Using Your Planner Effectively

Regardless of whether you use a paper or a digital planner or both, which is what many folks are doing at this point (including me!), there are several aspects that you need to attend to if you want to be productive in your various roles. Consider these tips for using your planner effectively:

  1. Block time for re-entry. If you have been out of the office (and/or home), you need time to “re-enter” or “re-cover.” Whenever you are planning a work trip to a conference, a vacation, or surgery, block out time on your planner for “re-entry.” This allows you to process the email, voice mail, and paperwork that have accumulated during your absence.
  2. Use a month-at-a-glance calendar or view (and I don’t mean on your phone!!!!) Any good planner is going to give you a way of seeing your month at a glance. This feature gives you a “storyboard” of your month. You can keep chaos at bay by making sure that the month itself is reasonably balanced, even if particular days or weeks are not.
  3. Use a week-at-a-glance calendar or view. Depending on your position, you may need to have a week at a glance in addition to your month-at-a-glance view so you know what is in the offing for the week. Most planners offer this feature as one of the options and some of them design their whole system around the weekly calendar, (e.g., Planner Pad).
  4. Schedule time to answer emails and voice mails. If you try to do a “catch as catch can” approach to handling emails and voice mails, you’re always feeling chaotic. Schedule 30 minutes, 60 minutes, or whatever number of minutes you need to once or twice a day and handle the electronic messages that you need to. The key here is to “schedule” that time. There are certainly ways of lessening the amount of email you have to handle (e.g., Sanebox) but unless you delete all your email accounts, you can’t eliminate it all!
  5. Schedule project time. As a professional, you have projects to work on as part of your responsibilities. If you are imagining that you will work on that project ‘when you have a chance,’ well…that just doesn’t work too well, does it? Projects are your job, so schedule time to work on those project just like you’d schedule a meeting or some other type of appointment. And then keep that scheduled time sacrosanct.
  6. Keep a running list of tasks in your planner. David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, recommends that these tasks be divided up by what type of tasks (e.g., phone, at computer, errands, etc.) Regardless of whether you follow that advice, do keep a list of things that you need to do in your planner. It’s a great place to capture the idea and then you can always refer to your planner to see what else you need to/could be working on.
  7. Make notes during meetings or other appointments. There’s no sense in trying to “remember” what was said. Write it down. If you never need it, then no problem — it won’t hurt to have written it, but if and when you do need the information, it’s captured and you have a written record of what was said, decided, etc. There are many templates that are set up for making notes in meetings or you can design your own. But for crying out loud, please don’t think you’ll just remember what went on. You won’t and neither will anyone else. At least not accurately.
  8. Consider the OATS strategy for planning. O = Objectives, A = Activities (that will lead to the completion of those objectives, T = Time (needed to complete the activities), and S = Schedule (the time needed). If you create a few sheets like this and keep them in your planner (or create a template to use on your device or in your Rocketbook), then you can think through various projects and other responsibilities in a deliberate and strategic way. Once you have done the thinking, then you’re ready to use your planner to bring the project to fruition (in a non-chaotic fashion).
  9. Empty your psychic RAM (a David Allen term). You need to have index cards, blank pieces of paper, a memo app, etc. where you can write down ideas that come to you — and then make sure to process these.
  10. Keep your planner with you at all times. It’s difficult to follow any of these suggestions if your planner is nowhere to be found (or if it’s at work when you’re at home, or vice versa).

I’ve been a planner hound nearly two thirds of my life. I’ve tried most every kind and am always looking for new and better ways of using planners (digital and analog).

Try at least one of the ideas from the list above that you’ve never tried before. See how it works, and then try another one when you’re ready.

I teach quite a few workshops about planners and you’re welcome to attend the ones that fit your needs. is my main site where you can see what’s coming up next or what’s already there to access right away.



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