Most people buy a planner not really understanding how to use a planner. They think that the $12-$65 they spend on a planner will buy them the system they need to use the planner and become instantly organized, on time, and less stressed.
That’s just not the case.
Trying to buy a planner to fix a hot mess life is like trying to stick a band-aid on a sucking chest wound.
It may feel good to be doing something, but it’s kind of pointless in the end.
I’ve taught hundreds of thousands of people how to get organized and save money using a planner. And, I specialize in the toughest cases of chronic disorganization (as in… they’ve tried and failed to change for years and nothing’s ever worked). I’ve been featured in Entrepreneur, Country Living, Forbes, Fox Business, and dozens of others, and I can honestly tell you that the planner you use doesn’t matter at all.
And that’s coming from someone that actually sells a super popular planner.
It’s not the planner that will make you organized… it’s knowing how to use a planner (otherwise known as a planning system) that makes the difference.
I’ll teach you the planning system that works for literally everyone (including our toughest cases of people who have tried and failed to consistently use a planner for years).
Thankfully, it’s super easy to learn, completely free, and will work with whatever planner you have now.
Start With a Paper Planner
Unless you’re already using a digital planner (like Google Calendar or Apple calendar) successfully (and not just for work when you’re at your desk)… start with a paper planner.
We’ve tested this over and over and when you’re learning how to use a planner… your chances of success skyrocket when you stick with a paper planner (and use the below-outlined system).
While we don’t know exactly why that is, I have a strong suspicion that it’s because digital calendars have so many distractions (or because our cranky 5 year old’s are watching Youtube videos on endless repeat when we need it?)
Choosing The Best Paper Planner
You can use literally any planner with this system and still be successful with it (even dollar store planners). But there’s a ton of custom planners you can get now that work with your unique life and schedule if you know where to find them. If you have something unique about your situation, take a few minutes to see if you can find a planner customized to your needs.
Here’s a few examples:
Planner Set Up
Add contact information in case it’s lost (I always suggest a funny reward as well, like a dozen homemade brownies). If you have an undated planner, go ahead and add all of your dates. Fill out any starting pages (like the starting point page in the Home Success Planner).
Use Pencil or Frixion Pens
Pro planner tip: If you can’t stand mistakes or scribbled out items in your planner, just switch to using Frixion Pens (which write beautifully, have fun colors, and erase better than pencil) or just stick to pencils.
And use checkmark boxes instead of crossing things out.
While I’m not one of those people that feels the need to make everything Pinterest perfect, I’ve seen over and over again that productivity is higher when you switch to pencil or FriXion and check-marks.
Warning: Frixion Pens can be expensive when compared to a 10 cent Bic pen (they’re usually cheapest here) but they’re still a ridiculously cheap “luxury”. But you should know before buying that they have a weird side effect.
If your planner gets super hot (like 150 degrees hot), your writing will completely disappear. It will come back if you freeze it for a few minutes, and it’s pretty rare to happen (it’s not even written on the label) but it was pretty alarming when it happened to me. (I still use them. I think Frixion Pens are all we have in our house now).
Now that we have your planner set up, we can teach you the easiest way to use a planner.
Grab a sheet of paper and brain dump all of the things you’ve been trying to remember.
We need to get everything swimming around your head onto the paper and then into the planner.
- We need milk.
- Date night on Saturday.
- School pictures next Friday.
- Switching shifts with Emily on the 14th.
As you add things to your calendar think of anything you need to do to prep for an event and leave an additional note two weeks ahead.
That gives us time and space to prepare for it ahead of time. You don’t need to find time now to plan for it, you just need to give yourself a reminder ahead of time.
Hint: If you have kids, this prevents those frantic Saturday mornings trying to buy a birthday gift (and wrapping paper and tape) between soccer practice and the birthday party.
- Chase’s birthday on 28th. Add an entry on the 14th with “present for chase’s birthday”.
- Wedding on the 15th. Add an entry on the 1st with “find a dress for wedding and budget for a gift”.
Leave Empty Space
Empty planner space is a good thing! It helps you easily prioritize the most important things and lets you trust the planner.
Don’t overcrowd your planner with a giant wish list of things you’d like to do or you’ll get overwhelmed and do nothing.
You need your planner to be an uncluttered list of MUST DO’s.
Keeping a master list of your “want to do’s” is better in a project planner (we do this in our popular Home Success Planner by having a 15-minute project planner in the back pages of the planner).
One Planner Spot
Keep your planner open to the current week in one spot always.
We suggest someplace that you’ll pass by several times a day. The corner of the kitchen counter is a popular spot for most readers (that’s where I keep mine as well). It should never leave that area (keep a pen or a pencil with it as well… tie it to the planner if need be).
By doing this we remove every possible barrier between you and your planner. It takes almost no effort at all to glance down at it as you pass it and it lets you update your planner in less than two minutes a day.
While we love the idea of sitting on the couch with Washi tape and updating our planner for four hours on Sunday is not realistic and not going to happen. In order for you to do this every day, it needs to be super simple. If you aren’t sure where you left your planner and you need to go hunt for it, you won’t actually update it.
The planner needs to stay in one spot.
Snap a Photo of Your Week
Use your cell phone to snap a photo of your week in case you need it while you’re out and about.
If you get an invite or an appointment and you want to be able to say yes right then and there, having a snapshot of your week will make it easy for you to know what your planner says while you’re on the go.
Hint: One of the best side effects of this system is to give you a chance to really think about whether you want to do something before you commit.
Using an automatic standard reply anytime someone asks you to do something (whether it be an obligation or something fun) like “Sounds fun! Let me check my schedule tonight and text you back” gives you a chance to really think about if you want to do it and then text back a reply later (which also makes saying no easier if you decide it’s an obligation).
I use automatic standard replies for things I can’t do as well, so I don’t feel so much stress. Like, “I wish I could do this, but I can’t make it work. Everything’s crazy right now.”)
More Planning Tips
If you’re away from your planner and need to add something to it (like a doctor’s appointment), then just text yourself a reminder to add it to your planner. We text reminders to ourselves because no one ever texts themselves and it’s the easiest way to take fast notes.
You can even use voice chat by telling Siri or Alexa “Text (your name) doctor’s appointment on the 5th at 8:30 am”. Then every night or every morning (pairing it with something you’re used to doing like eating breakfast or making dinner), check your texts and write down any new events in your planner.
That’s the majority of the “maintenance” that your planner will need. I do about two minutes a night on my planner (I’ve been going strong for 8 years and counting) and when I don’t have new things to add, I work on the menu plan, or the healthy habits that I track.
The planner is the easiest and most impactful thing I do every day now (this coming from someone who was a complete hot mess and late to everything for the years before I finally figured out a planning system that works).
Hint: Need a reminder at work or in the car? Include a note on a super sticky Post It Note and stick it straight on your dash. For example, “pick up milk after work today”. You can stick a pad of super sticky notes to the inside front cover of your planner if you want.
Use phone alarms sparingly for anything you don’t want to drop the ball on. If there are major consequences to missing something, then set a phone alarm to remind yourself.
If you use phone alarms for everything, they lose their potency and you just get overwhelmed. Phone alarms should be for major meetings, court dates, shift changes etc.
A Full Home Management System
That’s it! This system works for virtually everyone, but it’s especially effective on those who struggle with sticking to systems.
If you try this and love it, you should look into Hot Mess to Home Success which teaches you how to use bare minimum effort on a consistent basis to completely transform every aspect of your home and budget using your unique personality.
The success stories from that are insane, like Celinda, who said…
“I have had a clean house for a month now! For a whole month since finishing your program my husband and daughter have been taking on responsibility for our house. I am less stressed and even happy about people dropping in unexpectedly. I don’t worry about other people judging my home because it’s clean! We have also been able to save up a 3 month emergency fund, which provides me with a confidence about our living situation that I didn’t have before. Most important my husband and I are on the same page with how the house is run and our finances for the first time in our marriage. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this program is a lifesaver!”
The only downside is that Hot Mess to Home Success isn’t cheap (completely worth it but still) and it opens once a year for enrollment so you need to have almost perfect timing to get in. Your best bet is to join the waiting list here…
Free Home Management Help
If you need help super fast and need a free option, you can get Trashed to Total Home Transformation for free right now. This is the starter program for Hot Mess to Home Success and will help you get your trashed house clean and organized (even amid all the crazy right now). It uses your unique personality and bare minimum effort so that you can see results before Hot Mess to Home Success opens for enrollment next year.
Grab it now though, before the offer’s up (I’ll update this when that offer expires). Grab Trashed to Total Home Transformation here…