Friday, December 14, 2012

My DIY Planner Revisited

About a year and a half ago I shared with you my DIY planner, a paper planner that I cobbled together out of planner forms printed from D*I*Y Planner (an awesome site that you should check out), inspiration from one of my favourite creativity blogs, and my own inventiveness.   I've tried different things with that planner since then, but it really came together for me this summer.  I was doing some more focused work with goals, planning, organization, and productivity systems (that will be the subject of a future post!), and my planner quickly became an absolute essential tool that I now can't live without.  Because I've made quite a few changes since my original post, I've written this post to show you my current planner setup and perhaps inspire you to create your own DIY planner for the new year.

My DIY planner, shortly after I created it back in 2011.

A bit of background if you haven't read the original post: My planner began as a standard 5 1/2 by 8 1/2 inch three-ring binder, covered with a stretchy fabric textbook cover to give it a more colourful green cover. This also had the added bonus of creating pockets on the front and back inside covers that I can use to store loose papers.  I also added six tabbed dividers that I covered with decorative papers to liven things up, and a bookmark to mark the current day.  If you want more information on how to make your own planner, check out my original post or iHanna's awesome post.

My DIY planner today, with my revised tabbed sections.

Now, let's get into my current planner setup.  The photo above shows the six tabs that I'm using: Reference, Monthly, Weekly, To-Do Lists, Goals, and Notes.  The Reference section contains details on a long-term personal project that I'm not going to discuss.  The Monthly and Weekly sections contain - obviously - monthly and weekly planning pages printed from D*I*Y Planner.  I use the monthly pages primarily for planning blog posts.  As you can see on last month's page spread below, I have all of my blog posts for both blogs written in on the dates that they are published.  This is very useful for me because I like to have a precise blogging schedule and I often write many posts at once and schedule them to be posted later.  This allows me to keep track of what is being published when and what posts I have already written.  I mark the current month with a small sticky note to make it easy to refer back to that month (it was still November when I took the photo) and cross the days off as the month progresses to give me a sense of progress and accomplishment.

Monthly planning pages.

My weekly planning pages are the core of my planner.  These are what keep me (somewhat) sane.  D*I*Y Planner offers a number of different weekly planner forms, but the hour-by-hour planning one works best for me.  I really need that structure to my day, partly because I'm a terrible procrastinator otherwise and partly because I don't currently have the structure of a nine-to-five job.  I'm working from home as a writer so my days really don't have much structure unless I create it myself.

Weekly planning pages.

Each section of my weekly planning pages has a specific purpose.  Most of these relate back to my productivity system, which I'm saving for a future post.  The main section is for planning my days hour by hour.  When I complete a task, I check it off with a bright, bold check mark.  This gives me a sense of accomplishment and a positive feeling about what I've done.  I use the column on the far right for my Big Rocks of the week (these are part of the awesome Zen-to-Done productivity system, which you should also check out).  Essentially, these are 4 to 6 major tasks that I commit to completing during the week.  I use the bottom section on the right-hand page for writing down the habit(s) I want to focus on during the week (e.g., exercising, writing in my journal).  Finally, I use the bottom section on the left-hand page for writing down additional actions selected from my to-do lists.  Unlike the Big Rocks, these are not essential items that need to be accomplished this week, but simply items that I will work on when I have the time.  Lately, I've starting listing these items in order of importance, which makes it easier for me to see what should be done first.

A look at the top of my Blogging to-do list, or Actions page.

The next two sections are To-do Lists and Goals.  My to-do list section consists of nine separate to-do lists, each dedicated to a different area of my life (writing, blogging, health/fitness, etc.).  These are my master to-do lists, and not the ones that I refer to on a daily basis.  I list items on the lists in roughly the order in which I want to complete them.  The headings I use for these lists relate directly back to the areas of my life in which I have identified goals in my Goals section.  I use Action pages from D*I*Y Planner for these lists.  Towards the end of the section, I also have a few check-lists for things that I want to buy, things that I've won, and things to make.  I'm not going to discuss my Goals section in detail here, other than to say that I don't use conventional goals.  I write my goals in the present tense, as though they have already happened in my life, and they all relate back to my central mission and vision statements.  Finally, the last section, Notes, simply contains notes on my weekly and monthly reviews, and some blank planner pages and notepaper.  Again, I'll be writing about all of these things (goals, mission/vision statements, periodic reviews) in a later post.

And that's it!  As you can see, my DIY planner is highly personalized to my particular needs.  I would certainly not recommend this particular setup to anyone else.  You should experiment to discover what works best for you, but I do hope that I have given you some new ideas.  The best part of creating a DIY planner is that you can customize your planner to contain exactly what you need (and if you're really hard-core you can of course design your own planner forms as well).  And, unlike with a purchased paper planner, you don't need to feel stuck with a particular planner format for an entire year.  Print out the pages you need for a month, then if that doesn't work for you, try something else the next month.  I've used quite a few different planning formats, from electronic organizers to paper planners (in daily, weekly, and monthly formats) to mimimalist DIY to-do lists used for keeping track of my assignments in university, but none of them have made me as happy as this DIY planner does.  I highly recommend the DIY approach to planners.  It may take a bit of tweaking to figure out the best system for you, but when you do, that is a great feeling.

So, tell me about your planner.  Is it paper or digital?  DIY or purchased?


  1. Your planner is amazing, of course! You motivated me in your last DIY Planner post to start on my own, and it is actually coming along quite nicely. I just need to master MS Word templates and rev 1 will be done. Just a thought, but you could easily make a few bucks on the side as a life coach focused on personal organization tied to personal goals. $50/hr is considered cheap in SF.

    1. Thanks, Duncan! I'm glad to hear that I've inspired you to create your own planner. So far I have only used the templates from the D*I*Y Planner site, but one of these days I'll probably try making my own.

  2. Hey, I'm thinking of applying a similar approach as a DIY planner, except using a bound custom journal, the only potential downside I see with that is that there's no real flexibility to adjust once the journal is done though I think it wouldn't be much of a problem if you know you like a particular type of planner.

    Any thoughts?

    1. It's a bit difficult for me to give you any specific recommendations, since I don't have any experience using custom bound journals and I don't know what your main purpose in using your planner is. I would say though that it would probably be best to keep the templates that you choose to use as flexible as possible. Include plain lined, unlined, and/or grid pages because these can be adapted to many different purposes. And including both monthly and weekly planning pages will be more flexible than just having one type. With a bound journal, it might also be better to have more rather than fewer pages - as long as the book does not become too bulky. The pages will be there if you need them, but you will be less likely to become stuck without a page that you need.


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