Throughout my 30+ years of homemaking, I have tried every planning system known to man. I have found that there is no perfect system and the best practice is to use what works for the season that I am currently in.
For the fall of 2023, this is my system. I was inspired by a YouTuber I follow for this basic system, then made adjustments for my needs and preferences. That is my advice to you as well. Take what I present here (or not) and make it work for you and your unique homemaking situation.
At the end of this post you will find links to download my planning sheets. If you want to see a video detailing my process you can find that in my story highlights on Instagram, here.
Supplies Needed: (links for the sheets are at the end of this post)
simple spiral notebook
week at a glance sheet
weekly menu & grocery list sheet
colored pens, pencil and highlighter
Optional: clear pocket folders or a binder to keep it all together
Step 1: Brain Dump
On Sunday afternoon I do a brain dump in a simple spiral notebook. I make two columns, one for personal & home stuff and one for podcast stuff, writing down everything I can think of that I would like to accomplish that week. Note, I do not include scheduled appointments here. I'll get to that in a minute. For now, I'm just making lists of tasks to accomplish.
Step 2: Calendar
The most important aspect of calendaring is to put appointments and events on your calendar ASAP. Whether you keep a digital or paper calendar, discipline in entering appointments and deadlines is key! I keep a digital calendar which I can access from any of my devices. This is where I record things first because I can do it in the moment on my phone. For example, at the end of a hair appointment, I set up my next appointment with my stylist. Once we agree on a date, I immediately enter it on my calendar, before I leave the building. The same goes for doctor, dentist, and other appointments. Scheduled maintenance at home, concerts, travel, date nights, Sunday visit with my kids....it all goes immediately into my digital calendar. If the event is rescheduled, I change it in my calendar ASAP. If you prefer to keep a paper rather than digital calendar, I suggest you keep a small version of one with you at all times to record things right away.
If I have been keeping my calendar updated, the next step for my weekly planning is fairly straightforward. If it is the first week of the month, I will be filling out a fresh monthly paper calendar to keep on hand for quick reference throughout the week. I take all the entries of my digital calendar for that month and record them, in pencil, on my single-sheet paper calendar for that month. This step is optional, but I find it helps me visualize my week and month better when I can see it in paper form. I do this in pencil because several things may change in the course of the month and I don't want to have to redo the whole thing half-way through the month.
If it is not the first week of the month, I simply do a quick check against my digital calendar to make sure everything is accurate on my single-sheet paper calendar.
Step 3: Week at A Glance Sheet
Next I take a blank "My Week" sheet and add everything for that week from my paper calendar. (If you are skipping the monthly paper calendar here, just transfer from wherever you record things)
I use colored pens for entries on "My Week" sheet. Blue for personal, green for homemaking, pink for podcast. Once all the calendar data is in place I can look at my week and decide where I want to schedule to-do items from the brain dump I did in step one. My goal here is not to fill up every inch of the page but rather structure my week to allow for flexibility and accomplishing my goals for the week.
I also use my brain dump to fill in calls or emails under the "contact" heading on the right side of the "My Week" page.
The "To-Do" list on the right side of the "My Week" page can hold a few of the brain dump items not assigned to a particular day. But I also leave a lot of that space blank on Sunday so I can add to it throughout the week as other to-do's come up (either to be done that week or migrated to next week).
These weekly sheets are evergreen; that is, there are no dates on them so they can be used at any time of the year. I do find it helpful to jot down the weekly date (Mon-Sun) at the top and the dates next to each day of the week.
When I'm finished filling this out, I keep it and that month's sheet in an oversized clear plastic pocket folder. These are made for use in elementary classrooms so they are indestructible. I can throw it in my purse or bag. I can spill coffee on it and it easily wipes clean. Because they are clear, I can see the weekly page on one side and the calendar page on the other side. They also have a grommet in the top which is helpful for hanging in a convenient place for quick reference throughout the day.
Step 4: Meal Plan & Grocery List
Once I have my week all laid out in front of me, complete with appointments, events, to-do's and goals, I can plan meals that will fit with this schedule. We have some specific dietary requirements and I have learned that planning breakfast, lunch and dinner for every day of the week on Sunday takes so much stress out of the equation during the week. I do the work ONCE of taxing my brain for planning every single meal rather than having to do it 21 times over the next week.
Besides preventing decision fatigue at every meal time, planning all the meals on Sunday has several other benefits. It allows me to be more consistent with preparing good breakfasts and lunches for myself and my husband, keeping us on track with our health goals. Also I am able to build in time for thawing meat, starting the crockpot early and preparing a marinade if I know it's coming several days ahead of time. In fact, I make notes in the margin of my Weekly Meal Plan sheet for these do-ahead tasks, and I highlight them in neon pink just to make sure I don't miss it.
On the opposite side of this Weekly Meal Plan sheet is my Weekly Grocery List. It's divided up into sections of the store (diary, meat, pantry, produce, etc) and includes a section for Costco/Sams as well as online shopping. While I am making my meal plan, I gather the recipes I need for the week. If it's one I found online, I print out a copy. If it's from a cookbook, I make sure to reference the book and page number next to the meal on my meal plan sheet so that I can easily find it when it's time to cook. I look at all the recipes (and think through the ones that are just in my head) for what I will need and check my fridge and pantry. I add to the grocery list whatever is needed for that week and anything else we are running low on. Once completed, I can take that sheet with me grocery shopping or sit down with it at my device to put in my curbside order.
I take all of those recipes that I gathered for the week and I store them in another clear pocket folder along with my weekly meal plan. This helps me avoid dinnertime mental fatigue of having to locate the recipe or the frustration of needing to reference an online recipe but my device battery is dead. Once I have made the meal, I return the printed recipe to my recipe binder. If it was unsuccessful, I toss it. If we loved it, I make sure to record any changes I made to the recipe then I put it in my recipe binder.
If I make mistakes on my meal plan or if I need to move meals around as plans shift during the week, I like to use white out tape to keep my menu looking tidy. There's a lot of information on there and it can get messy and confusing very quickly if I start scribbling and crossing things out.
Step 5: Work the Plan
Your system is only successful if you use it. To quote a recent Art of Home guest, Tiffany Harris, "Don't let the systems boss you. You boss the systems. Let them work for you." Once you figure out what works and what doesn't, make adjustments, then work the plan. Create a rhythm of discipline around a system that works for you.