When I wrote my Happiness Manifesto, I included the truth that happiness is a skill, not a choice. Just like any other skill, happiness takes practice, planning and patience. Let’s pretend I wanted to become a ninja. Just hoping to learn mad ninja skill isn’t going to work out well. As we say at my corporate day job, hope isn’t a strategy! Rather than happing to be happy, happiness asks that we practice what works for us, plan ahead and be patient.
With the new year just around the corner, calendars and planners are popping up everywhere. While January is an artificial start date for resolutions and goals, there’s still something hopeful about the potential of all those unfilled boxes. Anticipation of what the new year can and will bring is motivating. A fresh start and new chapter are literally manifested in the blank pages of an analog calendar system.
With all those choices, how does one choose a paper planner that will work well? Asking yourself three questions will help eliminate planners that might look fun, come with stickers and promise to change your life without having the functionality you need.
- What is the primary purpose of your planner?
I’ve noticed three main uses for planners: journal/memory keeper, master calendar or goal/project planning tool. All are valid, but using a goal planner for journaling may mean you’re working a planner’s layout and design. I’ve found that online planner communities are great sources of inspiration, yet can tip into “shoulds”: the stickers, hand lettering, collages, weekly themes… all gorgeous to look at, of course! Be honest with how you want to use your planner.
- Where will you want your planner to live?
Is your planner most at home on your desk where you can refer to it frequently, part of your work gear, or even in your daily bag? Consider durability and size to make sure it will hold up for more than a few months.
- How will you realistically maintain your planner?
I love the look of bullet journals on social media, yet needing to design my own spreads, date every month and week, and fill in hourly timelines isn’t something I can sustain. A planner can be as flexible as a blank note book and as designed as fill-in-the-blank life planner. Know thy self, and choose accordingly.
Until I have my own line of planners, here’s what I look for:
Hourly Weekly Spreads: I can – and have – gone on and on about the benefits of a zero-based scheduling approach to managing my week. First, balancing the #168 hours in a week makes it more likely that you can get to everything that is important. I’ve found that trying to balance days is much harder, with less flexibility and tends to make me feel as if I’m always playing catch up. Second, I am more aware of how much leisure time I do have, and am more likely to use that time in ways that make me happy.
Roomy Monthly Pages: I use monthly pages as my gratitude journal. I also use October for tiny Inktober doodles, so a room spread that is somewhat simple works best for me. I have friends that use these pages to track workouts, meal planning, social media content production… I’ve found it’s hard to mess up a monthly layout in planner, and that size does matter.
Ample Blank Pages: I’m a note taker, list maker and doodler. Having blank pages is critically important for me. Otherwise, I end up carrying around additional notebooks. Those blank pages make it possible to have all my important ideas in one place. I prefer unlined pages, although grids and graph paper work well, too.
- Virtual Life Coach? I love a guided worksheet, so planners that have a light touch of working your way through prioritization and goal planning work well for me. Just watch out for workbooks masquerading as planner – that’s a lot to carry around day-to-day!
- Functional perks: An elastic band to hold it all closed? Yes, please. Pen loop? Even better!
- Decorative perks: Stickers! I do skew slightly into the scrapbooking space with my planner, and like adding stickers to highlight key appointments and seasonal celebrations.
Planners to consider:
- Passion Planner, $35 | The planner I use – and have used – for the last 5 years!
- Hobonichi Tech Cousin, $52
- un|bound planner, $46
- Panda Planner, $36
Let me know how you use your planner – and what planner you use in the comments or with #workyourhappy!