Humans have been using calendars to keep track of time for more than 10,000 years. The method, materials and number of days in a year varied widely until 1582 when most of the world switched to the Gregorian calendar. Since then, the only major changes have been in portability and visual impact. We created an industry out of calendars with photos of cats, lighthouses and TV stars on top. And another industry out of highly-detailed binders that keep us on track from sun-up to sundown.
Now, there’s a new trend that combines the visual impact of cute wall calendars with the precision of an executive Day-Timer and it’s simply referred to as “planners”.
The word may be simple, but the concept is not, and that can lead to rabid planner passion which rarely leads to planner peace. How does one achieve To Do list Nirvana? We invited productivity expert Alexis Giostra over to chat about that very thing.
Read carefully and heed her advice and soon, you too will become one with your daily schedule.
The Planner Community
Cynthia: The planner community has blown up like crazy over the last few years. Plan with me videos, Etsy sticker stores, high-end planner companies – how did this happen?
Alexis Giostra: When I first started with my planner videos, a lot of planners and planning was not really about the productivity side. It wasn’t about what you’re putting in your planner to get done or the goals. It was about stickers and journaling cards. It was about how you could capture life. It’s like the planner has become the modern scrapbook for some people.
In the middle of 2014, we were still going uphill on the planner as a scrapbook. That’s when I recognized that it was fun to play with the stickers but what I really wanted was the productivity part. Since then, there’s been a little bit of a divide. I think the planner as a scrapbook is still going on but we’re reaching a plateau. I do think that in the next year or so people are going to be moving into productivity and that whole scrapbook idea might go down again.
Too Many To Do's
Cynthia: I fell in love with the idea of decorating a planner and carefully crafting a week in advance, but after awhile filling in those blanks felt like just another chore on an already packed To Do list.
Alexis: If we’re talking about using a planner for its intended purposes of tracking and scheduling your life, absolutely it seems like that’s one more thing to do – play with your planner. But when you know what the general schedule for your week is going to be, you’re actually able to save time. You save time because you can batch like items together, so you’re not going back and forth. You can map out your week and become more efficient.
Also, I think that physically writing things down has the ability to release a weight from your shoulders. So many of us are super busy. We’ve got all these things we’re juggling, different hats we’re wearing, and we’re all trying to use our brains like they’re hard drives from the computer.
There is a book that I recommend to everybody, it’s called ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen, and he goes into this idea that your brain is not a hard drive. It’s more like the memory on a computer. Your brain can be the command center for a lot of different thoughts and ideas but it’s not meant for storage. Your brain is for thinking. It’s for processing. So writing things down in a planner or on a ‘To Do’ list really helps take the weight off your shoulders in terms of all the things you’ve got to remember.
Spend just 15 minutes to a half-hour a day looking at your schedule. [Ask yourself] what are the tasks I really need to get done this week? Where are my obligations and where are the goals and plans for my own life? That’s another thing I hear a lot of people talking about. They want to get things done for themselves, they want to achieve big goals. So breaking things up into tasks and putting them in your planner means you’re making it a priority.
Staying on Track
Cynthia: A few months ago, I finally found a planner system that worked for me but with the holidays and a week off sick, I’m now way behind. It’s Friday and my calendar is still open to Wednesday. I know I could just cross those items off and move them to Monday but my brain says “don’t throw in the towel yet! Keep going and you’ll get it all done.” Guess what happens next? I get frustrated with my lack of progress and nothing gets done. Now it seems like my planner is more of a hindrance than a help.
Alexis: I believe that migrating [unfinished tasks] is important even if you can see a full week at a glance. If I don’t do something one day, I strike it through and move it to the next. [However] a lot of times we put things on our To Do list and they weren’t actually essential. Is it something you thought you wanted to work on but now you’re not? [If so,] remove it and remove the stress so you can fully engage in the day.
Cynthia: It’s funny, there’s so much power in drawing a line through a To Do item or putting a check in a box.
Alexis: People will laugh at you for having an old school paper planner, but when you check something off you feel like a million bucks. When you strike something through and say I’m not doing that, it’s the biggest relief.
A Creative Outlet
Cynthia: The decorative side of the new planner movement may not have helped you get more things done but it might help a creative person stay on track. Stickers and washi tape and themes make planning more enjoyable and less of a chore.
Alexis: Definitely, [decorative planning] can be a very real, creative outlet for people. That’s why there’s a strong following for people who watch the ‘Plan with Me’ videos. But the thing that I’ve always been more interested in when it comes to décor is that it’s functional and inspirational.
One of the things that makes my stickers a little bit different is that they’re geared toward my entrepreneurial lifestyle and the things I need to get done. They help me remember, ‘hey you’ve got a webinar’ or ‘you’ve got a blog post to write’. They have these pretty images on them, but it’s more that they’re functioning to help me organize my information. It’s the same reason women carry a designer bag as opposed to a canvas sack. You want to have something useful that’s holding your stuff, but you also want something that represents your style and inspires you.
The Road to Planner Peace
Cynthia: Now that we’ve convinced everyone they need a planner, what’s the next step? Just run to Target and buy one?
Alexis: When people try to dive deep after looking at [YouTube videos], they think that just because someone is doing X that they need to do it and that is the quickest way to ruin your planner peace.
Before you even look at the planner options, get a notebook and start keeping track of the things you’re doing day-to-day, the projects you’re working on, the different categories that there are for you life.
I’m not a stay-at-home mom. My priority is my business and my husband and my dog, not taking care of a child, which is a tremendous task. The things I need in a planner may not be what someone else needs. Are you someone who goes to school and you have a class schedule? Are you someone who works irregular hours? Write down the things that matter to you. Write down all the tasks and write down when you made a mistake – you forgot something and wow, I wish I had a place to put this reminder. You learn from that. Then go ahead and look at the planners and the options.
It’s important to understand the guts of the planner; the monthly and weekly views. Some people have so much to do in a day they need a day on two pages spread. Some have a light week so they might be able to use a month on two pages spread. You just need to know first what you need. Then, when you’re exploring each layout and say, ‘how would I use it’? How would this help alleviate this mess on the notebook?
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. When I first started using planners there weren’t a lot of variety of inserts, so I created my own. If you’re someone who needs more flexibility maybe an Erin Condren or a bound system isn’t for you. Maybe you need a binder system like a Filofax where you can interchange pages and make your own sections.
Cynthia: Having looked at all the blogs and videos and the options, it’s easy to fall back on the planner as the problem. I forgot to finish that newsletter last week. If only I had a week on two pages planner, I wouldn’t have missed it. I bought three different planners in one week because I was sure that finding the right one would solve all of my productivity problems.
Alexis: People who don’t have planner peace aren’t sticking it out enough. I see people who continuously buy the same kinds of planners and have the same issues. If I had one option from Target, I could make it work. It’s not the planner itself. Identify what your real issues [and then tell yourself] ‘I’m going to be happy with what I have right now.’
Alexis Giostra is a full time #BlogBoss, Online Business Coach and Productivity Guru. She is known for her website StrangeCharmed.com, her YouTube Channel, and her social media presence @MissTrenchcoat where she shares about business, planners, and how to get things done.
In 2014 Alexis left her fortune 50 job to start her own business, Charmed Media Enterprises, where she creates a plethora of inspirational content each week, including productivity printables, planner decor and digital courses designed to inspire and motivate you to make your dreams a reality!