Do you use a planner to keep track of your life? It makes sense. Meetings, appointments, kids activities, birthdays, anniversaries and everything else you’re supposed to remember needs someplace to live other than in your already overloaded brain.
If you have one, and you should, chances are you’re not unleashing the potential of that bad boy. Most people don’t. There is more to using your planner effectively than juggling your packed days and trying not to forget what you need to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s paper-based or electronic, most people don’t know how to use their planner beyond, well, planning.
Recently a client told me he took my advice and bought a planner. This year, instead of juggling Outlook, Google Calendar and the other places he tracked his schedule and to-dos including a scratch pad by his phone, he agreed to give a paper-based planner a go.
The problem was that he bought it but never opened it, ever. It was sitting in the box it was delivered in and slowly but surely getting covered with the clutter of daily life. Soon enough, it would be nothing more than a waste of money.
I’ve been there in the past and bet you have too. I had best intentions to use my planner daily, and I do… for like a week or two and then not so much. When I finally figured out how to use my planner effectively, not only was I more productive but also began to make steady progress on goals that were previously nothing more than hopes and wishes.
You don’t need to hire me as a coach to get my best tips on how to use your planner. Here they are; I promise you, they work if you put them to work.
How to Use Your Planner Effectively
1) Pick a Master
We have so many choices to track our schedules at work and home it’s easy not to have a master planner. A master planner is an at glance source that shows you your entire schedule and more. When you’re home, you should have access to it and at the office too. No more “let me get back to you. I need to check my other schedule.”
2) Use it
Seems silly but your planner is just a waste of space if you don’t use it if not daily (which I recommend) then at least weekly. Your planner is more than your work calendar where people can request meetings and block up all your time. It’s YOUR TIME don’t be a victim of all of the time suckers out there – be proactive.
3) Block Out Whitespace
You need time to think about what’s next not only tackle everything on today’s to-do list. Block out regular time slots for your whitespace and use it not as catch up, but as learning, looking-forward time and looking inward time.
4) Have Sacred Time
Block out time that cannot be booked. (If you’re doing it in your paper planner, don’t forget to block your time in your online tool too.) Do not let yourself give away all of your time to back to back meetings. Sacred time could be you-time to relax and recharge or team-time to reconnect and engage with your team. Not everything that isn’t a specific meeting should be easily booked over.
I’m not a big journal person, but I do love to use my planner to jot down daily points of gratitude. It takes minimal time and changes your outlook on even the worst of days. Don’t just think about it. Write it down. There’s something about looking back on the good stuff that’s too easily forgotten when things get crazy.
6) Habit building
When you use your planner effectively, you should be planning good habits, not only filling time slots. For example, gym time, reading, blog writing, grocery lists, etc. Look at your week in advance and create targets. Make commitments to yourself about what’s important to you and your well-being. Write it in your planner.
7) Create a Record of Success
This is one of my favorites things about using a planner effectively. Every time I go to the gym, I write “Gym!” and what I did for my workout. Yes, I have days planned, but there’s something motivating about seeing days string together to create real progress. Look back over your week and month to see how far you’ve come.
8) Revisit It
It’s easy to get busy, most of us wear busy like a badge of honor, but your planner is there to support your productivity, not be another to-do on your already long task list. If you want your planner to increase your effectiveness, you have to commit to using it. Make changes instead of planning and then winging it.
9) Pencil in for a Month at a Time but Don’t Etch it in Stone
When you use your planner to look ahead, some of what’s on there are best guesses and good intentions. Not everything is set in stone. Use your planning time to get mentally prepared for what’s next but remain open to flexing as the unexpected happens.
10) Find the View that Works for You
There are tons of planners on the market that will give you all the views you could ever want or need. Month on two pages, daily pages, weekly – you name it. I’ve tried them all and a lot of the popular brands on the market. Eventually, I found the one that works for me. Personally, I love to use my monthly view in addition to week-at-a-glance because it’s where I can see progress most easily and not only appointments. Find what works for you.
11) Running Lists
Your planner should be something you bring to meetings, take home, and use beyond time tracking. I love a paper-based planner that has room to write on the sides, margins or at the bottom of the day to capture lists, ideas, and insights that would be otherwise lost. My favorite planners have notes pages and blank pages. Don’t be afraid to use it for more than you’d typically use Outlook.
12) If You Go Paper-Based, Make it Yours
You don’t need to go all out with the pretty stickers and fancy scrapbook-like designs that some people like to do. Smiley faces, fancy or plain – make it a reflection of you – you’re capturing a lot of your life in there.
13) Color Coding Works
In my paper-based planner, I use different colors for different types of events so I can see it all at a glance. Online, in my Google Calendar, I do the same. (Yes, I use both, but my master is my paper-based planner) I’ve encouraged my clients to use either different colored pens or stickers to easily and quickly categorize their plans and progress.
14) There’s Not One Right Way
You don’t have to have lists on the left, gratitude at the bottom and appointments in the middle. There’s no right layout or way to use a planner effectively that works for every individual. As you get going, you’ll figure out what works for you.
15) Save It
At the end of the year, some people never look back and toss their planner. For those people who are committed to using online tools for their planning, they keep on trucking forward too. There’s something special about looking back. Save your planners. It tells a story about you, your life, what you value and what you’ve accomplished.
What are your tips on how to use your planner effectively? What have you learned over time that you can share?
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