How to Make Your Planner Work For You

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Planning is a great way to organize your life and stay productive. There is also no shortage of planning systems. But which one should you choose? There are ring planners, disc planners, travelers notebooks, bullet journals and so many more. You might end up trying out a few different systems before finding the one that truly suits your needs. Let’s say you’ve chosen your planner -how do you get it to work for you?

The key to planning is to be productive. The best way to be productive and get sh$t done, is to make your planner work for you. Find the system that works efficiently and effectively, then tweak it even further to fit your needs. That said, my suggestion is to find the planner system that you can customize and is functional.

The following 6 tips apply to any planner system and are offered as a guide for both beginners and experienced planners alike. If you are new to planning these tips are a great starting point in the planning 101 learning curve. This is a great post to kick of 2022 because having a good planning system in place helps to keep you focused and on track.

01. Create Your System

Some people can work out of more than one planner and others can only focus on one. Everyone’s brain works differently. That’s the beauty of planners though, they are so versatile and customizable that there is most definitely the perfect planner system out there for you.

Personally, I feel the monthly calendar gets a bad rap sometimes. The easiest way to stay on track is to use your monthly view. I wrote an in-depth post about how to plan effectively don’t overlook your monthly view and in the post I gave 25 ways to use your monthly view. The monthly calendar pages aren’t just for appointments and birthdays anymore.

Shown above is my August 2021 monthly spread. I do use my classic Happy Planner for my business and all the highlighted boxes used to be post-it notes. Once a post goes live I write it onto the appropriate day (in pen!). I’ve stuck with this system and now my monthly pages are chock full of rich information that helps guide me to be more productive in my day.

Over the years two new planner setups have emerged within the disc-bound Happy Planner community. Let’s take a quick look at “frankenplanners” and “transformer” planners.

What is a frankenplanner?

A frankenplaner is compiled by mixing and matching different planner pages, accessories, and planner printables to create a planning system that suits your needs.

What is a transformer planner?

A transformer planner is compiled by combining multiple Happy Planners onto one set of planner discs. Using this method you can still use one planner at a time but each may have a different layout.

Both of these terms have become interchangeable with one another. But, the key difference between a frankenplanner and a transformer planner is the latter uses the covers, of the extra planners, as dividers. In a frankenplanner you would typically use dashboards or dividers to separate your sections.

Happy Planner Plans + Notes Monthly Planner

The latest format to come to the Happy Planner line is the Plans + Notes monthly planner. It’s designed for the planner who loves to write notes and make to-do lists. It has both a poly cover and divider tabs. It comes in a neutral theme with yearly overview pages, 12-undated monthly calendars and 68 lined sheets of notepaper.

This format is really customizable to your needs because it is super neutral and comes with tabs you can label yourself. Many of the Happy Notes function the same way except you have to purchase the planner guts to put into your setup if you use the notebooks.

Determine What Planner System Works For You

The first task in setting up a planner system that works for you is to determine what you might want in your planner. Then take a look at the different planner system options out there and ask yourself these questions:

  • What page layout do I feel would work for me? Depending on the system, there are vertical, horizontal, dashboard, monthly, blank, etc.
  • Do I need weeklies? Or can I get by with just monthly? Maybe your schedule isn’t so busy you feel you need a week spread, but you still want to stay productive and keep track of monthly items.
  • What extras come with the system? Some systems will offer extra paper, stickers, dashboards, plastic envelopes, folders and more.
  • Am I going to want to carry my planner around? I admit my classic Happy Planner isn’t the best purse planner. That is why I use a travelers notebook as well. It’s the perfect size for my purse and carrying around the house.
  • Do I want a pre-made planner? Such as with a Happy Planner and/or Filofax. Or do I want to create my pages? This might lead you to a bullet journal style planner.
  • Do I need more than one planner? Maybe you want one for work and one for personal; or one for each of the clients you serve.

02. Make Planning a Habit

Let’s talk about routines. You probably already have a routine to your day; get up, shower, eat breakfast, get ready for work, go to work, etc., etc.,. By having routines we make our days less stressful and more productive because we have a direction to go and we know how we’ll get there.

So how do you set up a routine for planning? Start by choosing a time of day or night when you are able to review and plan your days. Typically I will review my day in the evening and I’ll plan my next day. Then come morning, I sit down with my planner and get all that information down on paper by doing a brain dump (see tip #3 below). Using information from my brain dump I can then plan out my day or week.

Habit: something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

When you create a routine, you create a habit. That habit is what leads to consistency in planning. This small step, change or addition to your planning process will boost your productivity levels.

03. Do a Brain Dump

A brain dump is sometimes referred to as a master list. Just like planner systems, there are just as many ways to creating a brain dump. The most simple is a running bullet list. A brain dump doesn’t necessarily consist of to-do’s. It encompasses anything on your mind -just write it down. The goal is to get whatever is in your head onto paper.

From there you would break down this list to what you can do that month, which become your monthly goals. Then you take your monthly goals and break them down further to weeks and days. You can organize your tasks by category, project or estimated time to complete the task. If you happen to have free time in your day, go back to your master list and see what else you can do in that time frame. The master list/brain dump is a list you will reference often if not daily.

I’ve tried brain dumping by separating tasks into categories on separate sheets of paper with tabs for easy reference (shown above). This system proved to me more complicated than I wanted to deal with. My next attempt was using a 1/2 sheet of paper in my planner -that worked until I also complicated it by creating different 1/2 sheets for different categories.

This year I moved over to a monthly Happy Planner and with this layout comes a few pages of just bullet lists (each month). Instead of having a “master” brain dump, I’m trying out using these running bullet list pages as my “working” brain dump. I’ll let you know if those work out for me.

04. Use Color Coding

As a self-professed pen addict I will use any excuse to buy more pens, markers, highlighters and the like. But in all seriousness utilizing a color coding system in your planner will help productivity. You already got a glimpse into one of my color coding systems under tip #1 above.

When I first introduced a color coding system, I was kind of testing the idea out. As you know my main planner is my business planner, so I decided to create a color coding system for each post category on Behind the Designs blog. To make it easy I just put the colors with corresponding category directly into the sidebar of my monthly spread. That way, when I needed it, I could easily turn to the month and it was right there. The only downfall was I had to re-write it every month.

Using a color coding system really work for me in so many ways. So I decided to create a table of contents to my planner system for Behind the Designs blog. I created the document in Word (saved it for future changes), printed it out and used my Mildliner highlighters to color code each post category.

With the color coding system, when I look at my month overview I can easily see what category I’ve posted in most and what I posted. I was also able to see other metrics information throughout my planner simply by using this color coding system.

05. Create Lists

You’re either a list maker or you’re not. Either way, there is no shame to how you plan your day. It’s your planner system and as my father-in-law says, “you do you“. Stick to what you know works for you. As for me and my planner, I am 100% a list maker! I love lists. Give me all the list tools.

One method for list making is using a half-sheet insert. There are no shortage of options from the Happy Planner to do this. For the list shown above I chose a dot grid paper and used some stickers to pretty it up. It worked for me but I found I start having too many of these inserted in my planner system.

Now, I like to use the 1/2 sheet filler paper for special projects or blog series’. It helps me to keep my ideas in one place and accessible each month.

Just this month I started testing out a new to-do list method. I’m using the monthly dashboard, or what used to be called the “currently” page, in my Happy Planner as an area to keep track of my monthly to-do’s. Keep in mind the monthly to-do list is not the same as the brain dump. It is actually the brain dump master list that drives what gets put on each months’ dashboard to-do’s.

This is what I was doing right before I started using a monthly layout (which has those running bullet list pages). So this dashboard may morph in the next few months to something completely different; and that’s okay because it’s my planner and I can do that. {wink}

06. Resist F.O.M.O.

When you first start out and even sometimes years into your planning journey, you will inevitably experience F.O.M.O. (fear of missing out). But you must try to resist because any planner system can be made to work for you. It may take some additional printables or modifying how a planner page is set up, but it is possible.

Here is what F.O.M.O. looks like:

This is my planner stash….and this is only the disc-bound systems! It’s sad. Really it is. It’s also embarrassing because (1) this is clutter and (2) all that clutter used to be my hard earned money. But it was important to share this with you because this is the ugly side of F.O.M.O.

Another truth is most of the times that I had purchased multiple planners in one year, I usually only used one or two at most. So I’ve got a long road ahead of me in clearing this clutter out. But as you know January is the perfect time to declutter and organize your home and I’ve already begun that process last year and will continue until I’m satisfied.

This month is typically when we will start new planners or update our current planner system. It’s also a time when we feel like shaking off the dust of the holidays and look forward to a brand New Year of possibilities. This leads us to make new resolutions and brings forth the desire to declutter our lives. So let’s start this year right!

This post will be one of a series of planner posts encouraging you to clean up your planner game and be even more productive in all areas of your life. So I hope you will join me in this quest to Create a Beautiful Life -together!

Some of My Favorite Happy Planner Tools:

If you are inspired to setup your planner or revamp your current planner to work best for you don’t forget to share by tagging me on Instagram and using #btdinspired, I’d love to see your work (and I just might repost your photo)!

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