You Don’t Need A Planner. You Need Discipline.

A humble drag for my fellow planner enthusiasts.

Bethany Smith
Dec 4, 2017 · 6 min read

I want to preface this article by saying that I am a planner addict. I LIVE for a brand new notebook or planner — there is something about opening up a new planner and finding the crisp, unused pages that just does something to me. And despite all the info I am going to dole out here, you can expect a follow-up piece on how to put your planner together for 2018. This article is not an attempt to get you to toss out your paper planner. It is a call to develop enough discipline to actually use the planner you buy.

Prepare to have your wig snatched.

The truth hurts, doesn’t it?

“Before you buy 10 planners you won’t use for 2018, what you’re probably lacking is discipline, not organization.” — @Simplysope

Well damn, Sis. I haven’t even had my coffee yet, and you’re dragging me for filth all over the internet.

She’s right, though.

I cannot tell you how much money I have spent on planners that only got half filled. I cannot tell you how much time I’ve dedicated to putting together the CUTEST weekly layout on Sunday, only to look up the following Saturday night to realize that none of my major to-do’s got crossed off.

The truth is, the simple act of owning a planner doesn’t make you organized or disciplined.

The second truth is, discipline matters more than organization when it comes to planning your life and actually reaching your goals. So. How does one develop the discipline needed to actually stick to those New Years resolutions?

Glad you asked.

First off, what exactly is discipline?

Discipline is defined as “orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior.” The key terms in here are “orderly” and “pattern of behavior”. Being disciplined means that you are taking consistent, common sense action toward your goals.

Buying a planner is not taking consistent action. Utilizing your planner effectively is.

Designing your weekly layout is not top priority on the list of common sense actions you can take to achieve your goals. The tasks you’re (supposed to be) scheduling are.

The same way writing a to-do list doesn’t mean that you’re getting things done, buying a planner doesn’t make you disciplined.

Being disciplined with your goals and planning process means thinking of your planner as a system, not a notebook.

This right here is the Holy Grail of planner advice.

Your paper planner (and your digital one, too) is more than just a notebook — it’s a system, and the sooner you think of it as such, the sooner you’ll find your goals being accomplished.

Systemizing your planner means:

  • Using the right planner for your needs
  • Incorporating that planner into your daily routine
  • Ensuring it contains all the relevant details
  • Setting up reminders for yourself

Let’s dive deeper into each one.

Use the right planner for your needs.

There are literally thousands of planners you can choose from, and a plethora of different planner styles that exist. Understanding those options and choosing the one that works best for your needs is the first step in cultivating some planner discipline. You can’t be expected to thrive in a system that isn’t set up to see you win.

Consider things like

  • What you’ll be using your planner for — Is this your work planner? The one to wrangle your household chores and responsibilities? An editorial calendar? A personal goal setting planner? Some combination of these? Knowing what you want to use your planner for will help to inform what elements your planner needs.
  • Where you fall on the “visual” vs “efficient” spectrum — I always say there are two types of planner people. There is the “Washi Tribe” who gets off on stickers, color coding, washi tape and doodles, and the “Minimalist Tribe” who just want a place to take notes and keep dates. I love bullet journals because they offer me the ability to add literally ANYTHING I CAN POSSIBLY THINK OF into my planner. However, my bujo is a personal thing that I use for my goals and personal development. I find that when I am trying to track my projects for work or side hustling, I don’t have the patience to physically DIY my planner pages.
  • Your weekly layout — Would you rather an hourly breakdown of your time so that you can pay special attention to your daily schedule, or does it make more sense to go the “Three Boxes” route, so that you can group your tasks somehow (Morning, Mid-Day and Night vs Social, Paid Content, and Freebies)
  • How much money you want to spend — Planners can be pretty pricey. I don’t want to tell on myself, but not everyone has $50 dollars to blow on a paper planner. Finding the perfect planner only to note that it is WAY out of your price range is lame sauce.

Incorporate your planner into your daily routine.

This should go without saying, but it doesn’t. You have to actually use your planner if you want it to be effective. And you really ought to use it every. single. day. This is really where the discipline element comes in. Discipline is the difference between having a planner and using a planner.

The entire purpose of a planner is to keep all those tiny little details that fall through the cracks of life in one place so that you can find them easily. It doesn’t make sense to lay out your week, prioritize your tasks, set up your to do list, and then …. never look at the planner again until it’s time to do next week.

I make it a point to schedule time every Sunday to plan out the next week and reflect on the previous one. This weekly catch up time helps keep me focused on how closely my actions are lining up with my goals. In addition to planning out each week, the first thing I do at the start of the day is to check my planner for what I have going on. Starting my day in my planner helps me to dress appropriately for my tasks (don’t wear six inch heels on days where I’ll be running across Manhattan for various meetings), not bite off more than I can chew in a day (no, I cannot actually link up for lunch because I already planned to draft content on my break), and to focus my mind on productivity first thing in the morning (instead of jealously stalking people on IG).

Ensure you’ve got all the relevant details in your planner.

If you’ve done the due diligence to determine what your planner will be used for (personal, professional, content, home planning, etc) you’ll have a better idea of which details will be relevant to you.

A planner that doesn’t display all your appointments, due dates, follow ups, and general tasks won’t help you get things done and it won’t keep you disciplined. Actually recording your relevant details consistently and honestly is a major step toward planner discipline.

Set up reminders for yourself.

In 2017 a vast majority of us are living our lives digitally. This is one of the only downsides to paper planners. However, knowing this beforehand can really help you implement procedures to keep yourself reminded of the tasks you’ve set yourself.

This could be as simple as actually checking your planner on a daily basis (we talked about this already — the discipline of a planning process comes from being vigilant about checking what’s in the planner and executing accordingly.) or as complex as digital calendar notifications, or timed reminders in an alternate program like Evernote.

So, to recap:

  • Before you buy a planner for 2018, be sure to check your discipline as it pertains to your planning process. If you can’t be disciplined with your planner, chances are, you won’t be disciplined with the goals you’re tracking either.
  • Planner discipline means using your planner in a way that is consistent, relevant, and rewarding.
  • Think of your planner as a system and not a notebook.

Bethany Smith

Written by

Black Girl Magic Wielder on a mission to be happy + get things done ... [Avid Reader. Dream Chaser. Action Taker]

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade