If you follow my blog you’re probably also on a quest to find planner peace. Part of that is trying different planner spreads. But before you go dropping a lot of money on a bunch of planners, make sure you check these 18 things first!
18 Things to check before buying a planner
The first thing you need to ask is: what size planner do you need? Do you need something small, light and portable that you can take with you everywhere, or do you need something big with a lot of space to plan everything from work to personal to health, cleaning, meal planning, blogging etc. What do you need to use your planner for? Note that planners can get a bit over-crowded if you want to tracking spending, cleaning etc. so you may want to keep a separate household binder for those things you don’t need to refer to every day.
You want to check not only the size of the planner, but the size of the actual pages of the planner. Covers tend to extend beyond the page size so always check the dimensions of the actual pages. This is particularly the case for ring bound planners – the inserts tend to be quite small and the cases, quite bulky (one of the reasons I avoid using ring bound planners!)
The other thing you’ll want to keep in mind regarding size, is the duration of the planner as this will affect how fat the planner is i.e. an 18 month planner is going to be bigger than a 12 month planner.
Planners that have 1 day per page will also use more paper then those with a 2 page weekly spread.
2. Binding Style
Next, what sort of binding style do you like? There’s a few options to choose from:
- Ring bind
I went into much more detail about the various binding styles in this post: how to choose a binding system for your planner (comparison and which one I like the most)
My favorite binding style is discbound, specifically the Arc planner system. These types of systems have the ability to remove, add and rearrange pages as needed and are my favorite type of planning system.
If you’ve found a planner you like but it only comes in ring bound or spiral bound (as most of them do), ask the company if they’ll mail the pages unpunched. I did this with Plum Paper and then Arced the pages to create a discbound planner.
Once you choose a binding style, the next question to ask is: what size? Discs for discbound planners come in 2 sizes – small and large. If in doubt, get larger size discs so you have space to grow and room to add extra pages such as habit trackers and especially if you like planning with stickers as these will add bulk to your planner.
If you’re buying ring bound planners or using a mini binder, be sure to check how many holes, the spacing between them and the size of the rings e.g. half inch, 1 inch. I’ve purchased folders thinking they had 3 rings but they only had 2. The more rings, the less likely pages are to fall out of the planner and get damaged. But note with more rings comes more holes you need to punch and correctly line up.
3. Planner Layout
Planners come in 3 main styles:
After having tried various styles of all 3, my personal preference is horizontal planner spreads. The reason being is they tend to have more room to write. Your eyes also aren’t flicking back and forth across the page as is the case with vertical planners. With vertical planners you write a task and it could take up half the planning space. Horizontal planners in general tend to be neater to plan with as most are lined. You can also split the daily boxes of a horizontal planner into 2 and still have ample planning space.
Most hourly planners come in a vertical spread. The exception to this is the Ashley Shelley planner which has a horizontal spread and space for you yo add your own timeslots. I used it for the 52 Planners in 52 Weeks challenge (post coming soon!) in the meantime, read & watch my review of the planner here: Ashley Shelly Planner Review – Weekly Planner (pros, cons and a walkthrough)
Most planner companies these days offer multiple styles of their planners. For the best range (and my personal favorite!) I recommend Plum Paper.
4. Daily versus weekly planners
I personally prefer to use weekly planners so I can see everything that’s happening on the 2 pages without having to flick back and forth all the time.
I find daily planners have to much space for each day and use up too much paper so you end up carrying what feels like a brick (ok that’s a slight exaggeration but you know what I mean) around with you in your handbag. Most day to a page daily planners tend to have an hourly format which I would really only use on weekends since I work full time and have to use the company I work for’s digital calendar system.
Regardless of whether you choose a daily or weekly planner, there are plenty of planner options for both formats (both dated and undated). There are also many printables so you can add a printable if you need a bit of extra room or are experimenting with different layouts. Both formats also come in neutral (black and white / ink friendly) and colorful formats.
Some options for daily planners:
- Emily Ley Simplified Planner
- Day Designer – stylish + simple + functional structured layout = love!
- Purposeful planner by Corie Clark
- A printable from my shop (these are quite popular!)
Some option for weekly planners
- Plum Paper
- Mi Goals
- Blue Sky planners – these planners are so pretty and simple (if only they shipped to Australia!)
- Inkwell Press – for a simple, classic planner – they have vertical and horizontal planner styles
- Purple Trail – a planner company I don’t think gets enough promotion – they have lots of simple and functional weekly planners – kind of a cross between Plum Paper and Erin Condren
- Limelife Planners (they have tons of layouts to choose from – Layout C is my favorite!)
- Happy Planner – an affordable option if you’re after a discbound planner
There are hundreds of planners to choose from – these are just a few of my favorites!
Another option is to intersperce notes pages or checklist pages between the planning space for brain dumping tasks that need to be done before scheduling them into your planner. Discbound planners make it very easy to do this – the main reason why I prefer them over other binding styles!
I wrote an entire post with pros and cons for each type of planner in this post: daily versus weekly planners: which is right for you?
5. Sunday or Monday week start
Do you prefer for the days of the week to start on a Sunday or Monday? Most planners have the weekly spread starting on a Monday. Monday is my personal preference so the weekend isn’t split – you can see the entire week in front of you without having to flip between pages.
2 Things to check:
- If the first and last weeks of the month start mid-week, whether they’re split between months, or are kept within their respective months. For example, in the Plum Paper planner they repeat the days and shade them out in grey. So you have the option of planning the first / last couple of days of the month with the previous or next month. Some planners won’t duplicate the days this like and will have part of the days from the previous month in the next month’s spread.
2. For some weird reason most planner companies don’t align the monthly calendar start month and the weekly spread start month. I.e. the monthly spread will typically start on a Sunday but the weekly spread will start on a Monday. If this bugs you (it annoys me!) then make sure you check this before purchasing a planner.
6. Time of the year the planner starts
There are 2 main times of the year to buy planners: at the start of the year in January (calendar year) or mid-year around July & August (Academic year). If neither of these suit you or it’s April / October (between seasons) and the planner you bought just isn’t working out for you, it’s a good time to try an undated planner (such as free printable samples of other planners).
Some planner companies such as Plum Paper will let you choose the start month for the planner.
7. The layout of the monthly calendar
Most planners these days have a 2 page monthly calendar (which I highly recommend over a 1 page calendar which leaves you with very little room to write anything).
A few things to check for monthly calendars:
Day of the week that the calendar starts
Most planners start the weekly spread on a Monday but the monthly spread starts on a Sunday.
Size of the Boxes
That the boxes aren’t combined when the last days of the month fall at the end of the week – my number 1 pet hate is when planner companies combine the boxes i.e. cram 2 days into the space of 1 box – so impractical!
Colors of the Months
If the months are color-coded (if you’re obsessed with color coding your planner like I am or just want a nice rainbow planner!
Landscape (the width is longer) or portrait page orientation (the width is shorter).
1 page or 2 page calendar
Most planners these days will split the monthly calendar over 2 pages however some such as the Planner Pad have a 1 page portrait page orientation planner. Again I find this really impractical as you can’t fit as much in the boxes.
If there’s a planner that you really like the weekly spread but the monthly isn’t going to work for you, you can always add a printable.
One of my favotite non-traditional monthly calendar layouts is in the Mi Goals Planner – it has 3 lines for each day and in a column style, rather than boxes.
8. Printable versus printed?
Some planner companies offer only printed versions of their planners, some offer both.
Some companies also offer a free printable of the planner so you can try it out. If there a digital version of the layout that you can print and test try the planner before purchasing (Day Designer, Passion Planner and Limelife Planners have this option).
9. The cover
If you take your planner with you everywhere, a hardcover would be a better option for you to prevent damage.
Some planners that have a hardcover:
- Emily Ley Simplified Planner
- Purposeful Planner by Corie Clark
- Ashley Shelley
While hardcovers are sturdy, you can’t create interchangeable covers or custom covers.
The easiest planners to add DIY covers to are those with laminated covers including:
- Plum Paper
- Erin Condren
- Happy Planner
I shared a tutorial for creating a DIY planner cover (and a free printable cover) in this post: How to make a DIY Erin Condren Planner Cover for less than $2 (plus free printable cover)
Some things to check:
- Does the cover go over the top of the tabs or do the tabs stick out of the planner (so they’re more likely to get damaged)
- Do you want a colorful cover or neutral?
- Can you personalise the cover? e.g. add your name when ordering
- Can you change the colors and patterns of the cover? (i.e. full customisation)
- Can you add a photo to the cover?
Make sure you check if there is an additional cost to personalise the cover. Most companies factor this into the cost of the planner.
The thicker the paper, the less likely pens are to ghost or bleed through the page.
Ghosting means you can see shadowing of the pen when you turn the page over and look at the back side. Gel pens typically ghost.
Bleed through means the ink is clearly visible on the back of the page and you can’t write anything where the ink has bled through. Thick marker style pens such as Sharpies are more likely to bleed through.
If you’re not sure what pens to use, go with ballpoint pens – they’re easy to write with, cheap, rarely smudge and are less prone to bleeding and ghosting.
You’ll also want to look for planners with bright white paper and a thick paper weight. Planners with yellowish paper tend to be bookbound / glue bound and the colors of pens always look more dull (this was the case in week 27 when I used the Frank Weekly Planner).
I did a post on the best Paper for Printing Printables.
To enlarge the screen of the video, click the square icon in the bottom right hand corner of the video (it will say ‘full screen’ when you hover your mouse over the icon).
11. Add on Pages
Most planners include the typical additional pages like:
- Annual Dates at a glance calendar for the current and following year
- Important dates (for monthly planning)
- National holidays
- Notes pages
- Password log
Very few planner companies give you the option of add on pages such as extra notes pages distributed throughout the planner, or add on pages such as teacher lesson planning pages etc. Plum Paper allow you to add extra pages and MAMBI have a plethora of inserts (that are pre-punched) that you can add to their discbound planners <3
If there’s a page you refer to all the time (such as cleaning checklists) download a printable and add it to your planner. I shared instructions for adding pages to a spiral bound planner in this post.
12. The number of holes for ring bound planners if you’re buying inserts
There are many different types of ring bound planners to choose from including:
- Carpe Diem
- Green & Lyme
- Webster’s Pages Color Crush
- Kikki K
- Franklin Covey
- Louis Vitton
Even if the page of the insert itself is the same the number of holes (and spacing between them) may be different so be sure to check before you drop a lot of money on inserts. If you do buy the wrong ones by accident, you can always add a strip of washi and re-punch the holes.
13. Is there a free sample available?
I shared a roundup of planner companies that offer spreads for free. If you can try the planner for free then always choose this option (of course!) One thing about trying free samples: you don’t get to test the binding style, the quality of the paper, the color of the printing, most planners come in 7 x 9″ size so the size you print may be larger etc.
Related: Week 30: Using the Goal Digger Planner by Susana Cresce
Related: Week 23: Using Limelife Planners Weekly Layout C
If there’s no free sample to download, does the planner company ship internationally? How expensive is shipping? Is it cheaper to purchase a few planners and split the cost of shipping with friends? Can you list extra planners you’ve purchased to reduce shipping on eBay?
If you live in Australia (like I do), a lot of planner companies such as BlueSky and Inkwell Press don’t ship here 🙁
I’ve done a lot of research into this when searching for new planners to try for the 52 Planners in 52 Weeks challenge and posted some of my findings regarding shipping in this post: Planner companies that don’t ship to Australia (or have expensive shipping to Australia)
15. Colorful versus minimal
Planners tend to either be very colorful or very minimal (black and white only). If you’re not sure what your style is, I recommend going with a minimal style as you can add color using washi tape, colored pens, highlighters etc.
If you like planning using stickers go with a minimal planner as the spread will look good no matter what – everything goes good with black – the stickers won’t be clashing with the colors already on the planner.
If you’re using printables, a neutral color scheme will also save on printer ink.
16. Habit trackers, accessories and all those extras
From pockets for storing planner stickers, to pen loops, to extra inserts, page markers, stickers etc. there’s a planner add on for anything and everything these days!
When buying a planner, make sure you check what accessories are and aren’t included. Do you want these built into the planner or are you with paying extra and adding these yourself. For example, some planners come with a pocket for storing stickers and a pen loop, while others don’t.
Related: Week 14: Using a simple, 1 page weekly planner with only 3 sections
Pocket or pencil case included for storing planner accessories such as sticky notes, stickers, pens etc.
Coordinating extras e.g. stickers sized to suit the planner, extra pages/inserts you can add that are in the same style/layout/ which coordinate with the planner
17. Planner Stickers
While I don’t personally use the Erin Condren planner (too over-priced) the size of stickers for the Erin Condren Life Planner are a good size that fit most other planners. I’ve used Erin Condren size sticker kits in the Happy Planner vertical (basically the same as the Erin Condren but with discbound instead of coil binding)…
I’ve also used them in the Mini Happy Planner (horizontal)…
As well as various other planners throughout the 52 Planners in 52 Weeks challenge.
18. Read / Watch Planner Reviews
I prefer to watch a video for a planner review as I get so much more out of and tons more little tips that most people don’t mention when writing a blog post. I also like watching unboxing videos as I feel people are more likely to give an honest opinion when it’s their first impression.
Planner Facebook groups are also helpful.
What if you can’t find the perfect planner?
If, after reading this post and realising you haven’t found the right planner that ticks all these boxes, there’s one more option that will guarantee you get the perfect planner that suits your exact needs. How? By learning how to make your own planner printables! Click here to learn how to make a weekly planner from scratch via an easy to digest 7 day email course.
Disclaimer: If you purchase something from Plum Paper using my referral link I’ll receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you!) I only recommend products I would recommend even if I wasn’t receiving compensation for referring you.
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