Do you use a planner? There are so many ways to plan and document your day that you might have moved away from the planner if you rely on apps and productivity software. However, planners still have a place in optimizing your day. In this article, we explain what productivity planners are, why they’re important and how to use one. Then, we review the best productivity planners so that you can choose the one that works best for your lifestyle.
How Can Using a Planner Help You?
Are you familiar with those flimsy planners that are available at office supply stores? They feature moments of time broken up into specific chunks. Some let you plan each day hour by hour, while others allow you to see more of an overview of your week or month.
They’re basically calendars that help you get specific about what you’re doing and when. But do they make you more productive?
Most experts agree that planning your day helps you know what to expect. When you realize that uncertainty can cause stress, you can understand how using a planner can ease your mind.
But planning your day isn’t always useful if you don’t follow your schedule. Being an effective planner involves accurately estimating how long your tasks will take you.
In an age where people can schedule their appointments online and set reminders so that they don’t forget, people want more than an appointment book. A planner should help you live life to the fullest.
What Is a Productivity Planner?
A productivity planner does more than let you decide what you’re going to do during a particular time frame. It helps you develop habits that reduce procrastination and increase your productivity.
The best productivity planners help you get more done in less time. They don’t just give you a place to write in appointments. Productivity planners can:
- Help you prioritize important tasks
- Allow you to get clear on your why
- Help you establish goals
- Help you create action steps to get closer to your goals
- Help you estimate how much time a task will take
- Help you track the time that you spent on a job or project
- Help you develop productive habits
A productivity planner is action-oriented. It keeps you accountable for what you accomplish (and don’t achieve) during the day. It not only serves as a way to engineer your time but also a method of documenting your work.
When you record what you do every day, you can reflect on it. One study from Harvard Business School found that employees who used journals to write what went well and what didn’t go so well every day were 22.8 percent more productive than their peers who didn’t reflect on their days. Even though writing in a journal took them away from their work, they made up for it while they were taking action.
If you’ve ever thought that planning your day isn’t worth it because it interferes with the time that you could actually be working, you’re missing out on maximizing your productivity. When you reflect on your day, you take ownership of your accomplishments. This helps you develop a level of self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation that keeps you going.
What’s the Secret to Productivity?
To understand how the best productivity planners work, you have to know some of the secrets to productivity. These include the following.
Focus in the Face of Distraction
You can write down what you plan to do from 9 to 11 a.m. tomorrow, but what happens when you get distracted by other people or tasks? A productivity planner often contains tools that help you focus.
These may be questions that help you prioritize your activities and filter out the noise. Have you ever tried to insert as many tasks as possible into your day only to realize that accomplishing all of them was impossible?
Productivity planners aren’t about cramming your schedule full of tasks. They help you accomplish exactly what needs to be done.
The simple act of writing down your goals makes you concentrate on what matters. If something else comes up, you can relegate it to a future spot in your productivity journal because today’s place is already taken. If you aren’t writing down your goals, tasks and to-dos, how can you decide what’s most important to achieve today?
When you aren’t bound by a planner, you may redirect your focus every time something new comes along. But multitasking makes you less productive. It can also make you feel overwhelmed if you’re faced with dozens of tasks and no concrete plans for achieving them.
The most productive people know how to manage their time. If you always feel too busy to relax or spend time with your friends, you may not be managing your time well. Many people who feel like they’re constantly bombarded with tasks don’t even have a to-do list.
Some of the key elements of time management include:
- Knowing what you have to do
- Understanding which tasks are the most urgent
- Accurately predicting how long a task will take you
- Scheduling time to complete the task
Many people get hung up on the estimation factor. Have you ever done this? You use wishful thinking to hope that you’ll complete everything that you need to do in one day. You assume that if you write it all in your calendar, you’ll get it all done. But when the first task takes three times as long as you predicted, everything else gets pushed back, causing you to feel consistently discouraged by your performance.
The best productivity planner allows you to track the time that you have spent on different tasks. The more you do this, the better you’ll be at estimating how long an activity will take you. The ability to plan your day out accurately can transform your life.
When you hone this skill, you:
- Notice where distractions impede your productivity
- What activities take the most and least time to complete
- When you have the most energy and when you feel the most productive
- Whether you’re using your time wisely
- Whether you need additional prep time to complete a particular task
Direction and Goals
Have you ever had a day that felt busy but didn’t result in many accomplishments? Busy work is not the same as productivity. The most productive people don’t just go around crossing things off of their to-do lists for the sake of it. All of their achievements add up to their greater vision, meaning, and purpose.
According to Inc., tremendously productive people move in one direction. If you don’t have goals, you can run yourself ragged without making progress. Efficient people don’t move faster than everyone else. They just move with purpose.
If you take 10 steps in 10 different directions, you won’t feel like you moved far, but you might be exhausted. Taking 10 steps in one direction feels like real advancement.
A productivity planner helps you map out your direction. It offers a chance for you to consider your goals as you plan each day so that your work is fruitful.
People have been trying to figure out the secret to motivation for hundreds of years. Self-motivation is one of the keys to productivity. It’s one of the only aspects of incentive that you can control.
Sure, someone can dangle money in front of you to spur you to do more work. But external motivators can always be taken away. Finding inspiration from within can keep your candle burning forever.
A productivity planner combines intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. No one is going to force you to keep up with your planner. You have to have your own motives for using it.
You’ll be more likely to keep up with a planner that’s fun to use than one that feels like doing tedious homework. With so many out there, you might have to experiment to find the one that’s right for you. Hopefully, the reviews below will help you determine which one jives with your lifestyle and way of working.
Once you’re motivated to use your planner, it becomes a self-fulfilling cycle. Writing down your plans keeps you committed to them. You’ll keep using it because you enjoy it. You’ll also keep up with it because accomplishing steps toward your goals feels so good.
There is scientific evidence that completing tasks is psychologically rewarding. Our brains crave the dopamine surge that results from getting stuff done. If we can guide ourselves into a cycle of productivity, we’re more likely to stay there. A productivity planner can help us do just that.
Differentiating Ideas from Action
You may have a big, clear vision of what it takes to achieve success. But if you don’t take action, that vision is just a fantasy.
Productive people aren’t just action-takers. They think big, plan clearly and take action when it’s necessary. To be productive, you have to know when to come up with ideas and when to act on them.
According to Lifehack, productive people concentrate on clarity before movement. To gain this clarity, these types of people need to reflect on their successes and failures. They should also take the time to notice what inspires them.
Once you have clarity, taking action becomes much simpler. It also aligns better with your goals. A productivity planner can help you find clarity so that you behave efficiently as you flesh out your best ideas.
How to Use a Productivity Planner
There are many ways to use a productivity planner. The method that you choose depends on the planner that you buy as well as your habits and lifestyle.
Many productivity planners come with instructions on how to use them. If you’re ready to plow ahead full force, feel free to follow those directions.
Here are some tips that you can use if you’re just getting your feet wet.
Start With Awareness
We all want to make big changes. When we’re feeling stuck or unproductive, our main motivation is to adjust our habits so that we can improve our outcomes. But you’ll never know what has to change if you don’t know what’s going on at the present moment.
Before you dive into your planner and start laying out your future, get clear on the status quo. You might want to use the first few pages of your planner to write out what you did on a particular day instead of what you plan to do.
Taking a week to do this can really help you see how you’re spending your time. Once you know when you’re being efficient and when you’re wasting time, you can transform your productivity.
If you don’t want to mess up your shiny new planner, try using the one that you bought last year and stopped using. Track your days without worrying about changing anything just yet. It will give you some distinct insight into your productivity.
You’ll start to see where and when you get distracted. You’ll become intimately aware of how much time you really spend on social media. You should even get some insight into the pockets of time when you’re apt to be most productive.
Doing this is similar to bringing your awareness to your breath during yoga or meditation. The instructor usually asks you to notice your breathing without trying to alter it. This practice brings you into the present, where you can work on your growth. Use your planner in the same way.
Schedule Your To-Dos
Once you know how you’re currently spending your time, you can start to plan how you want to spend it. Don’t get ahead of yourself by setting a lot of goals when you’re beginning to use a productivity planner.
The initial objective is to create a habit of using it. Start simple so that you don’t get overwhelmed. Once you develop some consistency, you can expand the way that you use a planner.
An easy way to start is by sitting down each evening to make a to-do list for the next day. Then, your main goal should be checking everything off of the list.
Establish Your Goals
Eventually, you should work toward aligning your to-dos with some goals. Start by asking yourself, “What do I want to accomplish today?” As you break down your plans into hourly activities, you’ll make sure that the bulk of your to-dos progress toward your goals. Without goals, you’ll just be doing busy work.
Once you get good at this, you can develop weekly and monthly goals. You may also want to work backward from a big vision. For example, if you really want to write a book, give yourself a realistic deadline for completing it. Then, work backward from that deadline and decide what you need to accomplish every month, week and day to move toward it.
Give Yourself Time for Reflection
Make sure that you’re not only using your productivity planner to schedule the future but also to reflect on the past. It’s a good idea to schedule some time at the end of the day to look backward. Think about the following:
- What went well today?
- What didn’t go well?
- How did I feel?
- What distracted me?
- What felt smooth and easy?
- What was challenging, and how did I handle it?
- How do I want to feel tomorrow?
- What do I need to accomplish to feel that way?
- What is the main thing that I want to achieve tomorrow?
Using your productivity planner like this gives you a chance to decompress from the day. It also keeps you focused, revamps your motivation and lets you celebrate your wins.
Best Productivity Planners Review
Now that you know a little more about how a productivity planner can help you maximize your organization and efficiency, it’s time to find the perfect one for you. We describe our favorites below and give you the pros and cons of each one so that you can launch yourself toward a more productive life.
The Productivity Planner
The Productivity Planner relies on evidence-based productivity principles and goals research to help you be more productive every day. It comes with a quick guide to help you get started. But it’s easy to understand and use.
The planner is undated, which means that you won’t waste pages if you’re on vacation and skip a week of planning. Each week includes five pages for the weekdays as well as a weekend page.
It’s broken down so that you can determine the most important tasks for the week as a whole. You even get a commitment question every week that asks you what one action you can take to make your week more productive.
When you write your daily to-dos, you’re guided to categorize them in order of importance. There is also a space to rate your productivity at the end of each day.
- Easily break down weekly goals into daily tasks
- Arranged so that you prioritize your to-dos
- Includes space for reflection
- Each page has an inspiring quote
- Includes an in-depth explanation of how to use the planner
- Each planner includes space for only six months
- No space to schedule to-dos by hour
- No ribbons included for bookmarking pages
The High-Performance Planner
The High-Performance Planner is based on large-scale research into how successful people create efficient habits to maximize productivity. It helps you develop a positive mindset as you set goals and work toward them.
The layout is clean but has space to work in many of the productivity secrets that we discussed in this article. You can write a message to yourself every day, answer “morning mindset” prompts, think about your top three priorities for the day, schedule your to-dos in half-hour increments and even consider who you can connect with.
At the end of the day, you’re asked to reflect, scoring your daily habits, thinking about your lessons, celebrating your wins and feeling gratitude.
Weekly pages give you even more chances to look back. You’re prompted to do a self-assessment of your productivity and rate your life satisfaction in several areas. Monthly assessments and reviews give you even more perspective.
If you’re seeking work-life balance, this may be the perfect planner for you.
- Comes in a rainbow of colors
- Packs a great deal of research-based material into each page
- Combines a morning and evening journal with a planner
- Dates are not labeled, so you won’t waste pages if you skip days
- Includes areas for self-reflection as well as scheduling
- May be overwhelming for some people
- Only includes pages for 60 days
- No additional space for note-taking
The Lion Planner uses a positive psychology approach to planning and scheduling. It is intended to increase your productivity as well as improve your quality of life. In fact, the manufacturer’s description explains that this planner is designed to stop you from doing busy work and align your actions with your goals and intentions.
The daily pages include a spot to write your goals. You don’t necessarily have to come up with new objectives. The act of re-writing your goals helps you stay focused on them. There’s also space for notes and ideas, prioritizing your tasks, scheduling your day, writing a to-do list and review your accomplishments.
Weekly pages ask you to look back and plan the week ahead. There is also room to plan out your year and months based on your goals. Finally, this planner includes pages for a dream list, notes, and contacts.
- Separate to-do list and schedule lets you plan your chores
- Two built-in bookmarks
- Sharpie pens won’t bleed through the pages
- Includes envelopes inside the front and back covers to store separate notes and other items
- Includes a two-year calendar so that you can refer to dates when needed
- Hourly scheduling space is tight
- Has pages for fewer than the six months that are indicated
- All month and week pages are clumped together
Smart Planner Pro
The Smart Planner Pro is advertised as a daily, weekly and monthly planner to increase productivity, improve time management and boost happiness. It’s streamlined and features daily columns where you can write out three priorities, jot down what you’re grateful for and schedule your day in half-hour increments.
The spread of seven daily columns takes up two pages. There’s not a lot of extra room for reflection, but it does have space to review your victories and score your week. There is also some space at the bottom of each two-page spread to brainstorm and write down ideas. The planner also includes 10 blank and 10 lined pages for note-taking.
There’s a large monthly calendar that takes up two pages and is undated, giving you added flexibility. You can also write your goals on these pages and write notes in the blank boxes. A two-year at-a-glance calendar helps you refer to specific dates when you need to.
- Thick, bleed-proof paper
- Includes an entire year of undated daily pages
- Contains an expandable inner back pocket
- Has two bookmarks
- Easy to visualize the whole week at once
- Limited writing space on daily scheduling columns
- Crams a full week into a two-day spread
- The week starts on a Monday
Clever Fox Planner
The Clever Fox Planner is a productivity system that helps you stay focused on your goals as you move through your days, weeks and months.
Before you get started with scheduling, you can reflect on your vision and objectives. This planner includes an awareness and self-discovery section that lets you write what you’re grateful for, explore what you’re passionate about, note the daily rituals that you want to uphold this year and write affirmations to keep you motivated and inspired.
There’s a two-page spread of blank pages on which you can collage a vision board. The planner also includes two pages on which you can set your goals for the year in a variety of categories. Two more pages let you break down your large goals into smaller ones.
Those pages are followed by a weekly spread with about four lines for each day of the week and space to write your goal and priorities, a personal to-do list, track your habits and reflect. The back of the journal contains more than 50 dot-grid pages for doodling or taking notes.
- Comes with a free quick-start guide
- Includes 150 colorful stickers
- Supposed to contain 12 monthly planners and 52 weekly planners
- Three ribbons serve as bookmarks
- Comes in a wide range of colors
- The most limited when it comes to writing daily to-dos
- No hourly schedule area to plan appointments and time-bound items
- Missing a few weekly planners
All of the productivity planners that we reviewed are undated, which means that you can start any time of year and don’t waste pages if you forget to use them for a day or a week. But they’re very different when it comes to layout and options for additional reflection.
If you’re the type of person who needs to journal as well as schedule their time, you’ll probably prefer the Productivity Planner or High-Performance Planner. These hold your hand as they guide you toward creating positive productivity habits. These are also geared toward helping you live a more fulfilling life.
People who rely on their schedules for keeping track of appointments and to-dos may prefer the Lion Planner, which features a 24-hour schedule. If it’s important to have one planner for the whole year, the Smart Planner Pro and Clever Fox Planner might be preferable.
We like the High-Performance Planner the best. The combination of meaningful prompts and time-scheduling areas makes it the most comprehensive option. In fact, it’s so well-rounded that it only has room for 60 days of planning. Once you become a productive planner, you might choose to move to a more streamlined option that includes more pages.