Less stress and insomnia with a large posterboard calendarWhen I’m stressed out about having too much to do, it sometimes happens that just as I get in bed, I remember something important that I forgot. As in, I thought about paying the visa bill last week—it was the third week of the month—but I don’t think I wrote the check. There’s nothing like the thought of pissing away $200 on interest charges to whip my insomnia up.

Deadlines on the back burner can strike fear into my heart at night. “That article is due on Wednesday,” a little voice screams inside my head as I’m returning from the bathroom to bed, “and you haven’t begun find sources or figure out what you’re going to say. What were you thinking?”

Recipe for Insomnia

For me, feeling stretched too thin is a sure set-up for insomnia. During the daytime, I bounce from one urgent task to another and some fall through the cracks. Things I forget have a way of popping up to torment me at night.

But a few months ago, my sister made a suggestion that has cut down on my stress and helped my sleep. No expensive gadgets are involved; it’s as low-tech as 28 X 22-inch poster board and colored marking pens.

Enter the Master Monthly Calendar

For three months now I’ve been making a huge month-at-a-glance calendar. Not only is it big enough for me to write down everything I need to do every day. It’s big enough for me to see into the future and plan ahead. I can be proactive rather than reactive about the way I spend my time.

At the start of each month, I fill in ongoing commitments, such as my twice-weekly blogs and monthly bills. Then I write in deadlines for important work projects. Once they’re in, I consider each one. I estimate about how much time I’ll need to complete it, count backward to the day I need to start, and write it in. The more specific I can get about the tasks I need to do each day to meet a deadline, the more control I feel I have.

Adding More Detail

Once the have-to-do’s are in, I fill in the want-to-do’s: things I’d like to accomplish if I have time. Then each day I prioritize my list of tasks so the important ones get done in the morning when I’ve got a brain. The rest I tackle in the afternoon.

Of course, each month’s calendar is always a work-in-progress; I add and delete items according to what I accomplish and new projects that come up.

I’m not super organized by nature and, though I’m a list maker, it never occurred to me that having a big-picture time-management strategy like this one might help. But it does. My monster calendar is a real stress buster and holds the demons at bay at night.

Got any time management strategies you’d like to share? Please do!

Posted by Lois Maharg, The Savvy Insomniac

Lois Maharg has worked with language for many years. She taught ESL, coauthored two textbooks, and then became a reporter, writing about health, education, government, Latino affairs, and food. Her lifelong struggle with insomnia and interest in investigative reporting motivated her to write a book, The Savvy Insomniac: A Personal Journey through Science to Better Sleep. She now freelances as an editor and copy writer at On the Mark Editing.


  1. Autopay!! I have everything possible on autopay and budget plan. We also put everything on VISA with a limit on how much can be withdrawn each month. If we go over that set limit, I send an additional check, but that isn’t often. As soon as that bill comes in I highlight all the tax deductible items, identify the mystery charges, send a check if necessary, and file it. Five minutes, tops, and it never goes into a pile that gets forgotten. Nightmares and worries reduced dramatically. With mail, I just stand by the recycle bin and go through it ruthlessly. No piles there either. Piles are my undoing.



  2. Autopay is a great way to go for bills! But somehow I can’t bring myself to do it with the Visa bill. We’ve been victims of identity theft 3 times now. The Visa company has always covered the charges, so I know I should reconsider, but . . .

    The other bill I can’t bring myself to put on autopay is Comcast. They’re ALWAYS charging us for extras beyond what we owe. I’d change companies in a second if I could. But out here, Comcast is the only game in town.

    Anyway, it sounds like at your house you’ve got the bill pay under control!



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