15 Ways to Use Your Planner Effectively

by | Mar 12, 2018

How to use your planner to increase your productivity and success

It is important to use your planner to its full potential. It should clearly tell you what you have going on, both at work and in your personal life. Here are 15 ways to improve how you use it.

Do you use your planner to keep track of your life? It makes sense. Meetings, appointments, kids activities, birthdays, anniversaries and everything else you’re supposed to remember needs someplace to live other than in your already overloaded brain.

If you have one, and you should, chances are you’re not unleashing the potential of that bad boy. Most people don’t. There is more to using your planner effectively than juggling your packed days and trying not to forget what you need to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s paper-based or electronic, most people don’t know how to use their planner beyond, well, planning.

Use your planner

Recently a client told me he took my advice and bought a planner. This year, instead of juggling Outlook, Google Calendar and the other places he tracked his schedule and to-dos including a scratch pad by his phone, he agreed to give a paper-based planner a go.

The problem was that he bought it but never opened it, ever. It was sitting in the box it was delivered in and slowly but surely getting covered with the clutter of daily life. Soon enough, it would be nothing more than a waste of money.

I’ve been there in the past and bet you have too. I had best intentions to use my planner daily, and I did... for like a week or two and then not so much. When I finally figured out how to use my planner effectively, not only was I more productive but also began to make steady progress on goals that were previously nothing more than hopes and wishes.

When you use your planner, remember to make time for networking too. 3Plus can help with our FREE Daily LinkedIn routine for today's super busy woman.

You don’t need to hire me as a coach to get my best tips on how to use your planner. Here they are; I promise you, they work if you put them to work.

How to Use Your Planner Effectively

1) Pick a Master

We have so many choices to track our schedules at work and home it’s easy not to have a master planner. A master planner is an at-a-glance source that shows you your entire schedule and more. When you’re at home you should have access to it, and at the office too. No more “let me get back to you. I need to check my other schedule.”

2) Use it

Seems silly but your planner is just a waste of space if you don’t use it, if not daily (which I recommend) then at least weekly. Your planner is more than your work calendar where people can request meetings and block up all your time. It’s YOUR TIME. Don’t be a victim of all of the time suckers out there – be proactive.

Your planner helps you get control of your time. Don’t be at the mercy of meetings.

3) Block Out Whitespace

You need time to think about what’s next, not only tackle everything on today’s to-do list. Block out regular time slots for your whitespace and use it not as catch up, but as learning, looking-forward time and looking inward time.

4) Have Sacred Time

Block out time that cannot be booked. (If you’re doing it in your paper planner, don’t forget to block your time in your online tool too.) Do not let yourself give away all of your time to back to back meetings. Sacred time could be you-time to relax and recharge or team-time to reconnect and engage with your team. Not everything that isn’t a specific meeting should be easily booked over.

5) Gratitude

I’m not a big journal person, but I do love to use my planner to jot down daily points of gratitude. It takes minimal time and changes your outlook on even the worst of days. Don’t just think about it. Write it down. There’s something about looking back on the good stuff that’s too easily forgotten when things get crazy.

Jot down three things you’re grateful for each day. It will change your life.

6) Habit building

When you use your planner effectively, you should be planning good habits, not only filling time slots. For example, gym time, reading, blog writing, grocery lists, etc. Look at your week in advance and create targets. Make commitments to yourself about what’s important to you and your well-being. Write it in your planner.

7) Create a Record of Success

This is one of my favorites things about using a planner effectively. Every time I go to the gym, I write “Gym!” and what I did for my workout. Yes, I have days planned, but there’s something motivating about seeing days string together to create real progress. Look back over your week and month to see how far you’ve come.

8) Revisit It

It’s easy to get busy, most of us wear busy like a badge of honor. But your planner is there to support your productivity, not to be another to-do on your already long task list. If you want your planner to increase your effectiveness, you have to commit to using it. Make changes instead of planning and then winging it.

9) Pencil in for a Month at a Time but Don’t Etch it in Stone

When you use your planner to look ahead, some of what’s on there are best guesses and good intentions. Not everything is set in stone. Use your planning time to get mentally prepared for what’s next, but remain open to flexing as the unexpected happens.

“Man plans and God laughs.” ~ Yiddish Proverb

10) Find the View that Works for You

There are tons of planners on the market that will give you all the views you could ever want or need. Month on two pages, daily pages, weekly – you name it. I’ve tried them all and a lot of the popular brands on the market. Eventually, I found the one that works for me. Personally, I love to use my monthly view in addition to week-at-a-glance because it’s where I can see progress most easily and not only appointments. Find what works for you.

11) Running Lists

Your planner should be something you bring to meetings, take home, and use beyond time tracking. I love a paper-based planner that has room to write on the sides, margins or at the bottom of the day to capture lists, ideas, and insights that would be otherwise lost. My favorite planners have notes pages and blank pages. Don’t be afraid to use it for more than you’d typically use Outlook.

12) If You Go Paper-Based, Make it Yours

You don’t need to go all out with the pretty stickers and fancy scrapbook-like designs that some people  do. Smiley faces, fancy or plain – make it a reflection of you. You’re capturing a lot of your life in there.

13) Color Coding Works

In my paper-based planner, I use different colors for different types of events so I can see it all at a glance. Online, in my Google Calendar, I do the same. (Yes, I use both, but my master is my paper-based planner.) I’ve encouraged my clients to use either different colored pens or stickers to easily and quickly categorize their plans and progress.

14) There’s Not One Right Way

You don’t have to have lists on the left, gratitude at the bottom and appointments in the middle. There’s no right layout or way to use your planner effectively that works for every individual. As you get going, you’ll figure out what works for you.

15) Save It

At the end of the year, some people never look back; they just toss their planner. For those people who are committed to using online tools for their planning, they keep on trucking forward too. There’s something special about looking back. Save your planners. It tells a story about you, your life, what you value and what you’ve accomplished.

What are your tips on how to use your planner effectively? What have you learned over time that you can share here?

Don't just reflect on your planners. Use our FREE Career Reflection Worksheets to create a clear career strategy.

Originally posted in Break the Frame 

Alli Polin Contributor
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Alli Polin, CPCC, ACC, is a former senior executive with deep experience in leadership, change management, and organization development. Now a writer, coach, and speaker, she is driven to help people create a full life and achieve professional success. She has an award-winning blog, Break the Frame, writing on the intersection of life and leadership.
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