Ah, the start of a new year. Is there anything better than sitting down and opening your brand new planner, ready to hold all of your social engagements, important work meetings, and big goals for the year? If you’re like me, you love being organized and having a system in place to keep your life together. However, if you’re also like me, you’ve probably bought a few planners over the years that never made it past the last week of January (RIP to all those good intentions).
But in 2023, that doesn’t need to be the case. Say it with me now: I can keep my life organized with my planner! Over the years I’ve discovered SO many ways to optimize my planner so it can help me be my most productive, to the point where it now goes everywhere with me from Jan 1 to Dec 31. Let’s dive into some planner tips I’ve picked up that you can use to get the most out of your new planner.
1. Make sure it’s visible
The first tip is to make sure you find a home for your planner where you can see it—and remember to use it—regularly. This could be on your bedside table, on a spot in your entryway so you can check your schedule as you come and go throughout the day, or on your desk at your workspace. While your office might seem like the most logical spot, it can really go anywhere that fits nicely into your routine. It’ll be a lot harder to use if you can’t remember whether you put it on your coffee table…or left it in your purse…or maybe it’s in the car…
2. Use your planner outside of work
When people think about planners, they usually think of them in relation to work. Well, I’m here to champion the planner beyond just the office! I use my planner for everything. I record plans with my friends, date nights, gym sessions, check-ins with my boss, volunteering shifts…if I need to be somewhere or remember something, you can bet it’s in my planner. This also prevents any need to use a separate planner for work and home life, which is a recipe for disaster (and way too much work). It’s much harder to keep everything organized if you’re trying to work out of multiple different organization systems, so limit yourself to just one.
What I really love about this tip is how it helps you see how you’re doing with balancing work and personal commitments. If your planner is nothing but work deadlines and meetings, use that as a reminder to schedule a gym sesh or plan a date or girls’ night out.
3. Add all important dates at the beginning of the year
Once you have your fresh new planner, the next thing to do is obviously fill it with your exciting events (what, you don’t consider your daily check-ins at work to be exciting?!). I like to break up how and when I fill in my planner into two sections: once at the beginning of the year, and then once a week (more on that below!). At the beginning of the year, I take 30 minutes and add in all the important days I know are coming for the year ahead. This includes any birthdays for family and friends, anniversaries, other people’s weddings, and vacations or travel. By adding all of this at once, you can rest assured that you won’t accidentally miss something important.
4. Pick a time to update your planner each week
Once all of the bigger dates are in, I usually set aside 15 minutes on Sunday evenings to plan out my week. I add in work meetings, workouts I want to do, fun evening activities, and anything I want to remember (like reminding myself to order groceries a day earlier than normal because I’m having people over on Friday). This is a great way to set up your week for success, and also gives you a good idea of your work and personal commitments for the next few days. If you know you’ll be slammed with work on Tuesday-Thursday in advance of a big presentation, you can plan to order in dinner and arrange for some down time on the weekend.
5. Break down tasks and events to keep yourself organized
The best part about using a planner is that it’s essentially like having a second brain. Okay, I might be exaggerating a little bit, but I can’t count the number of times my planner has saved me from disaster over the years, especially when it comes to big tasks or to-dos. Once you’ve done your yearly planning and added in important dates, you can do yourself a HUGE favor by adding in reminders leading up to these events as well. Do you always forget mom’s birthday until the day before? Well, not anymore, because now you can pencil in a reminder a week out so you don’t forget. Same thing goes with work presentations or trips you’re planning. Could you do this with your phone reminders? Yes, you could, but technology can glitch or be accidentally deleted, and my pen and paper system has yet to let me down.
6. Make a to-do list for the next day
One of my favorite ways to use a planner is by having a little “to-do” section at the bottom of each day where I list out things I’d like to accomplish. As I go about my day, I check them off my list. Some days it’s full of work things and sometimes it’s full of personal things (why is there always laundry to do??), but it’s a great way to help me feel like I’m accomplishing my most important tasks for the day. It’s also great because anything that doesn’t get checked off can be easily incorporated into the following day’s list without much thought or effort. By creating a short list before signing off for the day, I’m able to do a quick scan in the morning and know exactly what I need to prioritize.
7. Make it fun
There are people who love planners (ahem, me!) and people who swear they don’t work for them, and I think the difference is that planner people make their systems fun and personalized. Whether it’s using color-coded pens for different meetings, adding little stickers throughout, or bringing in some bullet journaling, your planner is for YOU. In order for it to work every day, you need to make sure it brings you some form of joy. For me, I love adding the little “brunch” and “gym” stickers that come with my planner, and I also LIVE for checking off each of my tasks and appointments as I go through the day. Am I that person who will add in an impromptu meeting that already happened to my planner just so I can check it off? I’ll never tell.
8. Don’t force yourself to use features you don’t like
I’ve tried a lot of planners over the years, and I’ve yet to find one that perfectly fits my needs without at least one element that I don’t use. For me, that’s the “month-at-a-glance” layouts included at the beginning of most planners. I don’t know why, but I can’t get into them—I prefer using the weekly views to keep on top of upcoming events. For a while I tried to force myself to use them (especially after seeing some very aspirational layouts on Pinterest), but they just weren’t a natural part of my organization system. If you’re new to the planner world, don’t try to use every single element if something doesn’t fit easily into your life. Remember, your planner is supposed to help you, not be another thing on the to-do list!
9. Create a “Wins List”
If you let them, planners can be much more than just a diary of appointments. Years ago I realized that my yearly planners were essentially scrapbooks of everything I had done that year, so I started treating them as such. I created a “Wins List” on a blank page at the back of my notebook and started adding things as they happened throughout the year so I could look back on them later. Things like “finished our bathroom reno”, “meditated each day for one month”, and “planned a trip to Italy” were some of my wins last year. This is a tradition I’ve come to love and it’s helped me stick with my planners for longer than I likely would have if I just viewed them as an agenda.
10. Don’t stress about a little mess
Look, we all want our planners to look like the world’s most aesthetic organizational TikTok (at least I do!). Nothing is more heartbreaking than getting a drop of coffee on your pristine white cover, having to messily cross out a meeting that got pushed, or hastily writing down the name of someone to follow up with diagonally across one of your agenda pages when you can’t find another piece of paper. Trust me, I get it. But while we want our planners to look perfect, that’s just not realistic.
Over the years I’ve come to see my planners as a little life companion, and life can get messy! My planner has gone to Europe with me, changed jobs several times, and had more than a million meetings crossed off. It definitely looks a little worse for wear sometimes, but I look back and I’m glad I used it to its fullest. So embrace a little mess, it’s bound to happen if your life is as full as mine!
Source: Cosmo Politian