How many times have you picked up a new notebook, day planner, or app with the intention of getting things better organized? You get it all set up, only to stick with it for a couple of weeks and forget about it.

It’s kind of like the first day of school. We tell ourselves, this year I’m going to be on top of my assignments, and take tidy notes so I’m not scrambling mid-semester. However, that plan goes out the window a month in and mid-semester we’re swimming!

If you’ve done this, you’re not alone. I was the queen of this in my late teens and early twenties. I’d get excited about a new planner, use it for a while, get “too” busy, and forget about it for a few weeks at a time. During that time I was basically flying by the seat of my pants. Mistakes were made. Tasks snuck up on me last minute. While I still performed well at work, and on college assignments, inside it felt like chaos.

I simply didn’t the time to plan my days properly and I was paying for it in stress.

Things got better when I started creating my own journals. I found the custom layouts more intrinsic and less limiting.

I also changed the way I planned my day. Certainly, I’m still not perfect, nor do I strive to be, but I think this method is what has kept me planning consistently for the past few years and I hope it will help you too.

1. First things first

This method means nothing if you don’t dedicate a little bit of time each morning or evening to planning. I’m not talking a half hour. I’m talking ten to fifteen minutes tops. Take a look at your journal in the evening, reflect on your day, and plan the next. Alternatively, do it in the (early) morning, reflecting on yesterday.

2. Create lists to pull your daily to-dos from

When you’re first starting out, this will take a bit more time, but it will be worth it. Start by creating a backlog of items you need to do. I also recommend creating a “later” list to place things you need or want to do but aren’t a priority now.

If it’s not too much at once, project lists are handy too. For example, I have one for creative projects and another for projects that need to be done around the house. I pull from the creative list when I’m feeling creative and know I have time for a project. I pull from the house list when my spouse and I have the capacity to take one on.

Once I select a project, I break the project into smaller tasks on my backlog that I can work into my day.

If you’re really feeling behind, this process might help you feel less overwhelmed. It’s also a good time to take inventory of your tasks and decide which ones you might be able to drop from your list. I have another article about that that I’ll leave at the bottom of this one.

3. Find a daily/weekly spread that works for you

Some of us like the pre-made day planners that offer time blocking or appointment slots, others like plenty of blank space. Be as creative or not as you want. It’s all about preference.

If creating your own planner from a notebook or binder, I recommend completing the layout for at least the month in advance, if not the entire year. That way you can plan ahead a little. Also, you might lose some gusto when it comes to the end of the week and you haven’t yet created the next (been there). 

It’s important to note, as beautiful as they are, creating layouts with intricate calligraphy and cute illustrations is hard for some to keep up so I recommend keeping it simple; especially if you already can’t find time to plan your day.

I’ve created planners that simply have the days of the week and a notes section spread across two pages. In the case of smaller book sizes, I’ve also done a day per page. 

Here’s an example of a daily layout as well. If you’d like to keep it even more simple, keep it blank and list your to-do’s in point form using symbols to categorize tasks.

4. Start planning

Here are some tips and tricks:

  • Put appointments under the proper date as soon as you can – write it elsewhere or text it to yourself if you don’t have your planner on you
  • Pull daily items from your mind of course, but also refer to your notes and backlog 
  • Pick five to seven priorities for the day – if you don’t have that many or want to focus on less that’s okay too! 
  • Also, pick one or two activities that will get you active, or you find relaxing and put them in as well

5. Task management

  • Avoid simply putting the project name such as “build fence” or “PowerPoint presentation” – break it into tasks like “pick up supplies for the fence” or “write presentation copy”
  • You might also want to avoid including tasks that are too small or simple like “email Jeannie,” unless emailing Jeannie is a task that’s going to take a considerable amount of time or you might forget
  • Carry incomplete items to the next day. Alternatively, you can move them to the next week or cancel them completely.
  • Don’t include items that you do every day. Writing things like “do the dishes” or “make dinner” every day might actually make day planning more of a chore

But what about weekly?

I have tried to plan my week out in advance before, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans. It honestly made for a messy bullet journal as I had to keep moving this around. It also came with undue pressure – I’m not done this yet or I can’t do that yet. 

If I have an appointment or due date, I write that out in advance under the date absolutely. If I have something I want to get done that week, but I’m not sure which day yet, I add it to the notes section in my weekly spread.

While putting dates to tasks might work for some, I’m not the best person to cover the topic.

Note:

Also, I thought I would add. When you finish your tasks (work, projects around the house, chores, homework etc.), don’t keep adding to the list and burn yourself out. The idea is to remind yourself to keep a proper work-life balance. Enjoy yourself. Get active. Relax. 

Conclusion

I hope you found this post helpful. Here’s the one I mentioned about taking inventory of your to-dos.

If you’d like a head start on your planner layouts, I have a printable version available in my Etsy Store.

Happy planning!