Ask the Edit: Organizing Planner Options

Jan 2, 2019

How do you keep your calendar and to-do list organized?  A great question for the New Year.

Hi Abra

I am a recent graduate and am working in DC now. In school, a regular weekly planner worked fine for homework assignments but now I am looking for a better way to manage my to-do lists, action items, notes from staff meetings, and reminders. Do you have any recommendations for planners/journals to keep yourself organized at work? Thanks!

– Carly 

I recently started using a website and app called Monday.  It lets you group tasks (blog, job, personal), create subtasks, set deadlines, and assess your progress.  I really like it for organizing tasks and creating a plan of attack.

I’m still learning all of the tools, but they have multiple templates.  The software can also manage projects and tasks that many people are working on.

They offer a free trial so you can see if the product is right for you.  My only criticism of the software is that I wish it integrated with my calendar.  I’d love to have my tasks and my appointments in one place.

Prefer a physical planner?

One of the most organized people (and busy ladies) I know, Hitha Palepu, uses the Silk + Sonder planner to keep her life together.  I haven’t tried it myself, but she speaks very highly of it.

One of the most appealing aspects of it is that you get a new planner every month.  This is great if (like me) you lose momentum in February or March and end up abandoning your planner for the rest of the year.  With Silk + Sonder, if you have a bad month, you can have a fresh start the next month.

What do you ladies use to keep organized?  With 2019 officially going, it might be a good time to share your best ideas.

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  1. Beth says:

    I use a combination of digital and paper planners. My digital planner is just the Google Calendar app, which syncs with my computer. I actually have two paper planners. The Passion Planner is my monthly/weekly organizer; I use the undated version (Monday start) so I can fill in dates and skip weeks as needed. I like having a single week in a two-page spread with hourly blocks for meetings and tasks. The paper is also high-quality which means I can use any pen without ink bleed. For my daily organizer, I love Emily Ley’s Simplified Planner; the design is more colorful and the paper is also thick enough to prevent ink bleed. For those who want a daily/monthly planner with no weekly overviews, the Emily Ley planner works well on its own (as long as you don’t mind a monthly calendar beginning on Sundays; for some reason this drives me nuts as I typically plan weeks starting on Monday).

  2. Sydney says:

    I’m a Bullet Journal devotee, and have been since I read about it in the WSJ about two years ago. The fancy lay-outs you see on Pinterest and Instagram are NOT my bag. I just love the system. Index, Future Log, Daily Log, and Collections… Keep separate bujos for personal and professional.

  3. Meghan says:

    I use a combination of a bullet journal and Trello. I like the bullet journal for daily to do lists, tracking, and monthly tasks (i.e. did I clean the toilet this month?). I do projects and long-term planning in Trello. I use both for work, personal, and professional projects.

    • Elizabeth says:

      +1 for Trello! I use that and an assortment of paper lists. Trello helps me track longer-term tasks and priorities, while the paper lists keep me from losing focus (at least most of the time).

  4. RR says:

    I use a bullet journal as well. As with others, not the over the top fancy ones (although I have always loved color coding), but I like being able to create whatever list I need. Sometimes, I make a weekly spread, and sometimes I need separate daily spreads. Anything I need to track my life is in there. I do use a separate little book for real detailed work project stuff though.

  5. CW says:

    Keep in mind you industry-your work might have prohibitions about using un-approved software for work tasks (even lists and calendars). If you do work that could be subject to Freedom of Information Act, keep the work separate from the personal- you don’t want someone reviewing your work notes to see the personal ones mixed in. I’m a big fan of the daily/weekly quadrant to-do list on a sticky note that can be shredded when it’s all done.

    Beyond that, I have a paper wall calendar at home to help keep home schedules sync’d, Trello for outside projects though we’re considering using that for home things too, and Google calendar for important reminders.

  6. AK says:

    I signed up for a year’s subscription of the Silk and Sonder planner, based on Hitha’s recommendation, and, while I think it’s a good idea, it’s full of typos and I am not sure if they attributed some of the things they included in the right way. Check it out, for sure, but for someone who cannot un-see spelling mistakes or missing punctuation, this isn’t going to work in the long run.

    I just purchased the Graphic Image leather notebook, having seen Abra’s write-up about it, and can’t wait to star using it as a bullet journal for work. For my week, I use the Rifle Paper Company’s weekly planner, and for my life outside of work, I use the Appointed Planner. I love all of these and they work well for me.

    • Kate says:

      I agree! They really, really need a copy-editor. I can overlook small things since I find that I don’t read much of the copy included, but when March only has 28 days in it, I get a little annoyed.

      • Hitha says:

        Really appreciate the feedback on Silk + Sonder – I just joined them as an advisor and passed along your comments. I’m in total agreement with you, and they are really focused on fixing these small errors and improving the product in February and future iterations.

  7. J says:

    Count me in as another bullet journal person, mixed with Apple Calendar for family stuff. I used to do all the fancy stuff, but I don’t have the time for it anymore. My bujo has future log, daily log, bill tracker, weight tracker (#thirtyishfitclub), and life event pages (trip prep, etc.). I used to do a weekly, but I’ve found that the Apple Calendar app mixed with my work calendar covers what I need to see for the week. If you want to learn more, I’d check out the main page:

  8. AnOnymous says:

    New Yorker desk diary:

    You can see a week at a time, and each day has spaces for each hour from early morning to late evening.

    The Metropolitan Musuem of Art used to make a similar one, but about five years ago, they stopped providing hourly spaces in each day, so it is no longer useful for marking appointments during the day.

  9. Jordan says:

    I’m yet another bullet journaler! It seems like silk + sonder is basically a pre-made bullet journal (bujo). I prefer to make my own bujo because I can build exactly what works for me. Silk + Sonder looks pretty but there’s some elements of it that I probably wouldn’t use and if another commenter says there are spelling or grammatical mistakes that would really bother me as well!

    As another commenter said, my self-made bujo isn’t anything super fancy or pretty but it works perfectly for me. There’s tons of online resources for getting started on a bujo and then this is the notebook I use for mine:

    I combine my personal physical bujo with my online Google calendar, which I share with family and friends. I then use Outlook to keep track of my work email, calendar, and tasks (in addition to some other methods to keep track of work projects). Sometimes I’ll send calendar appointments between my Outlook/Google calendars if it’s something that is helpful to have on both, i.e. a mid-day doctors appointment that I initiate on my personal Google calendar and then send to my Outlook as a private appointment. I like to keep my personal and work calendars/tasks mostly separate so that I’m better at putting work away when I’m not there.

    • Katel says:

      I looked at that notebook and saw the only negative feedback was ink bleed through. Your use sounds like mine would be – more written lists and less sketches/art. So in that scenario is ink bleed through a non issue?

      • Belle says:

        You think maybe they’re using markers instead of ink pens? I don’t know, I’ve heard mostly good things, but I’m trying to stay digital because I just can’t manage anymore paper right now.

  10. chloe says:

    My team lives and dies by Asana – if it’s not in Asana, it doesn’t exist! Great for the small things that add up, just so “they’re documented somewhere, by someone” you can add a due date that’s far into the future, so I Have things like “We need a blog about this” for something someone mentioned in a meeting that’s four months away, so that I never forget about it. I’m in marketing, if that helps. Asana is really a glorified to-do list, but you can also use it to track time spent on projects/tasks, group by different teams, and do calendar views as well. For what it’s worth, I would not use it say, as an editorial calendar, but it does help with day-to-day tasks as well as projects that are multi-step. I bucket it into the different functions/responsibilities of my job e.g. website maintenance, strategic projects, campaign-related projects and nitty gritty “nice to have” stuff. Lastly, I also look at my task list with a twist on the Urgent/Not Urgent philosophy [] and group it by Low >> High Impact (on the business) and Low >> High Effort. Things that are low effort >> High Impact get done ASAP, High Impact >> High Effort get put into project plans and things that are Low/High Effort and Low Impact get put into a backlog. Yeah … I’m a little Type A… Re: personal, I just use my Google calendar on my personal email and love Evernote.

  11. Aleks says:

    I live and die by my Day Designer – it’s pricey, but I’m in graduate school, work, and am currently planning a wedding and it’s the only thing that keeps me sane. There’s a side-by-side to do list and schedule, in addition to notes pages and monthly planners. So good!

    • Mel says:

      FYI, you can get the Day Designer from Target for half the price. The cover construction is shoddy, but the insides are perfect.

  12. rr says:

    I use calendars on my iPhone, Wunderlist and good old fashioned paper lists. Calendars I use for traditional appointments – work events, meetings and calls and social events. Wunderlist has SAVED my life in terms of to/do’s and reminders – I have my general life to do list, a work to do list (this is mostly anything I need to follow up with clients on or tasksI think I might forget) and other things like my shared grocery list with my husband. And the old fashioned paper lists I use for work – I have a master to do list and then I have a notebook with a separate list for each deal deals I’m on (transactional corporate attorney here). This seems different than all the other systems I see below but I guess everyone has what works for them!

  13. anna c says:

    I use my Google calendar, with color coding for different things (work, personal, bills, exercise, etc) and then dozens of post-it lists. I feel like bullet journaling might actually be a good option for me, given how I like to operate, but I’m just too lazy to set it all up.

  14. Mel says:

    What you described is perfect for the bullet journal system (the traditional Ryder Carroll version, not the pintrest perfect ones)

    I use a BuJo at home, but a Day Designer planner Today and To-Do as a to-do list/ calendar at work, bolstered by OneNote and Outlook Calendar. It doesn’t keep my notes, so I use OneNote for those. Even if you take handwritten notes, you can scan them and upload the PDF. Outlook serves as a backup calendar and helps me organize my work around meetings. I use the “time-blocking” technique to get stuff done.

    • Kay says:

      I have been looking at the Today and To-Do! And I have been struggling with my current BuJo approach – hard to keep work and personal in the same book, hard to keep them separate . . . I like your idea to do it this way. Have been using the free downloadables from the day designer website, but now I’m inspired to take the leap and get the actual Today and To-Do book.

      • Hitha says:

        I used the Today and To-Do and really liked it – I’m glad that they made a smaller presentation of it (I had the bulky, huge coiled one and the size is the reason I stopped using it)

  15. Rachel says:

    I use an Erin Condren Life Planner, which you can customize everything from the layout to the color of the spiral. It is heavier, and I could live a complete life without the coloring pages, but it held up for 18 months of use. I like their grid system, which helped me go from having different work/personal planners to one and still stay organized.

  16. Leigh says:

    I use a personal-sized Filofax for my personal life (I have a week-on-two-pages section and a notes section, basically), and a shared Outlook calendar + a notebook at work. I think I need to replace the notebook with some sort of planner situation, though. I need my calendar on paper.

  17. Krista says:

    I also follow the bullet journal method but I use the Rhodia goalbook notebook. I love it– preprinted page numbers, index page, and calendars. The pages are also thicker and I haven’t had any issues with bleeding through.

  18. K says:

    If you decide to go the paper route, consider a Levenger or similar product where the paper can be added and removed without ripping it out. I think Martha Stewart has a similar design.

    How I use mine has shifted. They have inserts with weeks and day planners, etc. I use my dividers for vendors and projects. When I’m done with a project all the notes from that meeting come out of the notebook and into the scanner, then filed electronically. [I work in a highly regulated environment; BYOD is banned and we can’t use our own services. Otherwise I’d try out OneNote or some other systems people have recommended to me.]

    I used to have the to do list in the front, but now that our team has a good task/project planning app I like having all of my todo’s up there. What I keep in the front is a list of “dones.” This deviates from the actual question, but its a nicer way to end the day with things that happened (or things that went well), then to rewrite a giant list of what still needs to happen.

    Good luck! And, don’t be discouraged if you need to try a few things to find the right mix.

  19. TheOtherLiz says:

    I use the Uncalendar Lifestyle full size planner from People Systems. I like it because it has lots of boxes, lots of space, a section for weekly and a section for monthly plus unassigned note taking pages. And it’s undated- you can start any time, skip weeks when you’re on vacation etc. I wish it had more notetaking pages and unlined pages. It doesn’t really meet my project planning needs but meets my short term planning out my time needs.

  20. Caitlin says:

    My ADHD makes writing everything down IMPERATIVE, but I can’t say I’ve landed on a perfect solution. I’ve been using Trello (one board for personal, one board for work) in combination with flagged emails in Outlook, and occasionally Evernote for more “long-form” writing (like, say, 2019 resolutions). I have a paper notebook by my phone for taking notes, which I then have to make tasks in Trello based off my notes… now that I’m writing it out, I realize it’s a bit of a mess… definitely going to take some pointers from the comments.

    My boyfriend keeps trying to get me to use the Reminders iPhone app, but he works on the Hill and is constantly moving. Sometimes I use it while running errands or am cleaning around the house.

    • caitlin says:

      Oh, and I forgot, an enormous 12 month dry-erase calendar hanging on the wall near my work desk. That’s more for large-scale items, since I can only really fit one item per day.

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