Although no one can argue with the usefulness of digital productivity tools like Google Calendar, Trello, and Evernote, sometimes you just need a paper planner and pen (preferably a sleek, rollergel one) to get down to business.
For one thing, it’s hard to sit down and focus on your to-do list, your time-management needs or your weekly goals when you’re constantly getting Slack or Instagram notifications.
“We love our smartphones as much as everyone else and rely on them to keep contact information, look up directions, order lunch and perform lots of other amazing conveniences, but they can also be distracting and take up more of our precious time than we intend or realize,” says Allison Hodson, senior product manager for FranklinCovey. Since a search for “planner” brought up more than 100,000 results on Amazon, we asked Hodson for some shopping tips, and she suggested asking yourself these three questions first.
What am I using it for? Hodson explains that a planner’s basic functions are to “capture and retrieve,” so keep that in mind as you’re browsing. You might need to manage appointments, daily to-dos, projects timelines or goals, or want lots of free space to figure it out as you go. And don’t forget that a planner can track more than just reminders to pick up paper towels or take your kids to soccer. “It may sound fanciful, but you really can capture your dreams, act on your aspirations, set higher standards for your life, and achieve greater goals,” says Hodson. So whether your dream is to finish writing a novel or train for a triathlon, if you devote a page to track the time you spend on that, you’ll be motivated to keep going.
What’s my ideal format? Some planners are time-based, meaning they’re set up to show you a day, week or month at a glance. You can also opt to get a sleek leather notebook from a company like Moleskine or Shinola and build your own planner, or have a company like Agendio customize one for you. There is also a wide range of styles, such as classic bookbinding and wirebound, as well as ring-bound and the newer discbound varieties, which allow you to add and remove pages.
How big should it be? Some people have two different planners, one they carry around and another to keep at home or work. “Smaller, wirebound planners are more portable and are great for writing down to-dos and capturing daily or weekly highlights, whereas a larger ring-bound planner is great to keep in one place and may offer more space for note-taking or journaling,” says Hodson. Here are some great planners in a mix of formats to consider.
If you have trouble setting and meeting goals, invest in this Clever Fox planner. It comes with 150 planner stickers, an inner pocket, three ribbon bookmarks, plus it lets you list what you're grateful for.
Pros: This Clever Fox planner has it all. You can list your daily goals, your rituals, what you’re grateful for, and even create a vision board. Plus, you can zero in on your five micro-goals.
Cons: If all you need is a reminder to show up at your kid’s track meet, this is a whole lot of planner.
You'll never go wrong with a classic, and this Moleskine planner is a crowd-pleaser. It's got thick, ivory paper pages that make keeping your schedule and goals up-to-date actually, dare we say it, pleasant.
Pros: Your Moleskine planner is formatted to show the week’s appointments on the left and a ruled page for notes and ideas on the right. It’s equally perfect for students, and CEOs. It’s got rounded corners and an elastic closure. Plus, the paper is nicely fancy.
Cons: Some complain that the paper is, in fact, still too thin.
This planner, which also comes in a ring-bound format, incorporates quotes and tips to help inspire you and give you ideas on being more productive. It can be used alone or customized with a cover of your choice.
Pros: It’s a handy medium size (5.5 by 8.5 inches) and includes helpful tools like worksheets for using the 5 Choices method, weekly planning pages, monthly calendars and task lists, as well as inspirational quotes (“Creativity is not the finding of the thing, but the making something out of it after it is found”) and reminders (“schedule the Big Rocks,” which is Kogon’s term for priorities).
Cons: It might not resonate as much with you if you haven’t read the book, although FranklinCovey offers several helpful videos outlining the principles, which are applicable to anyone looking to work and live more efficiently.
If you want a planner with a serious cool factor, look to the Hobonichi Techo, which hails from Japan and was created by Shigesato Itoi, a writer, video game creator and actor (he was the voice of Satsuki and Mei's father in My Neighbor Totoro).
Pros: The Tomoe River paper is lightweight but strong, and each book has a special “lay-flat” binding style that enables it to stay open on a flat surface. You’ll get both days and months at-a-glance, as well as fun Japanese trivia mixed in (topics for 2019 include “Traditional Japanese Household Items” and “A World of Traditional Sweets.”)
Cons: The price, for sure, especially given the size (about 4 by 6 inches). And because it comes with dates already added, it lacks the flexibility of a blank book.
Facing a fear of planner commitment? Start with this affordable tear-off style. Sold as a set of two, the pads (8.5 by 11 inches) come in different styles: One includes a day's worth of appointments (from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.) as well as space to log goals, meals, exercise and a shopping list. The other devotes less room to appointments, but has several extra boxes, including notes, a to-do list, daily priorities and a gratitude list.
Pros: At about $13 for each pad, this is a serious bang for buck. The sheets can be attached to your fridge, office bulletin board or a clipboard for easy reference.
Cons: As opposed to a sturdy notebook, it might be hard to keep track of single sheets floating around in your bag. There’s also no monthly calendar or permanent place for capturing information you might need to reference (like a running to-do list).
You're parents probably had Day-Timers, and if you want to go old-school, this is a trusty choice. This set comes with three different styles of pages: One per day, two per day and two showing an entire week, so you can play around to find your planning sweet spot. The pages are big enough to capture lots of information (8.5 by 5.5 inches) but the overall case size (8.5 by 10.6 inches) isn't overwhelming—you can toss it in a bag.
Pros: It’s fairly affordable, and the zippered cover, though not real leather, is classy and unobtrusive and can be used from year to year. It also comes with handy features like two pen holders, slots for business cards and credit cards, a ruler placeholder and a clear zippered pouch.
Cons: Some Amazon buyers said that the planners they ordered were missing accessories, and there were also complaints that the rings were plastic and not metal. Since the set only comes with a month’s worth of pages for each style, you’ll eventually need to order additional ones, adding to your cost.
The first thing to know about this tool from author and former publishing CEO Michael Hyatt: It's a quarterly planner, so you'll need to get four each year if you decide it's your jam. In Hyatt's opinion, focusing on only 90 days at a time helps people feel less overwhelmed, although he does offer some space for future planning. The calendar itself is in a daily format with one spread per day: The right page is completely blank for notes, while the left has space for your top three daily goals, your to-do list and appointments.
Pros: Besides the basic calendar, this planner includes lots of distinctive, thought-provoking extras, such as intricate goal detail pages (you can list your motivations, steps and even check off habits), “ideal week” spreads that allow you to map out your next seven days, and weekly and quarterly recaps (you write down what went well and what didn’t). He’s also got a handy video online to help you get started.
Cons: It’s pricey, although if you decide you love the system, you can order a set of four for 22 percent off the list price through Hyatt’s website. And if you don’t love journaling, the question prompts like “What will or should happen this coming week?” or “What will you keep, improve or start doing?” might get irritating. And not everyone will love the 90-day format.
If you like your planners simple and affordable, pick up this spare, undated spiral-bound book from Chicago-based company Field Notes. These notebooks are rooted in the American farming tradition, as co-founder Aaron Draplin explains in his short film, and their utilitarian design is inspired by the type, color and general spirit of the memo books given to farmers by agricultural companies. Even the font is vintage and described proudly—it's from the Futura family and dates to 1927, if you must know.
Pros: The price is right and in keeping with their roots, the books are made and printed in the United States. The spiral binding keeps the book open on a flat surface, and size (5 by 8 inches) makes it easy to carry around.
Cons: There are no extra planning pages, so if you want bells and whistles, look elsewhere. The sturdy brown chipboard cover definitely speaks to a certain aesthetic, which not all guys will appreciate.
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