If you're anything like me, one of your favorite things to do in the early days of January (assuming you didn't do it in the late days of December) is pick out a new planner and savor the promise of a new year filled with a whirlwind social calendar, weekend getaways to exotic locales and brunch, lunch and dinner dates with your loves. Here are five ways to ensure you make the best use of your planner this year:
1. Get one that you love. You should absolutely adore the look, feel and layout of your planner. The more you like it, the more likely you are to use it. Take the time to go to a local bookstore or stationer and flip through the planners that catch your eye. Think about your scheduling style and what you really need to be able to keep track of. Personally, I need to see my month at a glance, so planners that only offer daily or weekly layouts are not an option for me, no matter how attractive I find the exterior.
2. Get one that is built to last. Some folks might wonder why anybody would invest in a pricey planner. The same folks are probably less than eager to pull out their beaten and battered planners by mid-October and wonder why the edges of the pages are tattered and frayed. That being said, a durable planner does not have to be an expensive one. Look for solid binding and a waterproof cover. I've lucked out with nice planners for as little as $2 and most academic planners are pretty inexpensive (under $15) yet sturdy. Personally I prefer calendar year planners but if you work in education or any other industry that cycles with the academic year, a student planner might be perfect for your schedule and your budget.
3. Take the Time to Set It Up. Sit down for 15 minutes and fill in birthdays, vacations, weddings, religious holidays, regular meetings and any other events that you already know are coming up for the year. I like to flip through last year's planner as I do this so I can note wedding anniversaries, baby birthdays, conferences, scholarship brunches, galas or other special events from the past year that I may have forgotten about but might want to revisit. It also helps me note when I should mail a birthday card, order a gift, etc. Filling in as much as possible beforehand makes your planner a much more helpful tool when planning your year as it gives you a sense of what months are likely to be hectic (and expensive!) so you can work around them. I also like to highlight office holidays and set vacation days so I can tell at a glance what months I might be able to sneak in a weekend trip. Much like making a budget does for your money, taking the time to set up your planner and modifying it as you go along helps tell you where your time is supposed to go instead of leaving you wondering where it went.
4. Supplement It As Necessary. I know I preach the virtues of pen and paper but I realize we live in a digital age and am leashed to a Blackberry (for work) and iPhone (personally) to prove it. While my planner serves as my primary method of determining what's on my personal agenda and daily to-do list, I use MicroSoft Outlook at work to schedule reminders for meeting and events within the office. I also make sure to list in my Outlook any evening events that might conflict with work or professional networking obligations. Finally, Mr. Forever insists that I add events where his attendance is required to his Google Calendar because he relies primarily on his phone as his scheduler. At first read it might sound like I'm duplicating efforts but it actually breaks down quite efficiently:
If I need to know what days or weekends I'm free socially, when my bills are due, or any other personal scheduling concern, I check my bound planner.
If I ever need to confirm a client meeting or explain to my boss where I was during a workday, I can quickly check my Outlook (which is synced to my Blackberry), without having to tote my planner around the office all day.
When Mr. Forever commits to double-date night at the ballet, I can use my iPhone to add it to his calendar before he can weasel out of it.
By supplementing my planner instead of relying on it to to be a miracle catch-all, I'm able to keep it fairly streamlined and I also mitigate some of the damage done if it ever gets lost (it's happened, it's awful).
5. Use a Pencil. It might seem glaringly obvious but plans change- keep your planner neat and legible by avoiding scribbles when you need to modify an entry and enable yourself to jot down tentative dates without fear that you're turning your lovely agenda into an ink-blotted mess of what-might-have-beens.
"Modern women are just bombarded. There's nothing but media telling us we're all supposed to be great cooks, have great style, be great in bed, be the best mothers, speak seven languages, and be able to understand derivatives...so we're all looking for how to do this." ~Jamie Lee Curtis