Organization Begets Opportunity: Work Your Goals with a Proper Planner

Tell me if you had a similar experience: You just went from grade school to high school. You are unsure of yourself, anxious for the future, and paranoid that your fellow students (maybe even some of your teachers) are out to ridicule you about something you said or did? Or worse, they were correct to make fun of you! You didn’t know what the future was going to bring, but all you did know was that you have a ton of classes and homework. All you cared about was your social life after you got out of class. And while you were navigating the trenches of who you were and where you belonged, your school handed out a little book that was supposed to help you along the way. At first, it’s just another book to haul from place to place and to write more things in on top of your math, social studies, and lit notebooks. But then, someone (a student or a teacher) gives a speech similar to the one I heard…

Everyone! This is a planner, and it will make or break your high school career…

It seemed a bit over the top at the time, but I can honestly say that this advice was very accurate to my situation.

High school was the first place I was introduced to planners, but it would not be the last. I would follow this strange path of going from being organized, to becoming an utter mess, to reading some life-changing books, and now keeping a planner by my side almost every day. In fact, I am so fond of planners, that I constantly search for new planners to plan my next planner…


So let’s take a step back – we all have heard we need planners, but do you even plan, bruh? What I mean is, is your planner your google calendar, post-it notes, or a series of tasks that are scattered between your phone? And are these notes or tasks scattered between the short-term tasks and long-term goals, with no real correlation between them? Well, let me introduce you to the wonderful world of professional planners.

(Quick note: To paraphrase Bon Jovi, “It’s [your] life“, so do what you want. The things I mention below are what I have found to be the most helpful for me. You do not have to do any of this, but since you’re here, why not try out some of my tips?)

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities” – Stephen Covey

Most planners contain:

  • The Basics
    • Yearly View
    • Monthly View
    • Weekly View
    • Daily View
  • The Nice-to-Haves
    • Task Lists
    • Note Sections
    • Address, phone, or password list for quick reference
    • Pockets for documents
    • Dividers for different sections (tabs, ribbon, etc)
  • The Next-Levels
    • Review sections/Reflective Questions
    • Focus Areas
    • Intentions
    • Project Plans

The Basics

This is what most people think of when they talk planners. Some people only use a monthly or a weekly or a daily planner, but those are the heathens in my eyes. I’m a person who needs to see it all at once to put it together. Most planners should at the very least have two of these four views, a great planner will be able to give you at least three. A yearly view should help you denote the very high level priorities or events in your life (project ends, birthdays, important business dates). A monthly view should help you break down your month into smaller chunks by allowing you to make quick notes for each week or day of importance. A weekly view can differ from planner to planner, but my favorites include a place to plan out that week’s projects, state what you intend to get accomplished that week, and maybe ask some reflective questions to prep you for the week. Finally, a daily view typically has the hourly breakdown and is what, I would assume, most people are familiar with for things like the Google Calendar or any other calendar/planner they use.

The Nice-to-Haves

These items are the accessories to your planner. All being said, if you use your monthly-weekly-daily planner wisely, you may not even need these. Or you can always use a separate notebook to help out. A task list is simply a series of check-boxes to make sure you are accomplishing the smaller stuff that will feed into the bigger stuff. A notes section should be used for the things you need to remember from a conversation or article. You can also use your notes to create a quick reference list. It’s also nice to have a pocket in the back of your planner to hold on to some important documents, especially if you’re going from meeting-to-meeting. Last, but certainly not least, are dividers or tabs to help you navigate your planner. You can always come up with your own methodology for this (bending pages, using post it notes, creating your own ribbons, etc).

The Next-Levels

Okay, so here’s what separates the adults from the kids. It is not enough to write down that period close is next Friday or that you need to pick up dinner on Tuesday, you need to write down your purpose, focus, intentions, and reflections. For those of you who read lots of management books like myself, this should line up closely with Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. You should be able to take your goals (see my primer on goals) and put them in your planner. Your goals are great – they keep you going, they keep you focused, they are one of your reasons you get up in the morning – but if they are not constantly in your face, they can easily take the back-burner when the next major issue at work comes up. Furthermore, you should be noting your progress towards your goals every day, every week, and every month.

To put this in perspective, it takes 10,000 hours to gain mastery over a skill. If you worked at the skill that would take you to the next level, it would take you 8 hours a day, every day, for 3.5 years. Unfortunately, we are not paid to work on one skill all day. Even if we could, I don’t think we could focus our attention that intensely that long without getting burned out. So those of you that are human realize that 10,000 hours will take you roughly 5-10 years, if not longer. (As an aside, most of us do not need to become masters of the universe on a skill, just reasonably good. Most skills can be learned in a much shorter time frame – I don’t want to give anyone a panic attack thinking the skill they need to work on won’t be refined until 2028).

Maybe you’re not trying to work on a skill like becoming a world class chess player like Lazlo Polgar did for his daughters, but instead you just want to build a good habit like waking up earlier or working on your coding skills. Again, the general rule of thumb for habits is that it takes about 21 days for them to take hold. So that means we cannot cram a habit in a weekend (much like when we would try to study for Monday’s test on Sunday night and expect to pass). It must be intentional, thought out, worked on everyday, and reflected upon to really stick. And the 21 day mark is just a marker. The habit becomes much easier, but it must still be worked on for it to stick.

“Plan your work for today and everyday, work your plan” – Margaret Thatcher

Both of these scenarios listed above are the exact reason why you need to drop the calendar feature on your phone and to pick up an actual planner. You can still go digital – there are a lot of neat planner apps out there – but I highly recommend a paper planner for two reasons alone: 1) It has been shown that writing something down will help you remember it as opposed to typing and 2) Paper planners are much, much easier to quickly jump around and do what you need.

Now, I am not a salesperson for planners (maybe its a missed opportunity on my part), but I do have some recommendations:

Right now, I am using Panda Planners as I find them to be compact, having everything I need, and a little stylish, especially for a bearded-wonder like myself. Plus, they are 60-day planners, so no worries about picking up something for 2018/2019, you can just use it as you go along.

In the past few years, I have used Inner-Guide Planners as these were the closest to the Franklin-Covey Planners I could find without spending too much money. These are extremely helpful in changing your life, beit a skill or a habit. I like to think that I am as focused and reflective as I am thanks to these planners. They are a bit big, it can be hard to find a planner without it being too colorful (I personally like solid colors or very simple patterns), and they are released like calendars, so once you get it, you’re “stuck” with it for a year. If you are new to planners or planning, this is definitely one to give a shot.

Last but not least, I recommend the Franklin-Covey Planners. If you’re an “all-in” personality, this is most likely the planner for you. It is also one of the most recognized type of professional planners. It is meant to be paired with the 7 Habits book, and I believe they even offer courses on how to use them. However, after I realized my life was a mess, this was the first type of planner to bring everything back together. It is especially helpful if you struggle with making time for family, spirituality, working out, etc. as there are sections for that.

“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan” – Eleanor Roosevelt

So now it is all up to you. You can keep wishing things get better, or you can start planning your life and then working that plan!


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