An elegant planner sits on a desk with a pen, a watch, and coffee

How To Use a Planner (Elegantly & Efficiently)

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Not Using a Planner? Not For Lack of Enthusiasm…

If you are anything like me, you have bought, forgotten about, and periodically used a number of different planners over the years. Whether paper or digital, all were acquired with the best of intentions. Alas, the habit of using a planner never stuck.

Rather than lament the sorrows of the past, join me and give the trusty planner one more try – this time, successfully.

A old drawing of elegant woman sitting at a desk and writing in a planner or diary

Planner Killer Number One: Only Fools Rush In.

Planners have the potential to transform your life.

No, this is not an overstatement. The ability to plan, prioritize, break-down, manage, and systematically work through tasks is a set of skills known as the executive functions. Their effective use is a hallmark of successful people across every field.

These behaviors are the highways and byways upon which your life depends. However, no two vehicles are the same, and you will need a strong set of wheels to get from place to place.

When you purchase a car, do you do so in five minutes flat? Certainly not. Such a momentous decision requires time, research, and care – much depends on your choice, after all.

Choosing a planner for yourself should be no different. Much does depend on your planner’s ability to meet your needs, desires, and personal parameters.

Therefore, your first step is not to “purchase a planner.”

This classic blunder is probably the number one reason so many planners expire in ignominy, alone and dust-covered on some forgotten shelf. It isn’t their fault – the cards were stacked against them from the moment they were chosen.

Their would-be partner failed to plan their planner, you see.

A vintage drawing of a man rushing along a country road with a large satchel on his back

Solution: Ask Before You Seek.

Many of life’s decisions can be solved by simply asking the right questions. Take the time to do so before you so much as search ‘planner’ online or take one step toward your nearest office supply store!

They should sound something like this: How many tasks do you (realistically) need to manage each day? How detailed do you need to be to effectively plan and complete these tasks? Do you tend to ‘add things on’ to your list as the day progresses?

Are you a fan of monthly, weekly, or daily layouts, or do you prefer a combination of all three? Do you find activities such as gratitude reflection and habit tracking useful? (I enjoy using a planner that offers multiple layouts and extra activities like the ones mentioned above: I am currently using this planner).

Ask, ask, and ask some more! From your answers, extrapolate a list of approximately five “must-haves” for your personal planner, five “deal-breakers,” and five “would-love-to-haves.” Write your price range at the bottom of this list.

VoilĂ ! You have defeated planner destroyer number une – lack of planner planning.

Image of The Thinker statue on a soft background, surrounded by an elegant border and rays of light

Planner Killer Number Two: The Bad Habit of No Habits.

Our lives are built upon habits. You wake up at a habitual hour, choose from the breakfast options you habitually buy, and drive to work via your habitual route. You work, play, love, and even think from within a vast, interconnected system of habits.

They are notoriously difficult to stop or to start.

There are many well-researched reasons for this fact, but the most obvious one is this: it is simply easier to keep doing (or not doing) the same things we always do. Change is much harder than inertia.

Well, let me rephrase it for you. It certainly is easier not to reach your full potential, but is that the sort of life you aspire to live? I hope not!

The Ten-Minute Ask.

All the average planner really asks of you is an honest ten minutes a day (this is a similar technique to the Pomodoro Method – use whatever time increment makes sense to you). A lot goes into those ten minutes, it’s true, but you almost certainly spend plenty of other 600-second increments on far less useful tasks.

In ten minutes, you may:

  • Choose your top 3 priorities for the day
  • Review your appointments
  • Make note of any important details you would like to recall later on
  • Mentally map out your day’s trajectory

…and much more!

Things may change, but at least you will have started from somewhere rather than a mere anywhere. Ten minutes is the commitment that turns your anywhere into that somewhere. It is an increment that can fit neatly into many parts of your day, whether it is AM or PM, on its own or in-between.

These ten minutes belong wherever they will be most useful to you. Commit to them!

A stylized image of a compass with light behind it, surrounded by an ornate border

Planner Preserver Number One: Seeing More Than Meets the Eye.

My planner’s name is Elizabeth. She does many things, and all for no pay. She is my executive assistant, my life coach, my manager, my health consultant, and more.

Our relationship has grown over time. As we got to know each other, I discovered her to be a book of many talents – we make a very dynamic team.

Am I headed toward full-blown delusions about an inanimate object? Hopefully not…but I digress. You, too, ought to bond with your planner. Build a relationship with it, and then nurture that relationship.

All You Can Plan and More.

Planners can note more than increments of time and scheduled Zoom meetings. They are information storage for just about everything.

A planner can be used for:

  • Meal Planning
  • Goal Setting
  • Day Reflecting
  • Note Taking
  • Wish Listing
  • Budget Tracking
  • Habit Building
  • Party Planning

…and infinitely more. You decide! (Using a habit tracker calendar in tandem with your planner may also be helpful).

But…you do need to decide. Again, I am talking about commitment. It isn’t enough merely to want to “get organized,” “develop better habits,” or “become more efficient.” The people who are able to break those desires down into actionable steps are those who succeed.

Antique drawing of a large pair of hands holding a pocket watch and two male figures who are looking at it

What is productivity to you? What about success, or fulfillment? What do they consist of on a day-to-day and year-to-year basis? Your planner can help you to define the answers to these questions, and those answers then have a much better chance of becoming your reality.

Remember: It is far better to overuse your planner than to underuse it.

Planner Preserver Number Two: Saving Headspace.

The way you conceptualize your planner is integral to your ability to use it sustainably and effectively. Physically, it is a labeled collection of pages in which you write things down. On a deeper level, however, it is a toolkit, a roadmap, and a guidebook all rolled into one.

A good planner is like the wheel of a great ship, as well as the first mate, the cook, and the anchor. As the captain of this vessel called life, you depend on many moving parts to complete your various journeys. Could you perform all of the duties of the crew on your own? Probably, but you would not be very successful as a whole.

You need to be able to delegate – you simply cannot juggle too many roles or pieces of information all at once without dropping a few. This is because multitasking, even mental multitasking, is not an efficient way to complete tasks.

An hourglass with beams of light emitted from its center, surrounded by an artistic border

The Concept of Conceptualizing.

True success does not begin with the setting of a goal, but rather with the commitment you make toward the habits, attitudes, and skills you need to accomplish a goal in the first place.

Your planner is the number one way you can streamline all of the processes that take you from a goal’s beginning to its finish and beyond. Think of it in whatever way drives that point home.

It is the referee of a soccer team, and you are the coach. It’s the VP of a company, and you are the CEO. Your planner is the blueprint for a construction project, and you are the architect. Most of all, your planner is your partner.

The metaphors you use are helpful ways to remind yourself of how important the use of a planner really is. This is how you will create systems out of chaos and build a more elegant life for yourself and the people who depend upon you.

One last piece of advice on this matter: it is important to get back up and try again if you fall off the wagon regarding planner use. Simply pick up wherever you left off! The power of persistence is often the one thing which separates victory from defeat.

By conceptualizing your planner and its concurrent systems, you are building a foundation for its long-term use.

A victorious greek figure seated on a throne with a staff in one hand and a lion to his right

In Conclusion – Let Your Planner Do The Work For You.

Using a planner is not something you do all at once. It is an evolving skill that will change and grow as you discover what works best for you, and there is no reason to stick with something inefficient purely for the sake of remaining consistent. Experiment!

Your planner takes away the burden of remembering everything, every day, all the time. This gives you more energy for the things that really matter to you as an individual.

Listing your needs, deciding on a planner, and implementing the daily strategies for its use are all steps on the same journey: balancing all of the things that are most important to you. And balance, my dear, is the key to elegance.

Until next time!

roses resting beside a notepad with a pen on the blank page, and a cup of coffee nearby
Photo by Lum3n on

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