We’ve all been there. It’s the new year and we are determined to get organized. So we go out and buy an expensive planner, hoping the cost will motivate us to finally use that hunk of paper for some good. Sometimes we do really well and actually use it for a few months before we chuck it into a pile on our dining room table to be forgotten about.
As a grad student, employee, volunteer, and family member, monitoring and planning my schedule out is a must, yet I was never truly good at it. If you answer yes to any of the following questions I highly suggest taking a look through my tips and tricks to actually get organized, without any gimmicks.
- Do you tend to store your schedule in your brain?
- Do you often forget plans or to-do lists?
- If you’re a student do you often find assignment deadlines sneaking up on you?
- Do you really wish you were someone who used a planner?
Finding a planner that works for you
Mistake #1: Buying a planner that is set up how you wish you were organized rather than how you are organized.
For some people they need a planner that lets them look at the whole month, a week at a time, or a day at a time so they can be truly organized. To figure out what works best for you think about planners you have had in the past and what you liked and didn’t like about them. If you’d like, you can even print out a free planner template and try to organize a month of your time by month, week, and day, to see which flow works better.
For me, the Day Time Starter Organizer was where I finally got my life together.
This organizer is perfect for any style of organization since they have removable pages with different layouts.
This two page per day refill allows you space for appointments from 7:00am-10:00pm, to-do list, phone calls, expenses, and project/meeting notes.
This two page per month offers space for appointment reminders, bill due dates, or any other monthly tracking you may wish to do, but has space restrictions especially if you have a schedule like mine with multiple events per day.
Lastly, my Holy Grail of planners *insert angelic singing*. This two page per week style offers plenty of space for each day where you can record whatever you’d like (it doesn’t have predetermined sections like the two page per day) and each box is split in half. The left hand side is where you can write reminders or to do lists, and the right hand side is time stamped from 8:00am-5:00pm (or 8:00am-12:00pm for Saturday and Sunday). This allows you to see your entire week at once, and you can utilize the split boxes to track two different aspects of your life.
Regardless of which set you buy (and there are plenty more on amazon but these are the most popular setups!) they come with a divider for each month, as well as a book mark that says “Today” at the top. This divider has literally saved me with organization. No more having to move a sticky note from week to week, or un-clip a book mark like in other planners. Nope not with Day Timer! This page holder pulls off and clips back on to your three-rings without the need to open the binder!
Actually using your planner
Using your planner is more of a two-step process, especially if you are new to utilizing the full potential your planner has. The first part is to utilize the set up you have chosen to fill in the pertinent information you need to know. The second part is to get in the habit of checking your planner. Now this is where I usually fall off the wagon with planners. I’m type A. I like to be organized. I could write my schedule and appointments and birthday reminders out until the sun goes down but I was damned if I ever actually checked the thing before making plans. So please, learn from my mistake:
Mistake #2: Filling in small details first
Grab a scrap piece of paper and put the following in order of importance for you to have in your planner (you’ll see why in a minute, promise!)
- Birthday reminders
- Work Schedule
- Appointments (doctor, therapy, vet, etc.)
- Budget information (bill due dates/amounts)
- Work related meetings/appointments
- Shopping Lists
- Household tasks
- School Assignments
- Reminders/To-do list (could be daily, weekly, or monthly)
- Children’s activities
- Any other topics you may want/need included
The reason we rank these in order of importance is so we have a guide to filling in the planner. Shopping lists are great, but for me personally, if it comes down to me having the space on a page for a shopping list or a reminder to take my cat to the vet, I’m going with the latter. Since I know carrying around a 500 page planner isn’t what is going to help me be successful, I need to cut information from my planner, i.e. shopping lists, birthday reminders (let’s be honest Facebook took care of that for us years ago), or budget information.
Often times we put the smaller items into our planner first, so we can feel more accomplished by checking that off our list to fill in. While it is tempting to take the small items, you’ll end up being frustrated later when you come to a portion of your planner that needs a large amount of space for work reminders, schedules, final projects, etc. and it’s filled with reminders to take out the garbage, do the cat litter, or buy ice cream.
Now that you have ranked these in the order of most important to least important, it’s time to start filling in your planner. Start with the most important items that you need to know and fill them in. For myself, that is my work schedule, or times that I am “working” such as teaching classes or per diem work. I don’t fill this in for the entire year, because who knows where I will be by December, but I try to do two months at a time. Once you’ve filled in the most important item, move on to the next, and so on, until you find that the amount you have filled in on your planner is a good balance of enough information to keep you on track without overwhelming you.
Mistake #3: Not using your planner once it’s filled in
Here is the tricky part, because I can show you how to effectively fill in your planner, but I can’t remind you every day to check it. Here are some methods to help you get better at checking your planner so you can stay up-to-date:
- Leave the planner on the passenger seat of your car and check it every morning when you get in, and every night before you get out.
- Put your planner on your desk at work and check it when you get it and before you leave.
- Set a reminder on your phone to check your planner in the morning and in the evening.
Before you know it, checking your planner will become a habit, and your brain will feel so much more free without having to store all of those appointments and reminders!
You’ll notice I say to check it every morning and every night, and this serves a few purposes. By checking it in the morning you can see what that day has going on, and can also see what big items are coming up that week. By looking ahead at the big items, you can create mini to-do lists throughout your week to help break down those larger tasks. Checking your planner at night allows you to see if there were any things you didn’t get done that day and gives you time to relocate those tasks throughout your week.
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