I’ve never been a huge planner person.
That doesn’t mean I’m not a stickler for to-do lists, or that I don’t use a planner at all; I just never really cared for them.
So when I opened my Christmas gift from my boss and found a beautiful, leather-bound daily planner that definitely didn’t come cheap, I was excited, but also felt a bit guilty, anticipating that the diary would face the same fate as my mostly-empty previous planners.
But, just 20 days into 2021, I’ve been pleasantly surprised; it’s already completely changed my productivity, boosted my mental health, and ultimately, my job satisfaction.
Making the most of the planner’s features
Like all daily dairies, The Organised Life planner has a fully lined page per day for each day of 2021.
But the beginning of every month is also introduced by a calendar-style table that lets you mark out important dates like birthdays, anniversaries or holidays, with some added space at the bottom to outline your goals for the month.
More importantly, planner planner has additional pages that helps you track things like budgeting, gratitude, long-term goals and even your favourite moments from the year.
I always held a little bit of cynicism towards these pages, not thinking they would be of any real help – but I gave it a crack, using the 2021 goals pages to outline some intentions for my work, personal life, finances and health.
What I realised is that it doesn’t actually matter if I hit the goals. Just setting them out on paper in a book that I would carry with me all year round made me feel more prepared for the year. Filling out the monthly budget tracker pages also made me more conscious of just how many expenses I had (and how much I spend on food!).
But before I describe how it changed the way I organised my day, here’s exactly why your personal workflow matters.
The science behind preparedness
I’m not pretending that a fancy new planner has suddenly fixed all my problems. But it has made a notable difference to my mindset and how I feel about my job, which takes up the better part of my day, five days a week.
Staying on track with everything has made me more efficient. This makes sense: studies have shown that multitasking, or task-switching, can actually kill up to 40 per cent of your productivity.
There’s also a certain pleasure – literally pleasure – in ticking things off your to-do list. Every time you experience even a small amount of success, your brain gets a little dopamine hit, and this is connected to learning and motivation.
Your brain gets eager for the next hit, and also learns that repeating the same action gets you that feeling. Ticking something off effectively becomes its own reward.
Streamlining a messy 2020 process
I’m not proud of my personal workflow process during 2020, which in hindsight was not only a major headache, but simply inefficient.
My system in 2020 involved Google Calendar and three notebooks:
My $6 Kmart weekly planner, for upcoming social events, appointments, errands or important deadlines;
A separate (albeit beautiful) checkered notebook for my daily to-do list; and
Yet another separate notebook for important meeting notes (which I never cracked open again until my next major meeting).
How the planner has changed how I work
The daily planner helped me consolidate my barely-used weekly planner and my to-do list notebook into one. My work tasks and personal appointments, from gym classes to running errands, now live in the same place, letting me truly see my whole day on one page.
Anything on my list that I missed from the day before would be transferred to the next day, and so on until every item eventually had a ticked box next to it.
But I didn’t ditch my checkered notebook, which had seen me through all of the dumpster-fire year that was 2020.
Instead, I transformed it into my ‘weekly priorities’ list. This helps me see, in a glance, what medium- and long-term projects I need to keep hacking away at, which would have otherwise gotten lost in the daily lists.
I now record my ‘meeting notes’ in this same notebook, again allowing me to keep everything important in one place.
My clunky, chaotic three-notebook system has slimmed to two. It seems like just a small change, but I was amazed above all at how the change made me feel.
Every item on my list that got ticked off was a mini fist-pump. Even though I hadn’t actually achieved anything more than what I’d already intended to for the day, I knew I was on track and on top of everything. I felt more organised and more in control as a result.
That led me to feel more positive about the next day – and about work as a whole. It was a new, refreshing feeling after having fallen into a months-long funk triggered by lockdown.
So the next time someone recommends a productivity ‘hack’, give it a go – you might surprise yourself with the difference that a few shortcuts or some extra planning can make.