At the risk of sounding like a total nerd, I love planning. From planning sessions to colour-coding, time blocking to batch working, I’m a productivity junkie. I love it so much that in 2015 I was so into planning in my Erin Condren Life Planner that I started making my own planner supplies and selling them on Etsy.
Since leaving the corporate world, I’ve shifted to using an electronic planner to plan each week’s activities. It keeps me focused on the most important priorities, helps me track my hours, and adds structure to the crazy world of entrepreneurship. It also lets me manage my hour-by-hour schedule in a way that a physical planner couldn’t. Also, it’s free, which is a selling point when you’re used to buying expensive planners every year.
But what’s the best way to use an electronic planner? Where do you even start? And how do you make the most of it to achieve your goals? Today, I’ll be sharing my top tips for using an electronic planner successfully.
Choose Your Electronic Planner
While there are many options available, I use Apple Calendar which came free on my Macbook. It’s intuitive, has a clean interface, and is easy to use. I also love how I can access it whether or not I have an internet connection!
I’d also recommend Google Calendar if you’re looking for a web-based option. It integrates beautifully with Gmail and other Google apps, and I know many people that love it.
For information on electronic calendar options and their pros and cons, check out this great article from Zapier.
Decide on Its Scope and Set Up Sections
The next step in planning with an electronic planner or calendar is to figure out what you’ll be using it for. Is it a personal planner simply for appointments and personal plans? Are you using it for both work and your personal life? Are there different parts of your personal or business life you’ll be using it for?
If you’ve chosen to track or plan multiple projects or parts of your life, you may want to separate them. To do this, set up different sections or “calendars” (with different colours!) within your electronic planner. For example, as you can see below, I use 7 different calendars:
- Kate Lauren Design (anything related to my Etsy shop, orange since that’s Etsy’s brand colour!)
- Personal (plans with family and friends)
- Holidays (including birthdays and anniversaries)
- Beyond the Safe Harbor (anything blog-related, blue since it’s one of my brand colours)
- Out of Office (appointments, errands, and trips, and in red since it’s most vibrant and reminds me when I have plans outside the house)
- Business Management (processing expenses, taxes)
- Wedding (wedding planning, meetings with vendors, events)
This makes it easy for me to either only look at plans in a specific area (by unchecking the boxes for the other calendars) or to get a quick sense visually of how my time is split out. For example, if I see I have a lot of orange (Etsy) time blocked in a given week, maybe I’ll pare back on it the next week to give myself more blogging time.
Get Clear on Your Objectives
Next, figure out what your goals are with respect to planning. Is it to make sure every day you’re working towards your goals? Is it to help you prioritize tasks and then execute on them? Is it to hold yourself accountable? What role do habits play – are you looking to systematize them too? Are you looking to track your hours or time spent on different work?
Use the answers to those questions to guide how you use your planner. If you’re trying to create new habits, make sure to block regular time in your calendar to work towards them. If you’re looking to track your hours, be mindful of adjusting your start and end times for different tasks so that they reflect your actual time.
My main objective is to maximize my productivity and keep myself focused on the most important tasks. By blocking things in ahead of time, I’m empowered to spend my time as wisely as possible.
While there are a ton of different ways to plan, here are some methods I’ve found to be successful.
Set a weekly ritual
Block time in your calendar, once a week, to plan the week ahead. For me, it’s Friday afternoons. I block a one-hour time slot that reoccurs, so that I never have to think about it. Once Friday afternoon hits, I do my planning. This means Monday mornings start with complete clarity on how I’d like the week to unfold.
Slot in any knowns
Whatever plans, commitments, or appointments you’re aware of, slot those in first. Then, you’ll be left with a realistic framework for what time is left.
Insert time blocks for key priorities…
Blocking strategic time slots for key priorities is a great way to stay on track and better your chances of accomplishing things. Make sure you block enough time for each task and include details to make the work go quicker.
With my week’s goals in mind, I block time in my calendar to achieve each goal. For example, if I want to write 3 blog posts every week, I create 3 time slots titled “Blog Post Writing” and slot them in during my most productive time (morning). I also write in what post topic I’m writing about each day. This saves me time since I don’t have to check my editorial calendar every morning to determine what I’m writing about.
…and other tasks
Next, slot in other work or tasks. These would be things you either have to do regularly, or simply have to carve out some time for. For me, some examples are administrative work for my Etsy shop, and wedding planning.
By slotting in this time, I make sure it doesn’t get forgotten. It also encourages me to work in batches since I’ve blocked time for a specific priority. Before doing this, I’d find myself working on a few small wedding-related things throughout the day, taking more time than if I had just sat down for 30 minutes and gotten a bunch done at once.
Don’t forget flex time
I’m not sure about you, but having a week rammed with work and activities can feel overwhelming. To alleviate this and leave room for unexpected tasks and creative time, I typically fill Monday to Wednesday with a pretty rigorous schedule and leave Thursday and Friday more option. By front-loading my week, I typically achieve my goals by the end of the day Wednesday and can spend the last two days working on additional tasks that have come up during the week. And if something comes up early in the week that forces tasks to be pushed out, I have the flexibility to do so.
Start Working and Update As You Go
Once Monday morning comes, you’re ready to go, following the plans you’ve made. How nice is it to know exactly what you should be focusing on every day? Pretty great, if you ask me!
As you go through each day, update your planner as needed. For example, I edit start and end times of tasks so that I can track my hours. I also move tasks around to reflect my actual work. If I end up finishing tasks early on Monday and bring forward a few from Tuesday, I make sure to reflect that in my planner so that I can then replan Tuesday’s activities. This gives me a good understanding of what’s left to do and lets me easily move things around to match my schedule and available time.
Another thing I recommend is checking in once a week, at your weekly planning session, to see how things are going. Look at the previous week and determine what worked and what didn’t. Do you notice that you were more productive during certain times of day? What types of projects and tasks took longer than you had anticipated? Which ones took less time? Use this knowledge to shape how you plan moving forward.
There you have it – the best way to use an electronic planner. If you try these tips, let me know how it goes! Do you have any additional tips or hacks on making planning go smoothly? Leave a comment and let us know.
P.S. Check out my post Better Time Management: How to Make Over Your Routine for more helpful tips.