Hello! I’m really excited to launch a new series of organizational life-tip posts that I’ve had in the works for a while. And where better to start than the queen of all organizational topics: a planner review?! You might recognize this beauty from my Birthday Wish List. I got a lot of questions about why I like it and how I use it, so here you go, friends. This is my review and how-to for the To-Do List Planner!
Do I really even need to get into why a physical, paper planner is superior to any kind of screen calendaring? When it comes to overwhelm, there is nothing quite like putting pen to paper and getting things out of my head and onto a physical page to calm, focus, and motivate me. Plus there are so many beautiful options out there, and don’t we all spend enough time on computers and phones already? Holding a planner in my hands and looking at my hand-written calendar and to-do list all laid out in ink is one of those old-school pleasures that doesn’t get old.
Now that that’s out of the way, I know I’m not alone when I say that for most of my life I have been on a chronic quest for the right planner for my life. I know this, because there are enough reviews, unpacking videos, planner comparisons, and how-I-use-it posts out there to keep you busy for weeks. There’s a reason for this, though. The process of how each person keeps track of their life is very personal. (For example, I don’t do washi tape, colorful pens, or fancy doodle art. But you do you.) So that being said, this is my personal story of how I FINALLY found the right planner for me, why it’s amazing, and how I use it.
Why Do I Love the To-Do List Planner?
After years of buying and trying most of the high-quality, thoughtful planners on the market, I can tell you that I think I’ve finally found my planner soulmate. Enter the To-Do List Planner, and all the angel choirs are singing. The primary reason? The combination of structure and flexibility. On the one hand, there’s a reason you buy a planner instead of a plain old notebook. You want someone else to figure out a system to help you keep your life in check. But at the same time, you need space and freedom to tailor it to your personal quirks, needs, and life. This is what I didn’t even know I needed until I found this to-do list planner.
Allow me to illustrate. The primary reason to create any kind of to-do list is, of course, to get everything written down somewhere as you think of it so you don’t forget, right? But the problem is, with most planners, you’re going to have to find a place to write each to-do down, and that’s going to have to be on a specific day. I only use my planner for personal, non-work items, so clearly I’m not going to get #allthethings done that day. But since I really had no other option before, I would just write down everything I thought of on Monday, and then do the daily shame re-copying dance of all the undone to-dos on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. This was a completely demoralizing exercise that caused me to lose all accountability to my to-do list. That kind of defeats the purpose of having a planner, because it really can’t help if you don’t actually do what you wrote down. And you are not to allow your planner to become a source of guilt, people. Life is hard enough. Get off the shame train and remember this thing is not your boss. It works for you.
But I’ve digressed. Thankfully, someone solved this problem. And that someone is Ashley Staum. Enter the monthly three-column page and the “weekly list!” This strikes the perfect balance between giving me a space to dump every idea of everything I need to get done eventually while still keeping me accountable to some sort of time frame for completion. Plus there are blank pages for each month, monthly goal-setting pages, and a bunch of other awesome things I’m about to tell you about.
Here’s What it Looks Like and How I Use It.
Let’s start at the beginning and walk through this thing. The welcome letter at the beginning actually says a lot of what I said about space, structure, and flexibility.
Then, there are several yearly goal-planning pages where you can look at the big picture of what you want to focus on in the next year. There’s also a page for dates that come up for the next year after the end of the planner, and then lots of blank lined pages in the beginning of the planner. I really appreciate having these in the front, and I use them for all kinds of things. One example is a chart of all the trips we have coming up with boxes to check off when we book/plan transportation, somewhere to stay, and what to do with Pippa. That helps me keep chugging on the planning ahead so trips don’t sneak up on me. Other things include drafts of my 30 before 30 list, a list of nooks and crannies in our apartment to clean out this year, travel bucket lists, people not to forget to call, party-planning to-do lists, etc.
Then we get into the meat of the monthly pages. The navy tabbed monthly dividers are a good start.
Then you have monthly goal-setting worksheets that include planning for three focus goals for the month and space to break down the steps to get there. Honestly, I usually don’t use this because I’m not Super Woman. But then there’s an open page for each month with three columns. This is where I brainstorm at the beginning of each month and dump every single item that I would like to get done sometime. If I have to copy it down again the next month, so be it, but doing that monthly is a heck of a lot better than daily. I label these columns as the following three categories: “practical” (things like order new photo for gallery wall and clean out gmail), “personal” (things like finalize family mission statement), and “outward” (as in call Haley or set up time to have dinner with so-and-so). This is my catch-all for every idea I might have.
Then of course, this is pretty self-explanatory, as I write down all our appointments and plans in this calendar, duh. But I also keep ideas for my monthly goal lists in the column on the right, and I will often write these on upcoming months as ideas strike me that I know there just isn’t time for on the current month. (These monthly goals are usually for purely fun or edifying seasonal projects, suitable for inspiration for me and others on the blog, which is what distinguishes them from the three columns on the monthly goal-setting page. This neurosis runs deep.)
Look at the generous real estate that weekly list gets! If you don’t have room for all the stuff you want to complete in the week, you’re doing too much!
Ok here’s the main event. The weekly spreads I live on. At the beginning of each week, I fill in any appointments or work-out plans for before work in the little boxes at the top of each day (yes, I have the occasional 7:00am hair or dentist appointment because this is DC). Then I fill in after-work plans and what’s for dinner in the boxes at the bottom of each day. Then everything I want to do that week gets dumped into the almighty “weekly list,” which is also where I dump things I think of throughout the week. This is drawn from leftovers from the previous week, the three columns of the monthly list, and my brain. Then each morning, I transfer just a few manageable tasks for the day into “the priorities.” This helps me tackle the weekly list little by little each day in an amount I can actually do. “The Daily List” could also be used for this purpose, but I usually use it to list things I’m grateful for or to make a plan of attack for the order in which I’m going to tackle things after work. (Yes, I’m crazy.) The “Reflections and Gratitude” section is where I keep track of life highlights and what cool and different exciting things are on my radar for the week. This is where Friday Favorites are born!
But wait, there’s more. In the back of each month, there are three blank lined pages with the month written on them. I love these. I usually use one for blog post ideas for the month, one for a list of gifts and cards we need to send for weddings, birthdays, and babies, and one for prayer requests. It’s golden to have this space. I can’t overemphasize this. I love that they are dispersed within each month and not just dumped at the back completely undated and where you can’t find what you’re looking for.
Other Functional and Aesthetic Features
Also, these things are really well made. There are four cute patterns, but I chose the pink gingham, because Reese made it cool again. As an extra surprise, how cute is it to have your name embossed on it in gold foil?? I didn’t even know mine was going to arrive with my name on it, and it made my day! I also love that all the printing is in a beautiful navy, which is easy on the eyes and the perfect preppy companion to the pink gingham.
Pro tip: I also tied this ribbon onto the coil to use as a bookmark.
Annnd there’s also a two-sided pocket page at the back.
The planner comes in hard or soft cover, weekly or daily, and standard or appointment, so you have a lot of options. This one is a hardcover weekly standard, but check out the other versions to see if they better suit your life. Also, another extremely thoughtful feature: you can download the online pdf and have it bound at FedEx, which is a great way to try it out until January! That’s what I did (see it here) when I discovered the To-Do List Planner, and I’ve been using it since July without even having the real McCoy. It’s the exact same thing as the full planner, just not quite as cute. 🙂 I can’t wait to be legit in January!
Finally, Ashley was sweet enough to send me this new 2017 planner, but full disclosure, I reached out to her because I love this thing so much and wanted to share it with you!
Any questions? Let me know in the comments!