So you’ve got a new planner, all shiny and full of possibility. This is going to be the year, you think. This will be the year you achieve your goals, stick to those resolutions, and level up your productivity. With this planner, you’ll never forget a birthday or doctor’s appointment. You’ll finally be one of those people who has it all together.
You gather your fanciest pens, pour a cup of your preferred beverage, pull a chair up to the dining table, and open the front cover.
And then…. nada. Crickets.
What the heck are you supposed to do with this thing?! How will you keep track of your goals and resolutions, birthdays and doctor’s appointments, when you couldn’t before?
How do you keep this planner, which should be a tool in your life, from becoming one more thing you’ve gotta check off your to-do list?
If you’re unsure what to do with your planner, or your current planner set up isn’t right for you, read on.
Finding a planner set up process that works for you
I’ve been using the Living Well Planner for the past 3 years, and through a lot of trial and error, I’ve figured out a process that works for me.
On Sunday evenings, I sit down and spend about an hour getting organized and filling in my planner for the week. (This is also when I meal plan.)
There’s a folder on my computer desktop where I keep things like my yearly business plan, budget, and long-term goal breakdown. I like to be able to reference those documents in a hurry while filling out my planner.
Start with the big picture
Make sure you know your long-term goals before you drop one word into your planner. Keeping an eye on the big picture will help your planner set up run smoothly.
Ideally, you should have a monthly overview. I use the ‘Month at a Glance’ page in my planner, and the monthly breakdown of long-term goals I keep on my computer, to keep the big stuff top-of-mind while I’m planning. This keeps me on course when I’m structuring my time each week.
Plug in your obligations
First, you’ll block out space for the things that absolutely MUST happen in your life. These are things like going to work, picking up your kids from school, paying your bills, etc. (I keep these super obvious by writing them in red.)
My schedule tends to be varied. A few things, though, are set in stone. For me, that means my part time job at the library, pet sitting gigs, church, and appointments.
More flexible, but still important, obligations are next. Things like the weekly grocery run, trips to the gym, and social outings with family and friends.
Look to your big goals next, setting aside a block or two of time to work on things that matter to you. One of my big goals for the year is getting healthier, so I write in time each week for things like meal planning and prep.
If there are things you want – but don’t need – to do, you can schedule those in last. Things like watching a favorite show or working on a hobby might fall under this umbrella.
Adapt to meet your needs
Many planners have space set aside for extra notes, or pages you won’t use. The Living Well Planner is great because it has a designated spot for meal planning, but there are other areas in the planner I adapt to use differently than intended.
I usually paste a workout schedule or editorial calendar over the budget pages, as I keep my budget on the computer. I also use the note section at the end of each month to track income from several different sources.
If your planner doesn’t have something you need, adapt it to suit you. Rip pages out or add them in, cross things out or write over them, etc. Your planner is never set in stone.
Leave space to breathe
Don’t feel the need to fill in every spare bit of space. Something will come along that you didn’t expect, or you’ll have a day where you need to take it easy for a while. Leave white space wherever you can to avoid burn out.
When filling out my planner at the top of the week, I intentionally leave empty space in my weekends. That way, when I’m needed at the spot where I volunteer, a family member asks for a favor, or a friend wants to meet up, I can usually say yes if I want.
Also, if there’s something important left undone at the end of the week (and let’s face it, there’s always something left undone) I have the weekend to try to knock it out. Or I can binge 10 episodes of the latest Netflix offering, whatever.
I’m very fortunate to have a flexible schedule, and I know not everyone has so much wiggle-room. The takeaway is that you shouldn’t feel like you have to schedule something just to schedule something.
It’s okay if every second isn’t “productive.”
I’ve heard so many people say that they don’t want to ‘mess up’ their planner. Guys! You’re not getting graded on this. Your planner is a tool, a resource. It’s here to help you. That means you can’t screw it up. By all means, let it be messy!
In these images, you can see that I am liberal with the Wite-Out. Things change from day-to-day. Your life isn’t perfect, right? That means your planner won’t be either.
Don’t let filling out your planner turn into yet another task you dread. Remember to work from the big picture, keep track of your obligations, adapt to meet your needs, leave intentional white space, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes!
What is the thing you struggle with most when it comes to using a planner? Is there a planner you’ve found that works great for your needs? Tell me about it in the comments! Don’t forget to sign up for e-mails for even more time management strategies.
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