Planning a Planner

posted in: Blog, Project Life | 2

aprileWhen the planner trend took off I mistakenly assumed I could just jump in a do it. I’ve been a list maker all my adult lie and appreciate notekeeping in general. I collected some supplies and even took an online class. These were inspiring but didn’t really help me. I just jumped in and, well, my planners (yes, more than one) are a hot mess. They are something toddler would make (sticker sneeze) and it looks like I wrote with my toes. What I didn’t plan on was that to do it successfully you have to have a PLAN.

After almost five months of muddling around with it, I decided to sit down and figure this thing out once and for all. Before I got to work I needed to identify what I wanted to accomplish by keeping a planner.


What are my goals for the planner?

Most planners are designed for appointment keeping and lists. I don’t want to have an appointment book. I keep my appointments in Google calendar and that works for me. On the other hand, I do want to note the day to day activities and scheduled events. This is to have an idea of where our time is going, what the boys are doing, the fun things we do, etc. But I don’t want is Dentist: 10:30, Groceries: 11-12:30.

What do I want to keep track of?

Weather. Thunderstorm. 6″ of snow. 50 mph wind. Rainbow. Stuff like that because 1) it’s noteworthy and 2) it has an impact on our day to day lives.

Seasonal changes in the environment. First robin of spring. 13 squirrels in the yard. Pepper plants bloomed. Stuff like this because 1) I pay attention to it from year to year 2) it marks the passage of time in experiences rather than just dates on a calendar. I’m not going to note how many squirrels we have in the yard every day, but 13 is unusual and kinda odd. What the heck are they up to?

Keeping track of what is important to my family. Alexander getting braces is important. Davin passing a test for school is important. Going camping is important. Orion applying for a job is important. They mark how we change and grow with experiences.

How do I want to use it?

You may (or may not) know that I put my planner pages in my 9 x 12 album along with the Project Life spreads for that month. This purpose is my ultimate goal.

My desire to keep a planner is based on the calendar system Heidi Swapp created with last year’s memory planner. I loved just jotting down notes and having it in an album along with my photos and journaling. I work in review.

I tend to jot things down every few days. If nothing else, every Sunday I review the week. I comb over Facebook posts, my Google calendar, and even text messages. I also post to my personal Instagram account nearly every day. These are my notes, my prompts.


How does it come together?

I’ve created a key to keep track of how I want to keep the planner. This is my dashboard.


  • Colors.  Each person in the family is assigned a color. I also have color indicators for my dates with the Husband, the boys, family, food, and nature (includes both weather and nature observations.)
  • Stamps. I have two planner stamp sets . These are my signifiers. A lot of the planner stamps I’ve seen are based on the appointment book model, so some will not work for me. What I want note most are our walks, lunch dates with the Husband, the boys going to hang out with friends, biking, camping, and the farmer’s market….our experiences. These are the important things right now.
  • Patterned Paper. I chose simple patterns to indicate special events. Heart pattern for birthdays, graphic pattern for holidays, wood for camping (we do this a lot), and map pattern for big road trips*. These patterns are easy to find or reproduce.

(*I’m still working on how to use this one. Sometimes trips are just a few hours, other times they are all day.)


The System

I took some ideas from to make things easy to follow. Then I created some of my own using principles from Visual Display of Quantitative Information.

  • Events are an open circle that I fill in with the corresponding color for whom/what it’s tracking.
  • A checkmark indicates I took photos.
  • Notes are marked with a black dot.
  • A highlighter means there’s a deeper story for journaling.
  • Signifiers are used in the order they occurred. Typically this is morning/noon/night.
  • Lines for writing are stamped because otherwise it’s a mess.
  • Writing is in black so it’s clear and easy to read.
  • Stamps are in gray so I can write over them and still see what they are indicating.

With this system I can tell at a glance what’s going on or if I have an action to take (like photos/journaling). This is my first month doing this and while I think it will need some tweaking, I’m liking it a lot. It was important to me to create a system that worked for me so I would actually use it and it’s fun.

Let me know if any of this was helpful to you. Do you have planner system tips to share?

2 Responses

  1. Cynthia

    What a great idea – and some fun tips! I like the idea of stamping in grey so you can write over it. Thanks for sharing!