10 Ways I Use my Planner to Stay Organized

Living my planner life

Out of everything I’ve ever changed, having a paper planner has probably made the most difference. The primary advantage of having a physical paper planner is that it is NOT digital. Why does this matter to me? Well, since I spend most of my time on some sort of device during the day, not keeping my planner in my phone or my iPad, it means that I genuinely have to look away from a digital screen to organize my life.

There are a couple of tips I have specifically relating to keeping a planner:

  1. Jot down appointments, with all their details in a separate color/section to anything that is not scheduled. This way appointments are clearly differentiated from anything else.

  2. Check your planner everyday, even when you know nothing is scheduled. This is mostly a habit forming tip - you want to check your planner and make sure no surprises are coming. Side note: if you are checking your planner ever day, you also want to check your bank account every day. Having a clear number in your head makes it a lot easier to know your spending limit, and even better it is a way to check yourself from over spending.

  3. If your planner has enough room add some trackers! I have tried and failed to keep a Bullet journal; the primary issue is that I can spend hours making all these elaborate spreads, but genuinely only use the daily logs, some of the trackers, monthly logs, and some sort of budget and bill tracking page. So I compromised: I use the Get To Work Book by Elise Joy, and it has tons of notes space - I have recently added trackers for my reading (so I can feel bad when I don’t read), and bill trackers for both debt and expenses.


What time? Whenever I have it!

I have made it a point to avoid scheduling my day by the minute; this way my days are structured based on what I think can be completed, and what I know needs to be completed.

Appointments, going to the movies, events and anything that has a set time gets written in at the top of the day, in order of occurrence, in a color completely different than everything else in the day - this feels repetitive? (yes, I mentioned it in the above section) - it is, but it is also super important. This section is the section of no other immediate choice. Missing an appointment means a reschedule, and often a late or missed cancellation fee; not going to movies, or concerts, or anything of the like means throwing away money, since unless you have a good reason it is unlikely you’ll get a refund.

What comes after appointments? Everything else. The trick is to be true to yourself when making assumptions of what you can finish in one day. Tip: if you finish everything on your day early, look at the next two days and see what can be done early, if nothing really works with your time then pick a movie on Netflix and relax.

Time Block Habits

Since we are not adding things to the planner based on schedule how to we add them? Easy: logic. By this I mean, based on your available time what are you more likely to accomplish on each day, selecting the things you know you can finish. This one has a caveat: if any of the activities of one day affect the activities of the next, then that one takes priority. So what does you schedule tend to look at? Usually mine looks like a mix of two or less appointments a day, with one big activity or to do item; with a couple of smaller to do's.

Because I understand that everyones schedule is completely different this is how this process has helped me:

  1. My days usually never have two big things to complete on any day - it makes my days a lot calmer, when I know that there is only one thing in my to do list that is really time consuming.

  2. I learned to block out time consuming things like doing groceries, or running certain errands - I will not lie, I usually grocery shop once a week to fill in essentials like milk and bread, and once every 6 weeks for bulk purchases at Costco. I tend to spend from about an hour to a solid three to four hours at either one, to two, up to four stores once a week (Walmart, PetSmart, Fresh Market, Target). While I will often avoid going to every store at once, sometimes we do manage to need to to multiple stops. So Groceries for me mean I leave the house ideally at 9am, and I am back just past noon, with lunch.

  3. By learning to block time, means that I instinctively know how much any given project I take on will take me, and I know which are going to be the best days to work on them. Example: I usually do blog drafts on Monday’s after work, why? I usually work on larger projects on Sundays, so blogs are a good break from any art project I may be working on.

Make Project Deadlines

I grew up in a time when teachers had deadlines for everything from outlines for projects to media reviews (Literally you needed to have selected all the images/videos for any projects by a certain time for certain types of presentations.) Now I days when I break down my projects, I set “done by” dates for every step of the project, thus making a point to actually finish them instead of lingering on them for months at a time.


The Break Up

Following up on the above: I also learned to break up projects into stages. This means that each week I know what projects are getting started, which are being finished, and what is in the middle. I know to schedule things around certain stages: for example, If I am painting on canvas, I try to avoid doing any other projects around that; since after painting I end up spending quite a bit of time in cleanup after.

I usually break up my projects in 4 to 5 stages:

  1. Outline/Draft/Research: this is my getting to know the project stage, where I look at the project as a whole and determine everything I will need, and lay out the rough draft of the end product.

  2. Sketch/Prep/Bases: this is the first attempt, the initial pass. I usually never do more that one project base on the same day as I usually work a bit slower here than any other stage.

  3. 2nd Pass: before I go to the next stage, I look over the sketch and make sure everything is ready to move forward.

  4. Edit/Adjustments/Details: This is the part of the project where I work the slowest, as I tend to analyze every change or adjustment, and depending on what type of project it is, I may have multiple variations to select from at the end of the day.

  5. Document/Post/Final Save: In the final step I mostly look over the outline and look at how this project is meant to be saved (file type, resolution, etc), if the size needs to be adjusted, or even if it needs to be photographed.

It’s one thing to persevere; its another to force yourself

Another follow up: don’t force your project. This one will also be highly relatable to others on the list, since it deals with the concept of adjusting a schedule.

Somedays working on projects is impossible for me. I may just not want to work on that particular project or I may simply be stuck. When that happens I’ve learned to swap projects for the day, or work on something else. This means that I am still being productive, even if it’s not on the main project I’d plan to work on. If it’s more that I don’t feel like working on any project, I elect to sit down and read, I listen to a podcast, I put a movie in the background and practice lettering or calligraphy, or even just sketch new ideas - the goal is to do something, preferably something that clears out the feeling of not wanting to work on projects.

That one is a Goner

When a project doesn’t work you need to ask yourself two things:

  1. Is it salvageable? Can you reuse this canvas, can you adjust it to something else, can you save the edits to the base?

  2. Is it a full scrap?

This is still a lesson in progress; the ability to look at a project and know when it is simply not something you feel good with. While letting the work go to waste feels horrible, a project that in the end you are the first to dislike is not a project to finish. You have to be strong enough to know that the particular project is just not meeting your standards. Remember, projects not only take times and in cases supplies; they also take a toll on your emotions and mental state. Working on something that is making you feel “bad” is simply not worth it. So, take a step back, accept that it is not working and just make a call: save it/re-work it or scrap it?

Oops, No Can Do

Rescheduling things is a habit you want to drill in fast - flexible rescheduling is the goal. My ability to move things on my calendar from left to right makes it so that I can always have time for the unexpected. Working on a project but a friends calls wanting to go to the movies? Move that project to the next available “slot,” and enjoy the movie. Ran out of spending money this week? Ask your friends if you can do dinner the following week, and stay in for a read instead.

It is a matter of understanding what is going on your day to day, so that moving things around is not a stressful thing, and it does not affect the project deadlines. This also means that you are able to include things on your schedule without having to worry of the time they will take.

Take this example: two weeks ago my family decided on having a BBQ lunch on a Saturday, which is the day I usually do my groceries. Because I know that groceries mean I lose my morning, I did the following changes: moved groceries to Sunday with the three smallest items on my to do list, in case I woke up late. For Saturday, I moved the larger project from Sunday and split the time in half: morning prep, and afternoon edit. Finally, anything that did not fit on Sunday, I scheduled to either Tuesday or Wednesday; thus leaving my Monday clear in case anything else comes up.


Its not Konmari, its “I can see the floor Everyday”

If I’ve learned anything about myself is that I hate messes, and I hate messes that I can see. I tend to keep my area pretty clean, and on Sundays we usually spend a few hours doing the big cleanup things that are a bit more difficult to work in the weekdays.

Here are the things I add reminders for periodically through the year:

  1. Monthly: clean up desk from clutter items, clean up phone camera roll, clean up files on laptop.

  2. Every Two Months: clean up physical projects - look over canvases, move things to storage.

  3. Every Three Months: Clean up my instagram feed, go over art supplies to see what needs replenishing. Declutter makeup, face and body products.

  4. Every Four Months: Declutter art supplies, Take everything out of desk and clean the drawers, clean dresser drawers, and clean your makeup storage.

  5. Every Six Months: Declutter closet. Take everything of bookshelves to deep clean the shelves, every item, and to reorganize.

As you can see I have a lot of things there, but there are things like laundry which I do on Wednesdays, changing towels each week, changing sheets every two weeks, and washing the duvet cover. I also give the dog a bath each week, and schedule my week every Sunday.

I find that if I make myself do some of these decluttering and cleaning days run on certain days or after very specific time makes it so that I feel a lot more comfortable in my own space, and it lets me work with a sense of calm.


Take a Break. Take a break from working on projects, take a break from your phone, from work. Literally have days that you have nothing planned. Finish that book you started, go to the pool, go to the beach, go to a museum or a movie, or a sporting event. Take a spa day. Go on a roadtrip with friends. Binge all 4 seasons of that TV show you’ve been wanting to catch up on. Cook a nice dinner, meal prep for the week, order in.

This took a while to understand, but somedays, you literally have to remember to sleep in, recharge and do nothing else.