Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the planner world has completely exploded in the last couple of years. Growing up, I remember planners being very basic. They were simply calendars that you wrote down appointments and reminders in. Stalwart brands like DayRunner and At-A-Glance ruled the roost. Now, planners have evolved from utilitarian tools to fodder for hobbyists. There’s really a solution for everyone, and it’s amazing.
I’m a planner nerd, and I realize I’ve always been that way. I’ve been making lists since I was old enough to hold a pen. However, I am learning that not everyone is wired that way. Planning does not come naturally to everyone. I get a bit overwhelmed with all the choices available on the market, so I know that newbie planners do.
Below, I’ll share with you the main components you should consider when purchasing a planner, and share my thought process for purchasing my main planner.
The number one most important question you must ask yourself when buying a planner is “What will I use this for?” Most people get overwhelmed in the planner shopping process because they don’t have a purpose guiding their choices. Do you want to keep up with your schedule? Track to-dos? Set goals? Are you managing just yourself or your family? Is this for work or home? Do you want it to be purely functional or a decorative outlet? Understanding what you want to get out of your planner will drive everything from the layout to the features you choose. (For more information on different possible uses for planners, check out my post, Planning for Success: 5 Types of Planning To Get Your Life on Track.)
Chaffron’s Catch-all Planner Purpose – My main planner will be my catch-all planner for everything that is not work-related. I will use my planner to manage my personal schedule, household to-dos, meal plan, set reminders, and keep up with my family’s schedule. I need to do this on at least a weekly basis. If I am able to decorate it, I am more apt to use it.
Medium – Type of Planner
Planners come in many shapes or forms (including digital). For the purpose of this article, let’s focus on paper planners.
This is your not-so-standard, not-always-run-of-the-mill agenda. Planners come with some sort of with a built-in structure, usually delineated by time increments (hourly, daily, monthly, annually). Planners have come a long way from appointment books with lines for each day and mini calendars for the month. They now can include anything from to-do boxes to built-in water trackers.
Bullet journals, or bujos, are an open slate of possibilities. They start as unformatted books, usually with dot grid or blank paper. You decide what layouts or “spreads” you want to include. In a standard bullet journal, the user will create an index and a key of symbols for functionality and tracking tasks and goals. Bujo users will also create monthly summary pages.
Bullet journals offer an amazing opportunity for simplicity and creativity if you are willing to be responsible for your own templates. I recommend them for people who either prefer a no-frills task list approach to planning, or those on the polar opposite end of the spectrum, who like art, mixed media, and hand-lettering.
Recommendations: The Paper Studio, The Artist Loft, Moleskin, Leuchtturm
Traveler’s notebooks generally consist of a leather shell with an elastic band around the spine, to which you can attach specialized notebooks and other inserts. The variety of inserts spans from calendars to blank notebooks, to even envelopes and credit card pockets.
Traveler’s notebooks are popular for those who want flexibility, portability, and those who want a compact way to compartmentalize their lives. The main drawbacks I see is that they are seemingly hard to find in stores and can be tedious to expand.
Chaffron’s Choice: I need at least a little bit of built-in structure, so an agenda-style planner is better for me.
Planners come in a wide variety of page sizes. Here a few of the most common ones:
Large – Letter, A4
Medium – A5, Half-letter, B6, 7×9, HP Classic
Small – Mini, Personal
Small size planners are the best for portability, succinct notes, and for people who don’t have a lot to record. Medium-sized planners are common and can offer the same portability of small planners with a bit more writing space. Large-sized planners offer the most space, but can be cumbersome for some.
Chaffron’s Choice: My planner must serve many purposes at one. I have big handwriting, like to decorate my planner, and I often store printed material in my planner. It will be used at home almost exclusively, so portability is not a factor. A letter-sized catch-all planner will best fit my needs.
Believe it or not, the way your planner is bound absolutely matters. Binding affects how you use your planner, its comfort, and its durability.
Wire/Twin Loop Planners
Think old-school spiral notebook. Wire-bound planners may have single or twin loops. These planners are fairly durable in that you don’t have to worry about pages falling out. The spiral world has leveled up a bit and started offering some accessories (like covers and bookmarks), but there is little to no customization possible. You can fold it all the way back to work one page at a time, but the spine can also get in the way when writing.
Ring-bound planners are basically binders. They can be punched in several different hole configurations (2-,4-,6-hole, etc.) so one size does not fit all. Depending on the size, there is a growing market for printables to customize ring-bound planners. These planners also tend to have a good variety of accessories, such as beautiful deluxe covers, drop in pencil cases, and more. Ring planners are also relatively durable, but can face the same issues as their 3-ring counterparts – if you jack up your rings, party over. The rings themselves can get in the way when writing in the planner, but you can always remove the pages to write, and put them back in.
Disc binding is a relative newcomer to the planner field, but has exploded in popularity over the last several years. Disc-bound planners allow you the fold back the ability of spiral planners and the customizable nature of rings. You can also remove the pages to write and add them back. Unlike wires and rings, you can also expand the size of the planner by adding larger discs. One more pro for discs is that you can use multiple sizes of inserts on one set of discs.
Some people experience issues with lower quality discs breaking, but for the most part, they are fairly durable. The disc system is completely customizable, but it does require a special punch.
Book binding is exactly what it sounds like. Compact and durable, this is a great option for the no-nonsense planner. They also tend to have a certain “luxurious” feel to them. They feel good and look very professional. Book bound planners are not customizable, though, and if they aren’t made to lay flat, writing can be a bit uncomfortable.
The term “coil-bound” is often tossed around to refer to several varieties of spiral notebooks. For this discussion, I will use the term to refer to plastic coils. Coil bound planners are not as common in the commercially available planner market. These are usually more suited for DIYers and those who may be getting their planners printed at the office supply store. They do lay flat and lean back, but the coils tend not to be as durable as wire binding. Also, if you are DIY-ing your planner, you would need to make sure a coil binding machine would really be worth the investment.
What if your planning system consists mainly of to-do lists? Paper will do just fine. You could easily get a desk pad, either pre-printed as a planner or blank, fill it out, cross stuff off and toss the sheet at the end of the day or week. No judgement.
Chaffron’s Choice – I love the ability to add and remove pages. I also like the option to expand my planner as it grows and add my on-the-go notes to my main planner. Discs are the way to go for me.
As mentioned with some of the parameters above, customization is a growing option for planners. So many people don’t plan or abandon systems once they start because they can’t find anything that serves the purpose they are looking for. Also, life is fluid. Sometimes your life looks totally different in June than it did in January, and you need to adapt. Customizable planner systems allow for this flexibility. You can either buy these as true systems, or build a planner with some of the thousands of inserts available for ring and disc binding.
The drawback of customizable planners is the room for distraction and inefficiency, not to mention budget creep. If you aren’t careful, you will spend way too much time and money grasping at every new sparkly accessory or printable you see. A planner that is not customizable can help you focus on the matter at hand and maintain the functionality of your planner.
Chaffron’s Choice: I absolutely must have a customizable planner. My life is so fluid that I have to make adjustments throughout the year.
Once you have decided on the guts of you planner, you can search for colors, motifs, and materials that strike your personal style. Also, again, considering the purpose and functionality of your planner, you may want to consider what kind of accessories are available for your planner. It can be disappointing to invest in a system only to find that you can’t get the cover or bookmarks or other add-ons you want.
Chaffron’s Choice: I am a sucker for black & white and bright colors. My style is sophisticated, yet fun. I also have be mindful of my propensity to decorate.
Here is my catch-all planner for 2021:
I’ve been in the Happy Planner system for my catch-all planners for the past three years. I bought this 18-month planner last year because it looked clean and sophisticated on the outside, and was neutral enough on the inside to not limit my decorating options. I also keep this planner cloacked in a nice faux leather deluxe cover. In addition to this planner, I also have a classic sized desk pad to brain dump with and I carry a mini or micro Happy Notes in my purse at all times. I am able to take the notes from those notebooks and dump it in my Big Happy Planner as needed.
*Bonus: My husband has Arc notebooks, so we can swap pages with each other as needed.
Final Planner Picking Tips
- Have patience. Start looking about a month before you actually need a new planner. This will give you a chance to see what’s available, get advice, even go flip through them, if you so desire. No pressure, no regret.
- Buy your first planner cheap. Planners can get very costly. It kinda sucks to buy an expensive planner or invest in a big system only to find that it’s totally wrong for you after a month or two. If you’re new to the planner world and still figuring it out, get the cheapest version of the the features you think you want and try them out. You can even consider just buying inserts and printables to test drive at first.
- Don’t compare. At the end of the day, the most important thing to do is make sure the system works for YOU. It’s easy to get lost in the sea of planners available, or want to get the cute one your friend has, but if it isn’t helping you become more efficient, it isn’t helping you.
Here’s to finding peace in your plans this year!
Have you chosen your planner yet? Are you having trouble finding a planner? Let us know in the comments below!