Choosing a Daily Organizer/Planner

No matter what you call it, some form of organizer is essential for controlling your use of time. Since many of you will be choosing your system for the year soon, this is a good time to explore this subject. You need an organizer that will most efficiently support your growing accomplishments; to do this, it must do two things well: 1) track your appointments and dates (such as birthdays and anniversaries), 2) track your to-do’s. If a planner provides an easy way to keep track of information (such as phone numbers, important facts that you need to have handy, such as family clothing sizes, phone numbers, health information, shopping lists), so much the better. These functions can be separated, but life is simpler if they are combined into one handy place. There is no one right answer, only the best answer for you at this point in time, but we can identify the questions to ask yourself that will help you make your choice.

The next consideration is whether your organizer needs to be portable or stationary. If you rarely have appointments away from your office, always drive, or never need your lists or information while running errands (hard to imagine), then you maybe can get away with only a large paper organizer or a computer-based system. Most of us, however, need portability, therefore, there will be a constant juggling act between size and weight (the lighter and smaller, the better for carrying around) vs. ease of use (a larger organizer is easier to write in and read and gives more room for tracking things). Some people use paper desk pad or wall calendars as organizers but in my experience, this does not really work out well – they are too big to be portable, do not give enough room to differentiate between appointments and tasks, and are too hard to use.

The next essential decision is a paper vs. electronic organizer. Most cell phones can be used as organizers, and this is certainly the ultimate in portability. On the other hand, they are not really all that easy to write in, the readability is greatly affected by light, there may be battery life issues, and the versions I have seen do not offer opportunities for color-coding, making it harder to keep track of priorities. If you do decide to use an electronic system such as a cell phone or PDA, it is essential to have one that syncs with your computer for backup so that your data is not lost should your device be lost, stolen or damaged. Also, it is much easier to enter to-do’s and other data on your computer, then sync it to your device rather than typing a lot of data on a little bitty keyboard.

There are emotional issues that factor into the paper vs. electronic decision as well, such whether being able to check things off your list is an important satisfaction for you, whether you derive more enjoyment from writing or typing.

If you decide to use a paper organizer, there are lots of choices to be made. As mentioned above, size is an important factor, one that should be influenced by the size of your writing and your visual needs. The next decision is whether to use a 2-page per week, 1-page per day, or 2-pages per day format (these let you list appointments on one page and tasks on the other). The 2-page per week format will force you to write small and you will probably need to keep your task list elsewhere. The 1-page per day format works if you do not have a lot of appointments or meetings. If your work or school days are highly scheduled with lots of to-do’s, the 2-pages per day format is a great help.

In addition to daily or weekly pages, monthly pages that show an entire month on two facing pages are a great help. These allow you to only carry the daily pages for the current and upcoming months (lowering the weight of your organizer) while still being able to schedule things in advance. When you put the pages for a new month in your organizer, you post the appointments listed on the monthly pages to your daily calendar (or you can be extra-cautious like me and post them in both places immediately). It’s nice to be able to see the whole month at a glance, to have a double-check system in case you write something on the wrong day, and to have the monthly tabs to help keep your daily pages separate. I like to write my goals for the month on the back of my monthly pages.

Alphabetically tabbed information pages for tracking phone numbers and other information are also very helpful. I insert plain pages in this area to track information such as shopping staples, how to use special features on my cell phone, inspirational quotes, health issues, research projects, books and videos I am interested in; as you can see, there are lots of possible uses for such pages.

Other decisions are whether to use a spiral-bound or 6-ring binder type for a paper system. The binders give far more flexibility and it is easier to keep track of the current page (they have plastic snap-in page markers that you move as needed). Whichever type you choose, you will need an extra binder or box to store not-yet needed and already-used pages.

When I was working, I kept my organizer pages going back for years as these could serve as legal documents if the need arose, and were also useful for tracking activity throughout the year(s). Now that I am retired, I just save the pages for the previous and current year.

Whether you use a paper or electronic organizer, setting it up is a big deal and the first time you do it you should expect to spend several hours on the project. This time will be amply repaid in greater efficiency, effectiveness and accomplishment for the entire year.

If there are any issues I haven’t covered or any questions you have, I am very happy to answer them.


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