Planner: How To Upgrade Your Planning System

Do you face difficulties organising your tasks? Are you often forgetful, and always end up procrastinating a lot? Have you ever felt like you needed to do something, then think “I’ll do it later”, then end up forgetting about it? Do you feel like you have a lot of never-ending tasks to do? One simple solution to avoid this problem is to have and use a planner.

Person writing on a book.
A planner can let you envision what you will have to do to organise your life better. Source: Image by Cathryn Lavery from Unsplash

Is Normal To-Do Lists Efficient Enough To Substitute For A Planner?

When I was in secondary school, I could just make do with writing down my to-do lists on an empty notebook. That was because I only needed to remember my homework back then. But now that I’m an adult and live away from home, I’m overwhelmed with adult responsibilities. Assignments (the deadline is next week!?), exams to study for (how did I forget there’s a quiz tomorrow?), chores (especially when to do laundry!), rental payment (did I accidentally spend the rent money on clothes?), and hanging out with friends (I really don’t want to ditch them again this time…).

A hand writing down to-do lists.
Writing down a lot of to-do lists can overwhelm me sometimes.
Source: Image by Glenn Carstens-Peters from Unsplash

In order not to forget anything important, I began to research and try many different systems other than to-do lists to incorporate in my planner. I tried many planning systems through trial-and-error. The most effective system for me is: The Eisenhower Matrix. I use this method to plan my weeks to month to year, and it’s the most effective system for me to this day.

What Is The Eisenhower Matrix And How Do You Incorporate It In Your Planner?

To put simply, the ‘Eisenhower Matrix’ is a system where you divide your tasks to four categories:

  1. Urgent and important
  2. Urgent and less important
  3. Less urgent and important
  4. Less urgent and less important
The Eisenhower Matrix diagram.
By using the Eisenhower Matrix diagram, you will be able to see which tasks you will need to prioritise.

In the first quadrant, put the task that you really need to get it done as soon as possible and is really important. For example, finish the assignment that is due by tomorrow. In the second quadrant, put the tasks that you need to do as soon as possible but it’s not as important as the other task. For example, the discount sale for that laptop you have been wanting to buy is ending tomorrow, but it’s not as if you really need to get it. In the third quadrant, put the task that can be done later but is really important, like paying for next month’s house rent. Finally, in the last quadrant, put the task that you do not need to do as soon as possible and not as important as other tasks, such as hanging out with your friend.

Sorting To-Do Lists On: Yearly View

In a planner, there are usually three places to put your to-do tasks: the yearly view, monthly view and weekly view. For the yearly view, I usually put my new year resolution and what I plan to achieve this year. For example, since this year is the final year for my degree, my plan is ‘to do my best in my studies and graduate’. I also list out the areas I want to improve this year in my yearly to-do list, such as to take care of both my mental and physical health.

Yearly view or resolution in a planner.
My version of yearly view… I put both professional and personal goals here.

Sorting To-Do Lists On: Monthly View

After I finish my yearly view, I proceed to plan my monthly view. First, I put all the important dates in every month, such as people’s birthdays, public holidays and important deadlines (e.g. thesis proposal deadline). Then I go to the current (or next) month, and write down my personal things that I want to do. I put down my own deadlines on what I want to achieve this month, from studying on three lectures to going to gym at least once a week.

Finally, Sorting To-Do Lists On: Weekly View

The weekly view is important to monitor to-do tasks. I always limit my tasks to 5-6 tasks per day to avoid being overwhelmed. This is where I use the Eisenhower Matrix system, and sort out which day I should do the to-do tasks. I include the yearly and monthly tasks, and break them down. For example, I want to finish my thesis proposal this month, so on Monday and Tuesday I would research topics that I’m interested in. On Wednesday, I would brainstorm my topic, and by Friday I would start writing the draft proposal. I also try to incorporate my new resolutions on my weekly view, such as if I want to be healthier, I would try prepping healthy meals for the week and choose the day when I want to go to gym.

Inside of a planner.
An example of a spread inside my planner during a hectic week last year…

How Do You Decide The Task’s Importance And Urgency?

How exactly do you delegate the tasks? Is that task really important, or can you shove it aside? If I consider all of my tasks are important and urgent, then there’s no point in using this system… I would just fall back to square one and be overwhelmed by all the tasks that I have again. Personally, I would rate every task’s importance and urgency based on some questions.

A lady sitting down and writing down on her planner.
It’s best to take the time to sit down, and think properly what tasks you need to complete for next week or month.
Source: Image by Alexa Williams from Unsplash

What will happen if I don’t complete the task? Will I survive tomorrow? Will I not be kicked out from my house or fail my class if I don’t do the task? Or can I push the task to later days? What happens if I ignore the to-do list for now? I also need time to relax and step back a little, so I would continue asking myself. Is it alright if I do something relaxing before continuing this task? If I break down this task, can I take the time to watch a movie or go out with a friend? These questions, when properly asked, serve as a guide to break down all the tasks I have to complete.

Experiment More With Your Planner!

I like to experiment with my planner! That way, I can see what works for me and what doesn’t. I tried adding habits tracker, mood tracker and sort out my tasks on a timely basis. After trying them out, I found out that organising my tasks on a timely basis doesn’t work for me. I find it more pressuring as I don’t always complete the tasks on time. Who knows, it might work for you. You just have to try it!

A personalised planner.
There are different planning systems you can try, and it’s fun to try them out and see if they work for you.
Source: Image by Matt Ragland from Unsplash

Okay, So What Planner Book Should I Buy?

There are a lot of planner brands out there. Back then, I like doing bullet journal. I can design my own pages, and decorate them with stickers and washi tapes to make it livelier. However, I don’t have a lot of time to spend on designing and decorating the pages. Since I am a bit of a perfectionist, I hate seeing my planner inconsistent. Hence, I have switched to using ready made planner.

Perky Preen & Co.: A Feminine And Classy Ready Made Planner!

The planner I used last year and this year is Perky Preen & Co.! Their version of the planner includes the yearly, monthly and weekly view, and even leave some blank pages for me to write down my Eisenhower Matrix, my semester’s timetables and other important stuff. They also added inspirational quotes on every page, and fun activities such as Sudoku or word search on every first pages of the month! And what I love the most about their planners is their design. I personally love the classy yet feminine design, so their planners suit my style. You can also personalise the planner by adding your name on the front cover with your preferred font.

Two personalised Perky Preen & Co. planners.
My planner for last year and this year, both by Perky Preen & Co. As you can see, I used my last year’s planner so much to the point it doesn’t look as nice anymore…

Planners are really important to me. Without them, I wouldn’t feel as productive. I’m constantly finding ways to improve my planning system, and I would certainly encourage you to do the same.

If you’re interested in owning a Perky Preen & Co.’s planner, you can visit their website here. They also have their own Instagram where you can view their latest product range.

Do you need more ideas to decorate your planners or journals? Perhaps you can give calligraphy a try!

About Amal HAMIZAH

Psychologist by training, she has racked up years of writing experience, contributing to blogs and forums. She's into fashion and gastronomy, art, stationeries and literature too. And yeah, she also has a soft spot for cats.

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