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.