There is something about putting pen to paper for me that really helps to ease my mind and clear my head. I think the first step to getting organized is to get all your jumbled thoughts in one place! The easiest way to do this is to use a planner.
This month we are talking about the basics of getting organized. After years of dealing with clutter and disorder, you are finally ready to take the next (or first) step to get your life out of chaos and into order. It can be tempting to just start pulling your house apart, go on a shopping spree to buy all new bins and storage containers, and just get it done!
We definitely can all use that kind of motivation. But without a plan in place and some basic systems set up, you will burn out quickly and be left with a bigger mess than you started with!
Use a Planner
I believe the first thing you need to do when jumping on the organization bandwagon is to organize your mind! And how can we do this? By using a planner!
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Having one place to record appointments, schedule your to-do list, write down notes and ideas, remember important dates, and keep track of your family’s schedules and appointments is vital to long-term success.
Really any planner will do, but there are a few key items I look for in my own planner. Your unique needs may vary, but I think you will find many of these criteria may apply to you as well!
Note: I find having a paper planner works the best for me (although I do also use an electronic one, as well). If I actually write things out I tend to remember them more than by simply typing them into my smartphone or laptop. However, you need to do what works best for your individual needs. Be sure whatever system you choose you actually use it. Consistency is key!
Must Haves in a Paper Planner
1. Plenty of Writing Space
You may have a preference for lined or unlined spaces to write. But, having space to write out, at least, five to ten items for each day is critical. This is the place where you will write your daily appointments, to-do list, daily chores and anything else you may like to record such as your meal plan, exercise log, water intake, work to-dos, and/or cleaning schedules. See? That could be a lot of words to try to fit in a too small space!
If you are just getting started at organizing your life and you don’t normally use a planner, I suggest writing EVERYTHING down. As time goes on and more items on your list become a habit, you will be able to write down fewer details.
2. Month At a Glance
This is important for current and future planning. It is a lot easier to tell someone yes or no if you actually know what you have planned. My month-at-a-glance pages include birthdays, anniversaries, paydays, appointments, play dates, deadlines, etc. I don’t write down every little thing in my monthly overview, however, I do write down main events so I don’t over schedule myself or my family.
Helpful tip: Use washi tape on monthly calendars to easily see activities that last longer than one day. Some examples of this may be extended school breaks, vacations or weekend projects. You can also create the same effect by using a highlighter to span across several days.
These do not have to be part of the original planner and can easily be added to any planner with the various tabs you can find at any office supply store. However, being able to easily find what you are looking for is a big time saver.
4. Blank Pages for Notes
Again, these can be lined or unlined based on your own personal preference. My planner has both and I really like that! I use this section to record my master list. I also have a space to record shopping lists, blog ideas, as well as anything else I want to keep track of and refer back to.
Note: You can staple, paper clip or tape extra pages into your planner if it doesn’t come with blank note pages. You can also carry around a second small notebook for recording items that don’t need to be written down on your regular planner pages.
Optional (But Useful) Items in a Paper Planner
1. Zippered or Closed pouch
This is great for storing small little notes, your business cards, and other slips of papers, receipts, or appointment cards you may pick up (or hand out) during the day. You can also slip in a calculator, pen, paper clips, washi tape, etc. to help keep you organized.
2. Pocket Folder
This goes along with the zippered pouch above. Having a place to temporarily store papers you receive throughout the day can keep you organized and sane until you have time to deal with those papers at a later time. It is also a great place to slip your out-going mail, movie rentals, etc. that need to go with you when you leave the house if you plan on taking your planner with you.
3. Pen Holder
This one should be pretty self-explanatory, but having a space in your planner that holds your favorite pen or pencil is great for making sure you always have something to write with when you need to.
4. Durable Cover
This one again is not mandatory, but it is nice to have a strong, durable cover that can withstand some spills and be repeatedly thrown into a purse or handbag. You don’t want to have your pretty cardstock cover falling apart after a few months of use!
This last one may seem silly, but for me, I am much more likely to tote around a planner and use it if I like the way it looks. People, in general, are very visual. Having something that looks nice can definitely add that little extra motivation to keep using it. Also, if it is pretty, you won’t mind having it out on your desk or counter as much. If your planner is tucked away out of sight, you won’t get much use out of it.
How to Use Your Planner
This will vary so much from person to person as all of our life situations are unique. You may be in college, a new mom that is just learning to stay home full time, a work from home mom (like myself), a person that works a 9 to 5 job, a person easing into retirement, or any other number of scenarios.
There is no one right way to use your planner. Below I will share what works for me and you can take from it what is helpful to you! My planning style has changed and evolved over the years as my schedule and home/family life has changed over time.
So how do I use my planner? Pretty much everything goes in there! If I need to remember it, it gets written down in my planner. I take it with me wherever I go.
Let’s start by filling out basic information. It is helpful to have all your important dates written down. I use a perpetual calendar in my home management binder to keep track. At the beginning of the year, I transfer all of these dates into my monthly pages. I also like to write down in my daily planning pages a reminder (about two weeks in advance from the date of the birthday, etc.) to buy and send a card and/or gift for those special events.
When I schedule an appointment I write it in the monthly overview. When planning out the next week each Sunday evening, any appointments from the monthly section get written down on my weekly pages.
I make a note in my planner for when I need to schedule it. Usually, I try to do this a month to two months in advance as those appointments book fast.
I also add reminders for oil changes, car maintenance, home maintenance, etc.
Meal Planning and Cleaning
On my weekly pages, I include my weekly meal plan for dinners. I also write down each day’s cleaning task. I clean different rooms of my house on different days. For example, Mondays I clean the bathrooms, so each Monday has that written that down. If you clean by task – say Mondays you vacuum the house – write it down!
I will go into more detail about my master list in a later post, but I try to include at least one thing from my master list to complete for each day or couple of days. I also write down an organizing goal or task for each day – even if I just write down “declutter for 15 minutes”.
I also write down what I need to do for my blog each day. Since this is my job, I like to stay on top of things. I write down any deadlines I have for sponsored or contributor posts. I have tried having a separate blog planner, but it was too complicated to have two separate planners when my work and home life are so intertwined. (Although I am working on creating a modified blog planner to help me stay on top of blogging.)
Kids and School
When my son brings home papers from school that have dates for events, I record those in my planner and then toss the paper. This cuts down on paper clutter and helps me not to forget those very important class parties, school projects, fundraisers, etc. If the paper has detailed information I need to refer to later, I write the basic information in my planner and then file the paper in my home management binder either in the planning section by month or the children section, depending on what it is.
As much as the calendar pages are important, I find the notes section equally important. When I think of things I need to do they go onto my master list. If I have a blog idea, I write it down. Just remembered something I need to buy? It goes on my shopping list.
In the past, I have tried color coding my planner by using different colored pens for each family member and different tasks. As pretty as this made my calendar, it didn’t work. Unless I planned on carrying all those different colored pens with me everywhere I went, I inevitably ended up somewhere where I didn’t have the right color pen to write down what I needed to. So I either wouldn’t write it down and then forget about it, or the item would get written down with whatever pen or pencil I had on hand. Now I use a black pen for everything since I always have a black pen with me.
Quick tip: Use a highlighter to mark off tasks
To mark items off on my weekly list, I used to use check marks. But it was hard to tell at a glance what I had finished. I don’t like crossing things off because if I need to refer back to my list it can be hard to read. Now, I use a highlighter to cross items off my list. I can easily see what has been done and what is left. And if I need to read something later, I can still easily see it.
Writing everything you need to do in one place definitely helps you to become more organized. However, remembering to write things down AND look at your planner to make sure you are not forgetting anything can be a challenge at first. So, set a reminder on your phone, check your planner each time you finish eating a meal or check it when you brush your teeth. The key is to tie in looking at your planner with something you already regularly do. I suggest trying to make a habit of looking at your planner twice a day (but soon you will probably use it much more than that!)
In addition, to my paper planner, I use the Cozi app to record appointments. I only use it for scheduled events and appointments, not daily to-dos. It is an easy way for my husband and me to stay on the same page about activities we are doing. We can even send each other reminders, update our own calendars, and the family calendar with the app.
Ready to get started? Below I have some suggestions for my favorite planners that may work for you.
Paper Planner Resources:
- Erin Condren
- Simplified by Emily Ley
- Day Designer
- Inkwell Press
- Daily, Weekly, A5 Inserts, Quarterly Planner
- Discount: save $10 off a $50 purchase
- The Happy Planner
- Daily Planner Pad
- I Heart Organizing
- Motivated Moms
- Scattered Squirrel
- Simplified by Emily Ley Printable Library
- The Happiness Planner
- Day Designer Printable Library
Online Calendar and Planning Apps:
- Home School Creations
- Infarrantly Creative
- Confessions of a Homeschooler
- Mama Miss Designs
- Designer Blogs
- WordPress Editorial Calendar – If you are on WordPress, this is a must-have plug-in to help you manage and schedule your posts
- Post-it Page Markers
- Sharpie Pen Fine Point Pen
- Girl of All Work Tabs
- Paper Mate Flair Point Pens
- Self Adhesive Pen Pencil Loop Holder
You may also like:
- Why I Love my Erin Condren Life Planner
- Create Planner Stickers with Your Cricut
- How to Make Planner Charms