Not everyone uses a planner the same way. Learning how to use a planner means something different for everyone, depending on what they are using a planner to do. For example, a student could use a monthly planner for goal setting and assignments, which is different from a stay-at-home mom, who could use a daily planner for meal planning or daily life. And the stay-at-home mom uses it differently than a business owner, who may be concerned with achieving a big goal every quarter.
The important thing is that figuring out how to use a planner and adjusting the general tips to your needs takes time, but it is well worth the effort.
What are seven things you can do to improve how you use your planner and create a better planning system?
1. Create Goals
No matter what your daily life includes, start by using your planner to set goals. These can be any type of goal you choose. The point is to put some kind of end game in writing.
Most planners have a notes section where you can list your goals. You can also put them in a separate journal initially and then plot out your timeline for achieving your goals into the planner.
The bottom line is using a planner to set goals makes them more attainable. Whether you have savings goals, fitness goals, relationship goals, business goals, or anything else, you can use your planner to plan and implement what’s needed to achieve your goals.
2. Schedule Deadlines
Some deadlines are given to you and others are self-imposed. Regardless of how you obtained a deadline, it needs to be put in your planner. This way you’ll be able to shape your daily activities around those deadlines.
For students, it’s a good idea to schedule all of your deadlines at the beginning of a semester into your planner. The same can be done for quarterly goals concerning your work or your household.
Scheduling deadlines into your planner helps you avoid procrastination. With a scheduled deadline, you’re able to see in black-and-white how long you have until you must complete the task. You’ll have a timeframe in which to work that helps you break down large tasks into daily activities that chip away at the end goal.
3. Use Color Coding
Color coding makes using a planner much easier because it creates a simple and easy-to-read system. There’s no set way to use a color code. Some people prefer to color code things in their planner based on who the activity relates to. Others prefer to color code by the phase of the activity. It’s up to you. Customizing your color code is a great way to take ownership of your planner and make it work for you.
You can use individual pen colors to write activities in different colors or you can write in a single color and use highlighters to change the color. Other people prefer to use small stickers that they place next to the handwritten entry in the planner to delineate color.
4. Schedule Time to Plan
This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised to learn how few people set aside time to plan. They invest in a planner and know what to put in the planner, but they don’t bother doing so. Having time to plan ensures that you use your planner to its fullest capacity.
You can schedule planning time daily, weekly, or monthly, or a combination of all of these. One way to schedule planning is to have a planning session quarterly and monthly to look at big goals and map out how you’ll achieve them over longer periods. Then you can schedule weekly sessions to deal with the week ahead. Finally, you can take a few minutes in the morning or in the evening to plan out your day or the next day. Many people even find that planning out the following day in the evening before helps them sleep better.
5. Limit Your Planning to One Planner
This is a tough one for people who love planners. Many people make the mistake of having different planners for different themes. They might have a fitness planner, a family planner, and a business planner. This makes sense, but it’s rarely the most efficient and effective way to plan. Many people find the overlap and the scatteredness of this type of planning too difficult to keep up with. One solution is to use a journal and a planner. You can use the journal for the free-thought big picture planning and the planner for scheduling your big picture plans.
What should you be keeping all in one planner?
- Yearly, monthly and weekly calendars
- Daily to-do lists
- Household to-do lists
- Work/school to-do lists
- Yearly to-do lists
6. Choose the Right Planner for You
There is no such thing as “the best” planner. Different planners work better than others for different people. It might take a bit of trial and error to figure out which planner is the best option for you. That’s OK. The more you try different styles of planners, the better you’ll understand you’re planning habits and what keeps you organized.
Keep in mind, you can also take a fully customized approach by using a bullet journal. If you’re struggling to find a planner that is right for you, try starting from scratch.
7. Be Flexible
There’s nothing wrong with changing your planning style. If you learn how to use a planner and you find something doesn’t work with you, try a different planning process. Planning is a personal activity and you need to find what is effective for you. This might mean doing it a few different ways until you find the way or ways of doing it that work for you.
Incorporating a planner into your life can change it for the better, but only if you find the right planner and the right planning approach. Trying to fit yourself into a planning box into which you don’t fit is only going to frustrate you. You’ll feel uncomfortable and end up setting aside your planning habits. If you look forward to planning sessions and feel good about planning, that’s a good indication you’ve found the right planning approach for you and it’s one you need to stick with.