- Posted by Alaia Williams
- On January 19, 2016
- daily planner, goal setting, goals, productivity
So, you've found your perfect planner. Now what? Having a planner isn't very helpful if you aren't putting it to use. Those blank pages can't make miracles happen.
Not everyone loves planners the way I do – I get that. But if you’re reading this, it is very likely that you do or that you understand the value of a good planner and want to learn how to leverage it as one of your frequently used business systems.
I’m often asked how *I* plan and how I use my planner – probably because many people know how much I geek out about online systems and automation. In this post, I break down my planning process, provide tips on how you can make the most of your planner (and your year) and give you an inside look at the planner I use. These tips and strategies can be used with any planner you choose, so adapt accordingly!
Final note – I like planning. I like the process, like getting my ideas down on paper (or a white board) and so on. If my process seems a little heavy handed for you, you can always simplify and just use parts that would be most helpful to you.
I think the whole New Year thing is pretty arbitrary, if I’m being honest with you. As much as I’d love it, it is rare that I go to bed on December 31st and wake up on the 1st having manifested the will and skill to accomplish everything I want. I wish! That said, making changes and planning at the top of the year just feels so natural. A new calendar page, a new calendar. A fresh start.
And on the practical side, if you’re using a dated planner or calendar, it likely starts on January 1st, which is another reason people tend to give planning a lot of focus in January. But really, you can do this at any point in the year – and I typically course correct at least 2-3 times a year. Things change. If you're an entrepreneur, being adaptable is a must.
So whether you’re reading this in January or getting yourself organized mid-year, here’s what works when I’m making plans for the year:
At the start of the year, I gather my supplies, which is a pretty small list: last year’s planner and notebook, my pens (usually felt tip or Sharpie pens) and some post-it notes or index cards. I keep my planning pretty simple where supplies are concerned – multicolored pens are pretty much the only flair to be found. But if you like stickers, washi tape or other accessories, by all means, gather them and make the process work for you.
I open up my calendar and add important dates and holidays that are concrete. Since I use an undated planner, holidays aren’t pre-printed. I usually keep birthdays in my Google Calendar so I get automated reminders, but if you like them in your planner, this is a good time to log them. I also add:
- Trips I already know I’m taking – both business and personal
- Events I’m hosting that I know the dates of
- Other scheduled appointments that are already on the books
- My goals for the year – which I’ve broken down into monthly goals (at least for the upcoming quarter). If you aren’t clear on what your goals are, or want to develop a solid goal setting practice, check out my goal planning guide.
If there are other things you want to keep track of in your planner – family medical appointments, holiday plans, kid’s school events – jot them down.
A year is a long time. Don't be afraid to reassess your goals and plans. They aren't set in stone. Things can change in a moment. Plan, but be open to change.
Each month is a mini fresh start – a new calendar page, a natural time to tweak, refine or recommit. At the end of every month, I do a quick business review before I plan for the month ahead. I evaluate four things:
- Prospect List
The process is quick yet incredibly beneficial. I highly suggest you review the month that’s passed before planning ahead. For more on this process, check out my quick and easy business review post.
Each month of planning works similar to the year: I log events and milestones, launches and deadlines, goals and priorities. Since I’ve done my business review at this point, I assess whether or not my goals need to be tweaked and, if they do, I modify my goals and *write them down*. I do my best NOT to keep my goals and priorities in my head. Writing them down and seeing them every day helps me keep things in perspective.
I like Mondays. But that’s because I love planning. And because, if I’m running a mastermind group at the time, it is usually run on Monday mornings and always gets me motivated for the week ahead. If you’re a Monday hater, try adding something to your morning that you enjoy and look forward to.
I think you’re getting the picture by now, but the start of every week is approached the same way I approach the month and year:
- Write down any known deadlines, milestones, etc.
- Write down my goals and priorities for the week.
At this stage, I also pick (or try to pick) ONE focus or focus project for the day. I do my best not to put too much pressure on myself when it isn’t needed. So, for example, Monday’s focus may be working on a new blog post, on Tuesday a newsletter, on Wednesday social media content or freshening up a social profile, Thursday is prospect follow up, Friday any wrap-up admin work that needs to be done.
If things are going as I’d like them to, I get this weekly planning sesh done on a Sunday night (and I’m not going to lie, it may happen while I’m watching one of my favorite Sunday night shows). If not, I do the planning on Monday morning and that’s just as good. The point is, I get it done.
Since Google Calendar is my master calendar, I don’t write down every single appointment in my planner, but I do write down key things to remember: project deadlines, launch dates, editorial deadlines, etc. For you, this might include doctor’s appointments or things related to your family. Some people even do meal planning, but I tend to keep my planner as business/work focused as possible. Some personal things may find their way in, but my planner space is maximized for business, not meals and housework.
If my goals for the week are big, this is a good place to pull out the major to-do’s/action steps that I need to complete in order to reach the goal. Breaking down your goals into manageable pieces helps tremendously. As one of my actual human business best buds says “what's one quick win you can get?”
I plan every day. Yep. Every day. I’ve been doing it since 2011. It started when I took a job, but kept my business on the side. I *had* to plan if I was going to get anything done outside of the day job. “They” say it takes 21-30 days to make a habit and that has definitely been true for me. The daily planning stuck after that. If you aren’t doing it already, I really encourage you to try daily planning – at least for a week – and see what a positive impact it can have. For my daily planning I:
- Look over my Google Calendar and mark down any major appointments or deadlines.
- Fill in the gaps in my schedule with items from my to-do list.
- Confirm or change my focus project of the day
This process may seem tedious, but the 5 minutes I spend on this saves tons of time in the long run. Refocusing each day – writing down and committing to what I’ll do – helps me reach my goals. And, if things get off track (which does happen of course), I have a plan to fall back on.
If I’m having a particularly intense day or doing a “work sprint” of some kind, I usually print off a copy of my daily planning template (above) and drill my day down by the hour.
WHAT I USE TO PLAN
I use my planner, The Next 12 Months: Weekly Planner. It is by my side every day.
Each week, I write down what my daily focus projects are, set the priorities for the week and keep track of my to-do’s as they come up. There’s also space for notes, so I sometimes jot down ideas that come to me. But I can also use the note pages at the back for that.
The facing page has a marketing tracker, which is key for me. I do my own marketing and, when I’m busy helping clients or working on my own projects, marketing is the first thing that goes by the wayside. I love having a handy checklist of specific marketing actions I can take.
Remember that monthly review I mentioned? At the end of each month, I use the monthly review pages in the planner to review the month that’s passed. I also use the stats tracker so I’m aware of concrete numbers related to my business. I just track marketing here, but some months, I have used it to track income goals.
I designed the planner for business owners and solopreneurs because it is a lifestyle I understand. There are many great planners out there, but I wanted one with maximum space for business related planning.
The planner is available in print, as a digital download, or if you have a planner you already love, you can buy the marketing tracker to use as a complementary tool. Learn more about the planner here.
And there you have it. My inside guide to using your planner throughout the year and an inside look at my planner of choice.
- Take this process and adapt it for yourself. How will you plan your year? Month? Week? Day?
- Check out my goal planning guide if you need to get your goals in focus.
- Choose a planner that works for you. Check out my guide to some of the best planners for business owners.
User your planner, work your plan and reach your goals! You can accomplish great things in the year ahead with focus, some motivation, and the right tools. For more tips and advice on planning, check out my Planning Series posts.