Planners are personal.
Everything you write, record, or doodle in them connects back to who you are, what you’re doing, and where you want to go, figuratively and literally.
For many, a physical planner is like a safe space. A place to reflect and regain your sanity and prepare for the day, week, month, and years ahead. At the very least, it is a vehicle for staying organized, like a second brain or assistant. The added benefit is that the act of writing on paper is quite satisfying.
Purchasing a planner is a commitment. Financially and mentally. Does it meet all your practical needs like having sufficient writing space, and less practical ones too, like being your favorite color or beautifully designed?
In this post we want to lay out a variety of aspects you should consider when looking for your next planner, and why they’re important, before you take the big leap.
Picking a planner that matches your life
Finding a planner that satisfies all your needs and reflects your unique preferences and styles can feel overwhelming.
But before you let that happen, consider: how do you use your planner? What kinds of tasks do you put in your planner? How have past planners carried you to success or failed you? Are you super stressed right now and unable to find a calm path with your current planner?
Maybe you’re a:
- Professional: Once you move beyond school, your schedule doesn’t change throughout the year with each semester or quarter, and your goal setting and plans of action shift towards career and professional advancements. A planner that focuses not just on where you are hour-to-hour but also has features specific to your professional goals or motivational messages might be more up your alley.
- Student: No matter what level of school you’re in, you probably need a planner that breaks down daily time into at least hourly increments that neatly match up with classes, study time, and work. Being small and light enough to slip into a book bag is a must too. An academic year or undated planner is great so you can start the planner at the beginning of the school year as opposed to being locked into the calendar year.
- Parent: As a parent, you’re not only planning for yourself, but also for your family. A planner that has lots of space in the weekly and monthly section will allow you to track and schedule for more than just one person. A small square or a few lines for each day just won’t cut it. And a durable and hardy cover will withstand all that you and your family throw at it. To stay in a rhythm longer, a 17 or 18 month calendar is a great option.
- Minimalist: Those who don’t want or need any extra frills like stickers, quotes, tabs, or guides, instead need a simplified planner. Clean, blank pages or a simple calendar layout will fit the bill, or maybe you want a dot-grid notebook that allows you to customize.
- Non-planner planner: Those who are not big on using planners (or who are new to physical planners) might like a planner that combines scheduling and journaling. You get the practical structure of a planner, plus the inspiration of a journal — this can make a planner less intimidating if you aren’t sure how you’d fill the pages of a traditional paper planner.
- Visualizer: Those of you who are more visual and respond better to pictures or color rather than words, can benefit from a planner that is flexible enough to tailor yourself, like a bullet journal. Alternatively, the calendar layout and note space of more traditional planners must be carefully considered; are these visual spaces laid out in a way that makes sense for you?
14 important elements to consider in choosing a planner
A planner calls to you because it has the right combination of elements you like and need. But how do you know when you’ve met the one?
A planner’s elements should align with your needs, lifestyle, goals, and personality. It should not only help you plan and prepare for the present and future, but also inspire your need to do those big things.
What’s on the outside
1. Cover material: The outer cover material is the first thing you see and feel. A few types of cover material include:
- Softback, whether suede or a soft-touch vegan material
- Leather or leathery feel
You may be drawn to a particular design or colorway, but on inspection, will the material withstand the wear and tear of daily life for a year or more?
If you’re hard on your planner, look for a planner thats cover allows for easy clean up from spills and stains, pen marks, or the elements. Think about how you’ve cared for planners in the past and how you’ll be carrying this one around.
Maybe you need something to match with everything from your bag to your clothes. Or you’re drawn to the quote on the cover or the cool marbling pattern. Some planners you can even personalize with your name or initials. And as mentioned above, if you’re rough on your planner, maybe go with a color that is dark to hide permanent blemishes.
Color and design is important for those who’s planner is also an accessory, or those who feel inspiration and happiness from seeing a particular color or design. Colors affect emotions and mood, so make a choice based on what makes you feel good.
3. Binding: Quality binding is important. Spiral, lay flat, tape bound, hard or case bound, and perfect bound are just some of the binding options that affect how the planner lays when it’s open.
Spiral and lay flat binding allow you to access the innermost part of the page along the binding, making it easier to write and read in that area. But if a planner you like is fairly thin, then spiral or layflat binding won’t matter because it is thin enough to bend and flex open.
And spiral binding may not be for you (myself included) if you tend to just shove your planner in your bag wherever it fits; since the rings tend to get caught on things, you can damage your planner if you’re not careful with it.
If you are considering a thicker planner, practice opening it up and laying it flat to make sure you’ll actually be able to write in it comfortably.
4. Planner thickness, size, and dimensions: Where does your planner go? If it’s daily adventure consists of being carried with you wherever you go, size is more important than if it only moves from your home office to the kitchen. No one wants to carry a brick around.
If you’re drawn to a smaller planner, like pocket planners or ones the size of a half sheet of paper, think about how much your write down. Will it be big enough and provide sufficient space for your needs in the calendar and note taking sections?
5. Elastic band: Having an elastic band that keeps your planner closed is ideal for those of you who can’t risk your planner falling open. The pages won’t easily snag on other objects in your purse or your bag, and if there is no inner pocket, loose papers won’t fall out. The elastic will keep everything secure, tight, and together.
The inside is where it’s at
6. Paper material and color: Almost all planners use a white or cream tone paper, even if there are some colored or accent divider pages. A creamy tone is softer and less stark, but your writing will pop and contrast more starkly on white. What looks better to your eye?
All paper is not equal; quality matters. Better quality paper won’t tear or wear down from erasing as easily, and ones advertising ink- or bleed-proof paper will absorb ink better and minimize smudging.
7. Prompts, quotes, designs, and self-improvement: Some planners have cute designs and quotes sprinkled throughout the pages to provide inspiration and guidance, with the goal of helping you maximize your use.
But for some, this is just too much and creates distraction or wasted space, especially if you prefer a blank canvas. If you love everything else about a planner that has questions or prompts followed by blank space, it’s ok if you ignore them and use the space as you see fit.
8. Ribbon finder and tabs: A ribbon finder is a necessity if you like to flip back and forth between multiple pages and/or if the planner is laid out in a way with yearly, monthly, or weekly views on different pages. If you find a planner you love that doesn’t come with a ribbon finder, you can always add cute sticky note flags that might be the next best thing.
Alternatively, some planners have dividers or tabs that separate sections or months for you, making it even easier to jump around. Tabs can’t be moved around like a ribbon, offering less flexibility but more structure.
9. Internal pockets: Usually in the front or back, pockets are ideal when you need a neat and organized way to store business cards, receipts, or other bits of paper. Pockets that allow you to stick items in vertically are easier to access than ones that have the opening horizontally. On the flip side, horizontal pockets mean your loose papers are less likely to fall out.
10. Stickers: Stickers are an extra bonus (or waste, depending on your viewpoint) that some planners come with. They make birthday or appointment reminders consistent throughout your planner, and can be a great visual cue to those who need or want that feature. One downside: there’s a limit to how many of each sticker you get. Not a big deal if you don’t mind that December might not have the same stickers as January if you run out.
11. Calendars and layouts: Most calendars have a yearly, monthly, and weekly calendar option, typically arranged in that order. The current year’s calendar may be all you need, or you might find that having the previous and next year makes remembering the past and planning ahead that much easier.
The weekly calendar section is probably the most frequented page, drilling down into the details of your week and days. Depending on how you use your planner, and who you are (see above), how the days of the week are laid out is a big deal.
Is it easier for you to see your week with the days going horizontally left to right, with space below each day for tasks and to dos? Or vertically, with space to the right of each day?
Depending on the dimensions of the planner, one layout may or may not give you sufficient space to write. The same goes if the days of the week all lay to the left of the binding vertically versus being divided in some way on both sides vertically or horizontally.
And don’t forget, if you have busy weekends, a planner that squishes Saturday and Sunday into a small box won’t do you any good.
12. Important dates, contacts, birthdays, and notes: Some planners have additional sections to make planning your life a little bit easier. A monthly important dates or birthday section gives you the space to track this information. But if you’re like me and fill in important dates in your actual yearly, monthly, or weekly calendar sections at the beginning of the year, a separate section for such information means unused pages.
Similarly, if you meet a lot of people and use your planner to track or log that information rather than in your phone or device, a separate section for contacts will keep you organized.
Lastly, if you find a planner that seems light on the note-taking space in the monthly or weekly sections, make sure it has extra blank pages for notes or thoughts, likely at the end of the planner. Does this cause separation anxiety though? Don’t like the note section separate from your calendar section? Opt for a planner that has more than enough note taking space built into the calendar section so you have nothing to fear.
13. Font size: Don’t strain your eyes any more than you need to; small planners may work better for your bag and weigh less, but if you can’t read the text or if the space to write in is too tiny, is that really the most efficient and comfortable?
14. Dated or undated: For a student or someone who needs to plan far in advance, a 17 or 18 month calendar or one specific to the academic year is your best bet. But if you like to have your planner follow a calendar year, a 12 month option will satisfy your needs the best.
An alternative option is the undated planner. This is a great option that allows you to personalize when you start using it, continuing for as long as you need, when life goes awry and you need a planner stat.
What matters to you…
…will be different than what matters to the next person. The elements above are meant to guide you through the decision-making process.
If you need more help, try ordering each of the elements listed above in order of their importance to you and start looking for planners that meet as many of your needs as possible!