The Ultimate Guide to Paper Planning

Developing a Planner System

If you’ve done any looking around the planner community on social media, you’ll notice all the beautifully well-decorated spreads. And they are so fun to look at! However, in the midst of all the washi, stickers, stamps, notebooks, binders, journals, pens, and fine paper is the constant search for planner peace. 

‘Planner peace’ is simply a system that works.

Unfortunately for me and every other crafty girl out there who just wants some time to play with her paper crafts, planner peace has little to do with all the frills and furbelows and everything to do with her systemThat’s why a system has to come before all the fun stuff.

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Before you go out and buy a pretty planner, you need to figure out what you really need to keep track of and how your brain processes that information. This is called your system. Sinking money into a planner before you really know how you’re going to use it is putting the cart before the horse. Believe me, I know!

This may not seem like much fun but it’s sooooooo necessary! Otherwise, you’re going to go from book to book thinking that you’re just using the wrong product when really, you’ve not got your system in place.

The is going to start with a little bit of internal research. Ready? Let’s begin!

What You Will Need:

Blank Notebook


1. Determine Your Needs

Your planner research starts with listing off all the different areas of your life. EVERYTHING. Even the things you don’t think you wouldn’t put it in a planner, write it down. Anything and everything that you would cause you to pick up a pen and put it on paper. Schedules, appointments, due dates, extracurricular activities. The files you keep, account information, and loose papers that need a home already! Journaling, project management, assignments, etc. Write it all down!

Here’s a list of examples:

  1. Daily tasks
  2. Home management
  3. Appointments
  4. Vacation
  5. Children’s activities
  6. Work projects/meetings/due dates/events/reminders
  7. Prayer/Bible study
  8. School assignments/meetings/due dates/projects/events/reminders
  9. Home business
  10. Content Creation
  11. Editorial Calendar
  12. Finances
  13. Food journal
  14. Exercise
  15. Homeschooling
  16. Church
  17. Goals
  18. To do lists
  19. Grocery lists
  20. Accounts
  21. Brain Dump
  22. Schedules – mine, husband’s, kids’
  23. Reading Lists
  24. Recipes
  25. Project Management
  26. Meeting Notes
  27. Sermon Notes
  28. Contact Information
  29. Family Information
  30. Auto Information
  31. Maintenance
  32. Pets
  33. Medical Information
  34. Birthdays
  35. School Information
  36. Parties
  37. Bucket List
  38. Phone messages
  39. Reference
  40. Clubs

Now it’s time to make sense of all the information.

2. Distill and Organize

Now, take a look at your list and start grouping similar items into categories. This might take a few tries and that’s fine. Continue to play around with it and see what you come up with.

Here are some examples of groupings:

  1. My Schedule/My Husband’s Schedule/My Kid’s Schedule
  2. Family Information/Medical Information/Pet Information/Auto Information
  3. Daily tasks/appointments/meetings/parties/church
  4. Work
  5. Homeschooling
  6. Business
  7. Project planning/editorial calendar

There is no wrong way to do this. Grouping is just a way to categorize information in a way that your brain can process and use. Everybody’s brain is different. Don’t worry about whether or not it looks right. In the end, it needs to work right for you.

3. Observe Yourself

Okay, now I want you to step away and observe yourself for a time. I recommend at least a week to get a good look at your routines, activities and schedules. Take your notebook around with you and look at the lists and categories you’ve made. Did you figure it about right? Do you need to change things around? Did you overestimate some areas or perhaps leave out other areas? Sketch it out. Scratch it out. Try again.

Remember that this is you getting your brain onto paper and seeing how it functions.

You also might find that you want to try new things. Maybe you want to start journaling for 15 minutes before you go to bed. Okay, add that to your daily routine. Maybe you want to get a grip on your meal planning. Do you need a home management binder? Maybe you want to keep track of projects better. Explore different ideas and continue to tweak your list.

4. Rewrite Your List

Okay, at the end of your observation week, rewrite your list and regroup your topics.

Seeing everything on paper will help you realize what you need to stay on top of. It gives you a starting point. The trial and error process is far from over but you’ve tackled a good chunk of the information you need!

5. Test it Out

Now it’s time to test it out and put your categories to work. I still don’t suggest committing to a specific planner yet. Honestly, I suggest starting with a notebook first – a few of them actually. A few simple spiral-bound or composition books from the grocery or dollar store will do just fine.

Assign one notebook per category. You might even be able to put a 2 or 3 categories in one notebook. There’s no right or wrong here – just experimentation.

In your notebook, you want to focus on spreads and methods.

Spreads –

  • Monthly
  • Weekly
  • Daily

Methods (including but not limited to) –

  • Bullet Journaling
  • Morning/Afternoon/Evening Time Blocks
  • Habit Tracking
  • Memory Keeping
  • Hourly time Blocks
  • Task/To Do Lists

Some people do just fine with monthly and weekly spreads but have no use for dailies that go hour by hour. Some people live and breathe their hourly schedule. Other’s don’t keep regular calendar at all and simply bullet journal their whole life in one book. Take a look at what you’ve grouped together and start playing around with them in different notebooks. Draw out monthly calendars if that’s what you need. Try bullet journaling. Experiment.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • How do you like organizing items and appointments?
  • What information do you need with you when you’re on the go?
  • Do you need a desk planner that stays on your desk or kitchen counter?
  • How much time can you spend setting up spreads?
  • What time(s) during the day can you spend reviewing your plans, tasks, and appointments?
  • Are you complicating a system that could be much simpler?

This is the time to tackle questions like these. You may not be able to answer these questions in one sitting and that’s fine. Take as long as you need to figure out what your needs are and how you can realistically manage them.

Play with your notebooks and categories for a several weeks. Really concentrate on what your brain is engaging with and what’s not working at all.

This is developing your planning system.

Once you’ve got a good system down, congratulate yourself! You just completed the hardest part of the process. However, I must say that this is not going to stay static. It will continue to develop and change as you continue to find your groove. But for now, you’ve got a grip on how your life and brain work on paper – what you need to keep track of and how you need to keep track of it.

Take a deep breath and treat yourself to your favorite snack. You did great!

Let’s keep going!

This post was inspired in part by MissVickybee’s video How to Pick a Planner and Journal | Sit & Chat

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