Emily Ley believes perfect is overrated. When life gets overly busy, rather than strive in vain to check every box every day, Ley’s approach is to scale back. Simplify. Make intentional choices. Plan purposefully. And don’t be afraid to fail.
These are the principles that drive Ley’s daily life as well as her namesake business. What started in South Florida in 2008 as a small design shop has blossomed into a thriving boutique brand that now ships artfully designed organizational products to eager customers worldwide—everything from planning tools to stationery, office necessities, small storage items, and more.
Her signature product, The Simplified Planner, got off the ground after her first son was born in 2011. Ley says she went in search of the perfect planner but was left dissatisfied. “Everything I found was full of extra checklists and other features I didn’t need,” she says. “All those boxes that went unchecked or empty everyday made me feel even more like I wasn’t measuring up. What I desperately wanted was a fresh start every morning. A place to plan my day, keep track of my to-dos, and keep track of dinners. I just wanted something simple. So, I set out to create my own. With a sharpie and blank paper in hand, The Simplified Planner was born.”
In addition to her own organizational products, Ley uses the productivity tools in Office 365 to keep her day-to-day creative activities on track. She says she and her team use Word to draft creative briefs and production plans—including things like what files need to be created, who’s responsible for what, and, of course, deadlines. “The Review features in Word are fantastic,” says Ley, who also wrote her two books—Grace Not Perfection: Embracing Simplicity, Celebrating Joy (2016), and A Simplified Life: Tactical Tools for Intentional Living (2017)—in Word. “They really help my editor and her team streamline the process of editing and proofreading.”
Excel also plays a crucial role in her daily life. In addition to using Excel as the family address book and to keep track of annual family budgets, Ley uses it to manage the manufacturing, ordering, and importing of her products. “With multiple manufacturers and multiple shipments—each on its own production, shipment, receiving deadlines—things can get complicated quickly. The features in Excel really help to keep track of both the overarching view of things, as well as the details of each shipment,” says Ley.
She also notes the importance of being able to customize Excel sheets to make them more visual. “Being able to manipulate formulas as well as colors, borders, and the sizes of each cell helps to create spreadsheets that are dynamic as well as visually organized. This is especially helpful in a fast-paced industry. [You can] set it up once and use that template for future projects.”
Speaking of future projects, when asked how her growing family has informed the way she designs new items, the answer is surprising—or perhaps not, given Ley’s plan-purposefully philosophy. “As my family life has gotten busier, The Simplified Planner has gotten simpler. Every year, we look at its pages and examine each feature and each mark on the pages. ‘Does this absolutely need to be here?’ Or, ‘Could we simplify the page in an intentional way, making white space or margin for what really matters?’”
What really matters: it’s something Ley learned at an early age from her parents, and she tries to carry it through all aspects of her life today. She says the secret to staying organized is in focusing on the right things and in using the right tools—and in not trying to be perfect. “I really see mistakes and mess-ups as opportunities for great things. If we don’t let ourselves off the hook for being imperfect, then what fun is life?
“We often think about pursuing dreams as being really, really complicated or big. But the truth is, pursuing our passions is quite simple: one foot in front of the other. Little by little, our tiny decisions and actions can produce great joy in our lives.”
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