How to Choose A Planner That You’ll Actually Use

If you’re in the market for a planner here’s some advice on how to choose the right one for you.

We all have such wildly different lives and needs, that no single planning system is going to work for all of us. To go even further, your current planning style might not be the same as it used to be in college and can change again in a year or two.

You have to pick a planner that meets YOUR needs right NOW. Or else you might never use it.

But with so many planner options on the market, how do you choose the right one for you?

  1. Think of a planner as a tool that must work for you, not that you try to make work. The whole point of a planner is to make your life easier, help you proceed through the day in a calm and orderly fashion, and actually help you accomplish stuff.
  2. Take into consideration your own needs and preferences. Just because a planner is pretty or popular it doesn’t mean it’s right for you. A planner is meant to be used, not merely embellish your desk.

Here are a few things to take into consideration before picking your next planner to make sure you’ll actually use it.

1 | Choose between a digital or a paper planner

Paper planners can be approached on my own terms. A paper planner is zen and still and doesn’t send you a hoard of attention-grabbing notifications. On top of that, the physical act of handwriting with a pen has countless benefits and it affects the brain in a positive way. However, they can be bulky and heavy and if you forget them somewhere, the information within them is lost forever.

Digital planners, on the other hand, are a minimalist’s dream. They automatically sync across all your devices. They are super portable and flexible (you can easily copy and paste pages and elements to another part of your planner and even erase parts that you no longer need). And they offer extra privacy (only you have access to your iPhone/iPad via your unique thumbprint or face ID). To get started, you need is a tablet, a note-taking app (such as GoodNotes or Notability), and a stylus. Then download a premium dated planner like this one (also available in dark mode here) and start planning.

If you’re not ready to convert to digital planning just yet, keep on reading. Most of the choices below are related to paper planners.

2 | Choose a planner layout that fits your lifestyle

Monthly, weekly, or daily — each planner layout serves a unique purpose.

  • Do you need to plan your days down to the hour? A daily planner with an hourly layout sounds like the right choice for you. However, these planners tend to be heavier than the weekly and monthly ones, which you should take into consideration if you want to carry your planner with you all day long. With that in mind, Erin Condren’s Daily Lifeplanner Duo comes in two beautiful coiled 6-month planners, so you don’t have to lug around 12-months worth of notes all the time.
  • Would you like to have a bird’s eye view of your week? Weekly planners are great if you like seeing the entire week in front of you without having to flip back and forth between pages. Also, they usually have just enough space to write down a small, manageable to-do list. Check out the Coiled Lifeplanner.
  • Will a space to keep track of birthdays, appointments, and major events cover your needs right now? Monthly planners are great if you like simplicity and are not a list-maker. The Deluxe Monthly Planner is perfect for at-a-glance planning and might be exactly what you’re looking for.

3 | Pick a planner size you’re comfortable with

When it comes to paper planners, size matters. The size and weight of a planner influence portability, accessibility, the way you interact with it, how often you use it, and ultimately determine whether it adds value and enhances your life or not.

  • A pocket planner is a more polite way of taking notes than taking out your phone during a conversation. However, a pocket planner could be too small for you if you have too much to keep track of. This one is really cute.
  • A small, portable planner A5 (8.3 x 5.8 in), half-letter (8.5 x 5.5 in), 7 x 9 in or similar – that easily fits in your purse and you can take with you wherever you go is a great tool to jot down your ideas before you forget them. I find this to be the best and most practical size for me. I find this one to be really useful.
  • A large plannerA4 (11.69 x 8.27 in ), US letter (11 x 8.5 in), or similar – will likely have more room for you to take notes. But they are also heavier and bulkier to carry around. So you might find yourself leaving it on the desk more often than not. I don’t recommend a planner that’s so big you won’t take it anywhere. It simply beats the purpose of having a planner in the first place.

Everyone’s needs are different and ultimatelly, a planner is a matter of personal preferences. That’s why all planners I design come in 4 different sizes – A4, A5, US letter, and half letter.

4 | Figure out your planning style

While there’s no right or wrong planning style, it’s important to figure out the kind of planner you are. Don’t feel compelled to do something just because everyone you know is doing it. It’s okay to be a flamingo in a flock of pigeons. There’s only right for you right now.

  • If you are a crafty person, you could have a look into a more artistic planner or a bullet journal with lots of space for sketching and journaling while also keeping track of appointments and to-do lists. These planners give you the opportunity to embellish their pages with stickers, stamps, and photos. They are as much a tool for planning the day ahead as a way to record memories. This type of creative planning is guaranteed to make you want to actually look at your planner. But try not to go too wild with all the embellishments to the point that it’s hard to figure out what you need to focus on next. A set of soft and creamy colored pencils, a set of functional stickers, some sticky notes to quickly write down ideas you want to add later, and a Fujifilm Instax to take quick snaps throughout the day is all you need.
  • If you are logically inclined, you might rather trade the stickers and doodles for a system that provides structure. I fall into this category and while my first planners were simple notebooks with gorgeous covers (covers were always important to me), I struggled to find stuff in them, and in time my thoughts only seemed to get even more entangled. To add more structure to my day and stay more organized, I ended up designing and using this daily planner printable. This helped me keep track of my schedule, to-do list, and self-care routine for the longest time before upgrading to the Smart Blog Planner.
  • All the bells and whistles vs a minimalist design. It’s also important to decide whether you want a colorful planner with pretty drawings, swirly fonts, and motivational messages or a more minimalist design stripped down of all distractions. The caveat with gorgeous planners is that you might not bring yourself to use them. That’s why hardcover and spiral bound planners never worked for me — I love them and I compulsively buy them but never end up using them because I don’t want to ruin them. Luckily, they make for great flatly props so I do get to put them to good use in the end. That doesn’t mean I use a crappy planner either. It simply means that I like a clean design that won’t get in the way. That’s one of the reasons I love printable planners — they are not pretentious and I don’t feel compelled to keep them pristine because each page is an opportunity for a new beginning.

5 | Decide what you’d like to achieve

Do you want to take control of a certain aspect of your life or simply have a second brain? Goal planning challenges you to think differently about your time than simple scheduling does. Scheduling is about where and when you need to be. While goal setting gives your life direction and boosts your motivation.

  • Do you want to stay laser-focused, optimize your workflow, and boost your productivity? The Perfectly Productive Planner was designed with small business owners, working professionals, and college students in mind. It aims to put an end to the chaos and help you work faster so you can enjoy more of your beautiful, crazy life. It’s perfect for staying on top of projects and to make sure important things don’t slip through the cracks.
  • Are you trying to reach a life-changing goal here? Nowadays you can find plenty of planners that help you focus on and organize a single area of your life. There are blog planners, wellness planners, teacher lesson planners, travel planners, finance planners, houseplant care planners, self care planners, academic planners, wedding planners, and everything else in between. Using a specialty planner like this can promote growth in a specific area and fast.
  • Do you need a hub for everything — like important dates, meetings, goals, to-do lists, meal plans, business ideas, household chores, work out routines, and so on? A pretty binder with the planner inserts of your choice sounds right down your alley. The magic of binders lays in the fact that you can add new sections and organize your life bit by bit in a way that feels manageable to you. For example, if you are a blogger, you can start with the Smart Blog Planner bundle. Once you get a grip of your blogging life, you can easily get some wellness inserts and add a new section to it.

6 | Choose what type of binding you’d like

  • Spiral-bound planners are quite popular and one major advantage is that they will lay fully flat when open. On the other hand, the spirals might get in the way when writing. Spiral-bound planners are usually sold as-is and can’t be customized (although Erin Condren’s life planners let you choose the weekly layout)
  • Softbound and hardcover planners are less bulky. This is great news if you want to take them with you on the go. They might be right for you if you want a simple system and don’t need any customization. Check this one out.
  • Refillable ring binders or disc-bound planners are super flexible and make customization a breeze. You’ll always have the option to add pages (or remove them for a lighter and more portable planner), shift things around and mix and match sections into a focused and functional planner adapted to your own lifestyle and needs. If this is the type of flexibility you are looking for, I highly recommend you invest in undated printable planner inserts that you can print as many times as you need and use for years to come. When you use a binder, you eliminate the need to have multiple planners because you can keep everything in one neatly organized place. You don’t have to carry a whole year’s worth of planner pages wherever you go either. And you have full control over the paper and printing quality.

All right, that’s pretty much it. I hope this brought you clarity and helped you decide on the best planner for you. I’m not the kind of person who thrives on chaos (very few people are!) and I can wholeheartedly say that using a planner made a huge difference in my life. And I have no doubt that it will make a difference for you too. Happy planning!

About the author:
Hey there, dream chaser! I’m a writer and designer on a mission to inspire and empower you to create a highly profitable minimalist online business and show up for your dreams in a sustainable way.
xo, Laura