The Ultimate Planner: Tips and Tricks for Using it to the Fullest

I am what I like to call a planner aficionado. A planner connoisseur, some might say. Ok maybe no one but me would say that, but that doesn't mean it isn't true. I have an absurdly busy life, and seem to always be going at about this pace. Which means a lot of juggling, competing priorities, hundreds of tasks to complete at any given point, appointments for me or for the kids, work meetings, business meetings, deadlines, etc. And let's face it, my twenty year old brain wasn't quick enough to keep everything straight, so my thirty-five year old mom brain most certainly isn't. So planners are simply essential for me, and an obsession of mine. But let's take a step back and acknowledge that there have been several phases in my planning existence that I went through before getting to this point of planner expertise.


First, the basic planner...you know the ones. Lining all of the shelves of any office supply store you walk in. Pages full of simple grids with dates and room to write in.


Second, the expensive planner. I "upgraded" my planner once I realized I thrive off organization - only to realize most of these planners are expensive because of the exterior, but the interior was still lacking...


Third, my deep dive into the world of bullet journaling...Ohhhh the bullet journal. And yes, while the term bullet journal actually refers to a methodology developed by Ryder Carroll and is a very simple and efficient planning system that uses a blank dot grid notebook, the term has been taken over by the masses and people generally picture all of those gorgeously illustrated layouts that fill the Pinterest boards and Instagram screens. Every month having a theme, hand drawn layouts with unique formats, trackers, designs, etc. I mean if you calculated the amount of time spent worldwide on bullet journal layout designs - well, let's just say it is overwhelming.


Fourth, trying to go digital because the bullet journal I wanted to create was too time consuming to painstakingly create each and every layout before I could even use it, and let's face it - I need my planner because I'm already busy...


And finally, creating and using the June & Lucy Weekly Planner, a pre-designed bullet journal that took all of the previous steps and combined the best qualities of all of them into a single, perfect life planner. There is something about putting tasks down from pen to paper, writing them out in actual ink and then getting the satisfaction of crossing them out - while digital served its purpose and allowed me to utilize a lot of time saving capabilities such as copying and pasting layouts from page to page and creating pre-designed stickers, etc. I missed using a physical paper planner.


So it is pretty safe to say that I have a significant amount of experience when it comes to a planner - as well as a LOT of opinions. I won't even buy a planner if there are lines where I think there should be a dot grid, or if there are lines in an appropriate place but they are too dark or thick, hard PASS. I am slightly biased, sure, but let's be honest - if the most beautiful planner in the world had a baby with the most practical planner in the world, that baby would be this planner. So I put a painful amount of time and effort into designing this work of art that now organizes just about every aspect of my life. This beauty is so functional that my husband Matt uses one daily despite the floral, pastels and watercolor design (he's not knocking it, but it is pretty far from what you would call his typical aesthetic!). But with great power comes great responsibility - so in creating this ultimate planner I'm giving you all of the tips and tricks on using it to its absolute fullest and getting the most out of it. Because let's face it, this isn't like any other planner you have ever seen before.


So without further adieu, let's dive in and get organized (and if you don't have a copy yet, grab one here!):


Contents:

As you can see from the table of contents (pages 4-5), this planner is packed full of a ton of content to help you plan out every aspect of your life. We will walk through each section and some different ways to utilize them as we go along. In case you want to jump to any particular section, click any link below to jump straight there:

Master Key:


I rely a lot on quickly referencing the type of things I make note of in my planner, since as noted above - there is a HUGE variety. A million to do's, appointments for the kids, events to go to, deadlines to meet, notes to self, etc. And the easiest way to ensure that I don't glance at my list and mistake a doctors appointment for a task and get hit with a $50 no show fee when I completely miss it is to use easily identified symbols for each item. And so I never forget whether a circle is a task or an event and so on I have included this handy Master Key at the beginning of your planner so you can always reference back (and add any symbols you want to add to it as well! - again, we are all about flexibility and making this planner suit YOUR needs perfectly). Here's a quick rundown of what some of these mean to me:

  • Task: things to do

  • Appointment: a meeting or appointment scheduled with a person or business (doctors appointment, work meeting, dentist appointment, massage, hair appointment, etc.)

  • Event: something I am going to, but is not a scheduled appointment (a party, happy hour, dinner out, date night, movie, etc)

  • In progress: I have started it but haven't fully completed the task

  • Cancelled: task, meeting or event is not happening and I'm not going to do it in the future

  • Migrated: I did not have time to complete the task when I originally planned to, but I moved it to a future date

  • Rescheduled: moved an appointment or an event to a future date

  • Completed: task is done, appointment or event is attended

Simply use the appropriate symbol before noting something in your planner similar to how you would use a bullet point. At the end of the week you are able to easily take stock of the tasks you didn't finish (the empty ones or the in progress ones), and note them as either complete, cancelled or migrate them to the following week, and so on. Never leave a task behind, as I always say!



Dashboard:

The dashboard on page 9 is what I like to call a sticky note template. There are things I need to make quick note of or things I need to jot down quickly so I can put in the right place of the planner at a later date. The shopping list for example comes in extremely handy when I'm making note of things I need to grab at the store throughout the week. When it is time to go to the store I grab the post it note and go, and put another blank note in its place. In other words - here is where I make note of anything that doesn't need a permanent space in my planner, or isn't really about planning. I then take that information at the end of the week and document it where it needs to go long-term (if anywhere). The key here is that I don't ever write anything directly only these squares unless it is information that I constantly use year round (such as an important contact). Everything is written on a sticky note that I place in each square and then remove the note when I am done with it.



Yearly Overview:


On pages 10-13 there is the Yearly Overview. Each month has a single column with a line item for each day of the month, with each number representing the day of the month. This yearly overview comes in particularly handy since this planner is undated - meaning none of the monthly overviews or weekly layouts are pre populated with dates. If there is an event that is planned particularly far in the future (i.e., more than one month out, since that is the maximum amount I typically fill out the dates in advance), I make note of them in the yearly overview. Doctors appointments, hair appointments, parties, conferences, vacations, weddings, etc. At the beginning of each month when I fill out the month at a glance and weekly layouts for that month, I reference the yearly overview to make sure I capture any pre-planned events that I made note of and document them appropriately.


Goals:

I am a firm believer that a goal without a plan is nothing more than a wish. I am also a firm believer in the power of goals and of the power of documenting them. But what a goal is for one person will look extremely different than a goal for someone else. Maybe your goal is financial or work related - or maybe it is that you will accomplish a particular task or something that you have always wanted to do. And goals are not always easy to identify, so don't feel pressured to write something here just for the sake of completing it. Put some time into looking at where you want to be in a years time, and then break down what you need to accomplish to get there, then break that down into what order they need to be accomplished by and what an appropriate amount of time to accomplish them would be. From there you can start outlining your goals in the Goal Tracker. But the key here is to not write them down and forget them. Refer to them consistently to track your progress, adjust as needed, and so on.


Month at a Glance:


The Month at a Glance page consists of half of a page of a blank monthly calendar grid with a Sunday through Saturday week, and half of a page that has four columns: goals, events, tasks and deadlines. As I noted previously, this is an undated planner - so the month at a glance pages are blank as far as the name of the month and the dates on the calendar. So you fill the name of the month in with whatever month you are planning for, and then write in the dates in the calendar. I only ever do this one month in advance typically because that is what works for me. While yes, I love my planner and use it constantly, there are also times when life gets away from me and I don't use it for a few weeks, or a month even. And the beauty of this planner is that even if you skip an entire month, there is no wasted space. You simply pick back up wherever the current month is. If you pre-fill all of the dates, then you can't do this and you will end up wasting any space that you don't use. But you may prefer to fill the entire thing out and commit to using one planner per year. Whatever works best for you!


As for the bottom portion of the page, I try to break down the bigger parts of my month here. What are my main goals (these can include the big goals from the Goal Tracker at the beginning of the planner), as well as my smaller goals that I want to accomplish that month. I also note key events, some of the primary tasks I need to accomplish (tasks that absolutely have to be done by end of month, or tasks that are necessary to accomplish my goals), as well as important deadlines. While my day to day can be completely full of a combination of tasks, events, deadlines, etc. - in the month at a glance I note the major ones for the month so they don't get lost among the volume of the day to day.


Habit and Mood Tracker:


On the right side page of each monthly spread is the monthly habit tracker and mood tracker. So we all know that our moods fluctuate sometimes, but it isn't always easy to identify what it is that made it change. What did we do different that put us in a great mood those few days in a row, or did we change something that increased our anxiety or made us just feel a bit more sluggish. Enter the mood tracker. By tracking how you are feeling each day, you are able to then go back and look at the details of that day to see what you did or didn't do, and start to identify trends. Do you notice that everyday that you felt productive and energetic you worked out, or avoided a certain food. Or on the days you felt more tired, anxious or just kind of blah were days that you woke up late, or consumed more sugar. By tracking your moods each day you are able to use this data to drive your behaviors, habits, and routines in the future in order to better take control over your emotional wellbeing. The list for the moods is intentionally blank since we all characterize our moods differently, and it is important to reference them in a way that is meaningful to you. One tip - don't fill the list out for the full month in advance. Wait for each day to come and add that mood to the list. Otherwise you might end up with a list full of moods you don't actually experience, and no more spaces to track moods you do experience.


For the habit tracker, there are five blocks for you to list out what habits you want to track. While many people like to track more habits than this, I found a lot of success with sticking with the 5 primary ones I want to really dedicate myself to accomplishing. But my husband loves to track 10 so he actually splits his with a horizontal line across the middle to turn each block into two habits. Again, it is all about flexibility, so use this however works best for you.


With that said, the habit tracker is relatively self explanatory. Write your habit that you want to track in the blank, and then each numbered block represents the date of the month. So if you want to track how many days you woke up by 6am each morning or read for at least 30 minutes, if you did those things on the 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 6th of the month, you would color the 1, 3, 4, and 6 blocks in (use a highlighter, hash marks, check marks, x's, whatever you prefer). At the end of the month you will have an overview of how many days out of the month you did what you set out to do, and also how many days you didn't. And as someone who absolutely LOVES crossing things off of my to do list, I find myself increasingly motivated to do something if I know I get to check the box (think of the obsession people have with closing their rings on their smart watches - but in a planner form).


Weekly Planner:


Next up is the weekly planner layout. There are 4 different styles of weekly layouts in the planner that rotate as the year goes on. Each of those 4 styles also rotates with the color scheme. So no month is exactly the same as any other month. While some thrive on consistency and like the exact same thing every month, I love subtle changes that keep me from getting bored or complacent. But the general contents of the weekly layout are the same regardless of which version it is - a box for every day of the week with a combined weekend box, and then a section for notes and a section for a to do list.


The planner is designed with a dot grid background as opposed to lines in order to provide maximum flexibility. You can write as large or as small as you want, depending on your handwriting or how much space you need. You are also given flexibility to use the planner however fits your schedule the best - whether you use it primarily for appointments/events/meetings, etc. or whether it is more for tracking tasks, ideas, concepts, etc. Mine is almost always a combination of the two, with my schedule noted at the top of the column (or the left hand side of the horizontal layouts) and my tasks to accomplish that day at the bottom (or right hand side, respectively). I use the to do list section for things I need to accomplish that week but haven't figured out which day I'm going to dedicate to doing them.



Now to the fun part - the trackers. Everyone loves those gorgeous trackers posted all over the internet that people design with various themes, illustrations, formats, etc. But let's face it - that takes a ton of time and a bit of skill that not everyone has time to sit around and practice everyday. So enter the Tracker & Lists section of the planner. And if there is a particular tracker you want that isn't included, there are a handful of blank dot grid pages


Bucket List:


First up, the bucket list. Oh man, my husband and I are both the WORST at actually doing all of those fun things we talk about doing but never get around to. Whether it is something simple like go to a corn maze in the fall, or visit a particular town (Matt really wants to visit Salem, MA at Halloween one year), or go skydiving or bungee jumping (I mean, not me, but some people dream of doing these things right?). But


then when free weekends come around we always end up just doing the same old routine. So here is your chance to list out all of those "one day I'm going to....." ideas so you can stop dreaming and start doing! With an index in the corner to help you color code them based on what season of the year you can do them so when a free weekend pops up you can quickly scan which activities are feasible for that time of year. It is entirely possible (in my case entirely likely) I won't actually do all of these things in a single year, so at the end of the year when I start my new planner, I simply migrate the ones I didn't get to that I still really want to do, and reminisce over the ones I did check the box on.




Birthdays:


So for FAR too long I relied on Facebook for my birthday reminders. And honestly, I never get on Facebook anymore. So I missed FAR too many people's birthdays until I started tracking them all in one place on this gorgeous watercolor illustrated birthday tracker. When I start the planner I list out the birthday of everyone close to me in the appropriate month. As the year goes on, at the beginning of each month when I am setting up the Month at a Glance and Weekly Layouts, I will note all birthdays for that month in the appropriate place. It's simple, beautiful, and wonderfully effective.


Master Packing List:

Ahhh packing. This is NOT my best skill. It almost never fails that I pack either too light, or way too much. I always forget something critical, and end up with multiple outfits I don't even like. And about 5x too many clothes for the kids, and a charger that doesn't even go to any device we own. So I was determined to figure out an approach to creating a master packing list that would ensure I never forgot something, and always packed appropriately given the nature of the trip.


As you will see, there are ten categories of lists in the layout. How you choose to break down your categories of "stuff to pack" will be entirely dependent on your lifestyle - but for me, I have one list for each member of our family, which is where I list out shirts, pants, underwear, swimsuits, and other things that are specific to that person. So Ollie's list would have diapers, wipes, her lovey that she can't sleep without, while Asher's list would have his glasses, his blanket, his neck brace, etc. Other categories I typically break down into things like toiletries, electronics, carry on items, etc. This list is supposed to be very comprehensive, including more things that you would generally need for any one trip in particular, but prompting you to remember things when it comes time to actually pack as you go down the list.


And speaking of any one trip in particular, that is where the itinerary and notes section comes in. When we are going on a particular trip, I put a post-it note on each of these sections and write down the pertinent details. For the itinerary I make note of where we are going, the date we are leaving, how many days, how many nights, and whether there are any special events we need to be prepared for. In the notes section I will usually make note of what the weather forecast is while we are there, and any other miscellaneous information we need to keep in mind when packing or otherwise preparing for the trip.


Reading List:



The reading list tracker is one of my all time favorites. And you can use it in one of two ways. I personally write the names of books in as I go (with the name of each book I read during the year taking up the spine of one of the illustrated books on the shelf). But you can also use it as a list of books you want to read, and then color them in with colored pencils or highlighters as you make your way through them.


Watch List:


People always recommend shows or mention something they are watching or recently watched, and I always have that "oh I need to check that out" moment. And then it never fails when I sit down to watch something I can never find anything or think of anything good. So alas, the watch list. Make note of shows or movies that are on your list to watch, and then rate them as you make your way through them. If it sounds easy, it is because it is!


Debt Tracker:


Oh debt. Something many of us have and all of us hate to confront. Several years ago Matt and I set out to eliminate all of our debt. But to do that we had to confront it head on. So this tracker page lets you list out 6 sources of debt that you have that you are working on paying off. While you may have more than 6 sources to track, I would start with the ones that you want to prioritize getting rid of first. Whether that be based on which ones are the highest, which ones have the worst interest rate, or maybe you are practicing the snowball approach and tackling the smallest ones to get them out of the way. Identify them and make note of how much you paid on them for each month, what the date of the payment was, and what the remaining balance is. If you pay one fully off before the year is up and you have other debt not being tracked on the page yet, then cross out the first one, write in the second one and continue tracking.


Savings Tracker:


Savings looks different to many people. Some have long term savings goals, some are short term goals to pay for a certain thing (planning for a vacation, for example). The savings tracker is flexible and can fit either approach, simply write in the goal you have for your savings, and if there is a deadline associated with it. Break the goal down into increments of 8 and write them in the $ blanks, and then color in the jar as you reach each increment.


And there you have it - all of the tips and tricks on using this one of a kind life planner to the absolute fullest. Tag me @juneandlucy in all of your planning glory so I can see how you use it, and let me know in the comments if you have any questions!







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