Listen to episode 10 on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

You want to create a personalized time-management strategy and maximize your planner. But you’re not sure where to start or how to keep making the space to figure it all out when you’re still trying to juggle everything you already have on your to-do list.

If that sounds like you, then you’re our people.

And you need the Quickstart Your Planning Guide.

About This Episode

If you listened to the first season of our podcast, you’ll remember our Four Rules of Planning. Those rules were a helpful start, but in the months after publishing those episodes we realized a couple of things…

First, we don’t like rules. We like planning strategies that are personalized to each individual, and rules can rarely accomplish that level of customization.

Second, we couldn’t easily remember the four rules… and we wrote them. We knew that wasn’t going to work; we needed something easy to grasp that was memorable.

Lastly, we realized there was a crucial element missing (spoiler alert: it was the brain-dump!).

So we went back to the drawing board with a goal to make this process simple and memorable. Enter the PLANS Acronym. Once you know this acronym, you will be equipped to execute a process that will be easy to come back to again and again. The steps listed below are foundational for creating an effective, personalized, and simplified planning strategy, while still executing all those day-to-day responsibilities you can’t let slide while you figure out how to maximize the use of your planner.

PLANS stands for:

  • Pencil in what you did.
  • Leverage the brain dump.
  • Access & train your working memory.
  • Nurture a flexible mindset.
  • Sharpen your time-management skillset.

In this episode, we dive into each aspect of this process, and walk you through exactly how you can use this acronym to jump into planning. (Our Quickstart Your Planning Guide breaks this down into easy-to-follow steps.)

Pencil in what you did.

For several days or weeks, use your planner (or a notebook or our free printable day planner) to record what you did. The best place to do this is in the timeblocking section. Write in the hours you want to focus on (our timeblocker is blank making this easy to customize), and at the end of the day, write down what happened. Do this for a few days, capturing at least a week is very helpful. Write down when you:

  • ate meals
  • ran errands
  • wake/sleep times
  • did household tasks
  • commutes
  • drop off/pick up times for kids activities
  • deep work times
  • lite work times

The goal is to write down as much as you can, because writing everything down gives you so much information to glean from. You’ll start to see the rhythms you and your family operate in, and you can recognize patterns, evaluating what’s working and what’s not. You can then design incremental change that serves your family, makes sense for the season you’re in, in a way that builds a sustainable lifestyle. 

Leverage the brain dump.

Leveraging a good brain dump is something we do on the weekly, and in busy season, daily. A brain dump is exactly what is sounds like… You take everything that is rattling around in your brain, and you dump it out onto a giant to-do list.

But here’s the key: do not stop there. It is tempting to see that long list and want to immediately jump into execution mode, but don’t do it. Instead, take time to sort, cull and prioritize your list. Grab a new sheet of paper, and rewrite tasks, grouping errands or cleaning tasks, and making an “ideas” section for anything that isn’t pressing. Go ahead and ditch those perfectionist items that aren’t actually important to you, and choose to prioritize the most meaningful tasks first. Then take your planner, and begin figuring out when you can tackle those meaningful tasks.

What day will you tackle cleaning tasks or run errands? When will you tackle work projects? Do this with each aspect of your list, until all the critical things have a place. If this feels overwhelming, don’t fret! In a couple weeks, we’ll have an entire guide dedicated to this process because it’s that important. A well organized brain dump will propel you into your day, because you will have absolute clarity on what you need to tackle when.

Access & train your working memory.

​​The more you write down your goals and priorities, the more you are teaching your brain to focus on what is important to you. This builds a “working memory” around your priorities, enabling you to waste less energy on deciding what you need to do next in the day-to-day, so you can give more brain space to bigger goals and projects.

This planner was built to help you efficiently remember and execute your priorities. It helps you to train your working memory to focus on what matters most to you by guiding you to plan your days in the context of your week, to write important notes in a place where they’ll stay top-of-mind, and to rewrite your seasonal goals daily.

Nurture a flexible mindset.

Even with the best planning, life still throws punches and things play out in ways you could’ve never anticipated. Instead of mislabeling yourself as a “time-management failure” because of circumstances out of your control, you have the choice to strengthen your positive influence in any given situation. You can take a proactive approach to these challenges—whether big or small—by adopting a mindset that inspires you to pivot and handle the inevitable changes to your plans in creative and life-giving ways.

Three steps to nurture flexibility:

  • Make realistic plans to begin with.
  • When things don’t go as planned evaluate why. What was in your control? What wasn’t?
  • Know your priorities, so you can quickly pivot, maintaining focus on what is critical, and dropping or moving things to a later week that aren’t time pressing.
Sharpen your time-management skillset.

Think about it like becoming a skilled cook in a kitchen. You must build your planning and productivity skills over time, as you come upon new challenges. Learn as you go, practice patiently, and you’ll soon feel equipped to adapt your new skills to fit any given situation. Just as a skilled cook would not feel the pressure to use every technique they know every time they prepare a dish, you shouldn’t feel the pressure to exercise every single time-management or efficiency muscle you have every single moment of every day. You simply build your repertoire of skills for when you need them.

Our Quickstart Your Planning Guide will show you how to figure out which time-management skill you need to sharpen next, and includes a list of resources that you can choose from to get started right away.

Remember: these rules are not a once-and-done process, they are a cycle that you can move through again and again. The truth about intentional living is that it has to be adaptable, because your life will change constantly. The schedule rhythms you were following in January are likely not the ones that will work well in September. These four rules will help you to constantly adapt, change and perfect your planning processes, while doing it in a way that is unique to your lifestyle, season and needs.