1. Find the right planner
Before we get into how to organize your planner, you need to find the right planner for you.
You need the right tools for the job, there’s no way around it. Finding the right planner can make or break your planning process and your productivity.
There’s several things you should consider when choosing the right planner for you:
- Do you need a small portable planner you can take with you to school and the cafe? Or you’d be better off with a bigger desk planner that you can easily refer to while working?
- What kind of personalization do you need? Are you using the planner with one big goal in mind?
- If your main goal is getting in shape then consider a specialized planner with space to plan your meals and track your workouts.
- If you’re trying to get out of a rut and manage your anxiety then consider a planner that focuses on behavioral change and mental health. A planner that lets you track your wellbeing and encourages mindfulness and self compassion.
- If you’re working on some big career goals then you’ll want a planner that is goal oriented. One that lets you track your progress and celebrate milestones as well as keeps you accountable.
- Do you prefer to roughly outline your weeks and then take it day by day or do you like to plan your days more in detail? For the later you’ll need a planner that allows you to time block.
- Do you want to track your finances? Habits? Calories? Not all planners have all these options but depending on how elaborate you want the tracker to be, you can usually repurpose the notes section for this.
- Do you prefer a yearly planner or a quarterly one? We’ve been conditioned to split our lives into years, months and weeks but for goal setting and project management quarters work best.
- How many hats are you wearing? If you’r multipassionate like me you’ll need a planner and planning system that let you keep track of all your endeavors and progress on all fronts.
- Are you a content creator? Then a planner that lets you plan your content and track it’s performance is a must.
- Is there some kind of look that you prefer? Do you want your planner to be minimal and discrete or do you prefer bright colors and plenty of quotes and decor?
- What kind of binding do you want? Some people love binder planners, I can’t stand rings. However, there is no doubt that binder planners allow for the biggest personalization as you can supplement them with printable inserts.
These are just some of the aspects to consider when choosing you planner. I recommend you take some time to research planners and find the best match for you. Using a planner to stay organized is a lot easier when you have the right tool for the job. One that makes planning easy and enjoyable.
2. Buy appropriate stationery
Do you work best when you color-code everything? Then get some highlighters. Do your plans often change last minute? Then you need a white out. Do you want to decorate your planner with stickers and illustrations? Then get some supplies. And even if you like your planner minimal, make sure you have your favorite pen in stock.
This might seem a bit vain and unnecessary but the only way to make sure you stick with your planner is to make sure the process is enjoyable. If that means buying a new pen, so be it!
3. Map out your month
Think of your planner as some sort of funnel. You start by planning your highest level first – your month or quarter if you choose a 90 day planner. This is where you look at the big picture and leave out the details. Then funnel down to your weekly and daily plans.
It’s good practice to begin planning your month with whatever has a set date.
Then you can plan around these non-negotiables in 4 steps:
- The first thing you’ll want to do is input any deadlines, appointments, birthdays, travel plans and other events with a set date.
- The second step is to set monthly goals which should be based on your big goals. Think of your monthly goals as milestones on the way to achieving your life goals.
- List the tasks you want or need to accomplish this month. These tasks should help you move towards your goals.
- Prioritize the above tasks. You can choose to assign them to certain days or leave that for your weekly plan.
4. Plan out your week
The weekly spread is where we further break down our month following a similar system:
- Start by putting in any scheduled items first. Refer back to your monthly plan and copy them over. You might choose to add some smaller appointments in as well, like your weekly yoga class.
- Then look at your monthly tasks and assign them to your week. Make sure to spread them evenly throughout your weeks.
- These tasks are now your weekly goals based on your monthly goals which in turn are derived fro your big goals. This approach ensures you plan for success and keep taking action towards our big goals.
- Schedule in a weekly planning session so you can repeat these steps for the following week.
5. Daily plan
Depending on the planner you’ve chosen you will either have a weekly spread with designated areas for each day of the week or, if you opted for a daily planner there will be a full page for each day allowing for time blocking and better time management.
Which one is right for you will depend on how busy you are and how in depth you like to plan.
- If you’re using a planner with a time scheduling option start by transferring over any appointments and blocking out time for them. Don’t forget to block out enough time for commute as well.
- Define your number one priority for the day. Thats the one most important action that will make the biggest difference. Ask yourself – if I could only do one thing today, what would it be? Then make sure you complete it.
- Assign other tasks to your day. Be realistic and ensure you can actually complete them in a day. A great way to make sure you can achieve all you’v set out to do is to block out time for each task if your planner allows for it. Otherwise set a time cap to each task and stick to it.
- Don’t forget to set aside enough time to rest, relax and do the things that make you happy. Balance is the key to creating a daily plan you can stick to.
6. Schedule your planning sessions
Since most planners have monthly, weekly and daily spreads it makes sense to perform monthly, weekly and daily planning sessions. Theydon’t need to take long but they should be consistent. And the more consistent you are, the quicker these sessions will get so make sure to plan them into your schedule.
I like to plan my days the night before so I know exactly what to do the next morning. I plan my weeks in advance as well, usually on a Friday as part of my weekly reset. And on the last Friday of the month I’ll also take a few minutes to do my monthly plan for the upcoming month.
During your planning sessions you’re not only planing the upcoming month, week or day, but also reviewing the previous one. Ask yourself:
- What went well the previous day, week or month? Then celebrate your little wins.
- How can I replicate this success in the following days, weeks or months?
- What went wrong this past day, week or month?
- Analyze why it went wrong and learn how to prevent it in the future.
- Go over your task list and transfer over any incomplete tasks.
- If you find yourself moving/migrating the same tasks over and over again, address why you’re not getting it done.
7. Use tabs or page dividers for quick access
By now you probably figured out that planing involves a lot of referring back and forth between days, weeks, months and big goals or projects. Having clear tabs or page dividers will make this process so much easier and faster.
Tabs and dividers usually need to be purchased separately but are worth every cent! Alternatively you can DIY them with washy tape, sticky page markers or bookmarks.
8. Color code to keep on track
If you’re half as visual as I am, color coding will be your new best friend! It truly is the holy grail of planner organization and one of my favorite planner tips and tricks.
Having a clear color coding system can make your planner so much easier to skim through and faster to find what you’re looking for.
You can use different colors for different goals, projects or areas of life.
Color coding will make it easier to balance everything you have going on in your life. You’ll have a visual overview of what you’re focusing your time on. If you notice a color taking over or a color disappearing from your planner you can easily asses why this is happening and how (or if) you should mitigate this.
9. Have a designated brain dump area
Write everything down. Everything.
Our brains are not meant to store information but rather to process it. The solution? Write it all down!
Writing things down will help you improve our memory, process information and will help you get more clarity. However, writing things down is only effective when we have a system we trust and we know we will be able to find the information when we need it.
That’s why it’s important to have one single brain dump area in your planner to which you can keep referring back as needed. This is where you’ll take notes of all the big ideas, future projects, major and minor tasks, errands and so much more.
Then, during every planning session refer back to it and asses what can be included into your plan and cross off anything that is no longer relevant.
You can create a brain dump area in the notes section at the end of your planner or you can use an insert page for this purpose.
I prefer using a separate piece of paper for this purpose.i keep it in the back pocket of my planne and swap it out as I complete or discard the majority of the items.
10. Use inserts for flexibility
Most planners have a notes section that you can use as you wish. Those pages are great but are often not that handy and it can be hard referring back to them regularly.
That’s where planner inserts come into play. You can purchase them separately, use printables or make them yourself and they are a great way to organize a planner.
Some inserts I think are indispensable include:
- Brain dump area – as discussed above, I like to have a brain dump area that can grow and evolve as well as be easily replaced when needed. I tend to use a lined sheet of paper for this purpose and it works just fine.
- Goal list – having goals front and center on a daily basis is genius way to keep them top of mind and promote action. This can easily be achieved by having a list of goals on a separate insert that can follow you through the daily pages of your planner.
- Running to-do list – this is some sort of brain dump that you can move from month to month and week to week and use it to help you plan your tasks on a higher level.
- Weekly habits tracker – Most planners have a habit tracker and depending on your planner this can be a monthly or a weekly tracker for your daily habits. However, there are some habits that you’d want to perform on a weekly basis rather than daily.