20 years into my career, I have long been on the quest for the best planner. I rocked the student planner starting in my elementary school days and never looked back. Granted, I had a few perfectionist years where my daily planners sat a little too untouched, because I was fearful of messing them up. Can anyone else relate?! Also, don’t do that! The point of a planner is to use it! In my slightly less perfectionist age, I instead have multiple half-completed productivity planners littered with notes. 😳
As I look at what makes the best planner for working moms, busy professionals, managers, leaders, and those that aspire to be, my criteria comes down to this:
The best planner for you is the one you will actually use!
I know, it’s revolutionary. And it begs the question, do you know what the features are in a planner that you will actually use?
In this article, we’ll cover the 10 most important questions to ask when considering the best productivity planner for you.
Key questions and considerations when choosing the best productivity planner for you
Should you use one planner, two planners, or multiple planners?
I am a firm believer in a one planner system. That said, the one planner is the brain of a much larger ecosystem of planning elements. In addition to my one, singular, printed, hard copy, paper planner, I also use digital calendars (both Outlook and Google!), as well as robust corporate project management systems.
The planner isn’t the place for absolutely everything I need to remember or keep track of for every single area of life, but it’s a way to keep my focus and keep me on track with my priorities.
For example, last week I had a top task for the week to write a proposal for a new client project. My planner simply listed “Write proposal for new client project” under my weekly priorities. I’ve got notes and more details in my working files in Google Drive. When I’m working with project teams, I’m a huge fan of Asana and Smartsheet.
Do you want a goal planner, a weekly planner, or a daily planner?
A goal planner is just that – it tracks your goals, usually with weekly or monthly check-ins. These are not daily planners with to-do lists, calendar management, etc. Powersheets is a perfect example of a yearly goal planner. In 2020 the Powersheets team added a monthly calendar, but Powersheets are not the place to track your daily priorities and to-do list.
Some planners, like the Passion Planner, incorporate both goal planning and weekly or daily planning. Others, like The Full Focus Planner include a place for you to list your goals, but don’t give guidance on determining what your goals should be in the first place.
Do you want a dated or undated planner?
The advantage of a dated planner is that the dates are listed for you. You literally open and go. For many personalities, this can save time, and make it easier to stick to actually using the planner.
For others a dated planner can quickly become a shame trigger as you look at the blank pages where you got off track and didn’t actually use the planner. (*cough cough* I’ve never done this myself).
Do you want a highly structured planner? Loosely structured? Or totally free form?
Similarly, some planners are highly structured and are truly fill-in-the-blanks, like the High Performance Planner. (I really want to like this, but it’s simply too much for the way my brain works. But if you love guided questions and fill-in-the-blank, it may be a perfect planner for you!)
Is your planner about getting more done and tracking tasks, or is it really about your mindset and making sure you focus on the right things? Some planners have much more introspection and questions about whys and hows and feelings. Others are strictly logical, task-based.
There’s no right or wrong, but it’s good to know what your personality needs.
Read More: Manage your energy, not your time.
Do you want a printed planner, printable planner, or a digital planner?
Planners come in as many formats as they do styles. Do you want an in-your-hands, printed and bound planner? Or do you want to be able to print just the pages you need when you need them? Or would you rather keep it all on the screen and accessible on your phone or computer?
Do you want a quarterly planner or an annual planner?
Many daily planners are 90 day planners (aka quarterly planners), based simply on the sheer size of an annual planner. I love quarterly planners because they give you a fresh start every 13 weeks. I need that! (See my comment on the graveyard of half-filled out planners). The only downside is the cost of buying four planners per year. 😳
What is your price sensitivity? How much are you willing to pay for a planner?
The cost of planners varies widely. Printed, fully-done-for-you daily quarterly planners tend to be the most expensive. Price often correlates to quality, but not always. I think some planner creators simply pick a price out of thin air. But, they have markets and people continue to buy them, so it clearly works!
What do you want the cover to look like?
Many planners marketed toward women, working moms or just moms in general tend to have frilly, girly, bright, and colorful covers. As someone who works in a corporate environment, being taken seriously as a female leader is important. Any planner or notebook with a floral or girly-looking cover is automatically ruled out. That said, I know it’s a huge draw for many of you!
What type of binding do you want?
Book bound, coil bound, disc bound, free and loose papers all over the place. Which is best for you?!
- Book bound frequently looks nice and professional, but might not lay flat as easy as you like.
- Coil-bound planners give all sorts of flexibility in laying flat and folding back on itself, but coils can get bent.
- Disc bound is phenomenal for the ability to update pages as you go, but also allow you the possibility to update as you go.
- Free and loose papers can be. a great way to keep just what you need and immediately file the rest, but can also get lost in the shufle much easier. I love these file jacket sleeves for keeping loose papers handy.
Do you want a DIY planner or a productivity planner that’s open and go?
While all the planners I list below are fantastic, none of them are quite the just-right Goldilocks of planners for me. Most open-and-go planners are going to have something you don’t absolutely love, and that’s okay. The ease of open-and-go is often well worth it to avoid the decision fatigue that goes with piecing together your own planner.
A DIY planner option can give you exactly what you want, but is a whole lot more work up front. A few DIY planner examples are the Bullet Journal or any of a myriad of Canva templates, printables (free and paid) and more.
By asking yourself these 10 questions, you’re well on your way to picking the best productivity planner to take all the swirl out of your brain and get things done! Good luck!