6 Things to Look for in a Planner

A few weeks ago, I mentioned on Facebook that my favorite ink+volt planner just came out with their 2018 version and as a result of a few comments, I thought it would be fun to discuss what I personally look for in a planner.

Then, I thought it would be cool to see if ink+volt would be willing to partner with me. (I’m trying to be bolder in reaching out to companies.) Since I already bought their planner for myself, ink+volt generously offered to send a black 2018 Signature Series Planner to one of my readers (US residents only).

So, make sure you comment on this blog post (make sure it’s on the actual blog post and not on the Twitter or the Facebook) and I will choose a winner at random. Please leave a comment before Friday, October 27, 2017 at 11:59 pm.

Incidentally, I am not getting paid for this post; I purchased this product with my own personal funds and the only thing I am receiving from ink+volt is the black 2018 Signature Series Planner that I’m giving away.

Anyhow, as many of you know, I am a stay at home mom of four children. I homeschool my older two, send my third to Chinese preschools, and also have to keep my one year old alive.

Between all the classes and extra-curricular activities for my kids, my never-ending task list for the household and family, and my own personal goals and plans for my blog and its growth and expansion, I was having a really hard time keeping track of things.

I was super frustrated with all the planners that I saw because none of them fit my life.

I used to be a huge fan of the Franklin Covey Planners, but they are expensive and I no longer used them in the same way I had in high school, college, and at work. In fact, I started to see them as a huge waste of money because I didn’t really need a daily planner with each day broken down by hour.

The thought of writing in all our classes and appointments seemed silly and redundant because I have a smartphone with Google Calendar installed. Plus, I never carry a paper planner around with me because it just adds weight to my diaper bag/purse.

No thanks.

The problem was, though, that I could not figure out a way to keep track of all the repetitive daily tasks I had to do – as well as other items on my to-do list. Plus, I wanted a centralized place to write down thoughts and ideas for my business.

I tried all sorts of apps and fancy tracking systems for my tasks and goals. I even paid money for some of them! They all failed. (Or rather, I failed them? I don’t know.)

I am a very visual person and I really needed my tasks and goals to be laid out in front of my eyeballs and apps just did not cut it. Plus, it is still really hard for me to brainstorm or even see all my thoughts when it’s on a tiny screen.

I felt like a constant failure.

Then, I saw a ink+volt’s Kickstarter for their planner on Facebook near the end of 2015.

I must have watched the ad at least 5-6 times with great longing. It sounded so beautiful. To have a planner that would help me reach all my goals! It appealed to my little Type-A heart.

But I was afraid.

I was afraid that I was setting myself up for another disappointment. Plus, it was $40 for a planner and I wasn’t really keen on spending $40 for a planner I wasn’t sure I would use.

But then, I thought, what did I have to lose? $40 isn’t TOO bad – and WHAT IF IT WORKS? WHAT IF IT IS TRUE?

What if it really COULD change my life?

Well, long story short, (HA! As if I could ever tell a story in brief.) I loved it. And it changed my life.

Here then are the things that I look for in a planner – and how ink+volt’s planner hits the majority of them to my immense satisfaction.

1) Lays flat.

This is super important.

The last thing I want when I’m looking at my planner is to have to find something else to weigh it down so it doesn’t close up on me. Also, that would block part of my view of what I’m scheduling. That just seems counterproductive.

The ink+volt planner lays flat despite it being a hard bound book. There is no spiral binding to get in the way of my hand if I have to write near the fold of the book and I can see the entirety of both pages – even if it’s near the crease.

2) Large, legible font.

Look, my eyes are NOT getting any younger. When I was in my youth, I didn’t mind tiny print. Now, I do not have the time nor inclination to hunt around and make sure I’m on the right page.

Since the 2018 ink+volt planner has been redesigned, I miss the giant font for the “Week Of” portion, but love that it now includes the dates of the whole week instead of the first day only. (It’s still legible – just not GIANT.)

Even with that minor detail, everything else is still an easy to read, large font. My eyes are grateful for the lack of eye strain.

Font size of 2018 ink+volt planner

3) Sturdy, quality materials.

Look, I like a deal as much as the next person, but I also hate things that fall apart. And since this is a weekly planner, I will be using it all day, every day. The last thing I want or need is for pages to rip out at a perforation (because knowing my luck, it would be something important) or the ink to bleed through the pages, or even have the cover rip off or start curling.

I am pleased to say that despite living on my kitchen table and in my laptop bag, the ink+volt planners have survived each year with little wear and tear.

I have spilled tea and all sorts of food stuffs on it and the pages have not turned to mush and ripped or torn. They kind of crinkle after drying, but they did not disintegrate. The ink barely bled.

The covers are sturdy and aren’t scratched or nicked. Even the rounded corners have stood up nicely. The two ribbon bookmarks did not fray or tear out.

This planner is meant for daily abuse and it can take it!

4) Good balance in planning elements: not too structured and not too blank.

For me, any planner with an hourly section (as well as lots of tiny sections to fill out) makes me break out into a panic. I also panic when there are completely blank pages (like the Bullet Journal). The former makes me feel too much pressure to fit my life into their suggested boxes and the latter makes me feel too pressured to design the best flow/calendar/doodles/etc.

I like the ink+volt because it is a good balance between the two extremes.

These planners split week days into morning, afternoon, and evening sections. Weekend days are about half the size of a weekday – which works out well for me. (Not so for some of my friends. They cram a lot more into a weekend day than I do in a normal day.)

I’m so happy they don’t have hourly breakdowns because quite frankly, my life is not measured in such minute (pun intended!) blocks of time. I need space to breathe. With hourly schedules, I feel as if I have to throw away my entire day if we get off track (even if just by 15 minutes).

I understand that may be a personal problem or quirk, but that’s what works for me. If you are someone who can stay on schedule and also live and die by those minutes, I can see how the lack of an hourly schedule would be annoying.

Keep in mind, I note all my appointments in my phone – so I really do not need the hourly slots to remind me of when I have to be somewhere.

I use my planner for the big ideas – as well as to list the small details of my big ideas. I do not use it to keep track of daily living.

Incidentally, the ink+volt has weekly journal prompts but I also hate journal prompts so I ignore them and just use the empty space for working out whatever it is I need to work out. This year, they added tiny dots in a grid pattern so it resembles the Bullet Journal in that aspect, but I like them because I think it will help me write in straighter lines.

Weekly View of the 2018 ink+volt planner

Monthly View of 2018 ink+volt planner

5) Well thought out design – especially the Goals section.

Technically, this could be under the previous point. However, I feel as if this particular feature deserves its own bullet point because one of the main reasons I bought the ink+volt planner was for how they designed their goal section.

I LOVE how there is a yearly, monthly, and weekly goals section and pre-made boxes to check off. (I love checking off boxes. I also love crossing items off a list. Sometimes, I do both.)

Monthly Goals in the 2018 ink+volt planner

Weekly Goals in the 2018 ink+volt planner

I LOVE how there is a place to list your big accomplishments in the yearly, monthly, and weekly sections, too. All too often, we forget all the awesome stuff we have done and then, when it comes time to reflect upon the past year either personally or professionally, we think we’ve done nothing.

These sections remind me that I’ve done a LOT worth celebrating.

Yearly Goals and Accomplishments in 2018 ink+volt planner

They also have a page where you focus on a habit to change each month and provide boxes for you to check off when you do it for each day that month. I confess, I don’t use this section much – but I have in the past and it did help!

As an aside: I have definitely found that by actually filling out the goals sections and then actively reviewing them on a weekly basis, I have gotten much better at following through on the tasks I need to do to get what I want. So I am absolutely grateful for this planner.

Would I have gotten the same results using some other planner? Probably. I don’t think that any particular product will be a magic bullet unless you personally do the work. However, this particular planner called to me and because of that, I was able to use its system to accomplish what I wanted.

In addition, there are lovely and useful details that make the planner easy to use. There are two ribboned bookmarks you can use – that though not quite enough for me personally, I still appreciate.

I use one bookmark a the current monthly view and I use the other bookmark at the current week schedule. In addition, I have a sticker tab at the yearly, monthly, and weekly goals pages as well as a tab at the very end where there are blank pages. (Ink+volt also sells planner accessories – I just use what I have on hand for free at home.)

Plus, the planners all now have a half-pocket included on the back cover for you to slide important notes or loose pages. I don’t really use it, but I do have my kids’ master homeschooling schedule tucked in there for reference.

Pocket on back cover of 2018 ink+volt planner

6) Leaves a lot of room for personalization.

Personally, I hate adding stickers, washi tape, or doodles to my planner. It stresses me out. I want things to be consistent from January through December and would make myself sick with worrying about whether I used the same sticker for a thing that I used last time – and all sorts of nonsense that in general, I do not consider personalization a bonus.

However, I recognize that not everyone has my problem and inability to chill. So, for those of you who love to decorate and go wild with stickers and washi tape and who knows what else – there is plenty of space for you to indulge your creative sticker using urges.

Plus, ink+volt have an undated version of their planner that you can use if would like to start using the planner right away and don’t want to wait for the new year.

Incidentally, one of my friends uses undated planners in a completely unexpected way. I thought folks just got the undated planners and then added in a full year’s worth of dates from whatever start date they choose. But she actually only fills in the date on the days she actually uses/needs her planner!

I found that SO interesting – and something my little Type-A heart would have never thought up! You can’t do that with the ink+volt undated planner because they do label the week days. BUT, you could ostensibly copy her idea and only use the weeks you want to.

I find this to be mindblowing in the sense that it would never in a million years occur to me to use a product in this manner. But she did and does and it works for her. (The coolest part is that she thought of it on her own – as in, it wasn’t some life hack she read somewhere. So creative!)

Anyhow, these are just a few of the things I look for in a planner beyond the obvious “is it pretty?” question. I have been very satisfied with my ink+volt planner and look forward to another productive year with it in 2018. (In true fact, once it hits August/September every year, I start looking out for their emails to buy the next year’s planner. I worry they will sell out!)

All in all, so glad there seems to be a planner out there for all of us – and that it doesn’t have to be the same one. What do you look for in a planner? Which planner have you found to be your favorite? Let me know in the comments.

Don’t forget. Enter to win a free black 2018 Signature Series Planner (US residents only) by leaving a comment on this post before Friday, October 27, 2017 at 11:59 pm.

58 thoughts on “6 Things to Look for in a Planner

      • lol at the FOMO. would it save me from my ziploc of post-it notes and scrawled to-do lists? perhaps make me grow up a little and return to college days of getting things done to cross off in color coded inks? and maybe centralize all the reasons my hair has gone gray so i can look back on it all with a sense of accomplishment? i would be pleased as punch that it lays flat, at least.

  1. Now if only someone come over and fill out my planner for me I could finally be semi-organized!!
    Thanks for the tips! #goals2018

  2. I love decorating my planners so this seems like a good option for me since it has big spaces in the weekly view

  3. I like the Monthly Goals, and the wide-open-ness of it. Oooo. And the potential to Change My Life! Makes me feel so hopeful…

  4. Thank you so much for this review! I was just thinking about which planner I was going to purchase for next year as I have outgrown the need for my current planner. This was a great review and now I am totally interested in using this planner for 2018.

  5. What a great planner! I’ve been using one to help give me more structure but I started feeling more mediocre since things don’t get crossed off… It’s like one long, neverending to-do list. :/

  6. Thanks for the post! I just recently started back using a planner (last time was probably back in college). Like you, I was keeping my appts on google calendar on my phone, but looking for a system to integrate my to-do’s. This sounds interesting!

  7. I’m with you on being sick of planners that break everything down by the hour, so I love that mix of structure and open space!

  8. I love the Ink and Volt plannet for many of the reasons you listed and have been using one for since the Kickstarter. I actually tried switching to a discbound Staples system mid-year and it only lasted a month. I missed my Ink and Volt and the ease of planning with the goals, weekly to do, and user friendly layout. I am loving the improvements for the 2018 version as well. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  9. The goal setting and monthly focus sections are so helpful to keep redirecting yourself back to your priorities.

  10. I would love to try the Ink and Volt Planner and see if it could replace all the loose pages of notes that I keep about projects, designs, and things to be done. Looking at my desk right now, I can see at least 20 loose pages that have notes scribbled all over them (and no, I’m not exaggerating! lol) I take a lot of notes, but I don’t organize them (yet). A planner with lots of room for notes might be just the thing.

  11. thanks for the review – glad you pointed out what works for you and what doesnt in the format. and that it is flexible enough to make it your own, with the helpful structure, i do agree that the yearly, monthly goals brought to the weekly page as a reminder are helpful and get you in touch with the long range plan in the myre of the weekly dos.

  12. I’ve been a lover of the Volt planner for awhile now. I love the simplicity and ease of use. The goals and accomplishment sections helps you keep track of all you’ve really done throughout the year because we tend to forget that we actually got something done or reached some of our goals as the year progresses.

  13. I need planners that give me a place to track goals, but also keep track of the day to day items like house stuff and kids activities. Haven’t found the perfect one, but the ink and volt looks promising.

  14. Thank you for your detailed review. I use the Commit30 planner now and really like it yet I stumbled upon this planner recently and think it’s closer to what I am looking for. I plan to give it a try for 2018 and I’m excited to get started.

  15. I look for an uncluttered and beautiful planner- this one is obviously both of those things, but I also love that it actually HELPS you stay organized and motivated and goal-oriented! As a medical student and a new mama, this sounds like it could be a total game-changer! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  16. I really enjoyed reading your criteria. I thought I’d found the perfect planner in the Mead weekly/monthly 8 1/2 x 11 “Academic” planner…but the paper is SO MUCH THINNER this year than it was last year. Annoying!

  17. That’s good to know!
    I was browsing for planners for my kids but then school gave them one. I ended up buying the pre-school one to keep track of both Chinese and English words of the day&week. My monthly calendar keeps track of this round Sagebooks500.
    I still need one for myself. Until then, everything is in my head lol
    I like the idea of the undated planners but haven’t found the right style. I did try iBloom but wasn’t ready to commit this year. Year and a half planners are nice too

  18. Even with high tech improvements, I’m still pretty low tech for backup and I love the feel of paper and heft. Would be great to win it and start 2018 on the right page 👍

  19. I purchased the ink + volt 2018 Signature Series Planner as a gift for Boss’s Day. She loves it and cannot wait to start using it…. NOW I want one of my own!

  20. Thanks for the review! I have never really thought of using a planner, though I recently thought I should b/c the random post-its, little pieces of paper, and calendar events on my phone are not cutting it very well any more. I do love the tactile feel of paper/book. Need to get more organized now that kids are getting older, working more, etc. and sometimes I have ideas that I want to get on paper (my husband keeps telling me to use OneNote on my phone but I can’t bear to do it). I wish the planner could also clean my house… 🙂

  21. I keep seeing the ads for this planner on Facebook and am considering getting one for 2018! You sound a lot like me (stickers stress me out too, hahaha, how weird is that) and I learned a lot from this post. Thanks!

  22. OMG! I love this! Thank you so much for sharing this review. This planner has all the things I need – and you know that goals section completely won me over!!! Adding this to my must-have list. A $40 investment in something that will make you more productive and focused over an entire year is definitely worth it!

  23. Awesome! I love pen and paper for planning and organization so I’ve thought about getting a bullet journal or passion planner but this one sounds great! Very helpful and thorough review. Had never heard of them before.

  24. Ugggghhh, I just pre-ordered a planner that cost me $60 and I REALLY WANT THIS ONE. It sounds like it really fits your needs and not having hourly slots could really help me, too. Especially since (like you), I also rely on my Google Calendar for hourly appointments and whatnot. Dang it. Want it. Granted I fail at keeping up with planners but this one could be different. Let me go and count pennies. BRB.

  25. Thanks for your review!! I love the Ink and Volt planner, it would be so much better than the notebook I have been using. I try to go back to make sure everything was completed, but everything just gets all jumbled together. My family uses it for a note taker when they are in the living room. It’s just a wire composition book, but using an actual planner would resolve so many of my current issues. I love the way this planner is laid out. I can keep up with everything in one place and I dare anyone to touch it. (lol).

    • Lol! Let them try! I use notebooks sometimes to flesh out writing ideas, but I still prefer the ink+volt for smaller thoughts and writing pieces. Good luck!

  26. Oooh, I’d love to try this! I use my phone’s calendar, but there’s something about a physical thing you can hold and flip through that just can’t be replaced by electronics. I feel that way about books (to a point) and journals/diaries too. I guess i’m just betraying my age 😉 But good for you for reaching out to partner with companies! That makes a lot of sense.

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