Fair warning, this blog post will probably be old news the second I hit publish, because my planning system is always evolving, depending on my needs, my mood, and most crucially, my growth as a person and company.
I’ve been an Erin Condren fan-girl, a Day Designer die-hard, and spent more money than I care to admit on a traveler’s journal which quit working for me before I even got it set up 🙄
Is there one right planner? Definitely not. There’s only the planner that’s right for you. Here’s what’s been working for me lately.
Spoiler alert: most of my planning is done digitally these days.
I know. I can’t believe I said it either, because for years I was in the camp of thinking I had to write things down. And you know what? Science backs that up! I do some by-hand planning for that very reason, but mostly for my daily or weekly tasks in my bullet journal (the basic, minimalist style, no frills or stickers for me!)
Here are some of the reasons I moved away from a solely “paper based” planning system:
I went pretty full-on minimalist in early 2019, and in assessing my belongings I was dismayed at how many paper products and office supplies I’d accumulated. Multiple planners, old planners, markers, journals, notebooks, index cards, binders, mini-binders, colored pens, highlighters, stickers. It didn’t feel good. It made me feel heavy. It also made me realize just how much money, space, and resources I’d taken up over the years. I recycled/donated the enormous pile of stuff, save for my bullet journal, a purse-friendly Rhodia notebook.
The analog calendar quit working for me. As much as I loved being able to open to a certain month and see my month laid out all pretty, the reality was that life itself is rarely that pretty. Appointments move, deadlines change, social engagements get cancelled, travel dates shift. Some months, my planner ended up being nothing but a scribble of corrections and I’d have to scan through through the cross-outs, arrows, or stickers covering up mistakes to figure out what happening.
no reminders for timely “to do” items
Paper to do lists can be great for stuff that needs to happen this hour, or today, or even this week. But they’re less great for things you need to remember to do next week, or next month, or in the case of author land, sometimes a year from now!
By moving to a digital to-do system, I can jot down to-do items as I think of them, but set the reminder or a later date so they’re off my plate until I need to worry about them. This allows me to focus on the stuff I need to do right now, without worrying that I’ll forget to look at whatever page I wrote the other stuff on.
Yes, it’s gratifying to physically check something off a to-do list with a pen, but I’ve found it just as gratifying to check a checkbox on my phone/computer.
lack of portability
Paper planners generally aren’t very portable, and the ones that are were way too small for all the things I was writing down. I got tired of having jot down appointments on my phone while out and about, only to have to add them “master” calendar later. Same went for ideas or to do items that I thought of while in line at Starbucks. I’d have to type them on my phone, and then add them to my bullet journal (or Day Designer, or Erin Condren, or whatever) later. It was a redundant mess.
my new system:
A bullet journal for tracking my 6 daily to-dos (I follow the Ivy Lee method, which means I have 6 and only 6 to do’s every day). But what determines those six daily tasks is courtesy of my digital systems:
To make sure I’m in the right place at the right time, I use the default Calendar app on my Mac, and the super sleek Timepage app on my iPhone to keep track of appointments, birthdays, travel dates, etc. Other than having a different color for work commitments (editor calls, pub dates) and life commitments (hair appointments, travel, etc), I don’t get fancy with it. I just jot down the “thing” on the right date, assign it the right label, the same I did on my DayDesigner or Erin Condren. Except now, when a time or date changes, I can drag it to its new place in 5 seconds, and everything stays tidy, just how I like it 😉
The Notion app is the first thing I open every single day, and the last app I look at before winding down work for the day. It’s my editorial calendar. My deadline calendar. My book-release calendar. My marketing calendar. I keep all of my book style sheets, excerpts for books, book timelines, as well as use it as a directory for quick links to assets like book covers, marketing creative, and the .doc and .pdf of the final manuscript files, so that I never have to go dig around in my Dropbox for them. With Notion, I can just click the book title, and everything I need is right there.
I also use it to track how I spend each hour of the day (I used to do this on paper, but since I never went back to reference those entries, I decided to save paper and simply re-use the same digital template over and over).
I use this app sparingly, only for very time sensitive tasks that I want to be reminded of at a future date. I used to use this app as my “master to do” list, but found that it resulted in just a long, long list of tasks and I’d often end up doing the easy tasks instead of the important ones. I was spending more time organizing and sorting my To Dos than I was doing them. Now I use it more as a redundant/fail-safe system for those to do items where I want a notification all up in my face.
The last piece of my organization puzzle is Evernote, the one-time apple of my eye that I recently returned to after a torrid affair with competitor Bear. But Bear betrayed me by failing to sync among my devices one too many times. So, I ended things with Bear and went slinking back to Evernote. I am thrilled to report that all of the bugginess that caused me to stray in the first place seems to have been resolved. I use Evernote much in the way I would Post-It notes or a notebook by my bedside: it’s a place to jot down grocery lists, random ideas, brain dump, phone numbers, etc. I’ll write a post later explaining why I use Evernote for some things and Notion for others, but the short version is:
If Notion replaced my paper planner, Evernote replaced sticky notes or stuff scribbled on scraps of paper. Anything that’s temporary, that I won’t need to access a month from now (grocery lists) goes in Evernote. I also use it as my “scratch pad” for the random stuff that doesn’t yet have a place in Notion (a book title idea for a story that doesn’t yet exist, a friend’s recommendation for a type of gin I must try, and so on.
I’m not suggesting everyone, or even anyone, move to a digital system! Believe me, I was in the camp of “I have to write things down by hand, and I like having it laid out on paper” for a long time, and it’s absolutely legit. But if you’re like me lately, and ever found yourself questioning how much you spend on planners, or maybe realizing that your planner’s actually a deterrent to your productivity, rather than an asset, I can assure you that there is life after Erin Condren / Day Designer / Simplified / Bullet Journal, and so on. But only if you want there to be 😘