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Using a planner to track your appointments, to-do lists, and events is not a new concept. Planners have been around for years. And while technology has given us plenty of new options to track our days digitally, paper planners are still the tried and true method.
Many people purchase planners with the intent to use them. They start strong but soon find themselves not using it as much in a month or two. Next thing they know their planner is buried in a drawer never to be seen again. Why? Why are you unable to stick with a simple planning method?
The answer is more complex than you think. Part of it is that we all plan our days differently. We may use the same type of planner, but what we need them for is completely different. Using a planner requires you to know how you plan, why you plan, and what you need to plan.
Let’s take a look at some tips you can apply when using a planner
#1 — Find your why
One of the first things you need to ask yourself is, “Why do I need a planner?” Yes, you want it to help keep track of your day, but in what capacity? Do you plan on using it as a personal planner, a work planner, or a family planner? Is it going to be a catch-all for every single thing you need to remember?
These questions are important to answer as they will determine what you keep in your planner. A personal planner will have a different need than a work planner. And a family planner will have a different need than a catch-all planner.
For example, your personal planner is so you can track your own daily to-do lists and appointments. Like haircuts, nail appointments, book clubs, and more. You may carry it with you so you can jot down anything you need to remember. Whereas your work planner will only house to-dos and appointments related to work. That you can leave at the office or — if you work from home — on your workstation.
Finding your why will also help determine what type of planner you should buy. You might only need a simple lined journal or a monthly calendar. Creative folks may enjoy the versatility of a bullet journal. Whatever your preference, you can’t hope to use a planner properly until you find your why.
#2 — Color coding your tasks
Are you a visual person? Do your eyes criss-cross when all you see is nothing but black ink scrawled across the page? Using a planner means adjusting it to fit your lifestyle. If you tend to color-code items in your home then using the same system in your planner makes sense.
Color-coding allows tasks or events to stand out from the horde of black ink. It draws your eye to it, which signifies its importance. Color-coding isn’t as complex as some people might think. If your brain naturally takes to this kind of system, you would be remiss to not use it in your planner.
And all you need to be successful at it is a box of multi-color highlighters. Then it comes down to choosing what color represents what. Here’s a simple breakdown you can follow:
Green = work-related tasks and events
Blue = birthdays and anniversaries
Yellow = family tasks or events
Red = travel days
Orange = doctor appointments
Pink = holidays and days off
Purple = other appointments (hair, nails, etc)
You can color-code your planner to your personal specifications. Make sure to create a key at the beginning of your planner so you remember what each color means. Once you use this system for a while, the meaning of the colors will become second nature.
#3 — Use symbols and signifiers
Another efficient way to use a planner comes from Ryder Carroll, creator of the Bullet Journal. When Carroll was creating his system, he decided on a series of symbols and signifiers for each task. This meant he could look at his to-do list and know immediately what’s important and what’s not.
The bullet journal symbols and signifiers include the following:
A dot for tasks (●)
A dash for notes (-)
An open circle for events (￮)
An asterisk for important or time-sensitive tasks (*)
An exclamation point for inspiration (!)
You don’t have to use this exact system in your planner. Many people have taken what they learned from Carroll and adjusted it to their own lifestyle. Signifiers are a good method to put in place because, like color-coding, they draw your attention to certain tasks and events.
Some may only use one signifier. Others may create their own. Some may prefer open circles for all unfinished tasks. Or they may like boxes (⃞) to check off. Whatever you decide to use, it’s important not to put a priority signifier next to every task. If you do, you’re setting yourself up for instant overwhelm.
A tip many productivity coaches say to do is to keep your list of big tasks low. No more than 1-3 tops. Any more than that and you’re going to burn yourself out before the day even gets going.
To learn more about the bullet journal method, you can purchase Carroll’s book here. He breaks down the entire system and he makes it easy to start your own bullet journal in no time.
#4 — Keep it short
One of the biggest complaints people give about pre-printed planners is that there isn’t enough room to write down all their tasks. Everyone has different size handwriting so this makes sense. This is why many convert to a bullet journal because you decide how much space you have to write in. But when it comes to using a planner, particularly a pre-printed one, the best thing to do is keep things short.
What do we mean? Instead of writing out full-length sentences of things you need to do, try and abbreviate words or phrases. For example, instead of writing, “call Brenda to confirm Thursday morning’s meeting,” write, “call Brenda re: Th AM meeting.” Or instead of writing, “draft proposal outline for Tuesday presentation,” you can write, “draft outline re: T presentation.”
Keeping your list of to-do’s short will give you more room to write. Come up with creative ways to shorten words. The more personalized you make it, the more you’ll remember what you wrote. It’ll seem weird writing in such fragmented jargon, but it’s going to save you time. And since you know what the shortened phrases mean, you'll remember what needs to get done.
#5 — Review your week
Too often people just turn the page to the next week. They don’t stop to think about the previous one. But pausing to reflect and review the previous week can be beneficial to planning the next one. It helps you hone in on things that didn't work so you don't make the same mistake again.
Weekly reviews have grown in popularity. People noticed the difference it makes in planning for the new week ahead. The best way to review the previous week is to sit down for 20-30 minutes every Sunday and ask yourself the following questions:
What were some wins this week?
What worked this week?
What didn’t work this week?
What should I focus on next week?
Celebrating wins, no matter how small, makes a world of difference. For one, you’re starting your review on a positive note. And two, reminding yourself of a few wins is a good way to slow down and appreciate your progress.
Did the way you schedule your days work for you or not? Did you try to cram too much into one day? Asking yourself what worked and what didn’t will give you some ideas on how to plan the coming week. Finally, writing down what you should focus on next week will give you direction.
Weekly reviews are a great way to see how you’re progressing towards your goals — be they yearly, quarterly, monthly, or weekly. They’re especially useful when you’re using a planner to help you achieve those goals.
There are so many more tips you can apply to use your planner most effectively. In the end, though, it all comes down to your why. Why are you using a planner in the first place? Figure that out and the rest will come naturally.
Dexterous Organizing knows how much you have on your plate. You’re juggling many things and all you want are simple, streamlined systems that will help you stay organized and be productive. Let us help you find those systems. Contact us today and share your struggles with us. This is a no-judgment zone.
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