I don't know about you, but I'm a paper planner person.
I've never mastered the calendar on my phone or computer, and find the pop-ups and pings frankly a little distracting. Plus, I spend enough time with a screen under my nose without having my calendar online as well.
Instead, I prefer the physical tangibility of a handwritten to-do list, calendar, and meal plan.
And so for the past few years (ever since I shamefully missed two appointments in one week, and all but singlehandedly paid for the construction of our new library with my late fees), I have annually purchased an organizational planner or a pretty blank book, in hopes of landing on (or creating) the perfect system.
This winter, after the double-whammy of a failed attempt at bullet journaling and a pre-printed planner that I was unable to love, I got online to find a better option. I searched the interwebs night after night for something that would fit my needs. The Holy Grail of Planners, if you will.
People buy planners, I reasoned. People have planner needs. And honestly, my needs aren't really that weird (pre-printed monthly and weekly pages with all the blank paper a girl could dream of). So obviously, I reasoned, my needs should be met by something in a brick-and-mortar or online shop. Wouldn't ya think?
In desperation, I gave up with my online search and drove to the nearest city. I proceeded to drag my children through more stores than I care to recall. Thrift stores. Office stores. Craft stores. Even a big box store. (Insert rapid heart rate and breathing here.)
Three towns and countless isles of pretty planners later, I had still found nothing that met my needs.
Nothing, you guys. Zilch.
I swear I am not this high maintenance.
My choices boiled down to a blank bullet journal (something I wanted desperately to love, but just couldn't get on board with), or pre-printed planners with two pieces of blank paper thrown in at the back as an afterthought. Gah! Why was this so hard?!
My criteria was simple and straightforward: I wanted:
- the convenience of pre-printed planner pages with
- the flexibility of a bullet journal.
I wanted speed and freedom; structure and flexibility. I wanted printed calendar sheets alongside copious amounts of blank paper for list-making, meal-planning, brainstorming, and more.
And so, in a moment of wild desperation, I took matters into my own hands. I bought a three ring binder, some page dividers, and grabbed a ream of blank paper and a three hole punch from my office.
Maybe I didn't need a pre-printed, pre-made planner after all.
I could put the whole thing together at home in an evening, I reasoned (I was right). And all of that blank paper that I had been dreaming of? Done.
Pre-printed calendars, task lists, and meal planning grids? Check. And if I don't love something I can change it, not set aside the whole planner and go looking for something new.
It turns out the Holy Grail of Planners was mine all along.
The beauty, of course, is the ridiculous simplicity of it all. You're in control of every aspect of what goes in. Appearances, order of pages, quantity of blank paper – everything. (Cue angels singing.)
And unlike a bullet journal, where your straight edge, creative genius, rainbow of fine tip pens, and endless patience and free time create your calendar, in a three-ring system you can include pre-printed calendars, meal plan grids, habit trackers – anything your heart desires.
It's like cheating, minus the guilt.
Sure, it's a bit more work to put together than a pre-printed planner, but unlike a bullet journal, the time is minimal. Boom. I set mine up in an evening and can honestly say that it's my favorite planner yet.
What you include is really up to you. I've included:
- a weekly homeschooling checklist
- family chore charts
- work task lists
- meal planning
- and more
And if I find a section isn't being properly utilized, I can pop the binder open and rework it. It's like a dream come true, I tell you!
Ready to set up your own? You bet!
Here is what you need to get started.
Everything you need for your planner can be purchases for $15 to $30, and that's if you go fancy and brand-new with everything. Mine ran me closer to $10 since I had everything but the actual binder and tabbed dividers on hand already. (A few afflinks follow.)
Step 1. Decide on size.
Binders come in full or half-sheet sizes. Some have complex hole-punching requirements, with like 8,000 little snap rings, so I recommend going with a simple three-ring style to simplify your set-up and reduce your insanity.
I chose a full-sized binder because it's easier to print out and add pages without having to fiddle with cutting them down, (speed, remember?) and I already had an ordinary three-hole punch on hand. If you want a half-sized binder, just adapt the list below for appropriately sized supplies, and add a paper cutter while you're at it to make cutting all of your components easier and more accurate.
The advantage of a half-size would be that I could fit it in my bag. You decide how much fiddling you're willing to do, and what works best for your needs.
Step 2. Gather your supplies.
Look around your office or home to see if you already have some of these supplies on hand.
Three-ring binder: I found a pretty 100% recycled binder for under $5 at Target, but there are abundant choices available online. (These are cute, thought I can't tell if they are hardboard or plastic.) Better yet, use one you already have on hand. You could even get crafty and decoupage it by modifying my tutorial here.
Tabbed dividers: I bought these. They're under $2 and you can erase and retitle them as your heart desires. I prefer paper to plastic for all of the green reasons, but as a bonus find that they are cheaper, sturdier, and longer-lasting than their flimsy plastic counterparts.
Three-hole punch: These are abundant at the second hand stores, or snag a new one if you need to. Though some can only handle a few sheets at a time, others can wrangle up to 20 sheets, like the one linked.
Reinforcement stickers: If you're printing your calendar pages (or other heavily used pages) on regular paper they will rip. Guaranteed. Save yourself the heartache and add reinforcement stickers to the pages that you'll use for days or weeks on end. (Ask me how I know.)
Other optional supplies: a few page protectors and a grease pencil are nice for checking things off like daily tasks or chore charts. If you're really into removable sticky notes grab some of those, too, as they can work well with this system. I threw in some grid paper. I'm not sure why, but it's been fun to have around.
Step 3. Print your pages.
Here in lies the beauty of this system: what you include is completely up to you.
Work up an exercise log or a meditation log or a reading log. Add a meal plan or a shopping list or a place to track your library books.
What I have included has little bearing, as it's customized for my life. What do you need? Add that. (But copious, gluttonous amounts of blank paper are a must.)
Downloadable monthly calendar pages: I'm pretty smitten by the freebies that I found for my planner over on Scattered Squirrel. You can find the calendar pages that I used here but she has loads more, in both full and half-sheet sizes.
Downloadable weekly calendar pages: Again, Scattered Squirrel for the win. I'm trying a few different types to see which set-up I prefer.
Downloadable meal plan: This is my own that you're welcome to use! I've been using some variation of this for the past 9 years and I really love it.
Download Meal-plan (revised)
Shopping List: This will possibly reveal a bit too much about the workings of my brain, but I have a specific way that I work up a shopping list, and I keep a few of these on hand too. For the coop (where we do all of our daily shopping), it's basically a big "+" in the center of a page. Then each quadrant contains one area of the store (produce, bulk, coolers, and isles).
Does that make sense? That way I don't get all the way to the back of the store and realize I forgot the lettuce and waste a lot of time running back and forth.
I have a similar one for Costco that's basically a super simplified map of the store: isles, coolers, paper goods, produce, gleaming boxes of Kerry Gold butter, etc.
I hope that is helpful to at least one of you, and the rest of you don't know think that I'm a nutter.
And that, my friends, is all there is to it.
A completely-customized, infinitely-flexible, made-by-you-for-you planner system.