I tried to love paper planners
I tried so hard to be a paper person. I really did. I bought beautiful paper planners with the best intentions. I would fill them out for the first couple weeks, the first month, even. And then the remaining 11 months would be blank, because I simply could not commit to using it regularly.
I would write grocery lists on scrap pieces of paper (to avoid paper waste), and then head to the store, forgetting the list on the counter.
I would carefully craft meal plans for the week, put them on the fridge, and then not use them, because our schedule would change, or things would come up that would cause us to deviate from our plan.
Family calendars would hang on the wall, unused – months would pass without me even flipping the page to the next month.
I would create a Household Notebook (binder), with things like contact information, cleaning routines, financial information, etc. Everything was beautiful and in one place – except I never referred to it, because it wasn’t where I needed it to be, when I needed it. Truthfully, I envied other bloggers who had these beautiful household notebooks that were such an integral part of their life! I *wanted* that to be me.
Each year, I would start planning our homeschool year on paper. I’d have all of our lesson plans laid out, but we all know what happens with the best laid plans. Life happens. And it seemed too complicated to erase things and move them around, so I wouldn’t bother. We’d end up just flying by the seat of our pants, which never felt great, and it was difficult for us to stay on track and complete all of our lessons for the year.
Time to make a choice
I actually had ‘decide between paper and digital’ on my (digital) to-do list. Yep. Truthfully, I hated being half-and-half. I would have certain things on my phone and on my computer, and other things in paper land. Nothing synced up.
As much as I loved the *idea* of paper planning, I’ve realized that the best system is the one you actually USE.
When January arrived, I decided it was time to make the switch to digital, and I couldn’t be happier. Everything is in one place. I never forget my list at home on the table, because I always have my phone with me.
This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase through one of these links, I make a small amount of commission at no extra cost to you. See full disclosure here.
The Apple Ecosystem
This is where the beauty comes in – everything stays in sync. Whatever I enter into my phone shows up on both computers, and vice-versa.
I can write our lesson plans on the computer, then take them with me on my phone. When I have a few minutes, or when I want to add some ideas, or when we’re at the library and I want to look ahead at our lesson plans to see what’s coming up and what books we might need, everything is right there.
My fiancé and I have a shared grocery list, so I can enter things in the list on my phone, they will show up on his phone, and when he’s at the grocery store he doesn’t have to call me to see what we need.
We can both enter things in the calendar so that we don’t end up double-booking an event or an appointment. I now meal plan right in our digital calendar, so that our meal plans line up with whatever we have scheduled. I know not to put a time consuming meal on the days we have other stuff going on. I can literally drag a meal to another day if I forgot to defrost something, or if something comes up.
I have become SO much more organized since switching to this method.
It just goes to show that sometimes we need to stop fighting against ourselves. It felt like going digital was somehow betraying my simple living lifestyle. But there is truly no reason why we should not embrace technology if it helps improve our lives. Technology is here to stay, so we might as well make use of it.
What Apps do I Use?
Whenever possible, I try to use the native (built-in) Apple apps that come on the phone and the MacBook. For the sake of simplicity, I try not to clutter up my devices with too many apps. If an Apple app will do the job, then that’s what I use. But I do use (and love) a few cross-platform apps as well.
Below I’m going to share what apps I use in my new digital life. This took a bit of trial and error, a bit of research, and a bit of time to figure out how I wanted to organize things. I’m sure I will end up tweaking things over time, but for now I’m very happy with how things are working!
Bear in mind that these are mostly Apple applications – if you have a Windows-based computer you will likely have some equivalent programs. Unfortunately I’m not well-versed in Windows (I’ve been an Apple gal for more than a decade), so I likely won’t be able to help you out with that! But most phones and computers would come with built-in apps similar to what I use.
I’ll start with the one that had the greatest impact, and the one that I was mostly using already:
I use Calendar for the following things:
I have a post planned specifically about time blocking. Basically, we all only get 24 hours in a day (as hard as we try, we can’t create more time, all we can do is make the most efficient use of what we have). I love to block out sections of my day for specific purposes. It allows me to get everything done that I need to do, without feeling overwhelmed. During that ‘block’, I can block out the 10,000 other things on my to-do list, and just focus on that one particular task.
I can meal plan for the week based on what we have scheduled. If I forget to defrost something, I can easily drag the meal plan to a different day. I can also include a link to a recipe or an ingredient list right in the notes of the calendar event. Again, everything is in one place, right where I need it.
I just have the ‘Supper’ block scheduled to repeat daily, then I can go in and edit each block based on what we’re making.
Of course, appointments are in the calendar. The beauty of a digital calendar for appointments, is notifications. I can choose when I want my phone or computer to notify me of an upcoming appointment or event. If it’s something I need to plan for, I will often set 2 reminders: 1 a week or so beforehand, and another one a day or a couple hours before the appointment.
I schedule EVERYTHING. Whether someone is stopping by for coffee, to pick something up, a business meeting, or a medical appointment, it all goes in the calendar. When I look at my week at a glance, I can easily see what my week looks like, and what I have to work around.
Special events, full moons, etc.; our family likes to observe full moons and seasonal rhythms. Solsitices, equinoxes, sabbats, etc. Putting these right in my calendar allows me to see when they’re coming up so I can plan for them, rather than saying ‘oh crap, tomorrow’s the summer solstice, what are we going to do?’. It also allows me to plan our homeschool lessons in a way that incorporates these festivals.
This is simply where I jot things down. Ideas, notes from a webinar I might watch, homeschool ideas, business ideas, and more. Sort of like a digital journal. I can then drag notes into appropriate folders (one for homeschool, one for business, one for my blog, etc.), so I know where to go to find them again.
No more random bits of paper all around the house, or half-filled notebooks where I can’t find what I’m looking for because I can’t remember which notebook I wrote it in.
The beauty of digital notes is the SEARCH function! All I have to do is type in the first few letters of the word or subject I’m searching for, and the note pops up. It’s a beautiful thing.
Have I mentioned how much I love Apple’s built-in apps? I try as much as possible to use the native Apple apps before turning to third-party software. Most often, the built-in apps will do exactly what I need.
They have an app called Reminders, which is basically a list-making app. I have different checklists for each store I shop at. When I realize I need something, it only takes me 2 seconds to open up the app and add it to the correct list. No more going to a store and trying to remember what the heck I’m forgetting.
I have a camping checklist, of everything we need to remember to take with us if we go camping. I have a separate to-do list for each of our weekly tasks (ie – kitchen day, office day, gardening day, etc.).
Each time I remember a task I want to do, I just pop it into the appropriate list. Then I don’t have to look at that list until it’s the day I need to do it.
I have a personal goals checklist of things I want to accomplish in my personal life. I have a blog ideas checklist. A homesteading goals checklist. A home maintenance checklist. Basically, anything that I can ‘check off’ goes into this app.
This is Apple’s spreadsheet software. Think of it as the Apple equivalent of Excel. This is where anything goes that I need to track as far as numbers. Business expenses, business mileage, etc. Because I have access to it on my phone, if I drive somewhere for business, it only takes me a second to open it up and enter my kilometres.
Years ago, while I was decluttering, I got rid of all my physical CDs. They are truly outdated (most computers don’t even have a CD drive any more), and I haven’t owned a CD player in years. Going all digital for music is awesome, because you can literally take your music with you anywhere you go.
I’ve tried a number of third-party apps for music. Spotify, Amazon Music, etc. What I didn’t like was that music that I owned was in iTunes (discs that I had downloaded and digitized, or that I had purchased through the iTunes Store), but my streaming music was on a different app. My goal is always to simplify.
Enter: Apple Music. We pay a monthly subscription ($14.99/month) for unlimited access to whatever music we want to listen to. Much cheaper than when I used to buy CDs!! Now, the music I own, plus our streaming music, is all in one app.
iTunes also houses our movies, tv shows, podcasts, and audiobooks. And with Family Sharing, everyone in the family has access to all of it. If one person buys something, the entire family can share it.
Audiobooks is another area that I’ve gone digital. I love, LOVE books. Like, to the point of addiction. I love to hold them in my hands. I love to see them on my bookshelf. I love the *idea* of reading books. But the reality is, I seldom read a book from start to finish. I would glean some ideas from the book, then put it on my shelf for future reference.
Truthfully, I don’t sit still long enough to read an entire book. But I LOVE listening to audiobooks or podcasts while I work around the house. Especially while I’m in the kitchen. Since I spend so much time in there, I love to listen to things while I work. I started buying audiobooks instead of physical books. Especially for personal development type books, or books that I would only read once and likely not refer back to again. I still love physical books as reference books.
I’ve always used Photos for all of my photo storage, but now I’m being more intentional about deleting duplicates, and sorting photos into folders. This will be an ongoing project, but once it’s complete, it will be simple to keep up with. I plan to be more intentional about printing photos that I want to display or put into albums. But all of my digital photos will eventually be organized and categorized.
(For obvious reasons I won’t be including a personal photo here)
No more physical address books or business cards. I keep everything in the Contacts app. I can sort it by category (businesses, friends, family, etc), so it’s easy to look people up.
It also syncs up with my messages, emails, phone, etc., so no matter how I’m trying to get in touch with people, all the contact info is in one place.
This is one of the few apps that I use that is third-party (meaning not created by Apple). It’s cross-platform (so you can use it whether you have Windows or Mac), and also web-based (so you can access it from any web browser).
I tried to replace it with the Apple Notes app, but truthfully, Evernote does a much better job at what I want it to do. It’s almost hard to explain what it does unless you try it and use it yourself. I sort of see it as project management.
While my notes app is great for jotting down simple notes, Evernote is where I plan the big stuff.
I create all of our homeschool plans in Evernote – I could seriously write an entire blog post just about how we use this app. (Maybe I will! It will save this post from getting crazy long). You can add photos, links, and files. I can create charts with integrated checklists (perfect for our homeschool plans). The older kids can type and upload their assignments right into Evernote for me to read. I can sort all of our general resources into folders by grade, so I can refer back to it each time I have a child in that grade.
I have even started writing my blog post drafts right in Evernote. I’ve started organizing my recipes in Evernote. I have a section for house ideas and plans. I love having all of this in one place!
Mvelopes is the app I use for all of our budgeting and finances. It’s based on the traditional envelope method, which is the best method I know of to stay out of debt, and plan for future expenses. It automatically syncs with all of my bank accounts and credit cards.
I love managing all of our finances through a single app. I always know exactly where we stand, what bills are coming up, and always have money set aside to cover those expenses.
Financial planning is critical for living a simple life. You can’t live simply if your finances are a mess. I can do my weekly budgeting and bill paying session on my computer, and then I always have my phone with me while I’m shopping so I can see how much is available in each ‘envelope’. It helps prevent over-spending and helps me make conscious choices about where I tell my money to go.
I could definitely explain all of the above in much greater depth and detail, but I didn’t want this post to get too crazy long. I may break it down into sections in future posts to give more detailed information on how I use these apps to stay organized. If there is something you are particularly interested in, be sure and let me know in the comments.
The beauty of the Apple ecosystem is how everything just works together. I have all the same apps on my phone as I do on my Mac, and they all stay in sync.
I recently decided to group all my apps together into folders, rather than having them spread across multiple pages. This has been another game-changer! It allows me to work in a very task-specific way, rather than scrolling through apps and getting distracted.
I LOVE having everything right on my main screen! It took a bit of getting used to in the beginning, but there’s no going back now.
Are you a digital, or a paper person?
I’d love to hear if you are digital, paper, or half-and-half? There are definitely pros and cons to both, so there is no right or wrong answer. What it comes down to is what serves you best, and what do you actually USE?
If you have enjoyed reading how I have simplified my life by going digital, let me know in the comments so I can create more similar content for you. 🙂