Getting the Most from Your Planner: 20 Tips for 2020
Happy New Year! Here at Unbound, we believe that planning is a powerful way to add simplicity, freedom, and productivity to your life, and our sincere hope is that our planners help you in that process. To help, we’ve compiled a list of 20 tips to help you get the most from your planner in 2020.
1. Make using your planner a habit. Did you know that around 40-45% of what you do everyday is based on habits? Your planner is a powerful tool, but it only works if you use it. And it works best if you use it regularly. Capitalize on positive habits by incorporating planning into your daily routine and setting aside specific times each day and week for it. We suggest leaving your planner laying out in a place you walk by often. This will help prevent “out of sight, out of mind.”
2. Don’t be afraid to work the spine of your planner to help it lay flat. When you first open your planner you’ll notice the spine is a bit stiff and the pages may not lay flat all the way. This is because of the glue we use to hold your pages together (to improve durability) and the thickness of our planners (there’s a lot of pages in each one!). The stiffness is easily remedied by working the spine a bit. We recommend firmly pressing the pages down with your palm at the center as you flip through. You can also flex the spine a bit by opening the planner past 180 degrees. Of course the more you use the planner, the more it will loosen up.
3. Create a morning routine. Endless research highlights how impactful our mornings are in shaping our days. If you don’t already, work to create a solid morning routine - one where you take a few minutes to be intentional about how you want to spend your time that day. It doesn’t have to be long - even five minutes - and we promise you’ll be surprised at the impact it has. We dedicate the first line of your habit tracker each week to help you establish this habit (there is even a little space to list out what you want to include). But we also kept the prompt small and subtle so you can write a different habit on that line if you prefer.
4. Make time to reflect. We weave reflection prompts throughout our planner as we believe it’s absolutely crucial to effective planning and thoughtful living. Reflection gives you the opportunity to evaluate how things have gone and consider how to change things as you move forward. It encourages you to be purposeful with how you spend your time, brings clarity to your priorities, and helps you celebrate your successes while learning from your mistakes. Even if you’re short on time, try dedicating a few minutes each week and month - and ideally a little longer at the beginning, middle, and end of the year to reflect.
5. Be consistent with your gratitude. Expressing gratitude is a simple but powerful way to positively impact your mental health. We make space for this every single day at the bottom of our weekly columns. Make this a habit and see how it influences your perspective on things.
6. Use your divided “things to do” list however works best for you. We split your weekly to-do list into easy and big tasks. The idea is to visually separate your quick to-do’s from your big to do’s. This way, if you only have a few minutes to get something done, you can quickly glance at your list and see what you have time to tackle. However, we encourage you to use this divided list in a way that works best for you: maybe personal vs. work, urgent vs. less important, home vs. other, etc. Whatever you choose, don’t be afraid to change it up from week to week to best fit your needs.
7. Try using a key to better organize your to-do lists. To-do lists are always changing. Some tasks get moved to the future, some become irrelevant, some we delegate to someone else, some get partially completed, etc. One way to easily keep track of all these changes is with a key. Use your key to “code” each to-do bullet with a symbol or marking that indicates something specific. Check out the photo for ideas and to see the key that we use.
8. Ideas for your seasonal and blank checklist pages. These new layouts are extremely versatile. The seasonal to-do lists are perfect to list whatever brings you joy during that season as well as listing practical tasks you need to complete around the home and yard. Our blank checklist page has two lined, bulleted columns (as shown in the picture) and the ways you can use it are limitless. Maybe it’s a running book list or an ongoing to-do list or a place for your packing lists or your wish list or restaurants to try on one side and movies to see on the other.
9. Remember your self-care and act of kindness prompts. Each week we include two prompts- one to complete an act of self-care and the other to complete an act of kindness. These prompts fit into a major underlying theme in our planner - which is to encourage healthy living both on the inside and out. These acts don’t have to be grand or expensive. For self care, maybe it’s something as simple as making time to read your favorite book or going for a long walk or making your favorite meal or buying yourself fresh flowers. For an act of kindness, it could be as simple as sending a quick message to someone who needs the extra love or complimenting a coworker or helping someone shovel their snow or holding the door open for a parent with kids. The more you commit to doing these things, the more you’ll do them without even thinking about it.
10. Use the Goal Timeline page as your compass for the year. Goals can be overwhelming - plain and simple. And poorly organized goals can be even more overwhelming. There are daily habits you want to create, weekly and monthly goals, big dreams, trips you want to plan, and the list goes on. To help you organize all these varying ideas, we created our Goal Timeline page (we’ve never seen anything quite like it in any other planner). On it, you write all your goals for the year so you can easily see everything in one place. For clarity, we have you divide your repeating goals (daily, weekly, monthly) on one side and your one-time goals on the other. We encourage you to revisit this page often to reevaluate your goals and make sure you’re making progress on the things that matter most to you. Keep in mind that like your life, goals are fluid. They should change as you change. This means goals you identify in the beginning of the year may lose their importance as the year moves on. This is not just okay, it’s normal. You want to make sure the goals you are spending your valuable time pursuing are still relevant and important to you. Long story short - don’t be afraid to outgrow a goal and move on.
11. Try dividing your weekly schedule page into two halves. All our layouts are designed to be open and flexible, but our weekly schedule page is especially so. There are countless ways to use this spread. One of my favorites is to draw a line through the columns to create two halves. I use the top half to list my scheduled events and the bottom half to list my tasks. I’ve also used the top half for personal tasks and the bottom for work to-do’s. Play around with the possibilities to see what works best for you.
12. Plan your meals. This year we’ve provided dedicated space for you to meal-plan, and if you’ve never done this before we strongly encourage you to try. Planning meals in advance allows you to save money on groceries, eat healthier, and reduce the stress that comes from having to think up and prepare last-minute dinner ideas. If you find meal-planning isn’t for you, no problem - this space also works great for anything you want to keep track of on a daily basis. For example, your workout routine, prayer or meditation, daily steps, mood etc.
13. Use the icons in your weekly columns to track your exercise, water, and vitamin/medication. This year we’ve added three new icons to the top of the columns on your weekly scheduling page. There is a heart icon (to track exercise/movement), water droplet icons (to track how much water you’re drinking each day), and a pill icon (to track your vitamins/medication). Of course if there is something else important for you to track on a daily basis, feel free to reassign the icon’s meanings to better fit your life.
14. Make sure you’re making time in your daily life to work towards your biggest goals. A huge component of the powerful system we designed in our planners are the regular prompts to consistently refer back to your goals. For example, at the beginning of each month we prompt you to refer back to your yearly goals and then each week, we prompt you to refer back to your monthly goals. The hope is to continually encourage you to take daily action that moves you in the direction of your biggest goals.
15. Use your blank monthly page for a printable. Each month you have an entire blank page as part of your monthly overview spread. This is a great spot for notes, journaling, planning a trip, grocery lists, doodling, etc. You can also use this space to paste (we find double-sided tape actually works best) in one of the several printables we offer - monthly budget, monthly habit tracker, or holiday printable (and we plan to add more). You can print these worksheets to fit perfectly on your blank page to further customize your planner to fit your needs.
16. Ideas for your project pages. We offer three different layouts to break down your biggest goals and projects for the year. As shown here, try using the project page with blocks to plan a trip and use each section for a specific category like “travel” “to pack” “lodging” etc. The open dot grid layout is perfect for drawing a design, like for the garden beds you want to build, or anytime you want maximum flexibility. The goal layout is perfect for your biggest goals of the year that require breaking down. Maybe that’s a health goal or writing a book or starting your business or eating healthier. Keep in mind your goals don’t have to be “big” or seemingly significant to others, they just have to meaningful and impactful to you. Whatever layouts you use, remember to incorporate any subtasks or milestones you come up with into your monthly and weekly planning.
17. Use sticky notes for easy flexibility. Sticky notes are a great way to add flexible writing space to your planner. How often do you have a thought/idea/to-do you want to write down without committing to keeping it in any particular place? This is where sticky notes come in. One specific way I use them is for planning future months. I place a sticky note on each upcoming month’s calendar page and write any ideas/tasks/ relevant to that month as they come up. Then, when it comes time to actually plan that month, I’m able to look at everything I’ve written down and organize my thoughts before writing directly into my planner.
18. Customize the outside of your planner. We purposely keep the aesthetic of our planner minimalistic but there are many small ways to customize it to best fit your lifestyle. Here are a few ideas we get asked about often. Add sticky tabs for easy navigating. Each planner comes with two ribbon markers, but to easily flip to more than two pages (for example, every monthly calendar), consider adding sticky tabs. There are lots of awesome options out there. Our favorites are tabs that are reusable, meaning you can move them around and they still stick. Add a pen holder. If you wish you could carry your favorite pen everywhere your planner goes look into buying a pen holder. We’ve personally found lots of great, affordable options on Amazon. Add an elastic band. This is something we hope to add to our planners once we can match the elastic band to the color of the cover (we still print in too small of batches for this to be possible). Until then, there are lots of possibilities (again check Amazon). I personally use a flat elastic hairband, which works perfectly and you can purchase them anywhere.
19. Get creative with your yearly spreads. We offer two yearly overview pages. One we call “2020 Overview” and the other “Year at a Glance” (a new spread for this year). These highly customizable spreads are perfect for any number of things. You could use your 2020 Overview to list your important events for the year, or use it more like a journal and write your favorite highlights from each month. Or, even though it says 2020, you could use it more like a future log and use it to start mapping out 2021. Your Year at a Glance spread offers a little box for each day of the year, so while it’s also perfect for planning time off/special occasions/trips, it’s also a great spread to use for yearlong habit tracking or mood tracking. I’ve decided to use mine to track a few of my most important habits for the year - movement and journaling. Movement I track with “x’s” and journaling I track with “check marks.” For each day I do one or the other (or both), I check with the corresponding mark. In the end, I will have this comprehensive overview of the whole year, showing how frequently I incorporated these two habits in my life.
20. Use your planner to plan but also as a keepsake and memory keeper. Planners are incredible memory keepers. All year long you use it to write down important events, list your evolving goals and dreams, reflect on life - your successes/challenges, track habits, and so much more. In the end, what you have is the story of your year. Your story may not be written perfectly or completely, but it will include endless memories you’ll treasure looking back on, including many moments you may not capture anywhere else. Even better, our planners are beautiful bound books - perfect for collecting on your shelf year after year. So as you move through 2020, think not only about what you want to plan but what you want to remember.
That's it! One huge challenge we face in our busy modern lives is the constant feeling that there’s so much we should be doing. We move through our days with never-ending to-do lists, which inevitably leads to discouragement, unmanageable stress, and burnout. We sincerely hope our planners give you a new approach to planning. One that provides clarity - bringing thoughtfulness and purposefulness to your life - paired with organization and healthy productivity. As we like to say, it’s not necessarily about doing more things, it’s about doing the right things.
We hope you find these tips useful as you embark on your new year and decade. Here’s to 2020!
Wishing you all the best,