Monday, February 10, 2014

Planner user levels: Low, Medium, High

Look around at all the different types of planners and you will notice that some are meant for more intensive planning than others.

Pocket size weekly or monthly planners are geared toward planner users with low or minimal needs. Believe it or not I was a Low user once! In college (university to my European friends) all I needed my planner for was due dates and my work schedule. I used those Sierra Club planners with the week on one page and the other page full of a beautiful photograph. I didn't even use lists back then! I guess I didn't really have that much to remember. I got my classwork done and got to work on time, and that was all I really had to think about.

The vast majority of planners are for Medium users, which most people in the general population are. Horizontal weekly planners are simple and straightforward, and give you space to write what needs to be done each day without too much analysis. I graduated to Medium planner use in grad school, when my schedule was more complicated and I had more things due. I also had my thesis to write, my degree requirements to keep track of, and my research to plan. I used a horizontal weekly format in my personal size Filofax, and even though the day spaces were small they were all I needed at the time. I used tabbed sections to keep track of everything. It worked well for me then, but has never worked as well for me since.

After I had kids and moved overseas my life suddenly got a lot more complicated. I would say I'm a Medium-High planner user, as I suspect most moms (and anyone managing multiple people) are. I have to keep track of myself and everyone else in my family, make sure everyone gets where they are going on time, and with everything they need. I plan ahead for birthday parties, holidays, travel and events. I have to put all that information somewhere, and am constantly trying to figure out the best way to keep track of it all in a reasonably sized binder or combination of books.

There are several systems designed for the Medium-High planner user like the Organised Mum diaries (and countless other Mom planners) that help you keep track of each person in the family, budget, holidays etc. Uncalendar is geared toward Medium-High planner users and is useful for anyone keeping track of multiple things at once. I've heard students in nursing school (which is notoriously busy and stressful) love using Uncalendar planners.

I'm not truly a High level planner user. Those are the folks that have multiple meetings and scheduled events every day, clients and/or employees to keep track of, and multiple projects/ billables/ deliverables going on at once. I suspect most of these folks have moved over to Outlook, Google calendar or other digital ways to keep track of everything.

There are paper planner systems designed for the High level planner user. Franklin Covey is probably the most well-known and long-lived system for helping High level planner users to prioritize tasks and keep track of multiple things at once. Getting Things Done is a system I've heard a lot about but never tried myself, it is designed for very busy people too.

What about you? Would you consider yourself to be a Low, Medium, or High level planner user?


23 comments:

  1. I would say I was high level for years due to 6 people in our family, homeschooling, all the extra curricula, volunteer work, etc. Now I am hitting between medium and low, my life has changed alot just in the past year.

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    1. Same here, but in the last couple of years. I still use a full-size planner, but it only has months and weeks, no dailies. The notes pages in it are very useful. I like the vertical columns for each day, rather than horizontal rows for each day, too.

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  2. On work days I track a lot through my filofax: pretty much every minute of the day including, email requests, actions from phone calls, meeting notes / actions, appointments, project plans, goals...etc. Depending on how much I am travelling I either use an A5 filofax style ring binder or a Personal sized duplex. How would you categorise that? High level?

    At weekends I am more relaxed; I use a Personal sized Filofax planner, but still plan most waking hours.

    My wife on the other hand manages five of us, plus two cats from her Pocket Finsbury. When we sit down to synchonise diaries I am always astounded by how much she crams into it. (Literally in fact. Her organisers are round, bulging at the seams and after two years they have usually had enough, burst apart and spontaneously combust - it's Filofax abuse of the worst kind).

    When I look through what she records in it I am in awe: multiple projects, decorating, education plans, holiday plans, budgets. You can follow the timeline of a project through from week to week, and know exactly what needs to be done, day by day. What is startling is: if you ignore the details I have to keep about meetings, and the complexity of my appointments, she actually covers the same amount of information as I do, but in a fraction of the space.

    We joke - she should never upgrade to a personal. Such a powerful tool would be far too dangerous in her hands. She would likely end up taking over the world.

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    1. Oh please she has to do a guest post! I have to see this!

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    2. Wow does she have miniscule writing?? I would love it if she did a guest post!!

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  3. No she doesn't have minuscule writing. She's just extremely succinct.

    I showed her your comments, and asked her if she would guest post. And she said, "Hell no."

    I managed to persuade her to let me take a picture of the outside though. Just posted it at filohacks.com

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  4. I hover at or close to high-level. I go through periods of the year where I have dozens of meetings and appointments per week and other periods where I am just DOING so much. But I definitely have quieter periods when I really don't require or use the capacity I maintain for the busy periods.

    Franklin Covey gets all the glory, but Daytimer produces what I feel is the ultimate busy-professional planner page; the "desk" size two page per day. Scheduling is either 8-5 in quarter hours or 7-11 in half hours. There are about 17 task lines, 10 lines for phone calls, and the note page is designed for time-billing capture but can be used in many different ways. The 7-11 setup which I used for a few months has a notes page designed to bill in 1/10 hour increments as commonly used by law firms in the USA. I still know of quite a lot of lawyers who use Daytimer planners for the time billing setup. But they are really superb for anyone who needs precise daily planning. I used mine for a busy summer where I was managing a gigantic project for which I'd hired fifteen new employees, closing a fiscal year, plus several smaller seasonal projects. I rocked that planner in the Success Choice binder (which now lives with Laurie!) and it worked beautifully for dealing with everything that was going on. I wish I was willing to carry that size as a regular planner (roughly A5, the 5.5x8.5 inch with seven hole configuration) because it really works so well. Sadly I find it too big and bulky for my tastes. But if I ever set up a separate work planner it will almost assuredly be this size and this planner page. I prefer the Daytimer pages over Franklin Covey for their simplicity and less offensive green print (really, what gives with all the green? Do USA planner companies think we will equate their planners with money? I don't get it).

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    1. Josh you'll be glad to know the Success Choice binder that was formerly yours is well loved and living a happy life here with me! :)

      And I agree, I don't know what's up with the green on the diary pages but I have to say I prefer it to the red that Dayrunner uses on their pages. Angry!

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    2. Yes. Generally I don't like any color on my planner pages.

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    3. Having worked in publishing/printing for a long time, I think we can blame the green on a combination of three things:

      1. people largely use blue or black ink to write in their planners. So black and blue ink, which are used everywhere else, didn't make sense.
      2. Single and two color printing are cheaper than full color. So the "original" planner designs would have needed to stick to one or two colors.
      3. My guess is green was cheaper and/or easier to print in large runs. Remember all that greenbar paper that the old dot-matrix printers used?

      I'm guessing Day Runner just used maroon/grey to be different. I do find it interesting that Day Runner, Day-Timer, Mead and Cambridge are all owned by the same parent company, yet they have still retained their own design aesthetics. Usually mergers like that mean the best seller wins.

      And I agree with Josh - I don't like color on my planner pages. I like the clean aesthetic of the Filofax pages - I just wish they worked with my planning style. And they didn't use black printing. I prefer to write with black.

      I know, I'm just perpetuating the stereotype that Planner Nerds are really picky.

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    4. I used DayRunner for years and I liked the grey/white/maroon. But they don't make the format I prefer. I found some DayRunner inserts in a soft brown. Very unobtrusive. Didn't end up using them, but it's good to know that's an option.

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  5. After decades of being a medium-to-high planner user (Franklin Covey 2 pages per day. . . people used to say to me, "You actually need 2 whole pages every day??" Ummm, yeah), I am very happy to say I am now a low planner user (Moleskine week + notes). Ahhhh. . . I'm going to go get a cup of tea now. ;-)

    - Tina

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  6. I'm a heavy user juggling work and grad school. Each day I have meetings throughout the work day and need to manage time to schedule future meetings. I use an A5 Original for work and often take notes on meetings, write ideas for future meetings, include any personal appointments/events, and then manage my college research. I also use a medium Gillio compagna in which I copy all my appointments, meetings, and for use when I just cannot carry the heavy A5.

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  7. Looking at my past planner history recently (totally inspired by your blog), I did come to the realization that I've definitely been a High at every point in my adult life. But I didn't always use planners that support that.

    I've never had the official FC pages work for me, and I'm not sure the homemade DO2P I'm using right now are working, either. I feel like I'm getting a lot done, but I also feel like I'm rewriting a lot, and wasting time writing down things I never could have accomplished but I wrote down today because there was still room to write. I'm also forgetting to check my master task list because I'm too busy trying to do all the things I wrote down today/yesterday, etc. On the plus side, I've got a really nice reference so I can tell when I already did do a repeating task, instead of just wondering if it's just a sense of deja vu from doing it last year/last month/last week/yesterday :P

    I had a period of about 3 years where Getting Things Done worked really well, but it seemed dependent on the tools I was using (a Palm device and a Circa notebook were my eventual Zen). It fell apart for me right when the Palm world imploded, although that also coincided with 1. the birth of my first child and 2. a huge change in job responsibilities, so who knows what the ultimate downfall was for me.

    What I'm most struggling with is how to coordinate both work and home life, now that my kids are big enough to actually have a life. None of the designs I've seen seem to handle multiple people's schedules AND allow detailed task management. The planners that handle multiple schedules have nice little boxes per person per day - I need huge sections just for me/work, and smaller boxes for everyone else in the family. The planners that are super focused on work responsibilities seem to think time stops at 5pm, and the generally can only accommodate one person's schedule.

    And it still needs to be portable. I'm not asking for much, am I?

    At the moment, I'm still entering everything in Apple's Calendar, and printing daily pages from Calendar once a week. But I don't think that's going to work long term - something is going to get missed somewhere, or I'm not going to be able to keep up with the weekly print/cut/punch/insert in binder routine next month. Jan/Feb are only Crazy Busy catching up from December's Mass Chaos. March is Mass Chaos Again.

    On a side note - I used to be able to tell what time it was, to the minute, without looking at a clock. I just knew. Some part of my brain was tracking. Now, I need alarms - that internal clock stopped working when I was pregnant, and never started back up. That was something that wasn't in the pregnancy manuals!

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    1. Bree you might check out the Quo Vadis Textagenda. It has a large page size but is still portable. It has days as timed (to 9 pm) vertical columns with a Notes space under each day, so you can use the timed vertical column each day for your schedule and the daily Notes box to keep track of what everyone else is doing. Categorized list boxes for your weekly tasks, and you can always customize the topics.

      http://quovadisplanners.com/catalog/trinote

      If you need even more space to write, the larger Prenote has the same format:

      http://quovadisplanners.com/catalog/prenote

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    2. I actually won a Textagenda from Quo Vadis recently. I can't deal with the calendar at the top like that - I'm apparently too linear. And I've actually had a hard time getting mine to lay flat - I've been using it as a journal to record personal and family stuff, as part of my 2014 goal to record that, rather than all the recording I do for work.

      I was very tempted by the Trinote and Prenote, since they are basically oversize Visuals, my longest running planner. But I would still have to keep a separate task notebook. None of them have large enough task space - I easily do 12 tasks/project steps on a quiet day. And those are just the ones that get written down.

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    3. Bree, have you tried to section off your task list, time schedule, or your second page? Example: on my task list I might have an errand section, delegate to, calls, etc. On my time schedule I would divide it vertically putting where I need to physically be on the left and where kids/husband needed to be on the right. So I knew if a kid was going to practice and riding their bike or if I needed to take a child to the dentist. The second page could be divided into boxes ie context list, the four quandrants, whatever you need it to be that day.

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    4. Sorry I meant Trinote not Textagenda above!!

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  8. Maybe that's why I am so picky. I'm a high-level user who prefers minimalist design. I should be using dailies, but I find them too bossy. Give me space, but don't tell me what to put in it.

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  9. Hate the green, too, Joshua LaPorte.

    I'm a high user, but I can't stand daily pages. So I make do with Project planning and bigger rings.

    http://giftieetcetera.blogspot.com

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  10. High!!!! I have been trying to explain to myself why my planner use is problematic, and this hits the nail on the head. My work is both appointment-heavy (lots of hearings and meetings) and task-heavy (tons of To Do's on every case). I have to have a weekly calendar view, or I go nuts, but the only weekly calendar that can accomodate all the appointments is the spiral Week-at-a-Glance that has room for 4 things every hour. This doesn't allow for rings for projects and cases, or for task lists. I'm in a tailspin.

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  11. High!!! I've been trying to find a way to explain why my planner use is so problematic. My work is very appointment-heavy (lots of hearings and meetings) and task heavy (tons of To-Do's on every case). I have to have a weekly calendar view, but the only one that can accomodate 4 hearings every hour is the spiral Week-at-a-Glance, which doesn't allow for rings for cases and projects, or task lists. I'm in a tailspin.

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    1. Lee have you tried a Franklin Planner Classic size with their week on two pages inserts? The weeks are not printed back to back, the back sides of the pages are lined for lists and notes, and you can splice pages between the weeks too. Their Monarch size is even bigger if you need even more space.

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