Where did that year go?! Seems like it was only a few months ago that I was picking which planners I wanted to try throughout the year and now the challenge is ‘over’! I looked back at all of the different ways I planned the week to help me piece together my ‘planner type’. At the start of the challenge I was then going to design my perfect weekly planner by picking out elements I liked from each planner I tried. But the challenge didn’t turn out the way I was expecting…
Here are 52 lessons I learned along the way. If you’re current planning system doesn’t feel quite right, I hope this post helps you pinpoint the things you do / don’t like with your current planner and things you should consider when you’re on the hunt for your next planner!
52 Lessons learned after trying 52 different planners in 52 weeks
1. I really like planners
I’ve always liked using planners but giving myself ‘no restrictions’ and the freedom to choose any planner I wanted to try was fun… really fun! I liked thinking of different ways to customise the various planners each week to suit my needs. I’m someone that can’t stay loyal to using just 1 planner – I get bored with it. The challenge definitely fuelled my planner obsession even more!
2. I don’t like hourly planners
Hourly planners are never going to suit me, especially not in vertical format where the columns are so narrow you can hardly write anything as each task extends over multiple lines. I much prefer planning via organized to do lists.
The Ashley Shelly planner is the only scheduling style planner that I tried and liked. Probably because the hours / times aren’t pre-filled you can start it whenever you like. I was intending to use it that way and then decided to use 1 column for priority and the other column to draw a checkbox.
Related: Week 31: Using the Ashley Shelly Planner for weekly planning
The reason I don’t like hourly planners are because the time schedules start so early. I’m a night owl and am at my day job all day during the week so if I stuck to the pre-printed times more than half the page would go to waste. Yes I can use white out for the times that don’t apply to me but that gets really time consuming.
I also don’t like how restrictive time based planners are – as soon as you miss a task or something takes longer than you expected, it puts the rest of the day out of whack and you feel like you didn’t accomplish anything.
They also don’t tend to have checkboxes with the time slots so you gotta cross tasks out and then it looks messy.
Modifying the Erin condren hourly in week 9 worked ok but it did take a while to set up the spread and it’s not time I think is worthwhile when there are so many other planners already made – and so many weekly planner printables I’ve designed sitting on my computer hard-drive – that are better suited to my needs. So the point I’m trying to make here is don’t continue using a planner if it’s not the right fit for you!
In terms of day to a page planners, most planners have the same layout with the schedule on one side of the page and to do list section on the other. I much prefer the format of the Slice Planner with the visual of the clock face.
3. No month at a glance calendars
Much like a ‘next week’ or ‘coming up’ section, I don’t see the point of having a month at a glance calendar – it just wastes valuable planning space. Especially since most planners include a monthly calendar (with tabs to make it easy to locate) as well as annual dates at a glance calendars, it’s kind of unnecessary to have the mini monthly calendar on the week spread.
One of my all time favorite planner layouts – the Plum Paper Horizontal Lined with Notes… if only it didn’t have the month at a glance section
4. I don’t like re-writing recurring tasks
I find writing things that occur each day wastes a lot of time – hence why I love habit trackers.
Using symbols is also a time and space saver. I got in the habit of using letters or numbers for each task involved in my blog post workflow which has worked well and a method I’m definitely sticking with!
I’ve also gotten in the habit of setting reminders on my phone (using the free reminders app that comes with iphones) for things like washing towels and sheets which I do at the same time and day every week, rather than taking up space in my planner.
5. I Like habit trackers
Whether it be on the weekly spread or monthly, habit trackers are a great way to save space in your planner and they look really pretty when color coded! They also provide a good visual of what you did and didn’t get done, and save having to write out recurring tasks over and over again.
6. Structured planning pages
A blank page can be a bit paralysing – so many possibilities – where to start? Perhaps this is why I don’t like bullet journalling, I’m too indecisive! I like planners that have structure that I can customise.
7. Checkboxes? Yes please!
Making lists is my favorite way to plan. I much prefer squares so I can shade in when a task is started, then color in completely when a task is finished rather than crossing out – so much neater!
8. Color coding is a must
I must’ve color coded every week except for about 4. Pens are definitely my preferred way to color code (much neater) but it does take longer to switch between pens and can be annoying when I accidentally use the wrong color for the wrong planning category. Planner stickers and highlighters are my other go to methods for color coding.
9. I hate split boxes on the month calendar
If you’ve watched a couple of my numerous planner reviews this one probably won’t come as a surprise. It really annoys me when planner companies split the boxes of the last days of the month – it’s so impractical! Unfortunately it seems to be a recurring theme in planners 🙁
One planner that does this: the Life Organized Planner from Paper House (which is similar to the Erin Condren planner)
I also don’t like when planners make the monthly calendar 6 rows as it makes every. single. box. on the page smaller.
10. Prefer tabs
Tabs aren’t a make or break for me. While I much prefer them, if the rest of the planner has all the elements I need (such as the Agendio planner) then I’m willing to overlook it if it doesn’t have tabs. Can always use a paperclip or sticky notes instead.
Built in bookmarks are nice but also aren’t a make or break if it doesn’t have one. I can always add a paperclip, butterfly clip, turn the corner of the page down, or snip the corner off.
11. The right stationery is worth the price
Expensive stationery that is worth the price. Some of my favorites:
12. Don’t use too many colors for color coding
I almost always color code my planner. It adds a pop of color to the page and helps maintain a balance in the things I schedule. However, I’ve learned that it’s possible to use too many colors. For me, a maximum of 4 colors works best.
More posts on color coding:
- Planner Organization: How to color-code your planner (so you’ll actually use it effectively)
- Favorite color coding planner supplies for less than $5
- Ultimate list of the best planner pen brands and how to choose colors for color coding
- 50 Category Ideas for Color Coding Your Planner
- How to organize and color code your notes for school, college or university
- Color coded monthly meal planning using sticky notes
- 6 Ways to color code your planner to increase productivity
- Color coding your planner: how to choose which colors to use
13. I like lined writing space
Lined writing space keeps everything neat, I always end up writing crooked without lines.
14. I don’t like super simple spreads
There’s a difference between ‘minimalist’ and you may as well just use a blank piece of paper to plan. I don’t like planners that are just plain white paper with 1 big blank box for planning each day of the week. They’re too basic. There’s no lines to write on, you have to rule up your own lines to keep things clustered and organized. I need structure!
15. I tend to track bill paying on the month spread rather than weekly
I used to track bill paying on the weekly spread but since I post my weekly spreads here on the blog and money stuff is rather personal, I switched to using the monthly calendar. I much prefer this method as I can see the entire month and make sure there’s enough money in my account when a direct debit is due when there needs to be and pay bills all at once.
I also use a printable bill pay checklist so I can see everything for the entire year on one page.
16. I like pre-planning the week first
I tend to pre-plan the week but it was always disorganised on scrap pieces of paper. Around half-way through the challenge I switched to using the Plum Paper Horizontal Lined with Notes layout which worked really well. I’ll definitely be sticking to pre-planning the week this way.
17. I like tracking goal and actual
Following on from above, I like having a way to track what I planned on doing and what I actually did. It helps hold me accountable as I have to stop and think about what you actually did, instead of feeling like the days are just passing by.
18. I don’t see the point of a next week section on the current week
To me having a ‘next week’ or ‘coming up’ section is a waste of space and I don’t understand why some planner companies do this. I’m like, why not just go to that week and put a note there? Or make notes on the monthly spread or use a sticky note that you can move week to week rather than wasting space and having to re-write the same thing multiple times.
19. Size does matter
I’d rather use a larger page size and have some white space, than use a planner that’s too small and run out of room.
The most common planner size I used throughout the challenge was 7 x 9″ as this is the size produced by most planner companies. It ended up being my favorite page size!
20. I like using planners I’ve made myself & planners made by others
Sometimes I just want to make a printable to suit my specific needs, other weeks I don’t mind getting creative and tweaking a planner made by someone else.
This might seem odd since I have a printables business and can make any planner layout I want, but sometimes, I like using planners made by other people. I like seeing people’s different ideas, fonts, color schemes etc. I have a specific type of fonts and colors and design style that I tend to stick with (and find hard to break!) so it’s a refreshing change trying out planners made by others.
Week 49: Using the Create Your Own Planner
21. I like using stickers and some weeks I don’t
Some planners aren’t suited to using stickers – especially those with a small page size where there’s limited space. Some weeks I have the time to do planner decorating and other weeks I don’t. I used to do no white space spreads using stickers and washi every single week in past years and it took way too long to plan.
Planner sticker spread – week 48: Using the Dabney Lee for Blue Sky Weekly Planner
No sticker week – Week 31: Using the Ashley Shelly Planner for weekly planning
22. I like using functional stickers only
Simple, functional and rainbow colored stickers are my favorite type of planner stickers and the only type I use these days. If I want to add patterns to the page then it’s quick and easy to just add a strip of washi tape. Stickers with characters / hand drawn stick figures that seem to be all the rage right now hold zero appeal to me. I much prefer functional icon stickers that save time writing, don’t take up much space, are ideal for color coding and add a pop of color to the page.
23. Disc binding is my favorite
Ok, so I already knew this one before I started the challenge… but the challenge really cemented it for me. In addition to using a different weekly planner, I keep a separate lists notebook and another notebook with blog post ideas. By using the arc disc binding I can add, remove and rearrange pages as often as I like!
My second favorite binding style is spiral binding (which most planner companies offer). I don’t like wire binding as it’s too bulky and harder to add your own cover and inserts too.
24. Book binding is not so bad
I used to never even consider using sewn/book-bound planners but I have to admit, not every sewn notebook self-closes – I found that some do actually stay open! Such as the Mi Goals Planner (which ended up being one of my favorite planners of the entire year!)
Week 19: Mi Goals Weekly Planner
25. Paper matters
26. Everything takes longer than you think
I’m slowly getting better at this but I’m still prone to over-scheduling. Whenever I think a task is going to take an hour it always seems to take a bit longer. That’s one of the reasons why I dislike hourly / scheduling based planners. As soon as a task takes longer than you think or plans change the whole day is out of whack, you likely won’t finish everything on your list and then you feel like you haven’t accomplished anything.
27. I need due dates to keep me on track
28. I prefer weekly planners to daily planners
If I used a day to a page planner every day I’d get far too bogged down in the details and lose sight of the bigger picture. Flicking between so many pages every single week is annoying, I much prefer a 2 page weekly spread where I can see everything at the same time.
29. I don’t think I could use only a digital planner
Some people like to sync everything up and make the most of technology – I am not one of those people. I tried using Microsoft Excel and Word and they worked ok for those weeks as it suited what was happening at that point in time, but I could never solely using digital planning tools. I want to be able to have my planner right in front of me, not flicking between tabs and apps on my computer and phone.
I do use the reminders app occasionally for important things like reminders to pay bills or for things that are very far in advance such as dental appointments which are usually booked 6 – 12 months in advance. I’ve also gotten in the habit of setting reminders on my phone for things like washing towels and sheets which I do at the same time and day every week, rather than taking up space in my planner.
30. I <3 sticky notes
Sticky notes can get expensive but they’re so worth it. I love the flexibility to move them around from week to week, for recurring tasks and grocery lists. Sticky notes are my go to for over flow tasks when I run out of space on the page.
More posts on planning with sticky notes:
- How to do color coded weekly meal planning in less than 5 minutes using sticky notes
- How to keep track of blog post ideas using sticky notes and a notebook
- Week 2: Planning using daily checklists
- Quick and easy weekly meal planning using sticky notes
- 5 Ways to use sticky notes for school or college
- 10 ways to plan using sticky notes
- My favorite sticky note brands for planning
This was week 28 of the 52 Planners in 52 Weeks Challenge – I planned the entire week using sticky notes!
31. I prefer to plan by quarter
I don’t like planning 12 months ahead – this is too far in advance for me. I used to plan so far in advance but then I’d go in a different direction or plans would change and I felt like I was spending so much time planning and rearranging things rather than implementing the plan.
32. Planner stamps are not the right fit for me
I’ve seen some really pretty planner stamping spreads on Instagram and Pinterest (especial for bullet journalling!) but it’s just not the right planning method for me. Stamping takes a long time – for me it’s more important to implement the plan than to spend hours setting up the plan. If you have the time then it’s a different way to decorate the spread to stickers, washi tape etc.
If I use stamps, I’ll be sticking to self inking only (i.e. MAMBI self inking and the Frixion erasable self inking stamps) – both brands have icon stamps that are ideal for list making.
33. I prefer Monday week start
Most planner companies start the week on Monday so that’s what I’ve gotten used to. I can see why they do it as I like being able to see plans for the entire weekend without flicking between weekly spreads.
In my opinion, if the weekly spread starts on a Sunday, the monthly calendar should start on a Sunday, the dates at a glance pages that are at the front of most planners need to start on a Sunday etc. I like it when the start dates for each week is consistent between the annual, monthly and weekly planning pages.
35. List style monthly calendar
I prefer list style monthly planning for blog planning as the squares of traditional monthly calendars are too small.
This monthly planner page is from my Agendio planner <3
36. Monthly calendar must be 2 pages
I find one page monthly calendars are useless. There’s no room to write. Yes you could color code with dot stickers or use symbols but then 1 page calendars rarely have a notes space on the page to record these. It’s too crammed for my liking.
If I use a traditional monthly calendar, I much prefer a 2 page monthly calendar.
37. I don’t mind if the weekly spread doesn’t have a sidebar
Sidebars tend to have very narrow columns that you can’t fit much writing in, so I’m not too fussed if the planner doesn’t have a sidebar. I much prefer the format of days of the week in horizontal style on one side, and list making, habit tracking or notes space on the right side of the page.
One of my favorite planner layouts – days of the week on one side and list space on the other page (Ultimate Weekly Planner by Studio 331)
38. Don’t like narrow list columns / vertical planner style
I like having wide columns for list making – 1 column per page is preferable although sometimes I do 2. I’d rather have a bit too much space than not enough. A bit of white space keeps the page neat. If the page is a jumbled mess of text and I can’t distinguish between when 1 task starts and the other finishes, I won’t bother looking at the page. It has to be neat for me to want to actually use it.
39. Colors really do matter
If a planner has awful colors I won’t use it. And if I write in a planner using black pen, I almost always go back and highlight to color code and add color to an otherwise boring page.
40. Add on pages aren’t a must
I don’t care if a planner has add on pages as I just use my own. I have various notebooks that I use for household binder printables, list making, blog post ideas, plus monthly habit trackers and meal planners I use when the weekly spreads don’t include this (or which I use in conjunction with the weekly spread).
The goal setting pages that come with most planners (if they even include them) don’t work for me. They’re always too brief (e.g. 1 page), or open ended (just a blank page).
One planner whose goal setting pages I did really like though, was the Mi Goals planner which I used to plan my latest ecourse: How to Make Classroom Printables
41. Price is not the deciding factor
I’m ok with paying up to $100 including shipping for a planner. I struggle to understand people who complain that planners are so expensive. There’s hundreds of planners out there to choose from these days. Each planner layout (horizontal, vertical, hourly etc.) is available at numerous price points. I’m someone who’ll only use something if it’s cute. Personalised covers aren’t necessary but it’s nice to have something that feels like it was made just for you! If these things cost extra but they make me want to actually use the planner, then I’d say that’s money well spent.
42. Pens matter
In addition to trying a different planner each week, I tried a different pen brand almost every week and have become a bit of a pen snob.
My criteria for the perfect pen?
- Ink doesn’t bleed through the page
- Preferably no ghosting of the pen ink on the bad side of the page either
- Nice colors
- Pen must come in a variety of colors (for color coding)
- Medium tip 0.7mm
- Preferably erasable
I don’t like needle tip as have to write with my hand straight up and needle tips don’t work well over correction tape.
43. Personalised planner covers
There’s something about having a planner cover with my name or monogram on it in the colors, pattern and font style I chose that makes me want to use it more. It feels like it’s more mine rather than something just mass produced.
44. Traditional Planning methods aren’t a must for me
Most planners tend to have space to write stuff for each day. These don’t really work for me. I use them for blogging but since it doesn’t really matter what day of the week I publish blog posts I don’t really need to. I prefer to just work off organized and color coded to do lists, rather than allocate things to a certain day.
45. Ballpoint versus gel pens
I’ve tried various ballpoint and gel pens from various pen brands. I’ve found I prefer gel pens as the ink is more prone to skipping in ballpoint pens and gel pens tend to come in more colors.
46. I like using specific colors for color coding
I used yellow pens for only a couple of weeks out of the entire year. Yellow ink of most pen brands is so hard to see on the page and it’s not a color I like anyway.
For color coding, I’ve been sticking to pink, green, blue and orange.
47. I prefer to plan everything in 1 planner
In the past I’ve used separate planners for work, blogging and personal planning. While I enjoyed using a variety of planner layouts, it was a bit annoying flicking between multiple planners all the time. I’d rather plan everything in the 1 place using 1 planner.
48. Colorful versus neutral
I like using a mix of colourful and neutral color planners as pens and accessories can brighten up any planner page!
49. There are so many planners to choose from!
I knew there were plenty of planners available – so many new planners have come to market in the past couple of years! But doing this challenge made me realise that there were way too many planners on my list for me to possibly try them all in just 1 year. My current list of all the planners I’ve discovered has more than 200 planner brands on it!
50. The most important thing: Work the plan
It’s all good and well to have a perfectly decorated planner, but if you spend hours setting up the spread each week and fussing over the little things rather than implementing the plan, well there’s not much point.
51. I can’t stick to using 1 planner for an entire year
I’ve never used just 1 planner for an entire year in my entire life. I’ve always switched between planners.
52. Did I find planner peace?
Sometimes simple is best, other weeks I prefer a pop of color. I really enjoyed using a different planner each week and coming up with different ways to decorate and modify the planner to my liking.
While I didn’t find a planner I think I could stick to for an entire year, I did realise that using a different planner maybe not every week but every couple of weeks is a better fit for me. I have never been able to stick to using 1 planner for an entire year (the longest I lasted was 2 months) but I’ve learned that for me using different planners to suit my needs IS my version of planner peace.
I don’t think I’m ever going to find a planner made by someone else that suits my exact needs without tweaking it – but that’s part of the fun! I like getting creative and customising and visualising different ways to tweak planner layouts. It can get a bit boring just ‘filling in the blanks’ with the same layout or an inflexible layout.
And when I have a specific in planner in mind that suits my needs for that week I have the skills to make my own (which I realised in week 35 when I couldn’t find any planner that came close to what I needed to plan that week).
This challenge also reinforced to me that it doesn’t matter how pretty a planner is – If you don’t use it there’s no point in having it. I’m guilty of spending a lot of time planning how I’m going to set up a spread as its posted for ‘public viewing’ here on the blog (that’s why I only show the setup for the week not the end of the week – things get messy, I add personal stuff like $ of mortgage repayments, period tracking, working on ‘secret’ new products and other personal stuff)!
I also realised you don’t need to completely fill in all of the writing space to have ‘used’ the planner. Also if the extra pages don’t work for you don’t be afraid to tear them out. I never use contacts pages so I see no point lugging them around. If you feel like ripping pages out of a planner is a bit like ‘vandalism’ (I used to feel like that), you could re-purpose the pages into notes space or list space by whiting out existing text on the page.
Just because a planner is popular doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for you, and just because a planner is not what everyone else is using doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it.
So this year I’ll be trying different planners. I may not use a different one every week, I may use the same one for a couple of weeks in a row. We shall have to wait and see! 🙂
Here’s the full list of the planning methods I tried:
- Week 1: Using a daily habit/routine tracker to plan your week
- Week 2: Planning using daily checklists
- Week 3: Plum Paper Vertical Planner – Better than the Erin Condren?
- Week 4: Minimalist planning: how to plan your week using a blank notes page and stickers
- Week 5: Planning by category and task, rather than by day
- Week 6: Planning using the Horizontal Erin Condren Life Planner
- Week 7: Pros and cons of using a 1 Page Weekly Planner
- Week 8: Weekly Planning using the Plum Paper Memory Keeper Book
- Week 9: Customising the Erin Condren hourly planner for task based planning
- Week 10: Minimalist 1 page planning using washi tape
- Week 11: How to plan your week using Trello
- Week 12: Planning using the Plum Paper Horizontal lined with notes
- Week 13: Using a Kmart lists book to plan your week (planning by task, rather than by day)
- Week 14: Using a simple, 1 page weekly planner with only 3 sections
- Week 15: Trying a freehand weekly planner inspired by bullet journalling
- Week 16: Minimalist 1 page categorised planning using black pen & highlighters
- Week 17: Using the Plum Paper Vertical Weekly Planner
- Week 17 (Part 2): Daily planning using to do lists categorised by time
- Week 18: Making a DIY printable planner with a flexible layout
- Week 19: Mi Goals Weekly Planner
- Week 20: Weekly planning using only a checklist and habit tracker – download a free printable
- Week 21: Using Microsoft Word to plan your week
- Week 22: Using Erin Condren size planner stickers in the Mini Happy Planner
- Week 23: Using Limelife Planners Weekly Layout C
- Week 24: Using Erin Condren Size Planner Stickers in MAMBI Classic Happy Planner
- Week 25: Using the Erin Condren Teacher Planner for weekly planner
- Week 26: Using a weekly planner notepad to plan the week
- Week 27: Using the Frank Horizontal Weekly Planner
- Week 28: Planning the entire week using only sticky notes
- Week 29: Plum Paper Me Planner
- Week 30: Using the Goal Digger Planner by Susana Cresce
- Week 31: Using the Ashley Shelly Planner for weekly planning
- Week 32: Using an undated Officeworks A4 Horizontal Planner
- Week 33: Colorful Bullet Journal Inspired Weekly Spread
- Week 34: Review of the Planner Pad Weekly Planner
- Week 35: Planning with a functional minimalist DIY weekly planner printable
- Week 36: Using the daily and weekly Momentum Planner by Productive Flourishing
- Week 36 (part 2): Trying out the Day Designer Daily Planner by Whitney English (Review)
- Week 37: Using the Bloom weekly planner notepad
- Week 37 (part 2): Planning using the daily plan bar method (bullet journal inspired)
- Week 38: Using the Do It All Weekly Planner by Orange Circle Studio
- Week 39: Weekly Planning using Studio Stationery notepad
- Week 40: Using the MAMBI Happy Planner Horizontal
- Week 41: Weekly planning using Microsoft Excel
- Week 41 (part 2): Using the Limelife Daily Planner (free printable)
- Week 41 (part 3): Daily planning bullet journal style (using a Plum Paper grid dot notebook)
- Week 42: Using the Focus Journal Daily Planner
- Week 43: Using the Emily Ley Weekly Plannner
- Week 44: Planning the week using stamps (MAMBI, Carpe Diem & Creative Devotion)
- Week 45:
- Week 46: Using the Nourished Planner (free printable)
- Week 47: Planning by category rather than by day using a Kikki K Notepad – ‘Work Smarter : Live Better’
- Week 48: Using the Dabney Lee for Blue Sky Weekly Planner
- Week 49: Using the Create Your Own Planner
- Week 50: Using a landscape page orientation weekly planning notepad
- Week 51: Weekly planning using only a printable to do list
- Week 52: Using a Kikki K Weekly Planner
I’ll be doing another post with the planners that were my favorite! (make sure you subscribe to be notified when the post is published)
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