All planner addicts know the struggle. While innocently browsing, you stumble upon a new brand of planner. You flip through it, you check out reviews, you comb through the tag on Instagram. You analyze every feature and fall in love with the aesthetic. You’re all set to pull the trigger, but there’s just one problem: the collection of planners stacked up beside you. How, exactly, will this newcomer fit into your planner system?
In an ideal world, we would be able to find The One Planner To Rule Them All. This planner would satisfy every organizational need, every aesthetic desire, and every functional challenge. It would adapt to every life change without missing a beat. We would be able to customize it in every conceivable way.
Unfortunately, this planner does not exist, and instead, we must journey through hordes of Pinterest boards and blog posts listing the “Best Planners Ever” in hopes of finding the perfect fit for ourselves. Due to this endless search for the perfect planner, I’m guilty of indulging my planner addiction more than I probably should. This results in having more planners than necessary… but meshing all of these planners together into a cohesive system results in optimal organization and focused planning.
In this post, I’m going to share some tips and tricks on creating a planner system that works best for your needs so you can make use of all those planner indulgences gathering dust on your shelf! I’ll also review the current planners I’m using, as well as ones in the past.
Designing a Functional Planner System
Step #1: Decide which areas of your life require planning.
I’ve found that the most effective way to design a planner system is to base each planner on a separate area of my life. This separates my tasks, goals, projects, and deadlines into their individual categories so I don’t have to sift through one giant planner for a specific timeline or detail.
Not every aspect of life benefits from a planner, but many do! Here are some “life category” ideas:
- Household Management
- Creative Projects
- Blogging & Social Media
- E-Commerce / Online Business
- Finances & Budgeting
- Health & Fitness
- Memory Keeping
- Mental Health & Self-Care
- Personal Development
Yes, some people may function best by combining all of that into one central command system. If that works for you? Fantastic! Personally, though, I get overwhelmed if I try to assess too much at once. My stress levels are far more manageable if I can approach tasks in separate categories so I can focus on one subject at a time, rather than getting distracted by tasks in other categories.
The categories I use for my planner system are School, Career, Creative Projects, Blogging, Trackers, Self-Care, Memory Keeping, Personal Development, and Finances. Some of these categories overlap due to similarities or how they affect each other (i.e. career affects my income, therefore it makes sense to combine Career and Finances in the same planner).
I separate and group these categories as follows:
- Planner #1
School, Career, Finances
- Planner #2
- Planner #3
- Planner #4
- Planner #5
- Planner #6
Personal Development, Self-Care
Whew! Six planners looks like a lot to manage, but with a functional planner system, it all flows naturally.
Step #2: Determine which planner best fits each category.
To ensure your planner system is functional, you need to choose planners that fit the needs of the categories you’ve created. This will be based on the different features of the planners at your disposal. For example, if you’re a student with a busy schedule, you’ll likely find that a planner with a timetable is your best choice for your academic planning. If you’re focusing on personal growth, a planner with reflective prompts will be an effective choice. And if you’re looking to manage your finances, a planner with income and expense tables would be a logical fit.
Let’s take a look at my current planner system to show some more examples that may help you with this process.
School, Career, & Finances: The Legit Weekly Student STARTPlanner
As I’ve mentioned, I started grad school this fall to earn my Masters of Arts in Teaching. I’ll simultaneously be teaching in my local school district as an instructional substitute. Between various sources of income, tuition, and more, managing my finances is going to require some diligent bookkeeping.
I’m the type that desperately needs a vertical timetable to plan my daily tasks and figure out how to efficiently use the hours of the day. Last year, I used the Passion Planner for this purpose:
I absolutely loved how the Passion Planner functioned and found great success with it! Unfortunately, I really struggled with some aspects. The lengthy “monthly reflections” were fun at first, but I quickly fell behind on them since they required so much time to complete. I also found no use for the “Space of Infinite Possibility,” and every week it remained a blank space of emptiness more than anything else. However, it still functioned well when I was a small business owner.
Of course, managing a small business isn’t something I have to deal with anymore, and substitute teaching is pretty straight-forward as far as planning is concerned. Given that I’ll now have classes and grades to track, the Student STARTPlanner was an extremely attractive replacement to my Passion Planner. I really enjoy the goal-setting pages, and the monthly budget sections have been a godsend so far. I’m excited to see how well it functions as the year continues!
Blogging: The Plum Paper Planner with Blog Add-On
Running this blog is pretty much separate from all my other career endeavors, so I prefer to keep all related tasks in their own planner. I have a custom Plum Paper Planner I designed when running my small business, but I’ve scavenged it for blog planning purposes. Past Charlotte had been using the Blog Add-On for general social media planning, but now I’m using it for the original function of blog management.
I really enjoy having a planner of individual sections for Monthly Overviews, Income & Expenses, Post Ideas, Monthly Tasks, Monthly Stats, and a general To-Do List. And the sections for Advertising & Sponsors, Giveaways & Reviews, and Annual Post Planning are absolute lifesavers. That being said, after owning this planner for eight months, I don’t have much use for the general monthly and weekly spreads so they go relatively unused.
I would still like to use this blog planner in the future, so I think my next Plum Planner will be designed with the customizable vertical columns so I can use the weekly spreads to organize social media posts in a more dedicated fashion.
Creative Projects: A Blank Journaling Notebook
I have tried dozens of project planners in my time, but I’ve never found one that has fit all my needs for costuming projects. Instead of using a pre-made planner for project planning, I set up my own in a blank spiral notebook. Right now, I’m using a Fringe Studio spiral notebook I found at Staples that has gold filament on the page edges.
(If anyone is interested, I’m happy to share my set-up process for creative project planning!)
Memory Keeping: The BIG Happy Planner
I’ve been a Happy Planner enthusiast for almost two years now. It was the first planner I began using, and it’s been through many different phases and obsessions. I’ve used it for intense planner decorating, a minimalist sticker phase, daily gratitude logging, and more.
This spring and summer, I was really struggling to find a good use for my Happy Planner. I don’t have time for the intense sticker and washi tape decorating I once indulged in, but I still really enjoy MAMBI’s company aesthetic. I also wanted to develop a space for journaling so that I could look back and reflect, rather than just constantly looking ahead.
It took a lot of experimentation, but I’ve designed a layout for my Happy Planner that uses the top boxes for general day reflection (i.e. major things I did or accomplished); the middle boxes for a brief journaling prompt; and the bottom boxes for recording the weather and my overall mood. As someone with seasonal affective disorder, the latter is very interesting to me since there’s typically a clear coordination between how much sunlight I’m getting that day versus how I’m feeling.
I don’t let myself go overboard with stickers. I use a bit of washi here and there, but otherwise, I use the MAMBI Productivity and Basics Sticker Books for decorative flair. If I find any fun stickers that match that week’s color scheme, I’ll toss them on too, just for fun!
Lists & Trackers: A Bullet Journal in The Mossery Custom Notebook
After admiring bullet journals for years, I finally bit the bullet (ha!) on starting my own. I don’t use it for daily/weekly planning, since that’s taken care of in my other planners. Instead, I use it for lists and trackers. It didn’t make much sense to keep long-term items like bucket lists and wine tasting notes in short-term planners that became irrelevant after a few weeks or months. Instead, the bullet journal acts as a “life encyclopedia” that I’ll be able to refer to even after it’s filled.
Not to mention, it’s fantastic for calming my anxiety and channeling my stress into something that’s productive without pressure of failure.
I looked at a lot of grid notebooks, but eventually settled on the Mossery brand since the covers are customizable and the paper is thick enough to handle markers, highlighters, and Copics.
Personal Development & Self-Care: The Happiness Planner
Finally, while browsing planner tags, I happened to come upon The Happiness Planner. I discovered it just as I was embarking on my big career change and struggling to reconnect with my purpose in life, so it felt like a perfect fit. I’ve only been using this for two and a half months now, but I’ve really enjoyed the monthly assessments, goal planning, gratitude prompts, and positive mindset that it encourages.
The issue, again, was that the To-Do and Schedule sections weren’t very useful once my STARTPlanner was put into circulation. Instead of tracking my daily tasks and schedule, I’ve started to use the To-Do section for self-care tasks. Meanwhile, the “Schedule” section puts social media tasks in order.
I’m not sure if I’ll continue using the Happiness Planner after this year. I feel it’s most relevant for people going through a rough patch or significant change. But I’m grateful to have it in my system right now, since it’s really helping me focus on positivity and my own development while going through this life transition.
Step #3: Figure out a planner workflow.
Now that you have all your planners, how do you go about using them?
The most effective planner routine will depend on your schedule. Generally, it’s good to find a time during every day when you have 30-45 minutes of quiet solitude for daily tasks. Then, choose one day a week where you can sit down and focus on planning out the next seven days. Extrapolating upon that, you’ll also want to choose one day a month to plan out your monthly to-dos, important events, bills, and so on.
My planner workflow looks like this:
Monthly Planning: The Last Day of Every Month
- Fill out the monthly calendar in my STARTPlanner, making note of events, deadlines, appointments, etc.
- Fill out the monthly Goals and Finance sections in my STARTPlanner, focusing on academics and my career.
- Complete the Monthly Overview for my blog in my Plum Planner.
- Complete the Monthly Assessment in my Happiness Planner, then decide on my personal development goals for the coming month.
- Design my habit tracker and pet planning page for the month in my bullet journal.
Weekly Planning: Every Sunday Afternoon
- Check my Google Calendar and use my Notes app to outline appointments, deadlines, work assignments, and other relevant events for the upcoming week.
- Refer to my Plum Planner and add any major blogging tasks to this week outline.
- Refer to my creative project notebook and see if there are any project tasks I want to tackle this week; if there are, those are also added to the outline.
- Check the bucket list(s) and goal trackers in my bullet journal for anything I want to accomplish and add those items to the outline.
- Transfer this schedule outline into the weekly timetable of my STARTPlanner, distributing the major tasks and goals amidst the less-flexible responsibilities.
- Design this week’s spread for my Happy Planner.
- Update the Blog Statistics page in my Plum Planner.
- Create a social media schedule in my Plum Planner.
- Update weekly trackers in my bullet journal.
Daily Planning: Evenings from 11:00-11:30 PM
- Fill out gratitude and reflection sections in my Happiness Planner for today, then fill in the planning sections for tomorrow.
- Write my journaling prompt for my Happy Planner, then record my accomplishments, the weather, and my mood for the day.
- Record any progress on my creative projects in the project journal’s work log.
- Update daily trackers in my bullet journal.
Phew! It’s definitely a time commitment, but if planners and journaling are something you enjoy, it’s worth every minute. I can’t imagine going to sleep without a good planning session beforehand!
Is all of this necessary for everyone? Nope! That’s the beauty of a planner system: you design and customize it to your own needs. I hope this post gave you some ideas for developing or updating your own planner system!