Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Art of Planning: Techniques for Better Planning

While far from being a pro, I've been planning for nearly 10 months now, and the difference between my planning at the start of the year and how I plan right now is night and day. I'm still learning, but I can say that after careful trial and error, experimenting with different techniques, and developing my own preferences, my approach to planning is now vibrant, fulfilling, and expressive. This post will detail my journey of growth and the tips I have to offer to help you harness the true value of planning.

Tip #1: Transform plain planning by utilizing decorative elements like stickers, flags, color coded markers, and labels.

When I first began planning, I only wrote in my planner using one pen. Needless to say that it became apparent to me just how one-dimensional and lackluster my planner looked. I eventually learned the importance of utilizing tools like stickers, sticky notes, color coding, and doodles to break up the monotony and effectively differentiate and convey all the ongoing aspects of my life.

Take for instance, the sample below. Study the color coding. Orange = business appointments, green = social events, and black = errands.

Color coding as demonstrated on the Erin Condren website

With study, I realized the usefulness of Erin Condren's Designer Do-It-All Dots, which call visual attention to specific activities. They're essentially markers. I line up my Do-It-All Dots to create a legend just like in the sample below, and designate each one to a different activity that I want to monitor and track through the week, i.e. to mark when I write a blog post, when I post a YouTube video, whether I wore my retainers that night, whether I spent under $20 a day, etc.

Color coding with Do-It-All-Dots demonstrated on Erin Condren's website

Stylized flags and post-it-notes are another great way to dress up your planner, and they're super functional. Use them to highlight to-do's, reminders or to emphasize a point. They add color and dimension and really help words to leap off the page. Bonus points for being able to sketch the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge like the example below. >< Jealous. Being artistically gifted at sketching also gives you another way to make your planner visually appealing.

Stickers are also essential in planning. They make an enormous difference and allow you to decorate your planner with ease, a big plus for those who aren't especially handy with a pen. I buy bundled packs of stickers that come with a million symbols and phrases, perfect for decorating and categorizing everything I need. 


Tip #2: It's not necessary, but nice handwriting helps.

The form your content takes is incredibly pivotal to the presentation of your planner. And guess what your planner is covered in? Your handwriting. I've come to accept that my handwriting is unfortunately little more than chicken scratch, no matter how hard I try to strive for continuity, let alone gracefulness. Some of the Erin Condren planner page examples are etched in handwriting so nice, they look like fonts.

Not only is artistic handwriting a great ace to have up your sleeve, but doodling is, too. Unfortunately I can't doodle to save my life. I can't even doodle an even circle or a straight line, so I depend on stickers to add flair to my planner. Side note, earlier this year, after one of my planner study sessions (can you tell I try hard?), I noticed that a lot of the time, planners write in capital letters. I decided to follow suit. It makes things look more categorical and uniform :)

Here's gorgeous handwritten inspiration: 

Tip #3: Personalization makes things fun.

Personalizing your planner really helps to make your planner your own. Many planners come with customizable options, such as the Erin Condren LifePlanner. You can monogram your initials on your planner cover, order custom photo stickers, and even buy interchangable covers that vary in design. Photo stickers really help birthdays, holidays, and plans come to life. Below is a screenshot of my personalized planner cover and some photo stickers I've had made.

Tip #4: Don't planner shame yourself. 

I can't tell you the number of times I embellished plans in an effort to feel social. At the start of the week, I didn't have much to write about, so I would sit and try to think of things to write. The underlying tone of emptiness led to me writing down just about anything I could, including half-baked possibilities and plans I concocted. I just felt this pressure to use my planner to the fullest of my abilities because of how much it cost. But by the end of the week, I had all this junk marked down that I hadn't fulfilled or didn't end up happening.

Instead of filling your planner with random content, plan what you know at the start of the week and leave space for what's to come. Call the fluff for what it is - fluff. Fluff isn't worthy of going into your planner and shouldn't take up space that could be better used expressing and emphasizing true, accurate, significant life content.

Tip #5: Writing in third person helps. 

Now, for a departure from what we just discussed, this tip is another stylistic one. Notice that all of the planner examples are written in short hand from the third person. Go ahead, take a look! "Move In Day," "Nail Appt.," "Register for fall classes," "Bake cookies for neighbors." These are statements, not sentences. As for the rest of the content,  there is no "I" in anything else. Homework assignments are listed, not written about, and so are reminders and to-do's. Events, deadlines, appointments, reminders, and projects are the focus of each day and the reader isn't required to know a lot of context to get to the point. This makes planning neat, easy to read, and organized.

Most of the fun comes from using creative, different handwriting styles, doodling, and stickers.

Tip #6: Sharpen your itemized thinking skills.

This goes hand-in-hand with what we just discussed. If you're going to plan well, you'll need to get good at categorizing and itemizing your life. Almost anything can be turned into planner content. I've become adept at breaking down my life into checklists, reminders, goals, events, and to-do's. Is Black Friday coming up? Make a list of places to shop! Do you have things to do for school? Group them under a flag that says "School." There are a ton of ways to represent your life events expressively.

Tip #7: Get creative.

Talented planners take pleasure in creating visual storyboards in whatever form inspires them. Their creativity knows no bounds, and they aren't afraid to venture out of conventional page spreads to express themselves and create artful content. Take a look at the example below. As you can see, the monthly spread has been transformed into a whimsical, wintery-themed layout that bridges events across days/weeks. Stickers have been placed over intersecting lines and stylized flags highlight important points. It's colorful, memorable, creative, and functional.

Tip #8: Get real. 

Back edits will happen quite a lot. Plans change and you don't always end up doing what you set out to do. White out is essential, and to this day I think ordering erasable pens would make my life a whole lot simpler. Not everything is going to look picture perfect, and you shouldn't hold yourself to the standards of professional scrapbookers. I've learned to refrain from jotting down hangouts until they're set in stone. Still, sometimes friends cancel last minute and I have a wasted photo sticker on my hands. Life is unpredictable, but at the end of the day it's just a part of the territory, so know that you can't account for everything ahead of time and embrace it.

Tip #9: Make it work for your needs and preferences.

Speaking of not holding yourself to perfect standards, planning is an individual experience. Regardless of outside influences, your planner has to work best for you. For right now, the most functional way for me to use it is as a life tracker.

My planner has become a hybrid between a diary, a progress log, a daily checklist, and a general description of my own life. I am extremely forgetful, and need to write everything down in order to know what I'm doing every day, what I did the day before last, and where I stand in terms of progress. I monitor the following on a daily basis:
  • Attendance (when I get into the office)
  • Outfit (work outfit repeats are not cute)
  • Spending 
  • Work productivity 
  • Social plans 
  • Projects and content creation 
  • Progress on my career search 

I try to write down the results of each day, and it serves as a reminder to me of when I was maximizing my creativity and productivity. While I'm glad I found a process that works for me, my goal in 2017 is to pare my planner down and get creative with how I plan. After combing and archiving all this inspiration, I'm determined to turn my planner into more than just a smorgasboard of color and stickers.

As promised, here are some of my planner pages:

Lol my original way of planning. ^

Thanks for reading this in-depth blog post guys! I'd love to read any comments if you feel like leaving one below. Happy planning!

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