Do your New Year’s resolutions include being more organized and productive? A paper planner can help. A recent study shows that writing down your goals increases the likelihood of achieving them by more than 40% – but put that smartphone away: another study indicates that your brain processes information more thoroughly when you write by hand than when you type (plus, pen and paper offer no distractions, unlike your iPhone, which lets you go down time-sucking rabbit holes like Facebook with the tap of a button).
In addition to boosting productivity, paper planners are also pretty. They come in different colors and sizes with accessories like highlighters, washi tape, and stickers (which are basically paper versions of emojis and GIFs). Much like vinyl records, paper planners are experiencing a comeback. They are taking over Instagram with the hashtag “#PlanWithMe.” Yes, posting a picture on Instagram of how you decorated your planner pages for the week—known as your weekly spread—is actually a thing.
The Onion once imagined a planner that met people’s realistic needs by only including pages for the first two weeks of January followed by a bunch of scrap paper, with the exception of a page for a week in June when you suddenly decide to get organized again.
While this particular type of planner might not exist (yet), there are still a plethora of choices. Dated or undated. Monthly, weekly, or hourly spreads. Twelve months or 17 months (most planners either run the calendar year or from August of one year to December of the following year). Lined pages or unlined pages. Hard cover or soft cover. Bound book or spiral notebook. Vertical layout or horizontal layout (yes, whether it’s better on a weekly spread for each day’s box to extend upward or sideward is actually a big debate online).
This year I’m using a Lilly Pulitzer planner with monthly calendar pages and weekly horizontal spreads. Mylar tabs on each calendar page make it easy to thumb through the book by month, And there are also extra pages for notes, goals, and travel packing lists, as well as a built-in pocket folder and a page of stickers. Since the company is known for its colorfully printed clothing, its planners feature a piece of artwork on the page preceding each monthly calendar with small details from that piece printed throughout the weekly spreads.
On the monthly calendars I write down any scheduled activities, such as parties, doctor’s appointments, classes I’ve signed up for at the gym, plays and concerts, trips, and of course GatherDC happy hours. This way when a friend asks when I’m free to grab dinner, I can simply glance at my monthly calendar and see which nights are open.
I also record birthdays, anniversaries, yahrtzeits, and Jewish holidays on the monthly calendars. In If All the Seas Were Ink, a memoir narrated through a seven-year Daf Yomi cycle, author Ilana Kurshan describes the process of blending Jewish and secular calendars: “When I lived in New York I bought my planners at the corner drugstore and had to annotate them before I could use them. Each year I’d copy over from my Jewish calendar all the dates of the Jewish holidays, the Shabbat candle-lighting times, and the names of the weekly Torah portions, superimposing Jewish time on secular time.” (Note: If you’re looking for a Jewish planner, check out The Jewish Planner, created by GatherDC community members.)
Other things I record on the monthly calendars are deadlines (such as when GatherDC blog articles are due) and expiration dates for important things like my car tags. I also include reminders for things like changing my Brita filter every two months and changing my toothbrush every three months. While this may seem over the top, I find it a preferable alternative to inadvertently drinking unfiltered DC tap water.
On the weekly spreads, I write my daily to-do lists. I only include personal tasks, not work tasks (work tasks are tracked on an Outlook calendar online), which helps maintain a work-life balance. I also note what I wore each day. This helps me actually wear everything in my closet instead of reaching for my favorite outfits over and over again. Lastly, I write down one thing I did each day that made me proud.
Some people incorporate gratitude journals into their planners, but for me, writing what I’m grateful for every day made me feel passive, as if I were tracking the fortunate happenstances of my life whether deserved or undeserved. Tracking things that make me proud shifts the focus from my circumstances to my actions.
On the notes pages I draw habit trackers. As the name implies, these grids track activities that I try to do regularly such as exercising, reading, cooking, and volunteering. Each time I do one of these activities, I color in a box on the grid.
In Pivot Point, a guide for corporate organizations about pivoting business strategies to meet the demands of changing markets, author Sheri Jacobs explores the idea that people’s values and actions don’t always align. For example, Jacobs says, if you ask a room full of people if supporting cancer research is important, everyone would likely say yes. However, if you ask the same people if they’ve made a monetary donation to a cancer research organization within the past year, far fewer people would say yes. Using a habit tracker helps me regularly take actions that support my values.
At the end of each year, my planner serves as a functional scrapbook. Some planners, such as The Happy Planner, capitalize on this with accessories like page protector inserts for photos.
Similarly, bullet journaling turns a blank notebook into a hybrid planner, journal, and scrapbook. The first page of a bullet journal is an index where you color code the different types of content in your book, which could be anything from to-do lists to recipes to lists of movies you want to see. Color the fore edge of each page—the vertical edge of the book opposite the spine where the pages are unconnected—with the index hue that matches its content, making it easy to thumb through the book by category.
With a little planning, 2020 can be your best year yet.
About the Author: Aliza Epstein is a native of the Washington, DC area and currently lives in Arlington, VA. She works as a non-profit manager.
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