This article may seem out of character for me. I organize digitally and have done so since 2001. My phone is always with me. My information syncs across all of my devices. So why would I be talking about a paper planner?

The answer is simple. Many people still use a paper planner. Others have tried the digital route, didn’t have a good strategy, and gave up. When someone depends on a paper planner to organize their lives, they need a good one.

So Many Choices

At this time of year, stores of full of academic-year planners, and the 2021 editions are also appearing. Many are pretty, very pretty. They come with stickers. Pinterest provides plenty of ideas for decorating then, turning planners into works of art.

Best of all, the pages are blank, a breath of fresh air, unlike the mess we’ve made of the pages in this year’s book. The crisp pages provide the illusion that next year will be calm and relaxed.

Back to the Future

The 1980s was the Golden Age of paper planners. The most high-level people depended on them to tell them where they needed to be, what they needed to do, and put at their fingertips information they needed when they needed it. Stickers and glittery covers weren’t important.

We’re decades removed from those days. The characteristics of an effective planner have been forgotten. So, let’s look at what worked then.

A good planner is a three-legged stool. For each day, it provides a place to record the things that will happen on that day at a certain time. In other words, it gives you a calendar. Unfortunately, many of them stop there.

A good planner also provides a place to list the tasks for the day. It doesn’t matter if you make that phone call at 9:15 versus 9:35. What is important is that you see it as something to handle sometime during the day.

Third, a good planner provides a place to trap any information that arrives during the day. When we field phone calls and meet with other people, we need a place to write it. Too many planners provide a half-dozen blank pages in the back and think that’s good enough. What you need is a page for each day located right beside your calendar and task list.

What planners provide all three? As you shop for a planner, I recommend the Day-Timer two-page per day or the Franklin two-page per day models. Every day is represented by two facing pages.

The left-hand page provides a place for appointments and another section for tasks. The right-hand page provides a place to trap any information that arises during the day. Need to review the notes from the phone call you made to Sam on the 19th of last month? Where will you find those notes? Just flip back in the planner to the 19th and you’re looking at them.

Both companies offer several sizes of pages. Both offer loose-leaf or spiral-bound options.

Make Your Own

Some people find commercial planners too big and bulky. The popularity of the Bullet Journal suggests people like a thin, very portable, book with no bells or whistles. You could take any blank notebook and turn it into a fantastic paper planner. Just follow the Day-Timer or Franklin model. Designate two facing pages for each day. Appointments and tasks go on the left. Incoming information goes on the right.

Download This One for Free

I created a daily two-page per day spread. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s yours if it’s something you can use.

The layout for this page encourages the concepts I teach regardless of whether you are planning with paper or planning digitally:

  1. Items should be worded clearly.
  2. Like items should be batched together.
  3. You will find a space to list your “Fab 5” for the day.
  4. The page provides a space for appointments.
  5. An entire page to take notes from phone calls, meetings, or other information you need to trap. It takes the place of the memo pad beside the phone. You can become the master of documentation!
  6. You have a dedicated space to answer the all-important question, “How did you make today count?”

The page size is 8 1/2 X 5 1/2, meaning you will get two pages per sheet. Print a copy to use as your master. Duplicate as many pages as desired front/back. Put the pages on a paper cutter, punch holes, and you are ready to go. This page is where you take notes from meetings, phone calls, etc. Documentation is easy when you have this space available.