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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Countdown to FAIL

How long does it take for a planner to fail? Well, that depends on the planner, and your needs.

Planner Fail is something I think about a lot, because it happens to me so often. My planner problem is that my life changes frequently. The planner system that worked for me last year/ month/ week might not work for me this year/ month/ week because my circumstances are different now. A planner that works well for me at home might fail when I travel (due to not containing the right international information, or being to big/ heavy). The situation I'm facing right now is an international move later this year. A big transition like that requires a lot of planner power both for the preparation and follow-through.

Some planners fail the first day, because they just aren't what I need. But let me be quick to point out: don't judge a planner at first glance. Something that looks odd or confusing at first could turn out to be your Planner Holy Grail if you take a few minutes to figure out how it could work for you.

Most planners take a little time for the flaws to become apparent. Usually 1-2 weeks is the gestation period for a Planner Fail. It happens the same way every time: I get excited about some system and decide to switch over to it. But after a week or two I have that familiar feeling of floating in space, getting nothing done, and not knowing how I've spent my days. Planner FAIL.

Some planner Fails take longer to emerge, or the user keeps plugging away at a system to try to make it work. (Side note: whenever I say I'm going to try to "make it work," that's the signal it has already failed.) Sometimes the system doesn't fail horribly, but it limps along instead of performing like a well-oiled machine (the way a planner system SHOULD).

Nan's recent post over on Philofaxy about retiring her work A5 Filofax got me thinking some more about planner Fails. Her system didn't work great, but it worked well enough for awhile. But then a change in circumstances--an increased workload--caused the final Epic Fail and the system crashed and burned.

Now that we are a couple of months into the year, you have a pretty good idea of what 2010 will entail and what your planner needs will be. By now your planner system either sinks or swims.

Is your planner sinking or swimming? Is it time for a few tweaks, or maybe a total overhaul?


  1. Such an insightful post.

    I love my new Personal Classic but it's failing because the calendar is too small to house all the appointments I need to schedule. Hate to admit failure with it yet, but I've been thinking, "I just have to make this work..." :-)

  2. AE, there's still hope!

    A different diary format may do the trick for you. If you haven't tried the day per page or two-days per page inserts, you might try one of those before you abandon your Filo entirely.

    Another thing I realized very recently is that I was trying to put things on my weekly pages that didn't need to be there. For example, I had lists I kept re-writing every week. I now know that those are more appropriate as my Monthly Goals or Long-Term To-Dos. Having those off my weekly schedule pages has freed up a lot of space.

    So don't despair! We here at Plannerisms, and of course over at Philofaxy, have lots of great suggestions to help you make it...I mean, have great planner success! ;D

  3. I strongly suspect that my desire to frequently change planners has a lot more to do with my own mental make-up than any planner fail. I'm the only one I know that can't settle with the idea that a planner is just a planner. It doesn't have to be perfect. No one else I know has a box of 2010 planners that have been purchased with great anticipation, only to be abandoned at the first sense of unease on my part. Could the uneasy feeling have more to do with my desire to SET UP a new planner than with my judgement about the current planner's utility? It baffles me. I love planners, paper, etc, and have a great time analyzing everything about them. But I also feel a little OCD. So much switching around is not . . . normal. Not efficient. Your blog at least tells me there are others who enjoy planners. I don't at all mean to imply that others are OCD :-)

  4. Annie - I agree with everything you said!!! I too am this way, so you are definitely no alone. And I will admit - I am OCD (at least with my planners, though others would say just in general)!

  5. Annie and kanalt: OCD or not, I think there are a LOT of people who do a lot of planner-tweaking. Annie, I identified with every single thing you said! Box of planners, seriously. Have you read my "13 Planners" post?? There you go.

    And if you want to see some more people who are tortured by planner possibilities, go over to Philofaxy.com. I think it's very common for Filofax users to suffer from too many choices and possibilities. We are always tweaking our systems, and some of us drive ourselves a little bit crazy trying to find our ideal system!!

  6. I still love my life with my Franklin-Covey Cornerstone Weekly/Monthly set up. I plan out my life at least 6 months in advance and I prefer to see the big picture in the Monthly and work out all the fine details in the Weekly. My personal favorite feature of this planner is the two pages between each week that provide note space and to do list space. I also use post-it file tabs to create personalized tabs for major event and projects I am working on. The only thing I don’t like about it is that it’s huge and by huge I mean ENORMOUS! It keeps me super organized and I track almost every facet of my life in there, but its size shows its importance.

  7. Yes, planner FAIL is hitting a lot of people right now. I just transitioned out of a total planning breakdown about two weeks ago. First, I had the sneaking suspicion, like what Annie mentioned, that it was only my fidgety mind sabotaging the planner; then I uttered the damning phrase that means it's already over: "I'll make it work." It's so hard to tell sometimes whether we need to simply tweak a planner or we need to scrap it totally. And when we scrap it, do we need something just a little different, or something wholly different?

    My recent planning transition was dramatic. I went from a pretty-but-unrigorous weekly-format calendar (a first for me, I've been using ring binders for about 15 yrs now) to a Time/System compact planner. (I found the company and planner on the Philofaxy links page.) I contemplated going back to Filofax yet again, the ever-happy medium and comfort zone, but trying the loosy-goosy calendar sent me tailspinning in the other direction. I hope it wasn't just an over-reaction, but only time will tell, right? I think it takes at least a month to really know if something is working.

    By the way, I've been reading your blog since you launched, Laurie, and I think it's wonderful. Thanks for taking us along for the ride. Good luck with planning your move.

  8. Thanks M Ng!! Glad you are enjoying my blog, and thanks for reading!

    I feel your pain re: your planner crisis. I'm having one myself at the moment. Like you said, it's hard to know if it needs just a slight tweak, or a total overhaul!

  9. I am getting to the point of “planner failure” also. For 20+ years I used Franklin and then Franklin Covey (FC) classic size planners, and loved using them. For most of that time I was a Type-A Army Officer, who served all over the world and was always working, it seemed. I changed to a personal size filofax about 2 years ago. I had been in a NATO assignment a few years ago and saw my first filofax planner. It was the common planner used by the British Officers in that assignment. I bought a filofax for a change of pace and new planner adventure. I do like the filofax and have enjoyed using it on a daily basis. Over the past two years, I have been able to keep my personal life and work life separate. Because of my job situation, I was able to use a filofax for my personal life and a FC planner for my work life. However that ability to separate personal and work lives has changed now. Just started a new job last month and the separation of personal and work lives will be very difficult now. So what to do? The personal size filofax is just too small to keep personal and work lives in order. So I will be going back to my FC classic for a period of time to see how it goes. I will let you know it is works or doesn’t work.

  10. GCM please do let us know how your planner system works for you after using it awhile. You are dealing with 2 classic causes of Planner Fail at once: change in life situation, and increase in work load. Best of luck with working out a system that works well for you. And if you need any help or moral support in the process, feel free to post a comment any time (on any post)!

  11. Laurie, I pulled the plug on my experiment. As I worked to combine everything into my FC, I realized that I truly liked keeping my personal life and work life separate. So back to two planners - the FC at work and my Filo for my personal life.

  12. Hey GCM, that's a Win! Figuring out what you need and then implementing it, that's a huge Win.

    Keep us posted on how it works out for you! :D

  13. I don't want to say that it's never a planner's fault that it doesn't work, but I wonder how much of plannerfail is unrealistic expectations of what a planner will do for us. I went through lots of kinds of planners, but it wasn't until I read Allen's _Getting Things Done_ and Babauta's _Zen to Done_, that I started to get stuff done. My problem was that I wasn't thinking about my work in a way that would help me focus on the right things for the time.

    Ultimately, whatever works for folks works. I just wanted to share my experience. PS - I have two planners too: one for home and one for work. :)

    1. Jolene that's a very good point you make--I think sometimes people expect a planner to solve all their organizational issues and run their life. I certainly feel like the "right" planner will make my life better!

      What we need is a "best fit," which is a balance of daily details vs. planning overview. When you have a planning system that works well for you, it shouldn't be too much work to keep up with. A planner is supposed to make life easier, not more complicated!

      But yes ultimately, for a planner to be helpful, you have to use it and keep using it.


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