8 steps for using a paper planner effectively
Paper planners are effective only if you use them properly and regularly. Here are some ways to get into the groove, if you're not yet an addict!
Perhaps you’ve made a New Year’s resolution to become more organized. Paper planners are an old-fashioned yet effective way to stay on top of everything that has to be done by providing a powerful visual layout and space for jotting notes, to-do lists, and ideas. The only problem is that no planner will help you get organized unless you use it. Establishing that routine is important and well worth the effort. Here are some tips on how to get started with a planner. (See our slideshow on 10 fabulous planners to keep you organized all year.)
1. Have a regular daily planning session.
Take 5 or 10 minutes every evening to go over your tasks for the next day. That refreshes in your mind what needs to be done, making it less likely for you to forget about appointments, etc.
Organizational expert and blogger Jen from Pretty Neat Living makes a good point by describing it as an important brain dump:
“I used to have issues falling asleep until I started this nightly practice a few years ago. I no longer experience racing thoughts scrambling through my mind of tomorrow’s to-dos since they’re all nicely laid out for me.”
2. Have a regular weekly planning session.
At the start of the week, such as Sunday evening (or whatever works best for you), take a few minutes to go over plans for the week ahead. This is your chance to plan for broader tasks that can’t be pegged to a specific day, i.e. catch up with a friend, send out thank-you notes, finish that pile of ironing, weed the garden. You can also transfer any information that may have gone into your phone during the week.
3. Use the monthly section.
Every planner has a monthly spread. I prefer designs that place it at the start of each month, although some planners put all the month spreads at the beginning of the book. This is where you should jot down all the things that won’t change – birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, due dates for bills, etc.
4. Use a single planner for everything.
It’s easiest to keep it all in one place, so you don’t have to consult multiple planners or calendars. Try color-coding business and personal tasks for better separation, such as a red pen for anything relating to work. This is easiest done with a paper planner.
5. Make your steps concrete.
Write in full sentences (with verbs!) to clarify what you need to do. For example, it’s more likely you’ll tackle “Call Maria about recipe” quickly than if you just write “Maria.”
6. Check your planner a lot.
Check it frequently and leave it somewhere obvious when you’re at home, a desk or table, ready for use. Don’t stuff it away on a shelf because it will get forgotten. Pop it into your bag when you leave the house, just as you take your wallet and phone.
7. Choose a small passport or regular sized planner.
The smaller and more compact your planner is, the more inclined you will be to carry it around and use it. Realistically, you need something that can fit in a handbag or backpack. Big, hefty desk planners are nice, but not as practical, unless you keep track of everything on your phone and transfer it later to your planner, but that’s an additional step. On a related note, choose a planner that draws your eye – something colorful and decorative – because that will help you to remember it and make you want to use it.
8. Don’t stress about filling it up.
Sometimes the appearance of empty space makes people think they need to fill it up. Don’t go there because you’ll burn out and lose interest in your planner. Rather, allow your planner to be reflective of your life at a particular time. Some weeks will be jam-packed; others empty by comparison.
You’ll have to figure out your own style, whether you like to write down everything as a sort of brain dump, or if you prefer to stick with only relevant scheduling stuff. Some people like designs with calendars on the left and lined/graph paper on the right, which allows for note-taking. Alternatively, you can get a slim notebook that slips into the back of the planner for writing down things that don’t fit into particular days.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to figuring out your personal planner style, and now is the best time to get started.