How to Get Started With Your Ink+Volt Planner (Beginner Series Part 1)

How to Get Started With Your Ink+Volt Planner (Beginner Series Part 1)

Amelia Bartlett is a photographer and creative consultant living and working in Tennessee, where she is converting a retired school bus into her home.

She is a new Ink+Volt Planner user, and has created a 5-part series sharing her journey of goal-setting and learning to use her planner. Follow along for inspiration, whether you’re a beginner or seasoned planner user! You can learn more about her work at

A blank planner is a blank canvas.

That’s not to say that your life is a blank canvas, but the first time I crack the binding on my planner, a wave of both excitement and stress washes over me. The feeling is akin to staring at a blank page before creating a work of art or writing a poem, except that artwork is your day-to-day existence and that poem is the flow of time.

Depending on how your brain works, this beginner’s planner series may make total sense or total hogwash to you. The way my brain works is this:  

How to Get Started With Your Volt Planner (Part 1)

The way I see life, decisions are made on the “micro” level – things like what to do in a day, where to go out to dinner, whether or not to take the job or start a business. That means my biggest question often is: if I’m only making decisions day-to-day, how can I trust that the big goals that I have for my life, the ones that take years or are still conceptual at my age, will come to fruition?

After the initial planner flip where I became acquainted with the general real estate I’ll be working with for the year, I go straight to the front and start on page one. The one where you write your name.

Always write your name! I’ve had planners returned to me on more than one occasion, and once by mail because I properly named and addressed the book. Plus, it’s an easy win. Once you write your name, it’s no longer a blank canvas.

It’s your blank canvas: start off slow with calendars

Unless you’re one of those cool folks who has given up all social media for hard-line communication and old-fashioned friendship, you already have all the tools you need to fill out the next two pages of your planner within your Facebook.

Something my mother used to do at the end of every year that she truly loved was to transfer birthdays, holidays, special events, and dates to remember from that year’s calendar to the next.

She’d lay out her calendars, Rolodex (google this if confused), and any notes or scraps of paper that she deemed relevant to schedule on the living room floor and get to work. She’d fill out a year’s worth of birthdays, anniversaries, death-days, and other specific days like school schedules and work functions. After that, she’d add events we had tickets to, travel dates, visitor dates, and important days she’d usually have looked up prior like free museum day, or membership expiry dates.

In my planner, I use colors and highlight the important days, noting a key at the top, then flipping through to each month of the calendar to fill in those days.

This isn’t the last time you’ll see this yearly spread, so take the time to make is beautiful and as fully filled in as you can make it.

The way I see it, the year calendar is a perfect visualizer for how colorful and vibrant my year is going to be. It’s full of special days, travel opportunities, and exciting happenings to anticipate. It also serves as a way to visualize where I may have gaps in my year – months where I have nothing planned – where I could get creative and try something or go somewhere new.

Once my book is comprehensively filled with special days (that I typically pull from Facebook, past calendars, and phone contacts), plus travel and other solidified events, I turn to what may possibly be the most daunting section of the whole planner:

Bring your year into focus

Before I get started with this section, I make sure I have additional paper handy. I like to keep my planner pages neat and organized, so I don’t want to do too much brainstorming there before I’m close to my final answer. I have a specific notebook just for “brainstorming,” but loose paper works too, especially if you store it in the folder pockets of the Ink+Volt Planner.

Remember that funky GIF that illustrated how my brain works? That two-year calendar we just filled out was the middle of the road on the micro-to-macro zoom out of my life, so now we are going to zoom out even further.

In my adult life, I’ve found it increasingly important to have a greater purpose.

Call it being a millennial or simply acknowledging that I am a speck blowing in the wind of time, but I need anchors in my heart and my future to help me stay the course. For me, the greater purpose influences most of my decisions and choices. It’s what keeps me inspired when life challenges begin to crush me, and what drives me to help others discover theirs.

For some people, their greater purpose is a bucket list. I have one of those – I want to go to Southeast Asia, I want to open a farm for disabled foxes, I want to learn to fly a plane. For others, it’s a why: I want to help orphans in India because 80,000 children go missing in India every year and that’s wrong; or, I want to build a multi-billion dollar company because I want my family to want for nothing.

I’d be short-changing you if I said that you could find your greater purpose with a simple quiz or by asking yourself a series of questions. It’s kind of like falling in love, you just know. And, by no means do I have this figured out. At all.

I’m of the “fake it ’til you make it” camp for now, though I am sure in forty or fifty years, that purpose will be a little less murky.

But in the meantime, before you decide what your yearly goals are going to be, think a little more macro – say, three to five, or even ten, years in the future. Where do you want to be in the long-term, and how can you work backwards towards that from today?

This is the time to get out that loose paper or brainstorming notebook and think about what a meaningful life looks like for you. Give yourself an hour, a week, a month to come up with it. And have absolute faith that it will morph, swell, shrink, change, and evolve as you grow, and that’s perfect.

To help you get going, ask yourself these questions:


a thing – person – change – movement


your family – community – company – group


for money – fame – power – love – health – freedom

You can see that my year in focus is not particularly sexy or monumental. In reality, a year is either a drop in the bucket or the last thing you have. I’ve lived most years of my life as if they were the last I might ever live, and this year, I was tired.

Was I unmotivated? Heck no – I’m trying to knit a blanket and conquer gluten intolerance! But, was I going into this year like: I will definitely buy a house, go to Brazil for the Olympics, get my blue belt in jiu jitsu, graduate with a 3.7 GPA, and lose 20 pounds? No. I took it easy in 2017. Hence my yearly theme: Patience.

The prompts in the Ink+Volt Planner are perfect and extremely self-explanatory. As you fill them out, think about activities, opportunities, challenges, and ideas that are in-line with what you wrote in your greater purpose brainstorming. For example:

You want to be able to pay yourself a $100,000 salary from your own business someday. Maybe this year you could take a business class or, if you already have a business, hire an employee.

Or let’s say you want to cook with vegetables from your own garden, so maybe this year you establish a savings fund for seeds, garden boxes, soil, and tools to get you started.

Does that mean you only set goals that are in-line with what you’ve brainstormed for your life? No way! Dye your hair blue, try nude modeling, go to Costa Rica for that wellness retreat, and adopt a rescue hound from your local shelter. You don’t have to stick with the exact same plan all year; things change all the time, and just because the route looks different doesn’t mean you can’t still end up where you want to go.

Just keep your greater purpose in mind as you spend your money and allocate your capacity for responsibility.

Setting your Yearly Theme

I am thoroughly biased on how amazing this page is. I will tell you now that this single box is my favorite part of the whole planner – it’s what drives everything in my year. I’ve even considered getting my yearly themes tattooed in a list down my back so I can look back on them in years to come.

I want you to ask yourself: what is the biggest thing missing in my life right now?

Are you missing self-care? Physical activity? Love? Creativity? Safety? Stability? This section is where you declare that this year, you’re going to fill that gap in your life and it’s going to be extraordinary. Whether it’s your mantra, your North Star, your intention; if you accomplish one thing this year, it is your theme.

For 2017, my yearly theme is Patience.

Before this year, I was not a patient person. My impatience made me angsty, and brought me undue stress in times when I already had enough on my plate. Impatience robbed me of gratitude, stability, and peace. My inability to await calmly with trust that all would arrive in time was running my world and running me into the ground.

At the beginning of the year, reflecting on last year’s theme of Authentic, I was harsh with myself. I’d made some very, very authentic choices. I ended relationships, left my comfortable and long-term secure employment, went full-time with my creative endeavors, and mended things I’d broken when I was being inauthentic. But still I was able to find plenty of ways in which I wasn’t fully authentic (translation: perfect) throughout the year. There was still so much missing from my life.

Through reflection, talking with others, and some tough love from my dearest, I decided that I would take on what I’d been avoiding for most of my life: developing patience.

My yearly theme is like a lens through which I see everything. The goals in the box below? Each one had to pass the patience test. Each monthly and weekly goal? Have patience that they will be achieved – and factor patience into their timeline. The time that it takes to actually fill out my planner each week and each month? Have patience that your efforts are impactful and worth it.

At this point, we’re starting to zoom in. We’ve gone very, very macro by outlining the greater purpose and establishing the bones of our year (all those dates to remember, which loved ones will thank you for remembering). We’ve acknowledged the prompts of “What we want to leave behind,” “What we want to learn,” and “What it would look like if this year went perfectly.” Don’t forget about these – we’ll need them for the next step.

How do you eat a cake? (Or anything, really)

I could have said elephant but it’s 2017 and no one eats elephants – for obvious reasons. The answer is simple: one bite at a time.

All that macro work we just did is what creates the steady stream of inspiration you’ll need to strategize, plan, and schedule the completion of your goals through the rest of the year. In the next installment of the Beginner’s Guide to the Ink+Volt Planner, I’ll share how I make the most of my recently most neglected part of my I+V Planner.

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