Hopefully, I’ve been able to convince you about the importance of using a planner to help you with your executive functioning skills. Planning has a multitude of benefits. Today, I want to address some common planner mistakes. These aren’t necessarily huge mistakes, but they can decrease your motivation for using your planner, or they might make using it more difficult than it needs to be.
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Planner Mistake 1: Choosing the Wrong Planner
I’ve already kind of addressed this when I wrote about choosing the right planner for you. Unfortunately, it might take some experimentation to truly find the right fit, which can be disappointing and ruin your motivation.
Really spend some time thinking about the things you need to track in your planner and what kind of layout is appealing to you. Then give some a try.
Everyone has their own purposes for using a planner, so if you don’t think about it, and consider the size, style, and types of pages inside the planner, you might not want to use it much. I always suggest experimenting with printable planners because they tend to be a lot cheaper. You really need to start with a planner that you love and that works best for YOU.
Planner Mistake 2: Not Having a Specific Intent
It is also really important that you use your planner with intent. Don’t just use it because other people are, or because I told you to. Use some of the things I’ve talked about to help you determine what you need it for. You need to know what you hope to get out of using a planner. Be specific. Don’t think a planner is a magic tool that is somehow going to fix all your executive functioning problems. What specifically do you want to get out of this?
It might be organizing your daily life so you stop missing appointments. Or maybe you want to track your goals or habits that you’re working on. Maybe you need to track things in the lives of your family members. Narrow it down. You can always add things later, but if you start with too much, you’ll feel overwhelmed.
Planner Mistake 3: Setting and Forgetting
This is probably the most common mistake people make with planners. You’re all gung-ho to get started. You spend time finding the perfect planner and maybe even setting it up. But then it just sits on the corner of your desk collecting dust. Every now and then you remember it and fill in some stuff but don’t check it. This is where you are going wrong. You need to focus on daily tracking and daily use.
Make sure you keep your planner in a place where you will see it as a reminder.
This leads directly to the next mistake…
Planner Mistake 4: Not Having a Planner Routine
I don’t know how many times I talk about the importance of routines, habits, and schedules. It’s a lot, though. If you struggle with executive function skills, these aren’t suggestions. Routines are your path to success.
This goes for using your planner. If you don’t have a routine to fill it out and check it daily—maybe even multiple times a day—you won’t reap the benefits of having a planner. You won’t remember to use it if it’s not part of your routine.
As I said above, you need to keep your planner in plain sight. Your desk might not be the best place for it. The best place for you might be the kitchen counter or dining room table. These are places where you spend a lot of time. It’s a physical reminder to use it.
Fill out your planner at the same time each day or week and have set times during the day to check it for upcoming tasks or appointments.
What if your planner isn’t working for you?
If you have been using your planner regularly for a while, but you aren’t really seeing the benefits, then it’s time to reassess. Instead of forcing yourself to keep using it, think about your purpose for using the planner, and the details of the planner itself, to figure out exactly why it isn’t working.
This is why I’ve started suggesting printable planners as you figure this out. It hurts to spend $20 or $30 on a planner just to discover it’s not working for you. You feel like you’re throwing money away. And some of us simply can’t afford to do that.
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Find the Main Issues
Look for the why—Why isn’t it working for you? There are many possibilities, some of which I’ve discussed above (wrong planner or intent, lack of routine) Here are some other possibilities:
- It’s not portable—if you carry a small purse, but your planner is 8 ½” X 11” and is 2” thick, you’re not going to lug it around.
- It’s not right for your needs—For example, it has a weekly layout, but you need daily.
- It’s not your design—We’ve all had planner envy. I’m jealous of the people who decorate and use washi tape and different colors for everything. They’re beautiful, but I know that won’t do anything for me. I would feel frustrated copying someone else’s planner.
- It’s not customized for your use— You need to be able to track the things important to you. Make sure the pages do that.
Reassess and Re-Define
Now that you have a better idea of why it’s not working, remind yourself what you want it to do for you. Why are you using it? This goes back to having a specific intent. Maybe what you thought you needed was wrong and you need to shift your intent. That’s fine.
Re-visit your reasons and write down your purpose. Figure out what you hope to get out of it, and think about whether or not your original intent was not lining up with your reasons. You might find this to be your main problem in not being successful with your daily planner.
Now is the time to start fresh. Keep your old planner nearby for notes and to reference any information you have, but start with a new planner. Take your time in choosing the planner, thinking about the reasons you listed above for why you want to use it.
Shop around, look locally and online, see what others are doing with their planner, and consider the types of planner pages that will fit your own life and goals. Again, check out printables. They make it easy to mix and match. If you don’t see something in my shop that suits you, just go to Etsy and search for printable planners. There are thousands.
Minor Planner Issues
If you have a planner that you’re convinced is the right one for you, but it’s still not working, check out how to fix some of these minor issues. Sometimes, it’s small things that keep us from following through on doing what we know will work for us and benefit us.
Not Enough Space
The first common problem people have with their daily planner is running out of space. Maybe you need a to-do list with 10 spaces, but the daily page only has 5 lines. Or you need to write down more details or steps to help you reach a goal but the notes section isn’t big enough. Here are some easy ways to fix issues with running out of space:
Use sticky notes. Use a sticky note to record the additional tasks, and then put that on the calendar pages. Sticky notes are also an excellent way to organize your thoughts and plans before committing them to the planner. You can easily move things around and then write them on the schedule.
Use the blank notes pages. Whether the planner has blank pages, or you add them in yourself, notes pages are so helpful! They can be used for anything. You can use them to create a master to-do list that you take items from and plug into your daily or weekly schedule. If you have ADHD, blank pages are wonderful for doing a brain dump and getting rid of all the rando thoughts that are preventing you from focusing.
Change how you use certain sections. Feel free to use the pages in a way that works for you. Just because there is a section labeled “Goals” doesn’t mean that you can’t use that for notes or a to-do list. If there’s a spot for a daily quote or affirmation and you don’t use it, repurpose that space.
You’re Still Missing Appointments
If you find that even though you’re writing things down in your planner but you’re still missing appointments or running late for things, it’s probably an issue with your routine.
Check your planner every day. Even if you know you don’t have anything special o your schedule for today, you still need to check it. Not checking is how things get forgotten. But checking every day builds that routine into habit until you no longer have to think about it. If you’re always checking, important things won’t be missed.
Furthermore, checking on days when you don’t have something special gets you in the mindset to look at and plan for the future. It’s a visual, daily reminder of what you have coming up.
Take a picture of your planner day. If you don’t bring your planner with you, take a picture of the important calendar pages or your task list for the day, so you have a quick reference on your phone. If you do this, I suggest setting an alarm or reminder to check it. If you know looking at a picture won’t work, you can make a small to-do list on an index card and stick it in the pocket attached to your phone (if you have one) or clip it on the console of your car so you can see it.
Record appointments twice. A common mistake is only writing appointments on the monthly calendar page. This is a great at-a-glance reference, but if you spend most of your time looking at daily or weekly pages, you’ll miss appointments. Write the appointment on the monthly calendar, but then immediately transfer it to the daily or weekly.
The monthly calendar will help you avoid conflicts in your schedule. Having it on the daily or weekly spread is your reminder for the day/week.
Lack of Motivation
Motivation is tough, especially when you’re starting a new routine. You might understand all the benefits of using a planner and you might even really like your planner. But you just can’t make yourself do it.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a magic motivation pill. (Man, I wish I did. I’d be fucking rich.) But you need to work toward motivation. It’s almost like fake it till you make it. Force yourself (or trick yourself) to use the planner until you start feeling those benefits. Then the motivation will kick in and you’ll want to do it. Success will lead to more motivation and more success.
1. Turn it into a daily routine. Create a new morning or nighttime routine that includes using your planner. I suggest both a morning and night routine. This will soon become a habit, where you don’t even have to think about it.
2. Set a timer on your phone. This is an awesome trick that can work for almost any task you’re unmotivated about doing. Set a timer on your phone for 5 minutes. You can convince yourself to do anything for 5 minutes. If you don’t get the whole planner organized for the day/week, wait an hour or two and then set the timer again. Realistically, it shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes to plan your day.
3. Make it fun and colorful. If you get bored easily with your planner, try making it more enjoyable with the process itself. Use color coding, add stickers and Washi tape, and find more to fill in that will keep you using it every day. We tend to like pretty things that are personal to us. While I’m not a colorful marker-washi tape-sticker person, I do have monthly dividers and a cover for my planner that I love. They suit my personality and make me smile when I see them. It makes opening my planner more enjoyable.
Let me know if I haven't covered your planner problem here and I'll see what I can do to help.