I’d love to hear from my fellow planner nerds: how do you effectively record both your intentions and your actual activity for thoughtful comparison within your Passion Planner

September Meal Plan #1: International Appreciation


Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, originally posted to Serious Eats

Big Sis goes back to school this Wednesday! And Little Bro starts preschool the following week! I’m excited for the externally-imposed routine to recommence, and I’m trying to take best advantage of this time to make tiny (but hopefully high-impact!) shifts in our routine. More big picture thoughts on that later. For now, here’s how it relates to food.

I already do A LOT to manage the food around here. I meal plan, stick to my grocery list, and (usually) adhere to my food budget. But one aspect of meal-planning always escapes my attention: lunches. Lunches are my Achilles heel.

LUNCH RESOLUTION: I’m going to try pre-making all of our lunches the night before until this (hopefully) becomes a not-even-worth-mentioning part of our routine. The kids are pretty easy. I bought sandwich fixings for Mr. M. And I’ll be working my way through a big vat of slow-cooker Indian-spiced lentils. You can definitely eat them with rice, though I prefer them with naan and yogurt.

CSA UPDATES: This week’s treasures include wax beans, Thai basil, Chinese eggplant, broccoli, garlic, arugula, tomato, and cucumber. I’m going to make and freeze pesto. The cucumbers and tomatoes will go into lunches. And garlic… well, that goes into everything in the Diamond household. The rest? Well, the rest has inspired this week’s dinners!

INTERNATIONAL APPRECIATION: You’ll note an international flare to the week’s menu. Yum! We’re lucky enough to live on the Pacific Rim in a diverse area replete with fabulous Asian markets. This week, we’re taking advantage and treating our taste buds.

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Vegetarian DinnerEggplant stir fry

The Big Easy – Szechuan dry-fried beans and pork chops

Fast and FlavorfulArugula salad (with shrimp added) and Dutch oven bread

Too Hot to Handle?spicy garlic-fried chicken and char-grilled broccoli (Yes, I’m assuming the children will have pancakes or peanut butter and jelly that night. The spice factor’s a bit high for the 6-and-under crowd.)

Slow Cooker Mealsausage, spinach, and white bean soup