My eyes lit up.

It was my very first day of work at my very first real job. The office coordinator had just said: “Send me an email by the end of the week with the SKU of the Franklin Covey planner you want.”

As a life-long lover of office supplies, with that phrase she put the proverbial cherry on top of this sweet treat.

I remember the day my black leather planner arrived and how I meticulously set up the pages just the way I wanted.

The post-purchase planner glow was short lived. Within 6 weeks I was back to using a steno pad and the calendar in LotusNotes.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Every fall during middle school, high school, and college I would buy an academic planner with the same twinkle in my eye.

This would be the year I would no longer be a planner flunkie, I said (and believed) time after time.

After the Franklin Covey failure, I swore off planners for nearly a decade. I stuck to the basics, but I still longed to be a planner person.

Fast forward to the recent past, where I purchased a new planner amidst a blend of excitement and fear. Would this lead to inspired productivity or simply perpetuate my track record?

Much to my own surprise, it was the former – and I believe for a fascinating reason.

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Attributes of a Planner You’ll Actually Use

It wasn’t until I stopped trying to force my square peg life into the uniform round hole of a fancy planner system that I finally found planner peace.

While a 3-ring system offers needed flexibility to use the planner when I want, it was actually adding in the element of choice to use it for what I want that made the difference.

In traditional planner systems – 3-ring and especially in bound – someone else makes the decision about what pages you need and how many of each. I believe this is why I was a planner flunkie for so long.

By starting first with my planning needs and then choosing specific inserts, I could create a customized planner I would actually use.

Plus, I wouldn’t have to give up using digital systems just to be a planner person. Instead I could choose how best to use both digital tools and a paper planner to organize my ideas and days.

Here’s a summary of lessons I’ve learned as a recovering planner flunkie:

There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to planners. Even the greatest design can’t make up for lack of functionality you need in a planner. For some, a bound planner may fit the bill. But if you’ve had trouble keeping up with a traditional, calendar-focused planner, then it might be time to consider alternatives.

Choose a durable binder you love; you can customize the insides. While you can sometimes buy 3-ring planner binders without any inserts, most often they come with a few dividers and some basic pages. Don’t be afraid to chuck those in favor of using inserts that you hand-select for their resonance with your style or needs.

Select a size that is realistic and matches your portability needs. Some people need to carry their planners away from home – and others just have no need to do so. Consider the size of bag you’ll need to house your planner when making selections. I thought A5 would be my holy grail, but personal is a better fit for the items I carry day to day.

Use specific inserts for the things you want to write down by hand. This goes back to the square peg in the round hole idea. Look for inserts designed for the way you live your life and how you like to plan your days, weeks, months, and years. You can even customize dividers to match the types of pages you have in your planner.

Take time to build good habits when using any new planning system. Being a planner flunkie in the past doesn’t mean you are destined to a planner-less life. If you customize your own system and then commit to using it, you’ll have an even greater chance of turning your streak around. Be patient with yourself as you adjust.

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Bring in favorite digital tools as a companion where it makes sense. In a survey of our members here at Simple Scrapper, the majority of those who use paper planners also use some form of electronic tools for planning. Perhaps your favorite meal planner is an app; don’t put meals in your planner then and don’t feel guilty for how you choose to use any tool.

Be mindful of over-planning as well as mistaking planning for doing. Using a planner doesn’t mean you suddenly need to schedule your day into 30 minute increments or use washi tape to make it pretty – unless of course you want to. Look at this tool as simply a home for all the ideas in your head, creating additional space for more creativity and taking action.

The 2016 Simple Scrapper Planner is now available!