5 Things You Must Consider in Choosing a Planner15 min read
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If you use a planner, or are considering doing so, I encourage you to take some time to really think about what you want out of this system. Put forth some thought in the beginning, and you will be much happier with the result, and much more likely to follow through with its use.
There are so many options when it comes to choosing a planning system. We’ll start at the top with the big picture of how you will set up this tool and then work our way down to some more of the detailed items.
1. Digital vs. Analog
I love my digital apps. There is something about an app that is made to do a specific thing or keep you organized in a given way. Trying to duplicate that on paper just isn’t the same. Paper lacks the ability to sort, tag, re-order, and cleanly cover up mistakes or changes.
I do, however, also love my paper planner, and don’t think I’d ever give it up for anything digital. Having a paper planner keeps all of your most important “things” front and center. Apps, on the other hand, can easily be ignored, or end up as more of a distraction because you have to open your phone or computer in order to access them. This leaves a world of other time-sucking things that you may stumble upon in the process.
In addition, when we write things down, vs. just typing them out, our brain is forced to process what we are writing. It has been studied and found that students who take notes on paper learn significantly more compared to those who type out their notes on a laptop.
The act of handwriting engages additional parts of our brain. I have found that this especially helps with follow through when it comes to writing out a set of tasks.
When to choose digital: If you are completely against the idea of anything paper, and have a good system in place where you regularly check your organizational apps without being distracted, digital may be the way to go.
When to choose paper: If you are computer illiterate, don’t use a smartphone, and/or have fairly simple tasks and schedules to manage, going with strictly paper may be an option.
Or choose both: If you want the best of both worlds: the ability to manage complex task lists or extensive schedules, along with the benefits of paper, use both! I use a collection of apps to manage my tasks, calendar, meal plan, projects, notes, and more. Once a day, I pull from these systems and bring them all together in my daily planner. This gives me a distraction-free, “in your face” solution that maps out my entire day, but I am not tied to the confines of paper only.
2. Physical Format
Let’s say that you have decided to use paper in some form for your planning. The next big question is what size will work best for you?
Are you at home most of the time where you don’t have to worry about transporting a large planner around with you everywhere you go? Or maybe you are out and about quite often and would like something more portable.
You will also want to consider how much data each page will hold, and recognize the trade-off that you will make in space when you go with a smaller planner. Do write small? Or do you like to have space to write things out and not feel cramped?
Some common sizes for planners are:
- Standard Letter – 8.5”x11”
- Happy Planner – 7.81”x9.75”
- A5 – 5.8”x8.3”
- Classic (half sheet of paper) – 5.5” x 8.5”
When to go with a larger planner: If you have lots of things to keep track of and use your planner mostly at home, go with the larger planner. This way you don’t have to sacrifice space and will have plenty of room to track everything you need.
When to go with a smaller planner: If you are out and about a lot and want to be able to fit your planner into a purse without having to lug around a large shoulder bag, this may be the way to go. As long as you are willing to trade surface space for portability, you’ll be happy with this choice.
Daily or Weekly
You will also want to consider whether you will need daily or weekly planning pages. Weekly planning pages most often fit an entire week on a two-page spread in either a horizontal or vertical format. Daily planning pages use an entire page or entire two-page spread for each day.
Think about what you want to manage on a daily basis. If there is a lot of information, you will want to go with daily planning pages. If you just want a place to jot down significant items, scheduled appointments, and such, then weekly planning pages might work for you.
When to choose a weekly planner: If you are trying to keep a thinner planner and don’t have many things to track on a daily basis, you may be able to get away with using a weekly planner. This is also a good choice if you want to keep an entire year worth of pages inside your planer without having to swap them out.
When to choose a daily planner: If you are tackling a number of different life categories in your planning, go with a daily planner. You will be happy that you have space and that you’re not trying to squeeze a dozen different things onto a small weekly spread.
I use my daily planning pages to manage my schedule, the habits I’m working on, my meal plan for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and anything else to be made in the kitchen, my daily recurring tasks, my additional tasks, and what is coming up the next day. I also track my health (water consumed, vitamins taken, and exercise completed), my prayer and gratitude notes, the weather, as well as my daily assessment. My planner also has a place for me to prioritize my top task for the day, write out scripture I’m memorizing, and include a short inspirational quote that relates to my day. As you might guess, there is no way this would fit within a weekly spread! I actually use a full two-page spread for each day in my planner.
What do you want to include in your planner? This will determine how thick your planner is going to be. There are a few tricks to keeping the girth down, one being to not include an entire year of planning pages. You may find that it makes sense to only include half a year, a quarter, or even just a month at a time.
Some other things you might want to include in your planner, in addition to your daily or weekly planning pages include:
- Quarterly/annual planning pages
- Additional sections for routine building and/or life plan takeaways
- Goal setting and/or project planning pages
- Sections for additional life categories
- Business planning pages
Here is an example of what I include in my own planner. As you can see, there is a lot of additional information, and for this reason, I only include one month of planning sheets at a time.
If you decide against a pre-made planner and want to go with something that you either create yourself or purchase as a digital download, you will have a few things to consider before you print your planner.
Color vs. Black and White
First, determine if you want your planner printed in color or black and white. Printing in color may cost a little more, but I personally believe it is more fun to look at from the get-go. I will usually stick to one color pen when filling out colored pages.
Black & white, on the other hand, gives you more of a blank slate if you like to be a little more creative with your daily writing. You can use various colors when completing the pages and add washi tape or other decoratives to spruce up your pages.
One-Sided or Two
In order to make the most use of your pages, you need to be able to print double-sided. Although you could go through and print all your odd pages, put them back into the printer and print the even pages on the back, I think it is more than worth investing in a printer that offers duplex printing.
Before the Officejet printers were so reasonably priced, I used to do the manual duplex method, and ended up wasting way too much paper and ink in the process! You can get an HP OfficeJet printer for just $120 (with free prime shipping). The price often drops down to $100 according to my Camel Camel Camel app. (If you don’t have this app and do any shopping on Amazon, you need it. It gives you a price history on any item sold by Amazon)
We also get most of our ink refilled at Costco, but with this printer (we have this one and an older version) being newer, they are not yet filling these specific cartridges. I can generally find all four ink cartridges on Amazon for around a hundred bucks. Between planners, workbooks, and kids school stuff, I print a LOT and generally only replace my cartridges every 2-3 months.
5. Binding Options
Lastly, you will need to pick a binding format. There are a number of different options, and probably even more than what I have listed here if you want to be creative.
A. Spiral bound – spiral binding works well because it holds all the pages together securely and creates a very solid book if you add in a thick cover and some dividers. I also love that you can fold the book over itself so that you are not taking up double the amount of space when using it.
The supplies are cheap if you already have a spiral binding machine. This is also something that you can get done at your local print shop for a couple bucks.
The biggest negative is the fact that it is a pain to switch out pages. If you want the flexibility to add and remove sections of your planner, consider another option.
B. 3 Ring Binder – these are great for swapping out pages or sections of your planner. They also hold everything together nicely and keep it all well protected.
Three-hole punches are fairly inexpensive, as are the binders, so the cost is low. There are a number of sizes available, so you can use them regardless of how thick or thin your planner is.
On the other hand, they take up the most space (both when opened and closed), and it can be difficult to write on the inside of the back page (for all us righties out there, that is).
I used to use 3 ring binders for everything. Since I added a spiral binding machine some four or five years ago, in addition to my disc punch, I rarely use them anymore. The benefits of the other two methods just far out-weigh those of a 3 ring binder.
D. Discbound – If you want to put together a planner that holds together well, has the ability to turn over on itself, and that you can swap out pages and sections, discbound is the way to go!
I am in LOVE with this option, as I find it delivers the best of both worlds of the spiral bound and 3 ring binders. I have tried out most of the discbound options out there and found the Levenger brand to be the best.
Since we are talking about printing your own planner here, the main trait I looked for was the ability to flip the pages. I found that most of the other brands would stick in the process of flipping, which I thought was quite annoying. So, if you are looking for the best discbound punch, get the Levenger brand.
E. Custom Printed Book – If you are looking for something that has a very “finished” look to it and don’t find any need to make changes or swap out pages, you may want to consider getting your planner printed in book format.
There are a number of companies online that will put these together for a very reasonable price (some between $10-20 depending on how many pages you include).
Other “Parts” to Consider
Think about what you want to use as a cover. Some options include:
- PVC Binding Covers – these come in a variety of thicknesses, but my favorite is the 10 Mil. When going this route, just print a cover page on plain paper and it will show through as the cover.
- Laminate a printed cover. You can purchase laminating pouches in a number of thicknesses as well, but if you are looking for something thick and durable, I recommend the 10 mil here as well. If you don’t have a laminator, I have had a Fellows Venus for almost five years now and it has never given me any issues. I batch my laminating, so although I generally only use it one to four times a month, I generally laminate a lot when I use it. When looking for a laminator, be sure to check how high of mil it is able to seal. If you are looking to create 10mil covers, check out the Fellows Jupiter.
- Another option if you are going with discbound would be to purchase the Levenger Circa Starter Kit. This includes the covers, tabs, discs, pages, and a movable page finder. The tab pages are plastic and a little too thick for my taste, but they are very sturdy if that is what you are looking for.
- Lastly, Levenger and a number of other companies make nice covers that snap right into the discs. I feel like my planner is thick enough as is, and don’t want to add additional girth to it in the cover, but I have considered trying something like the Levenger Circa Smooth Sliver. I also think something like the Levenger Cheyenne Circa Fold Hardcover is fun, but probably way too thick for my taste.
My favorite tabs are these 1/5-cut tabs by Smead. They are solid, but not too thick. They are already punched with three holes (like most tabs), but I have no issues running them through my spiral binding machine or my Levenger disc punch and using them in either of those formats.
I also use these 1/8 tabs by Avery. They are a bit more flimsy and I have found that the tabs tear easily if you don’t reinforce them in some way.
Another option is to use stick on tabs that you can simply add to paper or a piece of cardstock.
You might also want to consider adding some binder pockets to your planner. They make great dividers but also are nice to be able to add a few loose sheets of paper to.
For my discbound planner, I like the ones that don’t have tabs.
With any of the pocket dividers, you may want to cut them to size so that they fit better into a spiral or discbound planner. I picked up a paper cutter at Costco that seems to do the job, but it is a bit chintzy in my book. I’d love to upgrade one of these days to something like this sold wood version, or even better, something like this one with a 400-page capacity. (I take all of the kids’ school books and my teacher’s guides to the office supply store and have all the bindings cut off so that I can spiral bind them. This last cutter would be able to do most of the smaller books without a problem.)
Other Page Finders
Something else to consider is coming up with a quick way to access your most used sections of your planner. If you purchase the Levenger Circa Starter Kit you will receive one of their page finders with that.
You can also make one by laminating a page, cutting it down to size, and then punching it with a disc punch.
If you want to make one for a spiral bound book: cut to side, punch, and then cut slits to each hole punch. This allows you to snap it in and remove it as desired.
I also love to use Book Darts to mark my place in certain sections of my planner. These thin little pieces of metal hug securely to a couple of pages and are thin enough to not impede on writing.
Productive Mommies Planning Pages
I have tried and examined a countless number of planners over the years. There is actually quite a large collection of them that I keep in my office. I have never been able to find a pre-built planner, or even a downloadable version, that I feel covers all the areas of life that I have to manage sufficiently.
This is why some seven years ago, I started making my own. This planner has evolved quite drastically over the years, but the basis of it, the Daily Game Plan, has kept much of its structure over time.
If you find most other planners on the market to be lacking, check out my Monthly Planning Pages here: http://productivemommies.com/product/monthly-planner-full/
What planner do you use and what do you love about it?
Did you find this post helpful? You may also enjoy reading: Why You Need to Plan For Every Day and How To.