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Everyone knows that life moves at the speed of light these days. It seems like we never get a moment to just sit and soak it all in the same way people used to. With the rise of technology and the need to accomplish all the things, our society has moved away from slow living and enjoyment, instead quickly moving from one activity to the next with our minds always three steps ahead.
Because of our fast paced lives, it’s become increasingly difficult to manage all the things we have to keep track of in our day to day hustle. Between work, school, kids, trying to have a social life, and dreaming of squeezing in a few minutes of time just for ourselves, it’s nearly impossible to keep it all straight.
Add to that the fact that some of us grew up in homes where life was anything but predictable and we never learned how to manage our time and our priorities well and you get, well frankly, a hot mess.
This is where a physical, handwritten-on-actual-paper planner can seriously change your life. Don’t underestimate the powers of sitting down and physically writing out your struggles, your goals and dreams, and your plans for the next week. There’s just something about getting it all out on paper that is therapeutic and really helps you live better in the moment.
Here’s what you’ll find in this article:
- Changing Habits Requires Changing Your Mindset
- How Planning Can Help You Change Your Mindset
- How To Choose The Right Planner
- Getting Your Planner Set Up
- Making The Most Of Your Planner All Year Long
Changing Habits Requires Changing Your Mindset
If you’ve been around for any amount of time, you know that my story involves a lot of family dysfunction. And because of that, I grew up with some pretty skewed ideas of what life should be like. It’s always been easy for me to organize, but it’s not always been easy for me to prioritize. I’ve struggled with knowing what is truly the most important thing in my life and really living that.
Sure, I can tell you what should be the most important – I have the head knowledge. But when it comes to actually putting feet to that knowledge, I sometimes stumble.
One of my biggest struggles is knowing what goals to aim for and believing that I can actually achieve them. I can sit here and tell you all the things I’d love to have in my life, but for me it’s barely more than a day dream – something that seems so out of reach that I could never possibly attain it. And because of that mindset, I tend to let myself off the hook more than I should.
I struggle with laziness, to be honest. Because, while the idea that my hard work could somehow lead to this amazing life that I love is enticing, in the day to day it really does still seem intangible. So it’s easy for me to sit here and think to myself, “I’m just not feeling motivated today,” which often leads to me binge watching my favorite show when I should be busting my butt to work and achieve my dreams.
Don’t get me wrong. I do work hard. But in those moments of weakness, I almost always choose the easy path. And that mindset will get me nowhere in the long run. If I want to change my life I have to change my habits. And if I want to change my habits it’s essential that I change the way I think about my work, myself, and my life.
We all have the capability to do great things but only those of us who actually get off of our butts and do something about it will achieve those great things.
How Planning Can Help You Change Your Mindset
“Ok,” you may be wondering, “that’s great and all, but how in world is using a planner going to help me change my mindset, and therefore my life?”
Great question! Listen, if you run out to the store right now and pick up a little date book so you can keep track of your appointments you’ll definitely start to feel more organized and maybe you’ll be on time more often. But you probably won’t see any huge life change.
The kind of planning I’m talking about isn’t just writing down that you have a doctor appointment next week and that you plan to meet up with your friend for coffee on Thursday. The kind of planning I’m talking about is more about creating a vision for your life. It’s about sitting down and really thinking through what you hope to accomplish today, this week, this month, this year, in your lifetime. It’s about writing down your dreams and turning them into concrete goals with action steps that move you closer to living a life you love.
Yes, using a planner will help you get more organized and keep you from forgetting important dates and places you need to be. But using a planner to it’s full capacity will give you so much more than that.
When you allow your planner to be the framework for piecing together all the little baby steps you need to take to move towards your goals you will begin to live a much richer and more rewarding life. You’ll begin to see progress and to reap the rewards of all your efforts. And that, my friend, will motivate you to keep moving forward and keep working hard.
Before long, the way you think about what’s actually possible in your life will be so drastically different from your old thought patterns that you might feel like a completely different person. When you start to walk the path that leads to your dreams, your old ways will seem like they were a lifetime ago.
How To Choose The Right Planner
When you have such high expectations for your planner, choosing the right one suddenly becomes quite daunting. There are so many amazing planners available today and all of them have some great features and some features that are lacking. Choosing the right planner for your needs and lifestyle is a completely personal process that depends a lot on how you tick, what your preferences are, the things that motivate you, and so much more. There’s truly not a one-size-fits-all option. But there are some basic features that I believe any good planner should always have.
Monthly calendars are the basis for a well rounded planner. You need to have space to write down all of the important appointments, activities, holidays, birthdays, and events.
While it might seem like a good idea to devote every waking moment to working towards your goals, reality is that life happens and if you don’t make allowance for the day to day stuff that needs to take place, you’ll end up missing out on life in the here and now and you’ll get burnt out. Which is the quickest way to squash any hopes of achieving your dreams!
Instead, you can keep track of all the mundane things of life in your monthly calendar spread so that when you’re ready to devote some time to your goals, you know you aren’t missing anything that’s really important to your health, family, or well-being.
Weekly & Daily Planning Pages
The real meat of a good planner are the pages where you can really break down your days into the smallest and most manageable tasks possible. It’s one thing to know that you have a dentist appointment, your child’s school play, and a job interview this week. But it’s another thing entirely when you can plan out your entire day (even down to the minute if you want) in order to make the most of your time to move you closer to your goals.
If you’re anything like me, you can find a million and one ways to waste time! And when you add in some type of obligation (like an appointment or a lunch date) it’s easy to justify wasted time because you feel busy without actually accomplishing a darn thing.
Have you had days like that? You wake up in the morning and you just go-go-go all day long until it’s time for bed, but then you look around and see that literally nothing has changed? Yep, I’m great at that!
But when you sit down and get intentional about planning out everything you’re going to do in a day, you can get so much more accomplished! I think sometimes the simple act of writing it all down keeps us motivated to get it done (and helps us be able to see what we’ve actually accomplished at the end of the day).
Some planners have weekly spreads, some have daily, and some have both. Whichever way you like to plan is up to you, but it is essential to have a way to break down your days into small chunks that you can then fill with specific tasks that will help you get closer to accomplishing your goals.
Setting Your Goals
Any planner worth a hill of beans is going to have some sort of goal planning guide. There are so many different ways of setting and accomplishing goals and no two planners are exactly the same in this area. The important thing is finding what works for your specific needs and personality and what really keeps you motivated.
If you feel like you need more guidance on how to write goals and what goals you should focus on then maybe a planner with a mind map or a step-by-step guide will be the most beneficial for you.
If you like a little more freedom in your goal setting, you might enjoy a planner that simply has a couple of dedicated pages with spots to write goals for each month.
You can get planners with as much or as little goal setting guidance as you’re comfortable with. You might even decide to try out a few different methods before you decide what works best for you.
The key is to make sure there is room in your planner to set big goals and to break them down into smaller actionable steps throughout your year, month, week, and day.
Year At A Glance
When it comes to more long term planning, having your year at a glance page(s) is a must. Planning vacations, school events and holidays, even your menstrual cycle is super easy using the year at a glance pages. You can easily highlight multiple days without interfering with your daily plans and you can see a nice overview of what’s happening for the year.
This can also be really helpful if you’re planning ahead for a vacation or a period of downtime so you can devote a week or two to focusing solely on your goals. This section will help you see when your busy times are and when you have a large space of free time that you could work something in.
Having this bird’s eye view can also be really helpful with mindset because you can see in one glance the things you have to look forward to. Maybe you have a vacation coming up. Maybe you know that you’re this close to meeting a big deadline and being one step closer to achieving a goal. Whatever it is, seeing that from this vantage point can often give us the mental shift we need to keep pushing through the hard parts in order to reach those big wins!
The final piece of a well-rounded and great planner system is space to make notes. Whether you’re in a meeting and need to jot some things down, you have a moment of inspiration that you need to make note of before you forget, or you just want to doodle, having plenty of pages for notes is essential.
Notes pages are also really helpful if you run out of space in your planning pages or you need to add something your planner doesn’t already have. A lot of people like the idea of bullet journaling but maybe don’t have the patience to commit to it full time (ahem, me). But if you find a planner you love with the exception of just one thing, you could always use the note pages to add that one thing.
Notes pages are incredibly versatile and the possibilities for how to use them are virtually endless. Finding a planner with a large selection of note pages throughout is a huge win!
Getting Your Planner Set Up
Once you’ve chosen a planner you love, get home, and open it up, you might be left feeling quite overwhelmed at all the blank pages staring back at you. Maybe you’re wondering where to even start, and I’m going to help you!
The steps I’m going to walk you through are just a guideline and you can make adjustments based on what works for you. You may even try a few different ways to organize your pages from month to month to learn what you like best.
When first starting with a new planner I recommend only planning one month at a time. I also recommend only planning the week ahead (or day ahead, depending on what type of planning you want to do). In other words, don’t get too far ahead of yourself. I’ve done that before and ended up changing my mind about how I wanted to use the planner, but couldn’t really make any changes because I had already marked it all up with ink!
The first step in setting up your planner is to go through and write down every single appointment, event, holiday, birthday, or other big thing you already know you’re going to have to plan for. Even though I recommend not doing detailed planning more than a month out, there are some things that you obviously need to keep track of several weeks or months ahead of schedule. Things like doctor appointments, big events (like weddings or travel), and holidays or birthdays will be things you’ll want to write down as soon as you know about them so you don’t forget.
I always use my monthly spread to keep track of these things and then transfer them to my weekly or daily spread if or when I need to. This way it’s easy to see at a glance what I have coming up for the month (and helps me think ahead without having to do a lot of flipping between pages).
One trick I use in order to keep from marking all over my planner before I’m ready to make it all pretty is to add a big sticky note to each monthly spread where I can mark down all the things I’ll need to remember to plan for when I get to that month. This way I can keep track without having to erase or whiteout a bunch of times as plans change!
Once you’ve written in all of your obligations for the month (or year), it’s time to take a break from planning and start focusing on your goals!
The whole point of using a planner is to change your mindset and habits so you can create a life you love. In order to do that effectively, you have to have a clear path forward outlined.
If you have no direction, you’ll spend your days wandering aimlessly through your life and never achieve the things you dream of. Instead, take the time to write down all the things you want to accomplish (even if they seem completely out of reach) and begin breaking down those big goals into manageable chunks and action steps you can take starting right now.
Each planner has a different way of helping you write and achieve your goals, so feel free to follow any guide your planner offers you. If you’d like more guidance on goal writing, check out this post for an easy way to get started with goals you can actually accomplish!
Before going any further, you should decide on a simple and easy routine for your days. You can start with just a simple morning routine and build on that as it becomes more of a habit. Having a routine in place makes working on your goals even easier.
Things you may want to include in your routine include self-care, sleep, eating, and household tasks that need to be done, Your routine may have more or fewer items. These are the tasks that may be urgent but are not necessarily the most important things on your to-do list. They are not the things that are going to move you closer to your goals.
To put this another way, you can spend your life simply surviving – doing the dishes, taking the kids to school, fixing the broken faucet, folding laundry, and running errands – but if that’s all you do with your life, you’ll end up being filled with regret for all the things you didn’t do.
Instead, I challenge you to truly live your life to the fullest and fill it with things that bring joy to your heart and a smile to your face, things that make you feel like life is worth living. Those are the things you’ll be planning intentional time for pursuing (not the daily must-dos that will always keep accumulating).
Now that you have your big plans, routine, and your goals in place, it’s time to start filling in those blank spaces on your weekly or daily pages. At this point, the details of exactly how you fill the pages are really dependent on the type of planner you have and what works best for you.
Weekly planners typically come in one of three styles: vertical, hourly, or horizontal.
Vertical layouts have the days of the week across the top of the page with planning space in columns under each day. These layouts are often broken up into sections (typically three) that you can use in a variety of different ways (morning, afternoon, evening; work, school, personal; my plans, hubby’s plans, kids’ plans; etc).
Hourly layouts are the same as vertical layouts except that instead of being broken up into sections for each day, the columns are broken up by hours (see example above). Usually you’ll get one line for each half hour. But you may find planners that have lines for anywhere from every 15 minutes to every hour.
A horizontal layout has each day in its own box stacked on a page. Most often there will be three days on each page with Saturday and Sunday sharing a box. This layout option tends to be less versatile than the other two options.
Daily layouts have so much more variety and can honestly be as unique as the person who designed the planner. Some common pieces to see in a daily layout are a top three section (for your most important to-dos), an hourly planner, a to-do list, note space, space for gratitude lists, habit trackers, and meal planning space.
Depending on how detailed your daily planner space is, these pages can be very customizable. You can even cover labels with white out or washi tape and use each section in any way you see fit.
One of my favorite ways to plan is by using a combination of time blocking and the 80/20 rule. Don’t worry, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll explain!
Time blocking works best when you use an hourly weekly layout or a daily layout with an hourly section. In this method you plan your day using chunks of time. You start by adding in any time-based obligations (doctor appointments, work commitments, etc) and block off the amount of time you’ll need to complete those obligations. For instance, if you have a doctor appointment at 10 AM, you’ll probably want to block off the time period between about 9:30 AM and 11 AM to give yourself plenty of travel time and to cover the time you’ll actually be sitting in the doctor’s office.
Once you have all of your obligations time-blocked, you can go back and start adding in items from your to-do list. You will need to have a prioritized to-do list in order for this to be the most effective in helping you achieve your goals. Remember, you don’t want to fill all your time with the urgent tasks (like chores) and miss the opportunity to work on the more important tasks that will actually move the needle towards your goals.
If you don’t have a prioritized list of to-dos and need to revisit goal setting before moving on, check out this post for some help!
It’s easiest to plan your whole week in one sitting. You should have a top three list of priorities that only includes items from your goal tasks. Your top three should never be something like washing the dishes or mopping the floors (those may be urgent tasks, but they aren’t all that important in terms of goals, unless your life goal is to have the cleanest house on the block…). Add your top three to your week first. They don’t all have to be done on Monday, but it is important that you prioritize these three tasks above everything else. Block out a set amount of time for each task and make sure to give yourself some leeway just in case it takes longer than you anticipate!
Once you have your top three most important things time-blocked, add as many of your other to-do list items as you have time for. Don’t forget to include sleep and eating in the mix too!
Another favorite planning tool of mine is actually one I’m borrowing from budgeting! In order to keep my life fairly balanced, I try to live by the 80/20 rule (well actually it’s the 50/30/20 rule, if you want to get technical).
With this rule, I break my life up into three chunks: sleep, personal, and work. I then plan to spend approximately 50% of my time on personal tasks (which includes my personal goals), 30% of my time for sleep, and only 20% for work.
That breaks down to roughly 12 hours on personal things, 7 hours for sleep, and 5 hours for work each day. Now, I don’t stick to this strictly and I don’t clock my time or anything. It’s more of a rough guideline so that I can make sure I’m actually devoting time to the things and people in my life that are most valuable to me.
I don’t want to spend 50% of my time working and miss out on being with my children while they’re little. I don’t want to waste away my life sleeping or working on meaningless tasks instead of enjoying the things I’ve worked hard for.
And of course you may need to adjust the percentages just a little bit for your current situation and that’s ok. The main goal is to make sure that the bulk of your time is spent on the things that mean the most to you.
If it helps you, you might even consider breaking the 50% personal time block down even further into things like household tasks, personal care (showering, eating, etc), time to work on goals, and family or friend time.
Now for the most fun part (at least in my personal opinion), decorating!!
In actuality, you’ll probably want to do a little decorating as you go along during your weekly or daily planning. But you can certainly go back in afterward and add some flair, too!
Many people love to use colored pens, stencils, stickers, and planner accessories (different brands tend to offer a variety of their own planner accessories so check out what’s available specifically for your planner).
Colored pens or highlighters are great for color coordinating. If you do a lot of planning on the go it might be easier to stick with a plain black or blue pen and then color coordinate with highlighters at a more convenient time. Or, if you have the time, you can use colored pens for your color coordinating! Some fun ways to use color include:
- Give each member of your family a different color
- Choose different colors for work, school, home, etc.
- Use a different color to match each task to a specific goal
- Use colors to differentiate priority
- Use different colors for different types of tasks (chores, family time, event/holiday, work, etc.)
Stickers are super fun to use to add functionality and to make your planner pretty and show off your personality! You can find planner stickers for just about anything you can imagine. From budgeting to meal planning to daily tasks and special events. There’s planner stickers for them all!
You can add fun quotes, pretty images and graphics, or functional stickers for lists or to draw attention to specific tasks. The options are endless. And don’t feel like you’re limited to the stickers made by the same brand as your planner. Most planner stickers will work with just about any planner.
If you’re really creative, you could even add your own personal flair to your planning pages by adding your own doodles and drawings to really make it your own!
Making The Most Of Your Planner All Year Long
If you’re like a lot of people, you might have a whole stack of planners from years past that started with good intentions but ended up buried and forgotten a few months into the year.
But this time is going to be different because you’re committed to not only using your planner, but using it to help you break bad habits, change your mindset, and create a life you truly love.
So here are a few action steps to help you stick with it and not give up on your goals:
- Make planning a priority. Schedule a block of time every single week to sit down and be intentional about planning the week ahead. You should plan a minimum of 30 minutes, but an hour would be better. Many people like doing this on Friday so they can enjoy their weekend knowing the following week is already taken care of, but I often do my planning on Sunday evening and that works too! You may find it helpful to spend 15 minutes each morning or evening reviewing your plans for the day (or the following day) and making any adjustments needed before the day gets started.
- Focus more on the planning and less on the prettification. Yes, it’s awesome to have a Pinterest worthy planner and it is fun to decorate your pages…when you have the time and energy to do so. But that’s not always going to be the case. Don’t let the fact that you don’t have time to add tons of pretty stickers and color coordinate and write in pretty script font deter you from using your planner. At the end of the day your planner’s main function is to help you plan. All the pretty things are secondary to the tasks your need to plan in order to achieve your goals.
- Use sticky notes. Sticky notes are super useful for things that aren’t bound to one week or month. You can use them to keep a running list of groceries you need, keep track of the chores you plan to do each day or week, meal plans, gift ideas, or just miscellaneous notes you want to jot down real quick.
- Be flexible. Having goals and a plan are both really helpful for building a life you truly enjoy. But above all it’s essential to remember that all the plans in the world can never predict the unpredictable. Life happens. Cars break down. Plans get cancelled or rearranged. Kids get sick. Tragedies happen. These are things we can’t always plan for and sometimes they completely throw off everything we did plan for. One of the most valuable lessons you can learn in life is flexibility. Lean into the chaos and just enjoy the ride. Sometimes everything will go exactly how we plan for it to and other times, well, not so much. And that’s ok. Just get up tomorrow and try again. Don’t let the unexpected totally derail you from ever completing your goals. Set-backs are not failures, just keep moving forward! Progress, not perfection my friend.
- Finally, get accountability. I have said it before and I’ll say it again. Having people in your life who will hold you accountable to what you say you’re going to do is one of the best things you can have. When no one knows or cares what your goals are it’s far too easy to let yourself off the hook. Let’s be honest, when we’re feeling unmotivated or lazy, we’re certainly not going to hold ourselves accountable! But when you have someone else in your life who you know is going to ask you if you met your goals, there’s just something that keeps us going even when we don’t feel like it. And believe me, there will be hard times. So get yourself an accountability partner (or five). It’s totally worth it.
Using a planner effectively can literally change your life. When you take the time to sit down, write goals based on what you truly want from life, and start to believe that those goals are actually possible, you’ll be amazed at what you’re capable of achieving! No matter where you’re starting from or what your current life situation is, a physical, handwritten planner can be the difference between merely surviving and actually living a life you truly love.
Those of us who grew up in dysfunctional families may not have learned great planning skills and we may have been made to feel that our hopes and dreams were stupid and pointless. But they aren’t! Take the time to think through your biggest dreams and aspirations and take baby steps every single day to achieve them and you will change your life in ways you can’t even imagine! You don’t have to stay stuck in the same old broken patterns of the past. Make a choice to make a change and start living the life of your dreams. It is possible and you are worth it!