Build an Organizational Habit with a Paper Planner

Posted by Amy Dryden on

Want to reduce stress and improve your quality of life at home, work, school, or all three?  A paper planner is a wonderful way to get and stay organized!  Follow our simple, four-step process to make it work for you.

burgundy planner on marble desktop

First, although it is tempting to keep shopping for the "perfect" planner, the truth is there isn't one!  Rather than procrastinating your organizational journey by continuously swapping out planners, or feeling like you've failed when the latest trendy planner doesn't work for you, simply choose any planner that appeals to you, or even a simple notebook.  The key to organization is consistency.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably trying to sell you a new planner!

Second, you need to build a habit around your planner.  Experts agree that forming new habits can take anywhere from two weeks to two months, depending on your other life commitments, personality, and your experience building other habits.  Be patient, reward yourself when you stick to your new habit, and be gentle to yourself when you miss a day.

planner with leaves on the cover on a table with eucalyptus

What habit should you build?  Start with this, and eventually you can tweak it to fit your own needs:

  1. Start with a "braindump."  Just make a huge list of every task and deadline you've been trying to keep in your head.  Don't worry about putting it in any particular order or organizing it in other ways.  The goal is to relieve that pressure in your brain so you have room to think again!
  2. Once you've created a master list of to do items, look ahead at the next two days.  Given your regular commitments, choose one to three tasks from your master list to complete on each day.  It is tempting to put a large number of tasks on each day, but we want to build success here, and account for all the interruptions and unexpected items that inevitably come up!
  3. Repeat this process each day at the same time.  Slowly build up the number of days you assign tasks to in advance as you gain confidence in your ability to complete the tasks.  Remember, just one to three tasks a day is plenty to start tackling your list and creating that habit!
  4. Periodically rewrite your master to do list.  Once a week will generally suffice.  That way you can cross items off as they are completed, and add new items as they come up.

Pale aqua planner with pens on white desk

Not sure it will work?  One to three tasks completed per day is 365 to 1,095 completed tasks per year!  How many items did you finish and cross off your to-do list last year?

Prefer digital calendars over paper?  Research has repeatedly shown that the process of handwriting creates more permanent memories of the written information than inputting it into a digital device.  That mind-body connection to writing increases your ability to process and manage information!  You can always supplement a paper planner with digital reminders!

Gimmicky strategies to manage your to-do lists sound appealing, but are often too complicated to be realistic.  Strategies that require you to use a particular type or brand of planner don't account for the wide variety of design preferences and budgets we all have!  Getting organized should feel like an efficient, progressive activity that grows with you and can be paused and restarted as life requires.


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