In Search of Planner Peace

My journey from digital to analog.

I admit it, I’m kind of a time management nerd. I am always looking for the next strategy, app, or secret trick that will help me tame the insanity that is my life. I know the key to a more peaceful existence is simple, say “yes” LESS often. I should only say “yes” to that which is crucial to my happiness or success. Riiiiight.

I’m raising kids and caring for aging parents (shout out to my fellow members of The Sandwich Generation). My husband owns his own business which translates into long hours and frequent travel. I have a part time job and a writing career. I’m also ambitious and driven. There are things I want to do dammit!

I’m not complaining, really, I’m not. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s just a fact, that my life is a scurry of squirrels that I attempt to herd on a regular basis and some days I am more successful than others.

"I do not have ducks, or rows, I have squirrels and they're at a rave."

©Lori Hetteen. Used with permission. Visit https://www.instagram.com/lorihetteen/ for more brilliance!

Every January I make a fresh attempt at getting organized and this year was no exception. I’ve read David Allen’s Getting Things Done and internalized the pieces of that work for me. The biggest lesson I took from GTD, is collection. The idea that to get things done, you need to collect those things in one central location, habitually. Google Calendar collects all of my appointments, GQueues collects my personal and writing to-dos and my job uses TeamWork.com to manage tasks.

What I needed was a way to synthesize all of that information into a cohesive plan of attack. I’ve tried any number of digital systems and wow are they neat, but somehow they just never stuck. Late last year, a writer friend talked about how she had gone back to analog time management. She was using paper and pen to get things done and it was working for her, she was getting stuff done. I wondered if this method could be the golden ticket I’d been looking for.

My friend also introduced me to one of the happiest and supportive places on Facebook. It’s a group for writers who use paper planners. There is endless discussion about different types of planners with the recognition that no one way is right. Different strokes for different folks. It’s fantastic because I can see what others are doing and adapt it to my needs.

In the last 9 months I’ve tried several different paper planners. I was sort of starting to feel like Goldilocks.

  • This one is too small.
  • This one leaves me no room for tasks.
  • This one leaves me no room for my calendar.

Add to that, I want the whole thing to look pretty. My planner never leaves my desk, so it’s not for anyone else but me, but somehow it makes me feel better organized when it looks nice. Someone in the Planner Facebook group pointed out that decorating our planners and making them look pretty is form of play and play is good for the adult brain! I’m good with that.

What do I REALLY need in a planner?

I learned one thing I DON’T need in a planner, mobility. My planner is for my eyes only, so it does not need to be mobile. Any thing I do on the go is considered collection, so that is handled digitally.

What I do need is SPACE. Lots and lots of SPACE.

My handwriting is large and as logistical coordinator for a family of four, there are many events to track. My perfect planner would be at least 8.5 x 11. Ideally, it would be 11×17, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Even though I have a digital calendar, every week I sit down and copy upcoming events to my planner by hand. It’s more than just repetition, this is mapping. I map out my week. I add all the appointments for me, my kids, my job and any extended family commitments. Then I incorporate travel time to and from events. Lastly, I plot dinner and exercise. This let’s me see exactly how much time I REALLY have to accomplish tasks. Which in turn makes me set realistic expectations for my to-do list. I’m currently using Erin Condren’s Oh What A Week Planner Pad to map out my week.

A snap of my week mapped out on an Erin Condren Planner Pad

A snap of my all my to-dos in modified bullet journal (BuJo) formatMy next step in the current iteration of my process is a bullet journal page of all my must-do tasks for the week from both of my task managers (GQueues and Teamwork) Added bonus repeating my to-do list? I get to cross tasks of TWO TIMES, once on paper and once digitally. Yes, I am a five year old at heart.

This is the system I’ve developed for now. I’m refining it and I suspect I always will be. In reality I know that pretty pixels and brightly colored, neatly lined pages won’t make my life any less complicated, but they will occasionally offer the illusion that I’ve got it all under control and most days that’s enough. I’ve found some semblance of planner peace.

Here are some of the planners I’ve tried and my thoughts. Please keep in mind your mileage may vary.

  • Erin Condren -Pretty, OH SO PRETTY, but not enough space for me and pricey (though there are sales if you watch).
  • Plum Planner – Pretty with a side of goal oriented thrown in. Just not enough space for all of my to do’s.
  • Tools for Wisdom – One of the largest planners I’ve found, but the calendar second is still squished. This is also more goal focused than I can handle right now. My life moves at a million miles an hour and while I would love to set goals and break the tasks out week by week, that’s just not how I roll.
  • Dream Big – Again too goal focused.
  • Passion planner – The calendar section was too small.
  • Bullet Journaling – I want it to look pretty and I’m not THAT artistically talented, so it became an exercise in frustration. I’ve modified bullet journaling to handle my to-dos and that is working for me right now.

Do you use a paper planner? What do you love about it?

Do you prefer a digital time management system? Why?


The opinions expresses are my own and my not represent those of my fellow NHWN bloggers. I was not given any compensation nor is the link an affiliate link.

Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She writes for the Concord Monitor and her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently typing her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction on a mechanical keyboard.

Taking Stock

I have a love/hate relationship with New Year’s and, especially, New Year’s Eve. The expectations involved with getting dressed up, going out, spending too much, drinking even more–those days are behind me. This year I am planning on spending it alone, surrounded by my different journals, prepping for 2015.

I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Life, and the holidays, have been a blur this year. Plus, I find as I get older, I miss the people who aren’t here any more with a more pronounced ache. I am still one of the luckiest people I know, with a wonderful life. But I need to be mindful of thinking about more actively. I blogged about “Finding Joy” on Wicked Cozy Authors, and that is one of my resolutions. The others are the reasons for the various journals. (BTW, Diane and Wendy had great posts on New Years resolutions.)

Notebooks for the new year!

Clockwise–Plot Perfect notebook for Book #2, new Bullet Journal, Clock Journal for book journey, Passion Planner filler

One is my stop gap until my Passion Planner arrives. Since I donated to her Kickstarter, I got a PFG of 2015. I ordered one anyway, but since it is on backorder, I can start sketching out the first six months of the year. I love the visual of the journal, so that I can literally see my day/week.

Second is my new Bullet Journal. AKA a moleskin with a plan. I started using the system this fall, and I love it. All of my notes and to dos go into it, I can keep them for reference, there is an indexing system, etc. The journal goes with my everywhere. I suspect I will add book notes to it for next year.

Third is a larger notebook I plan to use for plotting Book #2. Book #1 (Just Killing Time) was accepted, and is with the copy editor. In the meantime, I have been plotting out Book #2. I need to weave in the subplots, and add another story that will run through to Book #3. Paula Munier’s Plot Perfect: How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene By Scene was an early Christmas present to myself. I am finishing it tomorrow, and putting it into play over the weekend.

And lastly–I bought a journal so I can keep track of this year, my first as a published author. Notes for the future, moments I want to remember. It has clocks on it–my protagonist is a clock maker. I figured it was a sign.

That’s a lot, I know. BUT, per Wendy’s suggestion, it will help me with achievable goals. For writing, I have found that having scenes plotted, with goals for each scene, helps tremendously. Seeing what my week looks like, and scheduling in writing, and exercise, and sleep, is critical. Plus the visual is really helpful for keeping some balance, And the Bullet Journal really helps me keep my life in one place.

So those are my plans for tonight. Writing, color coding, plotting, planning. And getting ready for 2015.

Happy New Year dear readers! See you on the other side!