One of my most defining characteristics is my planner. Every year, I change it up slightly, but I never fail to have at least 1-3 planners in my possession at all times. I live and breathe my planner and notebooks. But I use them for way more than my daily to-do lists and managing all of my events and meetings; my planners are filled to the brim with goals, lists, reflections, trackers, ideas, and more. And after building some much-awaited anticipation, I’m sharing everything I use them for, how I use them, and how exactly I managed to reach pretty much every goal I had for 2020–all thanks to my little black books!
All of this to say, if you simply made it to December 2020, you’ve done a solid job. I didn’t reach every personal goal by miles (LOL, I wanted to travel outside of the U.S.!), and I reestablished my goals once the pandemic hit to feel like I was still pushing toward things even if everything felt different. Goals are honestly arbitrary if you’re happy and feel good; don’t beat yourself up if you merely survived this year. But I’m also all here for making 2021 the best yet, even with our “new normal” still in sight.
What I Use
I go back and forth and use many different notebooks and planners, but my divine trio this year has been as follows:
- Black notebook as a “bullet journal” that I use for lists, goals, trackers, and long as all hell to-do lists every single day
- A daily planner to track meetings and schedule everything in my day from workouts to Zoom calls to taking a bath
- A big monthly calendar for tracking birthdays, events, and things I need to know of in advance (photoshoots and filming things, big projects I need to work on for days, etc.)—I have done this a few ways, like with a dry-erase board, a monthly calendar pinned to the wall, or a monthly planner, and the dry-erase board was the best but least attractive, so wall calendar it is!
And as for my favorite supplies…
How I Use Them
Set up trackers
Having trackers in my planner or journal is the only reason I’ve created any healthy habits this year—I wish I was exaggerating. It’s the easiest way for me to recognize patterns (like when I’m not drinking enough water I’m also less motivated to work out because I get headaches!) and address pain points in my routine to make room for the things I actually prioritize. If I notice that I went a whole week without reading, I set up next week’s weekly to-do list with specific tasks to get more reading in. This has made it so easy to see the habits I prioritize in my life and make them easy to achieve and develop rather than just a list of goals that I find daunting.
Create daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals
Before you can create your habits, it’s important to figure out what goals you want to achieve. Many of us write up a list of yearly goals sometime around January 1. “Run a 5K!” “Eat healthier!” “Get a promotion!” But the downfall of those giant goals is when you don’t turn them into easy bite-sized chunks that you can actually accomplish.
Once I’ve written out my top goals for the year, I work on dividing them up into monthly, weekly, and even daily goals for myself. And this list is constantly changing. If I know I’ll be drinking one weekend, I’ll up my water goal to make sure I’m hydrated, but I also will decrease my goal for working out four days a week if I know I’m giving myself some grace through the weekend. Creating daily goals also really helps me to stay on track with my weekly and monthly goals. It feels easy to just have a goal to work out one time versus “work out four times a week for four weeks.”
These all usually work together to help me reach those big goals, but I also throw in other notes sometimes. The last few months, I made a weekly goal to get dressed and do my makeup at least three times. This had nothing to do with a monthly or yearly goal of mine, but it made me feel better, and sometimes those are the best goals to have.
Developed daily and weekly routines
Once you have all of your goals and habits in place, you can start creating routines to fit all of them in. I despise waking up in the morning without a plan; I want to know what’s happening when. But that isn’t always possible. I can’t expect to have a calendar laid out for me every single day, especially while working from home. Instead, I’ve developed my own routines to follow on the days it would be so easy to just lay in bed and do nothing. (And to be fair, some days, the whole routine is doing nothing in bed—gotta love the weekend!)
I create daily routines for busy days, lazy days, days I have lots of meetings, and more. This has developed over time, as I’ve seen patterns in myself. I know that on a busy day, I’ll put off eating until midday, which only makes me ravenous and, in turn, idle the second half of the day. So, I created a routine that made sure I ate a big breakfast that would last me a while so I could get a lot of work done without needing to stop for snacks or to eat. In the same vein, it’s helpful for me to have a routine for the days I struggle to be productive, so I filled it with tons of self-care and enjoyable tasks that get me out of a funk.
I also enjoy creating weekly routines. This helps me stay on track with the tasks in my life that I find it easiest to constantly swap to other days. Laundry always gets done on Fridays. I plan my week every Sunday night. I work out Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. I get take-out on Thursdays or Fridays. Having these in place makes it easiest for me to see when things are happening, and it makes it a lot harder to put off. This is also really helpful at work too!
These routines live at the beginning of my journal, and I refer back to them often. I’ll look at them at the beginning of the week when I’m making a plan for myself, and then I schedule all of these tasks in my planner or iCal.
Monthly and quarterly reviews
Although many of us have bi-annual performance reviews at work, I make sure to do them monthly and quarterly on my own, for both my entire life and for work. I sit down with my notebook and go over the things I want to stop, start, and continue each month. Doing it right then makes it so much easier to look back on every quarter as well as at my yearly performance review to see what I’ve worked on and how I’ve grown throughout the year.
I also do a quarterly review, in which I just list out what I’ve done and then develop goals for the next quarter from that. I’ve done this all in one go before, but I also sometimes just write in notes as they’re happening. This is great for making notes about little victories in your day, like doing a 45-minute cardio class instead of 30 minutes or giving more positive feedback to a coworker. But it’s also great to note any pain points, such as not having enough time to work on your passions or skipping your workout every Saturday because you’re too tired in the mornings (me). Then, I’ll use these reflections to develop goals and ideas for the next month and quarter. (Can you tell I make an absurd amount of goals?)
Refine my to-do lists
I make a wild amount of to-do lists on a daily basis, as I’m sure anyone who loves having a paper planner does as well. But I’ve really revised and refined my to-do list process. Instead of having a million lying around at all times, I write one gigantic to-do list every night before bed for the next day in my notebook. It has everything from “take out the trash” to “cook dinner” to “edit such and such article” and more. Every work task, personal task, home task, health task—you name it, and I write it down. Then, the next morning, I pull all of my tasks from that list and schedule them into my calendar if they can be scheduled. “Cook dinner” becomes a 7 p.m. item. “Editing” is blocked for 3:30-5:30 p.m. This cuts my to-do list down immensely, making it so that I’m focusing less on those pieces as “tasks” and more on them as just being parts of my day. It makes my day so much less daunting than having a million items on a to-do list that I don’t know how I’ll ever get them done.
Then, if my to-do list still seems terrifying, I’ve started using a tip from freelance writer, Olivia Muenter. She suggested using a different sticky note to break down each to-do list item, even the absolute smallest parts. When you can pull away a sticky note, it’s immediately satisfying, no matter how easy the task was. I’ve modified it by using a sticky note for each “part” of my list. Typically for me, this looks like “writing,” “editing,” “Facebook,” “home,” “personal.’ Then, each note has every single task that needs to be done in that category, no matter how small. Almost always, “home” and “personal” don’t get removed until around 9 p.m., but removing the work-related notes as the day goes on is magical.
All of this to say, I’m certainly not a productivity guru. I’m still learning. Heck, it took me two more days than I originally planned for to write this article right here! But having a few plans in place helps me immensely, and I know it’ll be my first line of defense when 2021 inevitably throws us some wild curveball.