How to Use a Planner Effectively – 20 Easy and Fun Tips to Try Now

Want to learn how to use your planner effectively? Whether you use a paper planner or a digital planner, there are some tips for you in this blog post. These tips and ideas will probably be most relevant if you’re a beginner, but I’m hoping this post will have something for all levels. Let’s jump in!

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Text reads: 20 Tips on How to Use a Planner Effective. Background image shows a hand writing in a vertical Erin Condren planner with a pink pen.

How to Use Your Planner Effectively (20 Tips and Ideas)

I’ve been using planners since I was in high school. I’ve been a planner geek for a long time. And I’ve definitely noticed certain things can make a HUGE difference on whether you actually use your planner. And whether you use it effectively.

These tips and ideas are great for both paper planners and digital planners. You can use them in almost any planner type, like the Erin Condren or Happy Planner. You can even use these tips in a bullet journal!

Here are my top 20 tips and ideas – big and small, obvious and not so obvious – to help you use your planner effectively.

#1 Leave your planner out so it’s easy to access / reference

A paper planner (Erin Condren) left out on a white desk.
Leaving your planner out makes it more likely that you’ll use it

I’ll never forget when one of my friends visited my NYC apartment. As she walked by my dining room table, she noticed my planner was wide open. She said, “What a great idea so it’s super easy to actually use your planner!”

Indeed, I’ve noticed over the years that when I have my planner out, I’m WAY more likely to actually use it.

Otherwise, it’s out of sight, out of mind!

When my planner is put up, I typically use it only in the morning or during my weekly/monthly planning sessions. More on those below. But I’m much more likely to forget to use it at all!

Whereas when my planner is out in the open, I actually look at it several times a day. In a totally easygoing and light way too!

Having your planner out means you see it. This is a gentle reminder to actually use it.

#2 Choose a Planner That Fits Your Needs and Schedule

This may be obvious for some of you, but there are SO many different types of planners.

Different planner options include:

  • General time-themed:
    • Daily
    • Hourly
    • Weekly
    • Monthly
  • Themed planners:
    • Teacher planners
    • Student planners
    • Budget planners
    • Travel planners
    • Content creator planners
    • Business owner planners
    • Manifestation planners
    • Yoga planners / Planners for Yogis
    • And beyond!

It’s important that you choose a new planner that fits your needs, schedule, and preferences.

Planner Use Case Examples:

  • If you’re a student, you may need an hourly planner to add in your different classes. Likewise if you’re using your planner to track your work schedule.
  • Whereas if you’re a mom wanting to do meal planning, a daily planner may be a better fit so you can write your daily menu.
  • And if your big focus right now is your budget, you may want to look into getting a planner designed for all things budget.

As you shop, think about whether your schedule and what you want to plan will fit into the planner you’re considering.

You can either get a general planner and customize it for your or find one that has the quirky needs of your specific needs already built in.

Tip: Get a Planner You Actually Like

I know this seems obvious, but I also know I’ve personally purchased planners I didn’t like because they were convenient or the cheapest at the store.

Just because it fits your needs, doesn’t mean it’s the one.

If you don’t like looking at or using your planner, you’re probably not going to actually use it. This isn’t about buying the most expensive or fancy planner you can find. It’s just about finding one that you like – whatever motivates you.

#3 Add Your To-Do List to Your Planner (But No More Than This Total!)

This weekly paper planner layout features two to-do lists. The Monday to-do list has 5 spaces to write to-dos, with donuts as the checkboxes. The Tuesday to-do list features a pink checklist planner sticker with 4 hearts as the checkboxes.

This is a rule I’ve tried to break MANY times over the years. Only to fail time and time again. I learned this tip so long ago, I don’t even remember where I learned it. But apparently, you should add no more than FIVE things to your daily to-do list.

That’s right, only 5.

Now, I don’t count my work to-dos here. If I only did five things a day at my job, I’d get fired! Lol!

But when it comes to what I need to do before and/or after work (for my personal life), it is really difficult to do more than five.

Besides it being hard to do more than five, there’s also this cool thing called balance. As a Type A overachiever, doing as much as I possibly can is my natural inclination.

But I’ve learned the value of creating space, taking breaks, and resting. And so for a more enjoyable life, keeping your to-do list to five or less is a great idea.

I adore the checklist planner stickers by Nicole Hutch Designs because they have space for your choice of three or five – perfect for your daily to-do.

#4 Add Other Lists to Your Planner

Planners aren’t just for schedules and to-do lists! You can add all kinds of lists to your planner:

  • Grocery lists / grocery shopping
  • Shopping lists
  • Gift lists
  • Reading lists
  • TV Show lists

There are endless options. And most planners have plenty of space too!

Tip: Also consider using the blank pages at the end of your planner (see tip #7) for your longer lists.

#5 Track Fun Things Too

"Currently reading" sticker in a weekly planner spread. There's a book in the top left corner of the photo. There's also a sheet of book stickers.
Here’s a cute “Currently Reading” sticker so you can track what book you’re reading

Planners don’t need to be boring. You can and should track fun stuff too!

Fun things to add / track in your planner:

  • The TV show you’re binging on Netflix this week
  • The book you started reading today
  • The quote that is giving you life right now
  • The song you sang all day in the car
  • Where you went on your amazing date night
  • Your mantra of the day
  • The thing you’re currently manifesting
  • A special memory that happened that day

My favorite areas of the planner to track fun things is the daily section because you can capture fun things on a day-to-day basis. This is fun for memory keeping!

#6 Use the Calendar Sections of Your Planner (Beyond Important Dates)

So obviously you can track important events. due dates, holidays, and other key dates in your calendar. Whether you’re using the daily, weekly, or monthly view, planners are great for helping you manage your schedule.

But there are so many other things you can do with the calendar sections in your planner:

  • Track road trips
  • Add your pay days
  • Track your workouts
  • Ensure you have better work life balance
  • Track your habit streak
  • Ladies – track your time of the month (there are even cute stickers for this!)
  • Add a random, inspirational quote

#7 Use the Non-Calendar Sections of Your Planner

There’s typically a lot of extra space in the other free-form (non-calendar) sections of your planner, including:

  • Blank pages in the back of your planner
  • Monthly dashboards (like the monthly dashboard in the Erin Condren)
  • Random quote pages
  • Contact lists
  • Current year high-level calendar
  • Next year high-level calendar

For pages that already have an outline (such as the contact list), consider actually filling it out instead of forgetting it’s there. Unless it’s just me who does that. lol

For the more free-form pages, consider using these for:

  • Writing longer lists
  • Collecting your favorite quotes
  • Gathering important lessons as you learn them over the week / month / year
  • Setting monthly / yearly intentions
  • Creating book lists
  • Documenting your habit tracker
  • Writing out which Netflix/Hulu/Amazon/Disney+ shows you want to watch (and add reviews for those you get to watching)
  • Track your mood
  • Setting your new year goals, resolutions, intentions, and what not
  • Gathering a list of recipes you want to try
  • Tracking your savings and/or debit pay off progress

Basically, consider how you can use other areas of your planner for anything that spills out of / doesn’t fit in your daly/weekly/monthly spreads.

#8 Use Your Planner Daily

I love doing a daily planning session, typically as part of my morning routine. I think this is the best time to get organized on what to expect that day. A daily session is an effective way to help you have your best day possible.

You can use a daily planning session to check your daily schedule, create your to-do list for the day, write an intention for the day, add an inspirational quote, and much more.

A morning daily planning session can really help you set a positive tone for the day and kick things off organized and put together.

If you’re not a morning person, it’s all good too. You can check your planner any time of day. But looking at it at least once per day is super helpful and a great, healthy habit to adopt.

See tip #11 for the two times of day I love using my planner and why.

#9 Have a Weekly Planning and Set Up Session

Writing in a paper planner. It's an Erin Condren weekly planner layout.
Having a weekly planning sessions is one of my favorite parts of the weekend.

A weekly planning session is an easy way to set yourself up for success for the week ahead. I love taking some time on Sunday afternoon or Sunday evening to set up my weekly planner view.

Here’s what I find most helpful for a weekly planning session:

  • First thing:
    • Create the outline for your week ahead by setting up your weekly planner layout
    • Optional: Decorate your weekly view with washi tape, sticker, etc.
  • Next, write in your weekly schedule, including any important dates, special events, important tasks, and other important things for the week ahead
  • Add any known to-dos for the week ahead

#10 Have a Monthly Planning and Set Up Session

A monthly planning session can help you get a bigger picture view for what’s coming up over the next month. I love setting aside some time on the last day of the previous month or first day of the current month (or close to those days) to do some monthly planning.

Here’s what I find most helpful for a monthly planning session:

  • First thing:
    • Create the outline for the month ahead by setting up your monthly planner layout
    • Optional: Decorate your monthly view
  • Next, write in your monthly schedule, including important dates, special events, important tasks, and other important items for the month ahead
  • Add in any durations (road trips, multi-day events) – see tip #
  • Consider using any blank areas on this view to write some big goals, monthly intentions, etc.

#11 Look at Your Planner Morning and Night (But for Two VERY Different Reasons!)

Whilst I don’t do this every single day, in an ideal world, I be looking at my planner in the morning and at night.

But for two VERY different reasons.

Let’s dig in…

  • Morning: Planning – deciding what you will do that day based on what you’ve already planned and what you’re going to plan for the day
  • Night: Reviewing – reflecting on how the day went and taking a peek at what’s upcoming tomorrow and/or later in the week

The morning is almost an *opening* activity while the night one is more for *closing* out the day.

#12 It’s Okay to Use Multiple Planners (If You Do One Key Thing)

A lot of people recommend putting EVERYTHING in one planner. But that doesn’t work for me, personally. So my advice is that it’s okay to use multiple planners.

The KEY is to decide how you will use each different planner and keep them distinct.

Here’s how I use multiple, separate planners:

  • Erin Condren (My current paper planner)
    • Daily, Weekly, Monthly planning
    • Tracking key dates
    • Managing to-do lists
    • Adding in fun things (like the tip #5)
    • Decorating – my crafting quality time when I’m super busy
  • Google calendar (My current digital planner):
    • Adding events, appointments, etc.
    • Scheduling automated reminders (via emails and notifications)

Basically, I love the paper planner for writing things down, getting a birds eye view, and being able to decorate my planner. But I love Google calendar for sending me automated reminders and being shareable with others.

Note: I keep my work planner on my work computer only. I keep very strong boundaries and only track work stuff at work (and personal stuff outside of work).

#13 Consider Using Color-Coding to Stay Organized

Before getting into planner decorations, I used to use color-coding to keep my planner super organized.

I used a different color pen to represent different areas of my life:

  • Pink for workouts
  • Blue for work
  • Green for food
  • etc.

And I’d use the same color-coding for the ENTIRE planner. This made it really easy to see what was going on at-a-glance in the different areas of my life.

The color doesn’t really matter. Choose whatever colors you love most and assign each to a specific category in your planner.

Another option for color pens is to use blank-ink pens and color-code your writing with colorful highlighters, like the ones in this gorgeous set.

Tip: Make a key for which color goes with which category. Keep it in an easy-to-reach place until you get your color categories memorized.

#14 Use Sticky Notes for Pre-Planning (When Your Dates/Etc. Are Tentative)

A sticky note / post-it note in the middle of a weekly planner spread. The note says "dr. appt. 2pm". There is a micron pen next to the note.
Sticky notes are one of my FAVE tips for how to use a planner effectively – I use these all the time!

Whilst I’m all about embracing imperfection (see tip #16), it can definitely be frustrating to have written something in *pen* in my planner, only for that thing to change.

But that’s life. Dates shift and plans change.

So here’s a great way to prevent filling your planner with whiteout or wasting stickers unnecessarily. I don’t know who invented this strategy, but it’s super popular in the planner community.

Use sticky notes to “pre-plan”:

  • Basically, instead of writing your upcoming plans in ink, write it on a sticky note and add that to your planner instead.
  • Add one to your weekly view and a separate sticky note to your monthly view too.
  • When you’re doing your weekly or monthly planning session, replace the sticky note with ink and/or stickers.

Of course, if your dates are super solid, you can ink them in whenever you’re ready.

One additional way this helps, is it makes planner decorations more seamless. If you’re into planner decorations, you may not know what color pen ink or stickers you’re using yet. So you can wait until you’re decorating that weekly/monthly spread and choose accordingly then.

#15 Add Key Dates as Soon as You Get Them

Not sure about you, but one of my favorite and most important uses for my planner is to plan my busy schedule. Planners are a great tool to make sure I don’t schedule two events for the same night, to keep my schedule balanced, etc.

So, to be able to proactively mitigate any schedule challenges, I always add my key dates as soon as I get them.

If the date is tentative (or I’m not sure I want to commit to it yet), I use the pre-planning as mentioned in the previous tip #14. This will help you stay organized and avoid double-booking yourself.

Important Dates to Add:

  • Events
  • Activities
  • Dates / Date Night
  • Vacations / Travel Dates
  • Appointments
  • Birthdays of family, friends, and loved ones
  • Student-related schedules (class schedule, exam dates, etc.)

Note: Many holidays are already added to planners, but you may have additional ones you’d like to add.

Tip: consider using pre-planning as shared in tip #14.

#16 Embrace Imperfection and Mess

As a default, my Type A self does not want to see any typos, non-straight lines, changed plans covered up with white out, or anything else that is less than perfect.

HOWEVER, I’ve used my planner to help embrace imperfection. And sometimes a little mess.

By releasing the need to control how my planner looks 100%, I’m able to focus more on actually using my planner.

And this has been a GAME CHANGER.

Not only do I use my planner effectively, I actually use it. Forcing perfection can sometimes be a barrier to actually using it. Not to mention it adds unnecessary stress and anxiety to your day.

We already get enough stress and anxiety from living our lives, so may as well give ourselves a break, right? Embracing imperfection is something we an actually control and is a great way to take our power back.

Not to mention a little imperfection is normal, expected, and is part of what makes your planner uniquely yours.

#17 Be Okay with Not Having Plans / Having White Space

A blank planner - monthly layout / spread. This is an Erin Condren LifePlanner with a gold coil.
Embrace not having plans – you don’t even need them to use your planner

In experimenting with more work life balance, I’ve discovered something interesting. Sometimes it’s actually beautiful to NOT have plans.

Maybe you’ve chosen to not have plans. Or you’re in a phase of your life when there’s less activity. Or perhaps you’re an introvert and your idea of plans is a simple night in.

No matter the reason, it can be empowering to embrace being okay with not having plans.

I was an outcast in high school. So for awhile, not having plans made me feel like those lonely days again. But now I LOVE having solo QT. I know it has no bearing on my worth. And it can be nice to do whatever tf you want.

When I don’t have plans, I like using my planner more like a scrapbook or memory keeper. Sometimes I’ll add in what happened *after* it happened.

This is also a great idea for those of us with free spirits who prefer to live life as it comes instead of planning it all ahead of time.

And another thing I like to do with large areas of white space is to add my larger stickers (or drawings) that normally don’t fit in the smaller spaces leftover when your planner is fuller.

Not to mention at the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with having white space in your planner.

#18 Celebrate Daily, Weekly, Monthly, and Ad-Hoc Wins and Highlights

Our society pushes us to constantly evaluate ourselves and focus on areas for improvement. But something Ive started doing in the last several years is focusing on my wins, successes, and overall highlights. And it has helped me improve my overall energy and mindset.

Also, you don’t have to run a marathon to celebrate. Whilst that is a great thing to celebrate, also add in some of the small things like being on time for your appointment, following through on your workout plans, or remembering to drink water.

Consider noting your highlights at the end of a:

  • Day
  • Week
  • Month
  • Year
  • Or other frequency

You are worth celebrating – all things big and small!!

#19 Experiment

Whilst I’ve offered quite a few tips for how to use your planner effectively in this post, be sure to experiment and see what works for YOU.

Try different things and don’t be afraid to change.

Remember: there will always be a new, fresh, blank day, week, month, or even completely new planner coming soon.

#20 Make Using Your Planner Fun!

Cute planner supplies: planner stickers, washi tape, highlighters, and pens. Behind the supplies is an open paper planner.
Cute planner supplies are one of my favorite tips for how to use a planner effectively. And there are so many ways to make using your planner fun!

Lastly, it can be very motivational to make using your planner FUN. We are more likely to stay committed to healthy habits that we actually enjoy.

And there are SO many ways to make using your planner a fun and enjoyable experience:

  • Try out decorating your planner / planner decorations
  • Get cute planner supplies
  • Use a special pen / pen set
  • Get a planner you LOVE
  • Use stickers that make your smile
  • Add uplifting quotes, mantras, and affirmations
  • Turn on your favorite music while you’re planning

Think about what makes YOU have fun and see how you can incorporate that to your planning sessions.

Summary: How to Use Your Planner Effectively

Text reads: 20 Tips on How to Use a Planner Effectively. Background image features a blank planner, other papers, a plant, and a bottle of water.

There are SO many amazing ways for how to use your planner effectively. I hope some of the 20 tips and ideas above give you some ideas to get started or try new ways to use your planner more fully.

I wanted to provide lots of options since we’re all so different. What works for me may not work for you.

My recommendation is to pick 1-3 tips from this post and try them out. See how those go and add or switch out for more.

And remember to lean into your personal preferences and what works for YOU.

Experiment, play, and have fun. Using your planner doesn’t have to be a chore. It can be one of the best parts of your day!

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Thank you so much for stopping by! I hope you found this post on How to Use Your Planner Effectively helpful.

Comment below: What tip is most helpful for you? Which one are you going to try first?

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