Here it is...the cliche planner post. And here are my two cents about planners:
In my opinion, the key element of a good planner system is that you are able to use it with ease and simplicity. If your planner is too flashy, detailed, and time-consuming, it will become an additional source of stress, rather than a useful tool for keeping your life organized. Using a planner should help you feel less stressed, so if it becomes another item on your to-do list, it is not serving its purpose.
There are tons of other blogs out there dedicated solely to extolling the virtues of planners. In fact, many of those blogs have inspired the evolution of my planner over the years. I cannot say that my planning choices have always adhered to the "simple and easy" rule, but as life has gotten busier, I have learned the importance of efficient organization, rather than aesthetically pleasing organization.
I have diligently kept a planner since I was in middle school (although back then it was mostly school-related, as I had little to no personal life to speak of). Over the years, I have tried many different styles and methods of "plannering" based on the latest trends (bet you didn't know that planners go through fads!) and this post will detail the evolution of my planner, with some notes about what has and has not worked.
My first few years out of college, I made my own planners out of simple ruled notebooks. Wanting something that I could customize and personalize, I started with a Moleskine notebook and added calendars, dividers, trackers, and an index.
I used craft tape to break the pages into different sections by folding the tape over the edge of the page to create a divider.
I put all the monthly calendars in one section at the front of the notebook. I used Microsoft Word to create custom calendar pages, and I used a glue-tape roller to adhere the printed calendars to the notebook paper without any lumpy glue marks.
All the notes and details for each month came next. I didn't divide the monthly sections ahead of time, because I didn't know how many pages I would use for each month. Instead, when one month ended, I delineated the next section for the new month by putting a cover page (also made on Microsoft Word) and a tape divider.
Within each month's section, I had the freedom to jot down notes and lists without the confinement of a typical weekly or daily planner spread. I wrote only in blue ballpoint pen and highlighted events and to-do list items after they had been completed.
I kept lists and trackers in the back of the notebook (turning it upside down so I could start at the back and work my way forward). In addition to keeping lists of books I'd read (above) and movies I'd seen, I also kept a "Cleaning Log" and an "Exercise Log" (below). Again, each section was differentiated by colored craft tape.
This sort of open-format planner worked really well for me. I loved that I could customize the pages and sections, and that I could keep all of my information in one notebook. Although it took awhile to set up, it was also a fun project DIY project.
After 2 years, I switched to a new planner format based on the growing "Erin Condren" trend. The EC Life Planner became hugely popular on social media, with YouTubers and Instagrammers posting videos and pictures their planners, in which they used custom stickers, markers, and craft tape to create something like a planner-scrapbook hybrid. Some people get so into "decorating" their planners, that there is little room left for actual planning.
Here is a "before" picture of an EC Life planner (courtesy of Plaid Fuzz):
And here are some of the "after" spreads that I found on Instagram:
The organized Type-A planner in me looks at these posts and thinks, "That is not an efficient way to organize your life!"
But the crafty scrapbooker in me looks at these posts and thinks, "Oooh, pretty!"
So I hopped on the bandwagon.
I ordered my planner from an Etsy shop called Plum Paper because it had a simpler layout with more customization options.
I absolutely LOVED my new planner - even though it was a little big and couldn't easily fit into my purse. The paper quality was excellent, the colors were gorgeous, the laminated tabs were crisp, and best of all, my name was on the front! I spent a small fortune on craft tape, scrapbook stickers, and customized planner stickers from other Etsy shops. The last few weeks of my summer vacation were consumed with decorating and organizing my planner, and I was thrilled with the results.
I used this planner from August to December of 2015, but with a full-time job, a part-time job, and graduate school classes, I didn't have any time to keep up with the elaborate planner system that I had been so excited about a few months earlier.
Some people have a lot of success with this type of planner, and I am not disparaging their choice to use a scrapbook-style planner, but it is not ideal for someone with a busy lifestyle. In my opinion, the key element of a good planner system is that you are able to use it with ease and simplicity. If your planner is too flashy, detailed, and time-consuming, it will become an additional source of stress, rather than a useful tool for keeping your life organized.
Using a planner should help you feel less stressed, so if it becomes another item on your to-do list, it is not serving its purpose.
After abandoning my PlumPaper Planner mid-year, I arrived at a simpler (and much less expensive) alternative. I now use a simple daily planner (in a weekly format), and I have abandoned the craft tape and stickers--they were fun, but they weren't actually helping me stay organized.
In 2016 I used a Sugar Paper planner, and this year I am using a Bloom planner. A key feature of both is the monthly tabs that allow me to easily access different parts of the tabs. I also love that both of these brands includes monthly and weekly layouts.
Of course, I still love to color code my events - but now I use highlighters instead of colored pens. When I used colored pens in my planner, I would wait to add important information until I had the correct pen handy. This stressed me out because A) I couldn't add information immediately and B) I sometimes forgot what I wanted to write by the time I had access to my pens. Now, I write everything with the same simple ballpoint pen and, using highlighters, I can color code the information at a later time.
I still love my craft tape and stickers, and I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with wanting your planner to look pretty. But if you are truly struggling with time management and organization, use a planner as a tool for organization and use a scrapbook as an outlet for creative expression.
[Check out my Pinterest Planner Board for more great ideas!]