Finding, or Creating, the Planner That Works

In my previous post I noted the importance of finding your own system of what works for you. This includes habits, workout routine, method of organization, etc. For a long time I looked for the “perfect” planner. I tried digital and analog, cheap and moderately priced, and none of them met my needs. I’m also prone to following the shiny things, especially if what I’m currently using doesn’t quite meet my needs, and so this had me bouncing from planner to planner, sometimes even switching from one to another within a single calendar year.

Female hand writing in planner

About six months ago I was on the search again and came across a few paper planners listed online. I didn’t buy any of them so I’m not going to list them here. They each at their merits, but also their problems, and none of them combined the elements that I needed so I decided the time had come to customize, to take a bit of ideas from a few places and put them together to make what I need to fit in with my style of planning and organization.

First, I do use a digital calendar. I have to. People at work need to be able to see when I’m free to schedule meetings with me (of course, I’d probably receive fewer calendar invites if they couldn’t see when I’m available). My wife and I share a digital calendar so we know when we have family things, our daughter has a birthday party, recital, etc., or when one of us has something scheduled outside of our normal work time (child-care coordination is key). I also like that I can see what’s on my calendar when I glance at my “to-dos” in Omnifocus, which I also mentioned in an earlier post.

I use a paper planner overwhelmingly to write my goals for the month and week, and plan “today”. Here’s my rough set up. I have a 5 1/2 x 8 black binder with pockets in the front and back, which is handy to hold a copy of my manifesto for easy review. In the binder I have six months worth of blank monthly calendars (which are easy to find for free online), sheets of notebook paper for filling in monthly goals for each area of my life and for making notes or capturing things that need to get out of my head and into Omnifocus, and then daily sheets (also easy to find free ones online, depending on what you’re looking for) where I have my daily schedule, my little goals for the day, and some space to review my day.

At the start of each month I make a few goals for the month and write them in the notes section of the monthly calendar. At the end of the month I review the goals, and the notes I’ve made daily and weekly to get a picture of how my month went, what goals I’ll want to make for the next month, and some areas of needed improvement.

At the beginning of each week I make goals for each of the areas of my life. These are tangible things that I can take care of throughout the week such as “get my holiday cards written and mailed”, “write at least one blog post for Better Me,” or “plan a date night”. I check them off as I complete them throughout the week. I also go through my digital calendar and get all of my appointments for the week noted on my daily sheets. At the end of the week I also make some notes about my week for review.

Every morning (or sometimes the night before) I look at my “to-do” items in Omnifocus and block time to get things done throughout the day. On a typical work day, I’ll create a couple of blocks throughout the day for email and “administrative” tasks like needing to print something for an upcoming workshop I’m giving. I’ll also book time to go for a walk, usually as part of my lunch. If the rest of my time isn’t taken up by meetings or workshops, I’ll schedule time to work on specific projects or to catch up on some work-related reading. At the end of the day, I’ll make some notes on how the day went (good and bad).

The cost for the printing of the pages, lined notebook paper, and the binder I put everything into is about $80 per year, but to buy any of the others that came the closest to meeting my needs would cost me about $200 per year Canadian including shipping for something that isn’t exactly what I need. That’s just crazy. I’m more than happy to put the money and time to organize the pages into the notebook when the final product meets my needs.

If you find a planner that works for you, as is, great. If not, look at your options for combining free resources from online and making your own. If you have suggestions for something that you think works well for you, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to share the name of it in the comments.

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