image of a planner - how to choose the planner for you

How to Choose a Planner

In the world of planners, there is an endless amount of information and tips. Figuring out how to choose a planner that you'll stick with can be daunting. There are options for style and use. Some people get overwhelmed by trying to find one planner to do everything. In those cases, it might make more sense to have more than one planner. If you’re a little stuck with how to begin, take a look at these different types of planners.

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Before we get started with different types of paper planners, I want to mention that there are a lot of people who prefer to use a digital planner. I understand the appeal, but since I prefer to physically write things, I can't offer suggestions about digital planners. Here's an article that discusses different types of digital planners.

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Types of Planners

1. Personal/Daily

The first type is the main type of planner, which is one that is for all daily planning, with emphasis on personal. I think this is the one that is a must-have for people who struggle with executive functioning. You need a central location to record appointments and deadlines. Many people use their daily planner for everything, including work and other areas of their life, which is definitely encouraged! This keeps you from having too many planners all over the place, causing too much chaos. 

However, as noted above, sometimes you want (or need) to keep track of things beyond due dates. In those cases, you might want to have an additional section to your planner by adding pages or having a separate planner altogether.

2. Home and Family

If you prefer using different planners, you might want a separate one just for home and family planning. This is good for keeping track of doctor and dentist appointments, scheduling important dates for the kids, planning date nights with your spouse, and even doing some meal planning. With a busy home life, you can definitely fill up an entire planner just for this purpose. 

One advantage to having a family planner in addition to your personal planner is that you can give everyone in the family access so they can all become better at tracking their things. If you have a child who routinely forgets to put things in their planner, they can make part of their daily routine to cross-check their planner with the family planner.

3. Finance and Budget

For people who are working on saving money for something big, trying to save for retirement, or just want better control of their finances, this is a great planner to have. Here are some things you might want to track in a finance and budget planner:

  • Money coming in and going out
  • Bills and debt
  • Regular expenses
  • Savings for specific goals
  • General savings
  • Building your investment portfolio
  • Setting a budget

Since budgeting isn’t something that you necessarily have to look at every day, this is one of those things that might make more sense to have as a separate planner. Mark a weekly or bi-weekly time in your daily planner to sit down with your finances and build the routine that way.

4. Bullet Journal 

If you like using a bullet journal, you can definitely use it as your planner as well. Many people do use it for both since you have plenty of calendar and schedule places included. With a bullet journal, you are in full control of each page, whether you set it up yourself with pen and ruler, or you get printable pages to add to a binder that is being used as your bullet journal.

Many artistic people love a bullet journal. They use markers and colored pencils and tape and stickers and it is gorgeous when they’re done creating it. For some of us though (cough*me*cough), it’s too much work. If I tried to copy some of the bullet journal ideas out there, I would give up inside a week.

It works for people who use that creativity to help organize their thoughts as they plan. So, I’m not at all trying to dissuade you from using a bullet journal. I just want you to be aware that it does take more time because you have to set everything up every day/week/month.

You might want to choose a planner like this if you're creative: Colorful Bullet journal

5. Work Projects

If you're a project manager or run your own business, you might be in need of a planner just for work and various projects you're running. This keeps everything organized and in one place so that you don’t have computer files, notebooks, and journals that are filled with random notes.

Having a separate planner for work might make the most sense if you’re a side hustler like I am. My kids often joke about me having 9 different jobs. While I do have a number of part-time, flexible-hour jobs, it’s never been 9. However, keeping track of what I need to accomplish for each job is something I need to do. I do time blocks in my daily planner and it works for me, but again, some people get overwhelmed by having too much information in one place.

6. Health, Diet, and Fitness

There is also the health planner that you can use just for things like diet, tracking weight loss or inches, fitness routines, and just general health and wellness information. This one is almost more like a journal than a planner, but if you’re trying to track your health and wellness, writing it down is the best way to go. In addition, you would then have a written record to show your doctor if necessary.

Choosing a Physical Planner: Spiral VS Book Binding

While there are some great printables that let you create your own binder planner, you might be looking for one that is ready for you to use. This comes with even more options, from the size of the planner to the types of pages. Something people don’t consider is the type of binding with physical planners – this makes a big difference in how it works and how convenient the planner will be.

Does the planner lie flat?

The first thing to consider when it comes to the binding of your planner is whether or not it can lay down flat on a surface, making it easier for you to write on the pages. Planners used to come with bookbinding, which looked similar to a journal. While these are really pretty and look great on your desk or bookshelf, they aren’t very practical.

Since it doesn’t lay flat when open, it’s hard to write in it, especially near the binding. It gets frustrating very quickly. Unless you’re a spine cracker and that works for you. Or if you like the glued pages like a book and use a bookmark or ribbon to mark your place. Then, keep on.

Are the Spiral Rings Getting in the Way?

The spiral rings are definitely the most popular type of planner. But there is one issue with them – larger binder rings getting in the way of writing. Another issue is that sometimes the spiral unwinds and gets pokey (Yeah, I made up the word – but you know what I mean). Spiral coil issues might not bother some people, but for others who might have sensory issues or OCD, a sloppy spiral would be irritating. 

You will find different physical planners with different types of spiral rings. Some are small, some are large, and some are even like a binder that opens up to help you insert more pages. 

Larger planners, such as The Happy Planner, have large spiral rings because it needs to hold more pages. While this makes sense, you might find that your hand keeps hitting the rings when you get to the edge of the page. 

However, the Happy Planner also uses disks and not a metal or plastic coil. The pages are punched with a special punch and slip onto the disks. You can buy replacement disks on Etsy or at craft stores. This is the system I currently use – I print my own planner pages but use the Happy Planner paper punch and disks to assemble it. The nice thing about using a system like this – even if you’re using the pre-packaged planner pages—is that you can rearrange the pages or add to them. It gives you a lot of flexibility.

How Big is the Planner?

You also want to consider the overall size of the planner as it compares to the side of the binding or rings when deciding which one is best for you. The bigger planners with big spiral rings aren’t as big of an issue when you have a bigger planner. The pages are big, so your hand doesn’t really need to be right on the spiral rings when writing on the page. 

If you have used a small planner with large rings, you know exactly how annoying this can be. If you are going for a planner with large rings, choosing a larger planner is probably going to be more comfortable for you.

Although I love my personalized Happy Planner-inspired creation, I will admit that it took a couple of tries to know what size disks I needed for the planner I use. I bought the large disks thinking I would need them, but they ended up making my planner too floppy, so I downsized to the medium disks. I didn’t do enough research on the disks before buying, but it all turned out okay because now I use them to make different planners/journals in addition to my main planner. Plus, two of my kids loved how I created my own and they wanted to as well.

I would suggest looking for bigger packages of disks because they’re cheaper than buying one small set.

Do You Want to Add More Pages?

Lastly, think about the customizable options of the type of planner you are choosing. As mentioned above, you can pretty easily add pages to something that is styled like a Happy Planner (and no, you don’t have to get the brand name. Feel free to look for a cheaper copycat). Planners that are bound like books obviously don’t come with the ability to open it up and add more pages. But you can look for one that is like a standard binder with rings that open so you can customize the entire planner.

Hacks and Tricks for Your Daily Planner Setup

Now that you have chosen your basic planner that you believe will work best for you, it’s time to make it work. Whether you are new to using a planner or just need some help with improving the planning experience, it all starts with the planner setup. You not only set it up when you first receive it, but each month and possibly each week, you are adding new information. 

Here are some helpful tips and hacks to get the most out of your planner.

Simplify the Process

It can be a little overwhelming when you first start setting up your planner, but it doesn’t have to be! Don’t let all the blank space freak you out. Simplify it by taking it one step at a time. 

Start with the basic first step, which is to fill in your monthly calendar pages with birthdays and anniversaries. This is easy to do and will get you set up for the next year.

You can then start with the current month, and add in any events or appointments you know for sure you have coming up. It always helps to work with the monthly calendar first, then move to the weekly pages, and only use the daily pages on each day when you get to them. You don’t need to sit down and address all the pages at once. Look at the long-term, big-picture stuff and then narrow your focus step-by-step. Each step will become part of your planner routine.

When do you look at and use your planner? Do you fill it out daily? Or do you fill everything you can for a full week and then just add new things that pop up? How many times a day do you review your planner so you know what you have coming up? All of these things will help you figure out when to attack each section.

Use Mini Sticky Notes When Planning Out Your Month

Before you start writing in pen, make sure you have your month and tasks planned out. Think about your appointments, deadlines for certain tasks, to-do lists, assignments, and anything else coming up. If having things crossed out on your planner will bother you, I suggest using a pencil until you know that what you have planned is really set. Sure, sometimes things will still change, but there’s nothing you can do about that. I use pen in my planner all the time and cross out things as they change. Messy doesn’t bother me in the least bit. As long as I can read it, I’m good.

Use a separate piece of paper or notepad to write down what you have planned for the week or month coming up, figure out what tasks to do on each day, and schedule in any deadlines you have. 

One method is to use sticky notes. Once you have figured it out, you can then use mini sticky notes on what you think you will get done each day. Only write on the actual planner itself in pen when you are sure that’s what you will be doing on those days.

Sticky notes aren’t for everyone. It’s an extra step and sometimes they get moved and lost. I use sticky notes to leave myself a reminder about something. But as I said, I don’t mind my planner being a little messy. 

Make Use of the Blank Sections and Notes Pages

Most planners will have some areas with blank sections for notes, to-do lists, and anything else you want to write down. These are great when you have extra goals to write about, want to do a mini journal entry, or you just have a long list of tasks that won’t fit on the regular daily or weekly planner pages.

For many people with ADHD, blank pages are a godsend. Use them for a brain dump. The ideas in your head are all over the place. It’s what makes it hard to focus. Give yourself a few minutes every morning (or night if that’s when you work on your planner) and write all the thoughts you have bouncing around. Once you have them written, you can organize them and put them in the proper places.

Blank pages can also be used for doodling. Some people need to do something else while they are processing information. Doodling works for a lot of people. If you don’t want random doodles all over your planner, utilize the blank pages (and add more as needed).

Have a Morning and Nighttime Planner Routine

Instead of just using the planner once every day, aim for twice a day. This is going to help you not only set up what you will do in the morning but cross items off your list and see what progress you made in the evening. Some items, like writing a task or to-do list and a daily affirmation, are good to fill out in the morning. In the evening, you will write down your progress, cross items off your list, and figure out what you have planned for the next day.

Maybe you’re a night person. In that case, you might want to use evenings to plan the following day and use your mornings to reflect on the day before. Again, this is about doing what works for you.

The important thing is that you do make set times for working in your planner. If you just write things down and don't review and reflect, you’ll continue to miss appointments and deadlines.

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