There’s not much more exciting for an office supply addict and planning geek than a brand new planner. Page after page of possibility stretching out in front of you in little boxes, pretty fonts and open spaces.
But two or three months into the new year, the planner is abandoned, your to-do list is scribbled on post-it notes and envelopes, and all those possibilities now feel more like broken promises.
How does this happen? We searched and searched for just the right planner … asked for advice in our favorite Facebook groups … took the course that goes along with the planner. We did everything right, right?
There are some common reasons why your planner isn’t working for you. See if any of these fit:
You are using it as a calendar, not as a planner
A planner is supposed to help you look ahead and prepare for what’s coming up. So you put the date your guest post for that popular blogger is due. But when that date arrives, you are in a panic because the post isn’t started.
If you were using the planner as a planner, you would have put the date for the guest post on the calendar, decided on the steps to complete the post, and put those steps in your planner as well.
It’s too complicated
It seemed like a good idea at the time to use your planner to track your daily water intake, exercise minutes, a weekly gratitude moment, business and personal expenses, monthly memories and one-, five- and ten-year goals. All of those take time. Don’t get me wrong …. those are worthwhile things to track and write down. But your working planner may not be the best place to track it all.
Carefully consider what you really need to keep track of in your “second brain”. A good planning system does include time and space to reflect, evaluate and re-plan. However, you could be tempted to spend too much time on completing all of those boxes when you could be actually getting things done.
You think white space equals failure
Some weeks, despite your best intentions, the days get away from you and all those boxes and calendar spaces remain empty. That big white space can be intimidating. Or worse, you view it as a failure. Maybe it’s just me, but when those white spaces start accumulating, it’s hard to go back or go forward. I don’t have time to go back, but something feels too unfinished to go forward.
And so, the white days become white weeks which become white months. All.that.white.
Instead of viewing that white space as a failure, maybe we can celebrate it as a success. A day that we weren’t bound to check boxes and timelines. Time that God moved so freely, we couldn’t keep up. Those days are just as valuable as those super-productive days where we fill up every box.
Your planner doesn’t travel well
I know you’ve seen it … maybe you even have one. The giant 8 1/2 by 11 planner with folded papers and sticky notes poking out in all directions. That may work for your stay-at-home, desk planner, but carrying it around is cumbersome. If you don’t have it with you, it’s difficult to use it during the day as things come up.
By using the calendar and to-do list apps on my phone, I’m able to carry a smaller bullet journal or planner that I use for my weekly plan and notes taken during the week. It slips easily into my purse, so between my phone and my planner, I have everything I need to be productive during the day.
You only have one to-do list
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. “I can barely manage the one to-do list I have … why would I need MORE to-do lists?”
Your brain is wired to remind you of things. You know that nagging feeling, when you are at the grocery store, and you remember that you have call the hair salon when they open tomorrow to make an appointment? Why does it seem your brain only reminds you of things when you can’t do anything about them?
Well, it turns out, your brain isn’t reminding you to do them. It is reminding you to make a plan to do them. It’s called the Zeigarnik Effect. When it reminds you to make a plan and you don’t have one, it induces stress and frustration. But when it reminds you to make a plan, and you already have a plan to do it, that stress is eased because you know you will get to it next week or next month or whatever other right time you have planned to do it.
That’s where multiple to-do lists come in. Rather than confusing your brain by reminding yourself to buy milk on the same list where you remind yourself to prepare for the Bible study you need to teach, create context-specific to-do lists. One for each big project or area of your life, then prioritize it into next steps for each area. Your brain will thank you.
Hey, I’m not knocking a good planner. Whether yours is happy, brilliant, committed, flourishing or powerful, they can all be useful for creating peace and space in your life. But when your planner is causing more stress and work than it is easing, then it might not be the right fit for you. So choose well and avoid these pitfalls with your next beautiful book of possibilities.