You too will have seen the plethora of ‘Planners’ that have recently appeared on the market. Whether through your Facebook feed, your Twitter stream, or your Instagram stories, they seem to be everywhere. And they all look great, don’t they?
A quick search yields a range from “The Check-in strategy journal”, the “Dream Plan Do” planner, or Michael Hyatt’s “Full Focus Planner” – which you buy like a normal book – to “Plan your year” or “Momentum Planner Series”- ‘printables’ which you buy in electronic format and print yourself. Or even the “Bullet Journalling” approach – “All you need is a notebook and a pen…” - which you create yourself using, well, a notebook and a pen.
Which approach should you take? Which should you buy? How on earth do you decide? Here are 5 things to consider before you splash the cash (or not).
1. Cost/Value balance.
Starting with the simplest angle first, what is it actually going to cost you? This isn’t just about cold-hard cash. The sum of money involved may not be large (though at £30-ish a quarter, the Full Focus Planner isn’t exactly cheap) so it’s not necessarily a disaster if it doesn’t work out. (especially if you take the time to learn from what happens, but that’s another story.)
The printables listed earlier certainly look cheaper, until you do the maths and realise that you’re going to have to print well over 300 pages. That might make the Dream-Plan-Do book look cheaper at around £30, or the Check-in Journal even cheaper at under £15. Even if you go crazy with Bullet Journalling, you could spend £15 on a Leuchtturm notebook alone!
It is more about the irreplaceable commodity of time.
So it’s not really about the cash. It is more about the irreplaceable commodity of time. While I’ve not had time to review any of these in detail (though it might be interesting to, hint, hint…) my guess is that they’re all structured in pretty much the same way: An annual goal-setting section; and then quarterly, monthly, weekly, daily planning and review sections. So they’ll all take roughly the same amount of time to complete, making that factor seem irrelevant in your choice. (yes, I know there’s time to print or draw in the case of Bullet Journalling).
Do take into account that you will have to spend regular time just doing the process. Every day. Otherwise, whether you have spent £120 or £12, it’ll all be a waste of money.
2. Appreciate the past
Writing this at the end of the year, sandwiched between too much turkey and too much prosecco, it’s a great time to reflect on the successes of the past year. But for a few minutes, focus instead on what’s worked and what could be better in terms of just your planning.
Have you been disciplined in holding to 3 big goals, each with clear outcomes and suitably-sized chunked plans broken down into smaller detail? Have you planned each week? Each day? Ever reviewed what has actually been happening? Or not.
Rather than using this as an opportunity to beat yourself up for not doing all these things (though they are important!), consider what you actually did get done, and what has come to pass as a result. Did you score those big goals? Did you give your well-being the attention it deserves? Overall: what actually worked well?
Once you’ve got your hands around that, think about how you could get more of it next year. And then compare those changes to the ones that you might (if you put in the time, in the right way) get from your chosen planner.
Will it encourage you to build on what you can already do effortlessly well? Or will you have to learn a new system? Or perhaps it’s so new and radical – to you at least – that it’ll only result in greater self-flagellation in the next Christmas-New-Year sandwich?
3. Alternatives? What alternatives?
The examples already given are decidedly low-tech in their approach; and for good reason. But what about the higher-tech solutions?
In this space there are endless choices, of course, varying dependant on what type of mobile device you carry, which browser you use. Even which email provider. Each will have a horde of raving fans or rabid dissenters alike.
Whether it’s: ‘Things’ (good for daily planning, apparently); or Trello or Asana (good for teams and projects); or good-old Evernote (which you could use for all the levels of planning and reviewing you desire); or ‘Notes’ on IOS which has recently added some useful new features; there are lots of technological solutions out there. The problem – after you’ve chosen, of course! – is that they all take a while to learn. And being electronic, whatever you put in will be less memorable just because you typed it.
You may shrink from such a techie approach. In which case it’s a printed or printable for you. The challenge here is really for those of us who love technological solutions, and find joy in the hours we spend exploring each possible solution. Great fun, but it only drives the ‘cost’ upwards. Maybe a low-tech solution for you for a change?
4. You may like it, but is it like you?
What are you really like? Are you a flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants person – Keirsey’s Artisan temperament? Or are you a more logical and systems person – Keirsey’s Rational temperament? Or methodical – Guardian temperament? Whichever approach you take to your planning, unless you are up for some substantial habit-forming work, the route you follow needs to match who you are. At your core.
...last year your days were probably pretty full. How are you going to find the extra time for a new planning method?
Some planners, like the Dream-Plan-Do are aimed at ‘Creatives’ whilst others might be aimed at entrepreneurs or those in business (such as the Full Focus Planner). So that might help you choose too. But if the key principles are so similar, then of course you can make any of them work for you. If you’re willing to put in the work. Just consider though: last year your days were probably pretty full. How are you going to find the extra time for a new planning method?
If you like flexibility, then you’ll need something like the Bullet-Journalling approach. Or the one that I do, which draws from a number of different sources – but more on that later. If, on the other hand, you want to be more directed, then why not use your electronic calendar.
Do you like a fancy notebook to carry around? Then printed it is. Want to ‘just try’? Go for a printable and do what you need for just one month or a quarter and see how it pans out.
Whichever way you go - if you’re going to really use it, it needs to be like you are.
5. Is it what you want? What you really really want?
Personal confession time – I’m highly attracted to ‘shiny new things’. So much so that my great friend Mike Clarke (of Clarke Creatives) nails me with this every time I talk about a new approach to something within my business: “Exactly how shiny is this new thing?” Ouch.
...is it really just a paracetamol for the pain from not doing the work required on yourself?
So I feel compelled to ask you the same thing. Does this new planner grab you because it represents something you wish you could be but are not yet? Or is it really just a paracetamol for the pain from not doing the work required on yourself?
I was on a fascinating live webinar recently given by Gary John Bishop, featured on Creative Live. One of the delegates in the room told a story of how they had boxes in their lounge still not unpacked despite moving some years ago. “I even cover them up with a screen sometimes” they added, with a wry smile. Out of sight is so often out of mind, isn’t it?
Is this new planner your version of that screen? And if it is, might it not be more useful to rid yourself of the screens and empty the boxes for once and for all?
Before you ‘invest’, just ask yourself: “What’s the real problem here?”.
The crunch point.
I don’t think you (or I, for that matter) really need that fancy planner. Sure, we need to plan - planning is like scaffolding – it enables other work. You never find gold-plated scaffolding, though, so why do you need gold-plated planning?
Planning is like scaffolding. You never find gold-plated scaffolding, so why do you need gold-plated planning?
Getting out of our own way will be more beneficial. Focussing more on keeping the main thing the main thing, by reviewing every day if we’re still heading in the right direction, whilst planning tasks and activities in the lowest-tech way possible.
And if you need a professional nagger – aka coach, get one. Hey, I might even do it if you ask me – as long as it fits into my plan…
So what are you going to do now? Let me know via the comments or the usual routes.
Happy New Year!