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Breaking the Rules

You know what it’s like when you go to a doctor and you’re nervous and you make a joke and your doctor doesn’t laugh? And then you say something else that’s witty and charming and the doctor doesn’t laugh again?

That’s when you figure it out: The doctor doesn’t get you, your humor, your little idiosyncrasies.

Suddenly it dawns on you, and their pasted-on smiles confirm it: They think you’re a bit daft, one ace short of a royal flush.

That’s a bad feeling.

And that’s what happened when I went to the Franklin-Covey store earlier this week in the middle of a day-planner crisis.

You know what it’s like when you have a day-planner crisis?

I went to bed Sunday night with a niggling feeling about the width of the lines on my 2005 filler pages. They were stingy, narrow, different from the Simplicity style I was used to.

With such a niggling feeling about my filler pages I was bound to sleep poorly.

When I woke up Monday morning—a day that in Scotland is a national holiday simply because it is the first Monday of the new year—I realized that without a better system for my day planner, without more space between the lines, my time didn’t really count.

My shower didn’t count. The two cups of coffee and croissant with butter didn’t count. The newspaper I read didn’t count.

Seeing as it was already the third day of the new year, this was not a good feeling.

So I went where I thought I could best be helped: to the staff at the Franklin-Covey store. I figured trained professionals would understand that time management brings out the neurotic in all of us. Doesn’t it?

But how could they help me if they
didn’t even get me?

“You don’t like the New Yorker-style filler pages?” the man behind the counter asked.

“No, it’s not that,” I said. “I tried to write on a couple of pages, but it’s not working out. You know—the spaces between the lines are wrong for me.”

He looked at me as though I had just said something weird. Am I the only person who cares about how a page is ruled?

“On the pages. The spaces between the lines. They’re too narrow.”

“Oh,” he said. Then he led me over to check out the Leadership line of filler pages.

“These have a little less in the way of vertical lines than the New Yorker or the Monticello style,” he said. “Or the Dilbert.”

Like I would carry around a day planner that had Dilbert pages in it. Bad enough that until Franklin-Covey phased it out I was carrying around Simplicity with its pastel paper and quotes by Maya Angelou.

“OK,” I said, “OK, but don’t you
see . . . ?”

I pointed to the really, really skinny lines that were exactly the same as the New Yorker, the Monticello, the Dilbert.

“These are still just really, really skinny lines. Same as what I already have.”

He straightened himself to his full height. I suspect he thought I was not managing my time well.

“Can’t really help you. We’ve always had the narrow lines,” he paused. “The kind of filler pages you used to have, the Simplicity—that’s been phased out. It was designed for housewives and the like. You know, to be simple.”

I didn’t say anything. Not a word.

“But they’ll be bringing it back,” he went on. “This time it won’t be so specifically female-oriented. It’s going to be called Unstructured. ”

Like a bra, I thought..

“Well, let me see. Maybe I should just buy plain lined paper and some monthly tabbed dividers,” I said, trying to be compliant.

“Sure,” he said and he bent down to pick out a slim, shrink-wrapped package of 50 pages of plain white paper, perforated for easy insertion into a compact-sized planner: $4.75.

“That ought to do the trick.”

I looked at them. These, too, had the same skinny lines as the New Yorker, the Monticello, the Leadership and the Dilbert styles.

“But,” I paused. I didn’t want to make trouble. “But those lines are narrow, too. Just as narrow as the other ones,” I said.

“Right you are,” he said, with a trifle less patience, I thought.

I got that your-doctor-doesn’t-get-the-joke feeling as he, with a sigh, knelt down and dug around in the back of the rack.

He pulled out another shrink-wrapped package of 50 sheets of plain, white, perforated paper.

“What about these,” he said, “these with the wider lines?”

They were wider. Wide as my pinky which is fine for a finger but a little too wide for a Zebra M-301 mechanical pencil. But I knew this was as good as it was going to get. And I figured that maybe with fewer lines on each page I’d plan fewer tasks for myself.

“I’ll take them,” I said. “Eight packages of them.”

“Help yourself,” he said, arms open.

I knelt before the rack.

A woman in a green DKNY sweater was at the check-out counter. I made my inane chitchat about my special pencil and the importance of a well-spaced page.

“ ‘Don’t fence me in,’ my mother used to say,” I went on. But I could tell she
didn’t get me any more than the man who had helped me find the wide-ruled pages.

To them I was simply that morning’s weird customer. The one who hadn’t chosen the New Yorker, the Monticello, the Leadership or the Dilbert. Not even the Original Franklin-Covey style with its no-nonsense green ink.

To them I was outside the box, off the grid. But I had saved time. And now the new year could begin.

—Jo Page

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