When it comes to planning, I tend to go with one method for a few months, change to something else, stick with it for a while, change back, and so on.
Until very recently, I honestly believed a perfect system for me existed and I just hadn’t found it yet. And then I realised something. There is no perfect system. There is only the perfect system for right now and my requirements change. And guess what? This is actually alright! In fact, it’s a good thing. Being able to switch up how I manage planning and productivity is an exercise in adaptability and it also encourages me to think regularly about what works, what doesn’t and what I genuinely need rather than what I think I should be doing.
Why one-system-forever doesn’t suit me
I’ve learned over the years that I easily fall into the trap of allowing planning to become an obligation. I get stressed when I monitor too much. Yes, I love keeping track of daily habits like meditation and yoga, as well as other things I do regularly, like housework. But I run into problems when I’m not physically able to manage yoga or housework. On days when I literally cannot sit up and I’m struggling to breathe because I don’t have the energy, I should absolutely not be feeling anxious about ticking boxes in my planner.
Paper planning often pushes me to that place, so when I find myself there I turn to digital planning. Digital planning is great – it’s flexible, adaptable and easy – but it’s not without its problems. My computer is a creative tool. It’s what I use for writing and processing photos. It’s what I use for blogging, social media and online volunteering. My phone even sort of falls into the category of creative tool as well. Both my computer and my phone are recreational tools as well, where I play games, browse the internet, listen to music and read blogs and books. When all my productivity stuff lives in both those places too, I find it really hard to switch out of do-all-the-things mode and into shut-out-the-world-and-write mode or chill-out mode. This wouldn’t be such an issue if I wasn’t already horrible at relaxing, but I am, so it’s an issue.
My pre-planning process
So both options kind of work and neither totally works. Combining the two is good for me, or at least it can be if I don’t end up repeating things across two different systems, which I’ve ended up doing entirely by accident in the past. I’ve been using a completely digital system for the last few months and had been feeling like maybe I want to go back to paper for some things, so I sat myself down and did some honest, realistic thinking about what I needed and how I could make it happen. I’m going to share that process with you because reading about other people’s pre-planning processes had really helped me figure out my own.
I need to…not feel constrained by a bound notebook.
I get it by…using my Filofax Clipbook as a bullet journal. I love dot grid paper so I printed my own at home. Yes, it’s a pain having to cut and punch the pages, but it’s so incredibly cheap compared to buying pre-printed and punched A5 paper, and I can tear out and add in pages as and when I want to.
I need to…not repeat things across systems.
I get it by…continuing to use Google Calendar for appointments and events so I can sync those across my phone and computer, and share calendars with my husband. I’m also still using Google Keep for tracking spending and keeping shopping lists, again for ease of syncing and portability, and for sharing. I still use the Fitbit app to track detailed health stuff, although I have a tick box tracker for yoga in my bullet journal (and I will NOT let it become a stick to beat myself with when I’m too ill to move!)
I need to…not repeat things within the same system.
I get it by…not having a future log, monthly spreads, weekly spreads and daily spreads in my bullet journal. I have a page-per-month future log so I’m not squishing tonnes of stuff into half a page and everything from there goes into weekly spreads with plenty of space to add tasks, events and appointments each day. My current weekly spread begins with a goal, focus or mantra for the week, a tick box tracker for yoga and meditation, a gratitude log and a page for notes. Because I’m still using Google Calendar, I don’t have the same need to be able to see an entire month at a glance as I did when I was paper-only.
My bullet journal is currently super minimal. If I get too deep into decorating it and making fancy spreads, I lose functionality. I know that isn’t the same for everyone, but it’s definitely an issue for me and it’s one I want to avoid. I’m using it mostly as an extended to-do list so it isn’t filled with collections as it’s more useful for me to have access to that stuff digitally with OneNote.
Yes, my system is likely to change again, evolve more and alter to fit my needs as time passes. No, this is not a problem. I’m sure at some point in the future I’ll go back to using Todoist for my tasks for a while because it’s fab. But right now, what I’m doing works for me.
And that’s the point. The perfect planning system is the one that works for you, now.