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Finding a Planner You Can Actually Use to Get On Top of Your Goals

Full Focus Planner open to daily spread with earphones in the background.

After 13 years working in our too-big office, we moved to a smaller office. Despite my extreme aversion to clutter, I discovered I had plenty of it. Yep. I had been reluctant to part with stuff that I thought ― oh, someday, I might use “it.” A big “it” was a pile of planner after planner that had gathered dust. Literally.

I wanted to toss them, but found myself thinking … oh, maybe I could make just one more try to use them.” I hesitated, but then said … Nope. Uh-uh. 

So, why had I spent all that money on all those $@^* planners but then never used them more than a month or so? There’s a variety of reasons, but it boiled down to, those planners didn’t work for me.

1. They didn’t make sense to me

Sometimes, other people lay out books or planners or courses or anything else that makes sense to them, but not to me. That was the case with those dusty planners.

2. They were too business-y

True, I’m a business owner. I live, eat, and sleep a lot of “business” issues. But I’m more than my business.

How my business day unfolds at the office often affects what I do when I arrive home. The biggest example is meal preparation.

If I have a late appointment at the office, or an all-day meeting, I need to plan an easy dinner well in advance. And I want a place in my planner to write my grocery list and my meal plan for the week.

I’ve found that having one calendar for work and second calendar for home is a recipe for disaster.  

3. There’s wasn’t a place to write my goals

Here, I’m talking about real goals. I’m not talking about a daily task list.

I’m talking about what Steven Kotler, author of “The Art of Impossible,” and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of  “Flow,” call “high, hard goals.” Without an easy way to visualize those high, hard goals, how can I distill them into daily actions?

Your goals should drive your daily tasks, right? So, shouldn’t your planner have a place for those?

4. There wasn’t extra room to write “stuff”

I need a place to jot down facts and figures to prepare for a meeting or questions to ask clients during Zoom calls.

I might also need a place to jot down a tip from a colleague, or a snag my team has encountered. I don’t like littering my desk with a million little notes. I need a place to write legibly in my planner.

5. There wasn’t a way to connect past to present

How the heck can you plan next week if you don’t fully understand the past week?

I’m a big believer in this quote that has at least three different versions, and attributed to multiple different authors:

If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.

That means I need a place in my planner to analyze my processes and outcomes over the past week. I need a dedicated space to see (and write) about what’s working and what’s not.

While I don’t “enjoy” doing this introspective exercise, I can assure you that the insights I’ve gained have been crucial to my productivity and my accomplishments.

6. I need a big list and a little list

For too many years, I got swept up in doing “administrative” tasks. Yes, I still do administrative tasks. (Shucks, I still do mundane tasks, too!)

But I need a clear view of what Tony Jeary calls “High-leverage activities” (HLAs) each day. And if you’re interested, Jeary gives the best instruction on how to identify of HLAs I’ve ever seen. He also provides some outstanding worksheets if you need some extra help getting the hang of establishing HLAs.

Having only one massive column to write my to-dos doesn’t work for me. It can make me feel completely overwhelmed. At best, I get the administrative or mundane tasks done. (Oops.)

At worst, I get none of the tasks done, because I feel so overwhelmed that I just completely shut down.

7. A one-year planner is a preposterous idea

If you’d told me that five years ago, I would have laughed in your face.

Now, I’m an enthusiastic convert to a quarterly planner.  

In their book, The 12 Week Year, Moran and Lennington make a compelling case for why we make more progress when we focus on the quarter, not the year.

Another problem is bulk. Using a one-year planner means you’re lugging a heavy thing around, or it’s taking up valuable real estate on your desk.

I now much prefer a quarterly planner that has a special place where I can write just the “big rocks” for the remainder of the year.

8. I need a place to see team activities

I don’t need to see the corporate calendar in detail. Yes, I know how to filter out other peoples’ calendars on my electronic calendar, but I need a place to easily see the big picture of what the team is working on.

Along the same lines, I need an easy way to see deadlines that affect me, but aren’t necessarily something I’m directly involved in.

A planner that gives me a to-do list doesn’t help me in those situations.

9. Those dusty planners were a glorified to-do list, but not a system

I’m glad I threw out those dusty planners. They didn’t meet my need.

If all I needed was a place to write a list, I could use a yellow legal pad. I don’t need a planner that gives me a pretty “space.” I need a system.

If you search on Amazon for “daily planner” you’ll get more than 3,000 hits. So how can you possibly find one that works for you?

Let me be quick to say that what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for you. Like prescription lenses, what creates clarity for me might create blurriness for you.

But if you’re wanting to try a new planner, I’d suggest the Full Focus Planner®. It’s robust and it helps me manage all areas of my life ― not just personal or not just professional.  

As a Full Focus Certified Pro, I’m also offer a Full Focus Planner Training Workshop. In a 3-hour interactive training session, I can help you focus your days and win your life! You’ll learn how to get the most out of your Full Focus Planner.

 Do you have a planner you can actually use? Does it help you to stay on top of your goals? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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