Since introducing my planner ‘The Best Laid Plans’ almost two years ago, I’ve gotten to talk to women online and at conferences about what they liked about my planner, or other popular planners. Many have also shared their struggles with not being able to stick with any planner. Now, I don’t know everything about planning and organization, however, my planner is the main reason I’m not a hot mess 98 percent of the time. If you’re juggling housework, homework, appointments, a to do list and still struggling to figure out this whole liturgical living thing, figuring out how to use a planner effectively could be a lifesaver.
So today, seven ways to get started with a planner so you’ll actually use, and benefit from it.
1. First off, don’t just run out and buy the first pretty planner you see.
You might already have several stashed away in drawers somewhere anyway right? If you do, dig them out and study them. Make a note of what you liked about each one, and try to figure out why you stopped using it. Was it too big to fit in your purse and carry with you or was it too small to write down everything? Were you attracted to it because of all its snazzy tracking pages, but got discouraged when you didn’t use any of them? Grab a piece of paper and make a note of these things, then write down everything you need to keep track of (for example meals, feast days, monthly goals and a to do list). Then, find some free planner printables. If you think you just need a monthly view, print that. If you want a weekly view, print four of those. If you want a daily view, try using a plain sheet of notebook paper. If you’re not sure, print out several different types and be open to trying them all for a week or two. The point is, you’re going to test run planning before investing in your new planner. Learning to stick with a planner will take some time, but it’s worth the effort.
2. Now pick a time each week when you will commit to filling out your planner.
I plan my week on Sundays. Fridays are another good day to plan since you might be lacking in motivation to get much else done. Planning your week is a pretty low-key activity so you can schedule it for a time when you know you might be too tired to do anything else. For the first few weeks, you’ll use your trial planner pages, but you’re building a long-term habit. If it’s a new month, start by filling in the monthly events (birthdays, feast days, usual activities, etc.) making sure to note any special events. Then look at your week and fill in all the weekly events (music lessons, sports practice, etc). Finally, write out your to do list. Try to put each item on a specific day, that usually assures a better chance of it happening, but a general to do list is fine too. If you’re just getting the hang of using a planner, don’t get too hung up on color coding or prioritizing things right now. Beginners: Stay away from the washi tape and stickers! Just focus on getting everything out of your head and onto the paper in front of you. Even if you decide to stick with a monthly view calendar, set aside time weekly to go over it to remind yourself of the coming week and add new events.
Some of your to dos might actually be more like long-term goals. If you’re faced with a huge list, scan it for items that can be listed on a monthly or yearly goals page and transfer them. Then pick one monthly goal and think about a couple small steps you can make towards completing it. For example, if you want to sort all the photos on your computer and upload them to the cloud (like me) put, ‘spend 15 minutes sorting photos’ on your to do list and then place it on a specific day.
3. As you’re beginning, don’t use this time to try to set too many new habits.
Right now, you’re just trying to form the habit of regular planning. Don’t think that you can add exercise, cooking from scratch and cleaning the house top to bottom, to your planner and you’ll magically start doing all those things. For the first few weeks after you start using a planner regularly, you’ll become more aware of your daily routine, and you’ll see when you can start adding in new habits. For busy moms, we need to realize that we don’t need to do things at the same time every day or week, we just need the ability to see blocks of time amidst the chaos and fill them in appropriately rather than whittle them away and then wonder what happened to our week. (We also need to accept there are seasons when we won’t do much beyond survive and keep our children alive and that’s okay too.)
4. Once you have a planner, take it with you and when you’re at home, leave it where you will see it easily.
Whenever an idea or thought strikes, get in the habit of writing it down. You’ll eventually discover what is best kept in your planner and what you might want to track in other ways. In our house, we have a large calendar in the kitchen for everyone to see what is going on. I keep the weekly menu on the fridge along with a grocery list. Whenever we’re low on something, we write it on the list. I type up my lesson plans and keep them in a binder in the school room. My husband writes feast days on the kitchen calendar and I have most major feasts saved in my phone’s calendar, along with birthdays and anniversaries so I can get reminders a week prior.You might find your fitness goals are best saved in an app vs written in a planner. My point is, you’ll eventually find some things work in the planner and others don’t. That doesn’t mean scrap the planner, it just means you need to compliment the planner with something else.
5. After a month, reevaluate.
Did you stick with the planner or abandon it? Maybe you need to consider a planning app or online planner like Google calendar vs a paper planner. If you’ve still got the paper planner see what is working and what isn’t. Are you still tracking the weather, hydration and your kids activities? Maybe you find tracking spending is easier in your planner than on your bank’s website or the app you were using. After the novelty has worn off, you’re left with what’s actually important. You can see what type of planner to purchase rather than realize in hindsight that you bought a planner with a bunch of stuff you didn’t need. Now you can go shopping. Look for a layout that has what you need and not a lot of space devoted to stuff you don’t. If you got tired of entering in everything manually, it can be handy to find a planner that has dates, liturgical feasts and state holidays already included. You might learn that you can stay organized with a plain notebook or simple bullet journal, or you might finally realize that a custom designed planner with all the bells and whistles is worth the investment.
Once you’ve purchased a planner continue to reevaluate what’s working and where you may need to change. A few years back, I used a blank Wonder Woman notebook, sketching in by hand a layout that would eventually inspire ‘The Best Laid Plans’. However, while I used my large planner for almost a year, I decided to move to a smaller version which fit more easily in my bag. But now, I find the smaller layout can’t contain everything I need it to, so I’m switching to a larger binder and my new printable planner so I can have the space I need, plus the flexibility to add pages. You’ll learn what tweaks to make to stick with a planner the longer you use one.
6. Here’s some checklists to help you get started.
Print them out and stick them with your planner so you don’t need to reread this post every week.
7. The key thing is this: a planner won’t organize your life.
You organize your life with the help of a planner. It doesn’t matter how fancy the cover or how many tabs or how much useful information is crammed into the margins; those things can’t organize your life for you. You need to be able to stick with a planner Controlling the chaos that is motherhood requires a plan of attack. A planner is not your battle plan, it is the blank space where you write your battle plan.
Phew! That should probably be all I have to say on the matter, but I’ll happily answer questions in the combox. How do you stay organized? Do you use a paper planner or have you gone digital? Or can you keep your sanity with no method of planning whatsoever? Personally, I don’t believe such people exist.