It’s the time of year when we all convince ourselves that we need is a new planner because a planner will solve all problems. I’m sure if you’re reading this you’ve also realised that a new planner will not magically solve all the problems. The thing is, a planner can help you get yourself organised, and the start of a new year is just as good a time as any to do it. But the planner on its own isn’t going to magically figure everything out for you. You need to put some work in.
So today I want to share some tips on setting up a new planner. You have to remember a planner is just a tool. The important part is learning how best to use the planner to do the things you want to do. For the sake of this post, I’m also assuming that you’ve already chosen your shiny new planner. If you’re not at that stage yet this other post might help you out.
5 Tips For Setting Up Your New Planner
1. Figure out how you will use the planner.
Hopefully, you will have taken some time before buying a planner to consider how you will be using it. If there is some specific aspect of your life that you will use the planner to organise. This could be for personal, school or work. You might decide to use a single planner for multiple reasons or use multiple planners at the same time. It can be a good thing to consider this because it will change how you use the planner.
It can be a good idea to begin by assessing what is in the planner. I know this sounds obvious, but all planners are different. Some have a standard month and week design. But it is becoming more common for planners to have sections for goal planning. Along with places to keep track of lists and notes. It can be a good idea to decide if and how you’re going to use these sections if you have to. And remember, you don’t have to use something just because there is a page for it in your planner.
Once you have an idea of how you’re going to use the planner, you should use it. Again, obvious I know. Don’t go into it at this stage assuming the planner will solve all your problems in a single day. Using a planner is more like building a habit rather than something which automatically solves all your problems. Take time to learn how you want to use the planner. How you lay out your monthly and weekly spreads. If there are lists or other notes you want to keep track of.
At this stage, my advice for starting a new planner is very similar to starting a bullet journal. Begin with the basics, the most important bits you need to keep your life on track. As you start learning how you like to use your planner you can get fancy with it.
2. Create a planning routine
A planner doesn’t work if you look at it once and forget about it. It’s something you should go back to regularly. If you’re using a planner to stay organised you want it to become the thing which will tell you where and what you should be doing. If you do it right, you should be able to look at previous months and years and still understand what was going on.
If you’re not used to using a planner, you’ll need to build a habit of checking it regularly. Planners work great in combination with goal setting. This way you can take some time to set up your big long-term goals. Which then filter down into your smaller yearly, monthly and weekly goals. This way you can get into a habit of checking in with these goals. And how your small daily tasks feed into this larger plan.
I can’t tell you the best way to build a habit of checking your planner. This will depend on you and your routine. I can tell you how I use my planner (really a bullet journal but I’ll not go into that). At the start of the year, I spend some time figuring out my work and personal goals for the year. This is segmented into quarterly and monthly goals. From there I sit down first thing on a Monday morning to figure out what needs doing for the week. I migrate over any tasks from the previous week and add tasks from my larger monthly list.
You might be surprised to hear that I don’t spend too much time working on my planner. I sit down in the morning figure out my tasks for the day and get started. You want to get to the point where planning your day is a very quick process. Remember, using the planner is just a tool, it won’t do the work for you.
3. Colour coding
I am a visual person and I think colour coding is a great way to organise your planner. Colour coding is something which will help more as you use your planner more. But you can start by figuring out what you want to colour code. For example, you might have work or personal responsibilities which you want to be able to find quickly in your planner. I have a post on how I used colour coding to help me organise your university projects.
The fantastic thing about colour coding is that you can be as minimal or extravagant as you want. Depending on your preferences you could use one highlighter or have a range of stationery items in the same colours to help you highlight information. I think at this point I should highlight I’m not talking about decorating your planner. It is entirely possible to use highlighters, stickers or washi tape as functional elements in your planner. They don’t need to be pretty, so long as they help you stay organised.
4. Customise your planner
One of the things you have to remember about planners is that they give you a suggestion for how you might use them. It would be almost impossible to design a planner which everyone likes because everyone is different and has different needs from their planner.
So you should think of the planner as a basic structure which you can then customise based on your needs. If you feel like there is some aspect missing, or not quite right, feel free to customise and add features so it works better for you.
It’s hard to suggest what features you could add because it’s quite a personal thing. So there are some suggestions of ways that I have customised my planner so it fits my needs better.
First is a simple one, I love to decorate my cover. Usually, this is with stickers bought from redbubble. I have this thing where if I buy a new notebook or planner I feel like I will “ruin” it if I make a mistake inside. I’m sure many of you can relate to this. My fix to this issue is starting with “ruining” my notebook by adding stickers to the front. The logic being, this is no longer a new shiny perfect notebook and I can make all the mistakes I want in it. It works surprisingly well.
Another thing I like to add is a pen loop. This is particularly helpful if you travel with your planner and need to be able to write in it while on the go. I love buying the Leuchtturm pen loops as they stick in the back of your notebook and if you buy a Leuchtturm notebook or planner, you can find a pen loop to match the cover.
Another thing I will do is buy a cover for my notebook. Again, this will depend on the brand of planner you buy. But if you think you might be travelling with your planner, and there is the option of buying a plastic cover, it’s something I would highly recommend doing. The added advantage of this is that you can reuse the plastic cover if you tend to use the same planner/ notebook brand.
My final suggestion is to look into functional stickers and washi tape. If you have recurring events in your planner, or there is some missing aspect of your planner. Functional stickers can be a great workaround. Some of the stickers I’ve bought in the past include monthly and weekly headers. Along with number stickers and custom headings. This saved me from having to write out the same pieces of information over and over again. However, it’s up to you to decide if you want to be spending extra money on these items.
5. Learn as you go
My final tip for setting up a new planner is to understand that this is a learning process. You’re never going to set up your planner exactly how you want it in a few days. This is a learning process, so you will have to figure out what works best for you as you go.
There are some things you can do to help. Look at instagram and Pinterest for inspiration. Your planner doesn’t have to be pretty, you don’t need to post pictures online. But it can be helpful to see how other people organise their planners. You could do everything from minimal planning to using your planner as a form of memory keeping. What you do with your planner is up to you.
There is something so refreshing about getting a new start. And the start of a new year is the perfect time for this. But never feel like you need to wait for a specific time to start a new planner. Especially if you’re into undated planners.
I hope no matter when you read this (and are maybe setting up a new planner) that you get something out of it). Always remember that the planner is there to help you function better. Cute highlighters and stickers and tape are fun, but getting into the habit of using your planner is the important bit.