Using a Planner Productively

Meggin McIntosh
5 min readOct 7, 2022
iStock by Getty Images: LadadikArt

Women have A GREAT DEAL going on — pretty much at all times. We must have some sort of planner if we have any hope, whatsoever, of being productive. Here are some thoughts related to this notion (and these tips also apply to men — turns out men need planners, too, instead of always relying on the women around them to know what they need to be doing and where they need to be…just sayin’ that sometimes I hear about this state of affairs in many home and workplaces…)

  1. Get used to the idea that any woman (any age, any marital status, any kid status, any work situation, get it? Any woman!) needs to have — and know how to use — a planner (either paper or electronic or a hybrid model). It really isn’t optional anymore and it hasn’t been for a very long time.
  2. Buy a planner that you love (the size, the shape, the paper, the format) so that you take pleasure each time you use it. If you buy one and it’s not right, then get a different one (and give away the one you have). If you have one and it doesn’t suit you, you are unlikely to use it and that defeats the purpose of even having one. Note: If your workplace DEMANDS that everyone use the same digital calendar (Outlook or Google are the most common) then make sure you find out how to make it work for you.
  3. Put everything into your planner (names, dates, notes, appointments). Consider it “information central.” I think about it as ‘one-stop shopping’ for my life and what I need to do and where I need to be and who I need/want to be in contact with.
  4. Take your planner with you everywhere. Have a place for your open planner in your workspace. Have a place where you put it the minute you walk in the door at your house. The same holds true if you use an electronic planner. Have a place where your iPhone (or other smartphone) sits so you can find it as needed.
  5. Systematically synchronize calendars so that you can trust what’s on your calendar. The minute you have more than one calendar and they aren’t synchronized, your “system” stops working because you start fearing that there is something else on the other calendar that you should be doing. Although you may have a family calendar, set up a system where everyone knows that “it ain’t real ’til it’s in the woman of the house’s calendar.” As James Clear wisely clarified, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
  6. Consider the month-at-a-glance portion of your planner to be the “storyboard” of your month. You’ll get the “big picture” this way.
  7. Ask whether this is true for you: ‘What gets scheduled gets done.’ This is many productivity pundits’ mantra, however, it is not actually true for a lot of folks. The idea is that if something is important enough for you to put it on your ‘to-do’ list then it makes sense to actually set aside time, i.e., schedule time, for it on your calendar. But if you notice that day after day, you are simply forwarding those “scheduled” tasks to the next day and then the next and the next, you need to work with your coach about why that’s happening. What I find with many of my coaching clients when they are experiencing the “tumbleweed effect” in their calendar is that they are massively overscheduled. You know how much you hate it when you go to the doctor and you are seen 60–90 minutes past your appointment time — and it’s because the doctor is overscheduled. If you’re that person with your own calendar, start being more truthful about your time and the requirements of your responsibilities (including tasks, appointments, etc.)
  8. Keep a schedule of appointments in your planner, including appointments with yourself to get your work done. (See the last tip if you need a reminder about why this is a good idea). An important aspect of a planner is knowing where you need to be at any given time and in addition to what the time requirements are when you’re there, what the time and energy requirements are to get there. For example, I live south of Reno and have been called for Jury Duty and must report to the Court House in downtown Reno in a couple of weeks. I’ve already decided that I will take an Uber to the Court House because the energy requirement to navigate all the construction downtown, deal with the parking garage, walk to the Court House and then deal with all that again at the end of the day (or at whatever time I might be “not chosen” or “dismissed” from service) exceeds the time and energy I have to devote to this on that Monday (and if need be, I will take an Uber for the whole time I’m needed if it’s multiple days). Back when I was a professor, I wasn’t going to forget when I had my classes but I needed my calendar to reflect all those classes because it helped me tell the truth about how much time I had remaining to commit to other meetings, projects, etc. For much more about how to make sure you’ve reflected everything in your calendar that you need to, feel free to access this publication about Calendaring Productivity Practices.
  9. Designate one area of your planner system for your master task list, i.e., items that don’t have a specific due date, but that you don’t want to forget about. There is no need to be carrying these ideas around in your head (because that doesn’t work!!!) Get them recorded in your digital or analog planner.
  10. Create a “task list” for each day. Rethink your list based on your other commitments. Be realistic in what you ‘plan’ for. Generally, you can expect to accomplish much less than what is on your list, so be sure to start with the more important and more urgent/important items first. Although I’m an optimist by nature and by nurture, optimism about how much we can get done in an hour, a day, or a weekend doesn’t serve us.

If you don’t currently have a planner, then get out there and get one. If you already have a planner, go ahead and put at least one of these ideas that you aren’t currently using into practice this week. Don’t delay. No excuses.

Every quarter, I host a virtual planning retreat and we come together for 3–4 hours and get our calendars and planners set up. You’re welcome to join us for upcoming quarters! https://meggin.com/quarterly-planning-retreat/.

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Meggin McIntosh

Meggin McIntosh, “The PhD of Productivity®”, invests time & energy with people who seek ways to be overjoyed instead of overwhelmed. https://meggin.com