Steps for Using a Paper Planner Effectively

Regardless of where you stand on your business, or how you are keeping organized right now, the truth is a productive day may look different for me than it does for you. Regardless, in light of that, here are some my personal tips for having a productive and inspiring day, as a busy mom of young children, balancing their care with working hard helping my clients sell more of their products and services online:

shot of day planner filled with activities on wooden desk next to coffee cup

Steps for Using a Paper Planner Effectively

overhead shot of person writing in paper planner on desk with flowers and coffee

Perhaps you’ve made a New Year’s resolution to become more organized. Paper planners are an old-fashioned yet effective way to stay on top of everything that has to be done by providing a powerful visual layout and space for jotting notes, to-do lists, and ideas. The only problem is that no planner will help you get organized unless you use it. Establishing that routine is important and well worth the effort. Here are some tips on how to get started with a planner.

How do beginners use planners?

  • Yearly : Set aside some time for a ‘Year at a Glance’ planning session. Cozy up with a nice cup of hot coffee (or a big glass of wine) and get cracking. Consider any major events, birthdays, anniversaries and add these to the monthly spread sections of your planner. You may choose to break this down even further on a month to month basis once you have a clearer scope of what’s coming up.
  • Weekly : Each week, carve out some time to think about the week ahead and keep the day consistent. First, refer back to your monthly page spread and add in any appointments or events for the week. Is there a birthday coming up at the end of the month? Schedule a time a few weeks prior to the day to buy a gift or mail a card. Think about any errands you need to run and add those in. If you can’t quite commit to a specific day that week, just jot it down under the ‘task list’ section or a blank side column so that you don’t forget to schedule it in when doing daily planning.
  • Daily : Whether this happens the night before or the morning of – it should really only take you about 10 to 15 minutes to plan out your day. Perhaps you need to schedule a last-minute yoga class or kids’ playdate for later in the day. Take a look at your ‘unscheduled’ tasks and decide if you can fit any of them in for the day ahead. Carryover any tasks from the previous day. If something pops up that is a ‘next week’ task – jot it into the next week’s task list section so that you can remember to schedule during your next weekly planning.
  • Try not to over-plan your time – no one needs to be checking their planner every 6 minutes to make sure they’re on track. Write down your highest priority tasks for each day – but don’t feel the need to assign them a time. Perhaps try blocking them out by morning, afternoon and evening.
  • Colour coding with pens or highlighters for different categories (Personal/ Work/ Family & Friends) is a great way to quickly get a visual for what your day or week consists of but keep it broad and stick to only a few categories for optimal productivity.
  • Work on keeping your handwriting small – it doesn’t have to be perfect, but you do want to make sure it’s legible and that you have room to add in tasks or events as they come up!
  • Use the blank ‘Notes’ section (if you have one) as a place to quickly jot things down when you’re in a hurry. Refer back to this section when doing your daily planning so you don’t miss anything! You can also use washi tape to help organize these sections.
  • Abbreviations or codes for repeated tasks (think meal planning, grocery shopping, laundry day) take up less room and less time. However, if the idea of your daily tasks cluttering up your planner seems redundant – then skip it!

Planner Tips on How to Start Planner Decorating?

  • Start your decorating before you write anything down. You can definitely continue with decorating after you start planning, but it is best to get the big decorations down first. If you have already started planning, it’s really ok. You can now just add in some decorations.
  • Use some Washi Tape. Washi tape is a simple design trick that helps give colour and texture to your planning pages. Washi tape is also inexpensive and easy to remove.
  • A happy planner makes for happy planning. Keep your colours bright and your theme uplifting. This will keep you planning year round, as you will look forward to working with your planner.
  • A new planner is best for decorations and setting up a theme.
  • Add quotes to fill up the whitespace. If your planner has a lot of empty space on the pages you can fill it with inspirational quotes and thoughts.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, think about how to take your planner to the next level to be even more effective. Are you a morning or a night person? Keep this in mind when scheduling tasks that may require more of your energy. Want to add in some pizazz? Decorating with stickers, doodles and washi tape can be a lot of fun – but remember not to get too carried away or this could hinder your momentum and you may abandon your planner altogether! Begin incorporating things like habit tracking, meal planning, grocery lists, cleaning routines and finances. Get creative and customize pages in your notes with lists or trackers. Incorporate yearly or quarterly goals into your planner. As you begin to use your planner more consistently, then you can start to break this down even further to monthly and then weekly. Remember, using a planner is personal, so do so in a way that works for you. And most of all – have fun with it – planners are a wonderful tool to keep you calm, cool and collected all through the year so go ahead and get started! Happy planning!


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