How to Avoid Planner Overwhelm

Planner with Ducks in a Row

Using a planner can be overwhelming.  There are so many choices!  And once you finally choose which size you want, which format you want, and which company you want to order from, you still have to set it up!

And speaking of setting it up, this is where it can get overwhelming FAST.  A planner isn’t just a calendar.  It can include things like:

  • To-do lists
  • Address pages
  • Notes
  • Information
  • Goals
  •  Journals
  • Food Journals
  • Project lists
  • Party planning
  • Special occasions
  • Gift lists

You’re only limited by your imagination – or by the ring size of your binder.

But if you’re just getting started and that extra stuff overwhelms you, skip it.  Focus on the “guts” of the system which is the calendar and to-do list.  Keep in mind that a planner’s basic purpose is to help you manage your appointments, to-do list and any information you might need.  So start with those.

My first planning system was a 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 three ring notebook for information, a spiral bound week-at-a-glance calendar for appointments and a steno pad for my to-do list.  It worked well for a long time.

But then I discovered Franklin Covey.  As soon as I saw one of the Franklin planners, I wanted one.  ASAP.  So I squeezed money out of the budget and headed over to the Franklin store to change my life.

That was in 1993 when it was still Franklin Quest.  And when you bought a planner, it came with a cassette tape that explained exactly how to use it.  I listened to that tape so many times.

But my first planner was really simple.  I mean really simple.  It included:

  •           Monthly calendar for the current year
  •           2 months of two page per day inserts
  •           12 tabs that were pretty much empty
  •           A-Z tabs for names and addresses

I wrote everything on my daily pages.  I mean everything.  I didn’t have sections at the back for any of the categories I listed earlier.  Everything was recorded on the daily pages or the monthly pages.  At the end of each month, I filled out the Monthly Index which listed where I could find information on the daily pages.  Used pages were stored in my storage binder.  And that was pretty much it.

I didn’t use colored pens, washi tape or stickers.  I didn’t have multiple page finders or tabs that came out of the top, bottom and sides.  My system was simple to use and simple to maintain.

Eventually I started adding things – like

  •           Financial information
  •           Car and truck information
  •           Medical information
  •           User id’s and passwords
  •           Goals
  •           Food Journals

But it took a long time.  My system evolved as my life changed and my needs changed.  And it was still pretty simple.  In fact, it still is pretty simple.  When I start adding too many categories, I get overwhelmed.

So if you’re just starting out or thinking about getting a planner, start simple.  Start with the basics.  Live with the basics a while and then starting tweaking.  But start with the basics.  If you never progress beyond the basics, that’s okay.  If you turn your planner into a complex work of art, that’s okay, too.  That’s the beauty of a planner – you can make it anything you want.

But start simple.  A planner is an awesome tool that can help you keep your ducks in a row.  But if you make it too complicated, you might give up and then who knows where your ducks will be.

Planner with Ducks not in a Row


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Born in Kentucky, I am a wife and mom to 1 son and 2 daughters . I have an ink pen obsession, as well as a love for all things planner. I have been married for 10 years to my high school crush. I am a member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

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33 thoughts on “How to Avoid Planner Overwhelm

  1. This is a great post, Patty! I got my first Franklin Planner in 1986 (!) and all these years later, I still think it’s the best system. Love my Filofaxes – but keep coming back to the FC inserts! And you are so right – simple is better.

    1. Thanks, Claudia. Don’t you wish Filofax and Franklin Covey could join forces and make Filofax binders for Franklin Covey inserts? That would be perfect!!!

  2. I love the idea of keeping things simple. I’ve bought planners before that sat unused because I didn’t want to fill in all that extra stuff (and of course, when I bought the planners all those extra bells and whistles were what appealed to me-ha!) because it simply seemed overwhelming.

  3. Yes! Simple is definitely better. I keep my setup very simple and it works really well. I tend to do 90% of my usage of the planner in the day/week pages too. I then have A-Z tabs with contacts, passwords, account info, reference info, projects, budget/financial info… It all works very well.

    I moved my financial stuff into the planner several months ago after Patty’s post on the topic and it is working really well. I find it so much easier to keep my accounts balanced since the ledgers are with me at all times.

    1. Our set-ups sound similar.

      I moved my financial stuff out of my planner briefly last year and hated it. I felt like I didn’t know what was going on and that I was behind. So I moved it back. It was a valuable experiment – showed me my financial info was right where it needed to be! Glad it’s working for you, too.

  4. Am I dating myself too much to admit I remember Franklin Quest…? Good post – less is often more with things like this. I’m working on my new and improved planner system – found my old DayTimer binders! Now I just have to figure out what works.

  5. It’s hard to do the basics with the kinds of planners that get published. It seems like some of those try to do everything! My first planner was a monthly one, with contacts in the back. That’s really about the level I need to keep track everything. But I also need to do record-keeping, too, and that’s where I’ve wound up going through multiple planners. I’m a writer, and I’m hoping one day to be making some serious money with it. But that means I have to keep records and track deadlines of potential places to submit stories to. And I wanted something that appeals somewhat to my creative side. That part made it hard, because I always felt like I was settling. The cover might be fantastic, but parts inside were too complicated. I ended up finally settling on Arc. The covers were nice, and better still, I could pull out pages after the month was done. It has a monthly section, which is where my appointments go; a weekly section, which is where I write things like “Submitted XYZ story to ABC Magazine” or the mileage to and from my critique group; and a contacts section.

    1. Definitely true. It’s hard to find a planner that has everything right – inside and outside!

      I’ve looked at the Arc planners a few times when I was at Staples. They look interesting. Glad you found something that works for you.

    1. Yes, I’m back in FC. I think. I flirted with Filofax on and off for the last several months but I can’t make it work. I love the binders but I need bigger rings, a little more writing room and the structure of the FC system. But both my daughter and daughter-in-law are madly in love with their Filofaxes. Neither one of them were fans of FC.

  6. For three years in a row I bought the Organised Mum Life Book which has built in Financial and Budget pages, meal planning, tear-off shopping lists, Christmas and Summer Vacation planning pages, etc. I get convinced it will whip my entire life into shape. But then I end up not using it! I have lots of good intentions about planning my budget and holidays but then can’t be bothered to actually do it.

  7. Love the planner in the pictures. Can you tell me which one it is. Love the blog. Tons of good advice & ideas!

    1. Michelle – the planner in the photos is a Franklin Covey compact 2 pages per day. I’ve been using it for years but have been also playing around with homemade pages in a Filofax. However, I keep coming back to my Franklin Covey. I don’t know if it works better for me or if I’m just used to it.

      Let me know if you have any more questions about the planner.

  8. So true. Some of my friends can’t even read my blog because I get bogged down in details. But when it gets busy and my life is unmanageable, I use the monthly and weekly sheets and that’s about it.

  9. As it turned out, eBay had something better than the how-to cassette: somebody had a still-sealed, never opened Franklin Planner kit from 1988, pre-Franklin Quest. Grabbed it–that’s going to be like opening a time capsule when it arrives. Contains all the stuff you’d expect plus “three cassette tapes containing the complete Franklin Time Control Seminar.”

  10. I may have to take pictures of the contents when it comes and I unbox it. Going back to the future with Marty McFly? Forget Palm Pilots and smartphones, a 1987 Franklin setup is keepin’ it old school.

  11. So, here’s what was in the 1988 box: a dark blue vinyl binder, a storage binder with a 1989 sticker, a year’s worth of refill pages, a Time Management Seminar workbook, a 1988 catalog (wow! talk about time travel), set of 3 cassettes–Day Planner Assembly, How to use the Franklin Day Planner, Productivity Pyramid–, a booklet called 6 Steps to Building the Productivity Pyramid, and the following accessories in shrinkwrap: Satellite, set of colour tabs, zip pouch, business card holder page, pagefinder, blank lined pages and Daily Record of Events pages. Groovy. My camera chose this moment to break, but I did take pictures of the unboxing with my cell phone–they’re in there now, but I don’t know how to get them out of the phone and into the internet.

    1. Oh, my gosh! That sounds awesome. You got some treasure with that purchase. I’m jealous. That tape alone is a find.

      Can you send the pictures to your email and then download them to the internet?

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