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Using Your Planner Index to Get Organized and Take Control of Your Goals

the word “index” spelled in Scrabble tiles
Photo by Madelyn Waehner

This post was first published on my Medium blog—follow me there for the most up-to-date entries!

You’ve recorded your big wins, important client appointments, or genius insights in your planner. But what happens to them after the end of the week, quarter, or year? Do you have a system for finding those, or do the tasks and opportunities you didn’t act on at the time just disappear forever? Or did you use your planner index to get even more organized and take control of your future goals?

Honestly, I blew right by the index in my Full Focus Planner for years. But today, I want to show you the what, why, when, and how the index can be a little goldmine.

An index in a planner?

I can almost see you scratching your head and asking, “Marie, are you kidding?” Merriam Webster’s definition of an index is “…an alphabetical list at the end of a book that shows the page where each thing in the list can be found.” How the heck does that work in the back of a planner?

Okay, that’s a fair question. But remember, The Full Focus Planner is more than a planner, more than a to-do list. It’s a system, and a highly flexible and modifiable one at that. The index supports the system.

Why is an index helpful?

If you use your planner index, it will help you in some ways you might not have thought of.

It helps locate goal-oriented ideas, aims, and accomplishments, and more. To me, the index’s power is that it reduces or eliminates the need to thumb through old planners for information that might be used at a later date. An index provides one place to look in each of your old planners. And making the index part of your habit will help you remember to go looking in the first place!

It can be a compass. Compiling what happened in the past can point you to a brighter future. Plenty of what we write in planners will be useful to us in the future. But more often than not, last quarter’s or last year’s planners lie gathering dust, and all those good ideas we never followed up on when we had them disappear forever.

For me, it’s a good way to see where I’ve been, and where I need to go. I like to go through a finished planner before I put it to bed and start a new one. Using the index, I can follow up on ideas which might not have been possible or even relevant at the time, but are pertinent to my current situation.

The index provides positive reinforcement. It helps me to see my progress toward goal achievement. All these reflections can help me put my index in order so, if I do need to reference something later, I’ll know where to find it.

What content goes into the index?

The content in the index reflects the content written during the quarter. For me, the appointments and to-do lists on the left-hand page are only a fraction of the content I write in a day. Hence, much of my index reflects content I’ve written on the blank right-hand page of the planner nearly every day or in the “notes” section towards the end of the planner.

Here are examples of what I might write on those pages, and any or all these topics might end up in my index:

  • key points of conversations with clients (including names and dates)
  • wins, as a means of self-validation for efforts
  • topic ideas for a blog, podcast, course, etc.
  • a book I’ve read or a framework I’ve learned or revisited
  • how-to tips or resources, or key points from a meeting or training
  • ideas to noodle on later; food for thought at a later time
  • after action review (AAR) notes that created a breakthrough
  • plans or opportunities for the upcoming quarter
  • location of checklists, websites, etc.
  • problems and struggles clients have wrestled with

Honestly, this post is the result of a note I wrote about client struggles! I didn’t write the post at the time, but having an index gave me a visual clue to handle it later.

What you decide to put in your index is very individualized. The key is to select your index entries based on what you think will be meaningful after you move on to the next quarter — use your planner index to ensure continuity!

How should you make the entries?

Try to avoid creating any rigid step-by-step procedures for how to record your information while using your planner index. Instead, consider a few basic simple principles, such as:

  • There’s no real need to alphabetize your content. Your eye can quickly scan the one or two pages of this particular index.
  • Specify pages where you can find the meat of the information.
  • Use clients’ first and last names unless there’s a security reason not to.
  • If you wish, create a few broad categories to make your entry stand out. For example: Clients, Wins, Lessons Learned, Opportunities, Ideas. Then use that as the first word in your entry. For example,
    CLIENT: Joe Blow, interested in bulk purchase.
    WIN: Got the XYZ contract!
    LESSON LEARNED: Raising my price didn’t affect volume of sales.
    OPPORTUNITY: Guest lecturer for University
    IDEAS: Offer discount on annual planning day for current coaching clients

In other words, use your planner index to record the highlights you feel are meaningful to your past or ongoing progress.

When should you build your index?

There are basically two options for when to build your index:

Content based

Michael Hyatt, who created the Full Focus Planner, appears to simply record content in his index as he goes along. Meaning, if there’s a noteworthy conversation, event, etc., he writes it down in the index on the day it occurs. I’d call this a “content-based” or perhaps a “real-time” approach.

Process based

You might want to take a very different approach. One of my clients builds her index at the end of the quarter, as she is reflecting on what happened. She uses part of her quarterly planning day to review what’s in her Planner, and then she enters the most meaningful topics into the index. I’d call this a “process-based” or reflective approach.

The process-based approach encourages self-reflection, and almost certainly assures self-validation.

If I have what appears to be an earth-shaking event, I might record it in real time. But at the end of the quarter, I also like to build and/or augment the index. Truly, you can do whatever makes sense to you.

A page from my own index (photo by author)

Your Planner, your method

In any case, however, remember that the planner is there to serve you, not you to serve it! There are many ways you can use your planner index to help you stay organized and keep you moving toward your goals, and whatever way works for you is the right way.

Meanwhile, remember that I’m a certified Full Focus Pro, so I tend to maximize every feature of the planner. You don’t necessarily need to use the Full Focus Planner to create an index for yourself. And remember that your first question should be, will creating the index help you to achieve your next goals? That’s a question only you can answer.

Do you keep an index? If so, how do you do it? If not, how can you see it working for you?

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

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