One question we get over and over from devoted planner-people and new-to-paper-planners alike? How to use our planners. And the answer is simple—use it in the way that works best for you! Our formats are designed with productivity in mind, so you can easily fill in your schedule, tasks, and priorities with ease. You’ve shared with us time and time again how your planner has changed your daily life. But we know that there’s always room to explore the fundamentals of organization. As we’re all taking time to pick out our new planner for 2023 (planner quiz anyone?), it’s the perfect time to get back to the basics.
Today we’re sharing how your planner can make a difference in your productivity and wellness right away. Read on for our one essential step to using a paper planner, and get ready to change your entire day in under five minutes.
Priority Planning Will Make You More Productive (and Less Stressed)
When you boil it down, a planner is simply a tool that helps us make sense of complex systems, schedules, and projects. It also does so much more than keeping your to-do list and schedule. It helps you decide how to organize your time—and more importantly where your attention should lie. Using a planner won’t automatically make you a type-A hyper-organized person. Nor does it require you to track every detail of your life. But using a planner for small-scale daily goal setting works.
So how to change your day in under five minutes? At the beginning of each day, simply open your planner, read through your to-dos and schedule, and (here’s the important part) write down your top priorities for the day. This could be as specific as which projects you’ll be tackling at work, an errand or administrative task you’ve been avoiding, or a super-broad theme for the day. Let’s call it Priority Planning.
The number of priorities is completely up to you, but be careful not to let it turn into another to-do list. Every single planner format we offer contains extra space for tasks and notes (some even have weekly and monthly priority lists), so you already have a place to write down specific action items. Your goal is to think big-picture about what needs to be addressed today, or more specifically, what areas of your life or work need your attention most. Reviewing both your schedule (that we hope you filled in at the beginning of the week!) and your running list of tasks and notes will refresh your memory of what is on your plate and allow you to successfully delegate and prioritize.
Filling out your planner in this way should take only a few minutes. Most likely you already have a morning routine that this practice could be added to, like sitting down at your computer to check email, or while you’re eating breakfast. Coupling habits is the easiest way to start a new one and make it stick. For me, it’s right when I sit down at my desk to begin working. There are times I find myself checking notifications and slack messages before completing this crucial step, but I always stop myself and do my Priority Planning before proceeding with any work.
How To Do It
Consider my day today as an example. We launched a monogram promotion this morning that I knew would require my attention first thing in the morning for final edits to emails and homepage. I also knew I needed to write the first draft of this blog post and prep for a quarterly meeting later in the week. So in the weekly view of my planner, I wrote these priorities: monogram homepage & QA, draft blog copy, and Q3 meeting prep.
Of course, there are numerous other to-dos, huddles with my team, and emails to send that I’ll work on throughout the day (anything I can’t get to right away I’ll add to the “task” list of my Year Task Planner). But my Priority Plan reminds me of what needs the most attention today. This not only allows me to visualize how my day will go in an ideal world and manifest the productivity that I need to get things done but also serves as a visual cue to stay on track. It is way too easy to get caught up in troubleshooting, slack messages, and loose threads. Listing the tasks that deserve my attention reorients me during energy slumps and reminds me of the headspace I was in before the influx of attention-grabbing notifications.
Your Priority Planning may also look a lot broader. There are days (especially when my schedule is mostly meetings) when I know I won’t have the mental bandwidth to dive into a complex project. These days my priority list might just say “Tackle Misc. Web Tasks” where I know I’ll devote the free time I have to check off to-dos.
That isn’t to say that a planner should rigidly define what you do with your time. There are of course situations at work and in life where things don’t go according to plan—maybe something goes wrong with your website and you need to pivot to fixing code, maybe your babysitter is sick and you’re suddenly on childcare duty. Whatever comes your way, be ready to re-assess what needs your attention most and change course.
Why It Works
So what is to say that you can’t simply list your priorities at the top of a notebook page or on a sticky note? Though this is always an option, keeping daily priorities in your planner acts as an archive. If you didn’t get to a project the day before that you know needs your attention, you can count on seeing it in your planner and being reminded to tackle it today instead. Looking over your weekly and daily priorities at the end of the week also helps you recognize the time and effort that went into accomplishing your goals.
I know from personal experience that the more I incorporated my planner into my work life, the more effective and organized I became. I found was able to take on larger projects with more confidence and less stress. Keeping a written record of what needs to be done helps me get them out of my head so that I can fully unplug at the end of a work day. Writing in my planner forces me to be in the moment without distractions and gives me a sense of autonomy over my time.
Regardless of the kind of work you do (whether you use your planner for personal admin, school, or at work), you do have control over your attention, and deciding where it should go today can provide a feeling of control when tasks and to-dos pile up. The impact of this type of planning is real. When it comes down to it, this practice is really about deciding where to focus your attention.
Try putting this into practice for a week and see how it goes. Taking a few minutes every day to look over your planner, to-dos, weekly priorities, and most importantly decide where your attention should go today can completely change your productivity, and more importantly your mindset.