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.