The Planning Process

A few weeks ago on Philofaxy, Paul asked the question as to how everyone uses their planner—not just the set up, but the actual planning process.  Here, I will try my best to answer that question.  There is a lot that goes into my process, which requires a lot of photos, so please bear with me and this long-winded post…

Since I recently bought my 2013 inserts, I will start there.  Upon receiving the next year’s inserts, I fill them out with any birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc.  I file them accordingly depending on where in the year the inserts fall (for full details, click on the link above).  I always have a year’s worth of monthly inserts in my binder, so every six months, I rotate those inserts—in July, after I’ve received my next year’s inserts, I remove January – June of the current year and add January – June of the new year, making it a July – June spread.  In January I will remove the July – December inserts for the old year and add July – December of the new year, making it a January – December spread.  This helps will all future planning.

Turning to my daily planner, I will walk you through my set up, as well as my monthly, weekly and daily planning.  First, it has to be said that I use my compact daily planner in tandem with my stay-at-home Malden.  I use the compact size binder on a daily basis, limiting what I can carry with me, so the Malden holds everything that I want to keep but not carry with me.

Right now, I’m using Ms. Plum.  However, if I were using Reggie (who will be rotated in at another time of the year), the layout and process would be the same—it’s just the binder that gets rotated out.  So, upon opening the binder, we have some appointment cards and sheets of random information.

I also rotate out which Vermont postcard I have in the binder.

After the postcard, I have my dashboard.

It holds Post-it notes and flags for various purposes.  The flags are mainly used for color coding random notes that need to be added to my diary sheets once I am home and have my colored pens.  So the flags are for temporary use, or for something that tends to get moved from week to week.

The back of the dashboard holds larger Post-it notes.

I use these as needed.

My planner is broken down into Contacts, Writing, Notes, Projects, Lists and Calendar.

Because I use the compact size, there are only two or three sheets behinds each tab.  I tried removing the tabs and keeping everything together behind a Notes tab.  That just created confusion and a lot of flipping of pages to find what I was looking for.  Even though there isn’t much behind each tab, I prefer to keep them.

The Contacts tab keeps only phone numbers for people and places that I might call from work—I’m not allowed to use my cell phone at work, so this has come in handy many times.  I keep a full and complete address book in my Malden, which includes address, phone number, and email address.  Phone numbers and emails addresses are also stored electronically (in my cell phone and email account, respectively), but I don’t like to rely solely on electronic storage.  My contact pages are broken down into Emergency Contacts (family), Doctors, and Services (car maintenance, the Vet, etc).  I use a template that I created on Microsoft Word.

My Writing section keeps a list of blog topic ideas, Philofaxy All Stars post ideas (forthcoming), and journal topics I want to write about.

I don’t get the opportunity to write in my journal every day, so writing down the topics helps me to remember what to write about when I do get the chance.

My Projects tab holds information for projects that I’m actively working on (anything that’s upcoming or that I would only need to use at home are listed in my Malden).  Each project gets its own colored sheet.  When the project is done, I remove the sheet from the binder.  Should an inactive or upcoming project become active, I will move it from my Malden to my compact binder.  Examples of projects are the New York City Philofaxy Meet Up, Christmas ideas, etc.

My Lists tab holds shopping lists and media lists.

My Malden holds lists for things that I want to eventually get, whereas the compact binder holds lists of things I need soon.  If something from my Malden list becomes urgent, I will move the item to the list in the compact.  The item in the Malden gets a check mark until it gets bought—at that point, it will be crossed off of the list.

The Calendar tab is where all of the planning action occurs.  First, I have a cheat sheet for my color coding, as well as future items that I need to be aware of and add to that year’s calendar.

Then comes my monthly inserts.

I can’t live without this layout.  It helps me to see my month all in one place and helps me to decide how to plan my weekends.  My work schedule is done on a monthly basis as well, so it’s very helpful to have this view.  It’s where all of my future items go (in pencil until confirmed).

After the monthly sheets, I have my daily sheets.

I can only carry three months of daily sheets in the compact binder at a time, which is enough for me.  If anything beyond those days is scheduled, I pencil it in on the monthly sheets and add the items to the daily sheets when they are rotated in—at the start of each month, I remove the old month and add the further new month, so at the start of September, I’ll remove the August daily sheets and add the November daily sheets, giving me daily sheets for September, October, and November.  At that time, anything listed on the November monthly calendar will be added to the November daily sheets.

In addition to personal items, I also keep track of my work items in my compact binder.

Since I recently wrote about the details of that, I won’t repeat it again here.

On each monthly tab, I have a to-do list for the month.

I add items to the corresponding monthly list as they come up.  The to-do sheet is stuck to the monthly tab if it’s in the compact binder (currently August, September, and October).  Anything beyond that, the to-do list is stuck to the actual monthly insert.

Once the monthly tab is rotated in, the list gets moved to the monthly tab.  I don’t love that the list is stuck to the actual monthly page—sometimes this makes planning a little difficult since part of the writing space is covered by the sticky sheet.  However, since most of my detailed planning doesn’t happen until three months prior (or before), it’s doable.

The specifics on how my to-do items are moved around is a bit complicated, but it works for me.  First, anything that needs to be done on a specific day gets added to that day.  If something isn’t completed, I move it to a different day, one where I have a chance of getting the item done.  If there’s a non-date-specific item, it gets added to my DayTimer Hot Sheet

This allows me to keep those items in mind without them cluttering up my daily sheets.  (Long-term work items are on the reverse.)  If I have time to work on something from that list, I will put a check mark next to the item on the hot sheet, write the item in on the day where I have time, and hopefully finish the task.  Once the task is done, it gets crossed off on both the day and hot sheet.  

Again, I have long-term to-do items and projects in my Malden.

When they are added to my compact binder, the items in the Malden get a check mark, and are crossed off completely only when they are finished.

Every month, once I get my work schedule, I add it to my compact binder.  I also add it to my Google Calendar so that my husband has a copy.  My Google Calendar is also synced with my iPhone so that I always have a copy of it, even if I’m on the go without my planner.  I don’t use GC for planning purposes, only for reference.  The items in my planner get a check mark next to them once they’re in the GC so that I know what I’ve already added—any future items without a check mark need to be added.  (This makes it easy to see what I still need to add when I go through future items every Sunday after my weekly planning.)

Every Sunday evening, I plan out my week in detail.  It starts off looking something like this:

From here, I draw lines down the page for how long an event will occur (work usually occurs from 9 to 5, so I’ll draw a line down to the 5 o’clock slot).  I also add my workout schedule and any other appointments that have come up (like a visit with my mom, etc.).  Once they’ve been added to the Google Calendar, they get a check mark.  Anything still left in pencil gets rewritten in the appropriate color ink.  At this point, I will also look at my monthly to-do list to see if anything can be crossed off.

Every morning, I pack up my planner and take it to work with me.  Once I get there, I add any notes (workout times, any medication taken, etc.) and the weather for the current and next days (my sinus pain usually reflects changes in the weather).  I keep my planner open on my desk all day—mainly because my work to-do items are listed there as well, but this gives me easy access to any of my inserts if I need to add any items during the day, work or personal.

In the evening, I look at it again to see if there’s anything I need to attend to once I’m home.  If so, I do it or move it to a different day.  If not, well, then there’s nothing for me to do.  For the most part, when I’m home, my planner lies open on my desk upstairs.  I will take it downstairs if I need it to work on something or if I’m planning events with my husband.  However, most times it stays on the desk—if I put it in the same place every time, I’m more likely to find it when I need it.  (The office/second bedroom is just down the hall from my bedroom and bathroom, so if I run out of something and need to add it to my shopping list, my planner is only steps away.  The grocery list is another beast entirely.)

Each night before bed, I look at it again to make sure there’s nothing outstanding.  If there is, at this point, I move it to another day.  I highlight any important information from the day, cross of the day on the monthly sheet, and switch my hot sheet to the other side of the planner and/or flip the page, depending on the day.

The next morning, evening, week, and month starts the processes all over again.

I hope I have answered the original question.  Please feel free to ask if something is not clear.  Sometimes when I write long, detailed posts like this, I try to be as clear as possible (and it is in my mind) but it only comes out confusing for the reader.


  1. Great post! I am still trying to get a system going that works well for me at this point in my life.

    1. Thanks! It took me a long time to find this exact system. It's changed somewhat over the years, though the general set up was always the same - monthly and weekly or daily pages. I used to use weekly, but I've come to the point of wanting more information on my pages. Just try a number of different things until you find what you need. =)

  2. Compact is quite the rage, isn't it? I moved into one months ago (a wine Holborn) and love those tiny rings! My set up is essentially like yours, strictly a planner, so the room of a personal just isn't necessary for me on the go. A wonderful, in-depth post - thankyou!!

    1. When I first got the compact, I felt like there weren't too many people using it. But it's become more popular over the last few months. I love seeing how other people use their compact as well, since it's limited on space. I'm glad the post wasn't too in-depth and boring - thank you! :)

  3. Wow. You actually make using a compact a feasible thing... I'm just still too in love with my stuffed personal to make the switch. Maybe someday :)

    1. It is feasible if you're willing to give up some space. I liked the personal size belt felt I was carrying an antire years worth of inserts just to fill out the binder - I don't need to carry that much with me, so the compact works very well for me. Your Malden is a thing of wonder, so I wouldn't be too quick to give it up anyway. ;-)

  4. Cant believe I have only just found this! Great post and I really enjoyed seeing your system. I loved reading everyone:s replies and took away some good tips.Its one of my favourite things about the filofax community, its so damned helpful :)

    1. What? You mean my blog ISN'T the first place you go to every morning? ;) Just kidding, of course! (There's my sarcasm again.) Thank you for the comment. I am always thrilled whenever I can offer any kind of tips for planning and organizing - it's what I do best!

  5. Wonderful - thanks for a great post. Plenty of inspiring ideas here!

    1. Thanks Gerard! My ideas are usually a combination of what works for me, I think might work (until proven wrong), and what works for others.

  6. Great post! Thanks for giving such an in depth review. It's really helpful to see how others are using their FF.

    1. Thanks Bryan! I hope i didn't bore anyone with all of my rambling on. Sometimes it takes a long time to explain exactly how I use my planner. I agree, I love seeing the inside of other people's planners.

  7. I am just in the middle of setting up my planner again as it hasn't been working for me lately. I recently returned a personal Osterley as I found the pen loop got in the way of the tabs. Looking online, the measurements of the binder was quite a lot smaller than some of the other binders and the pen loop was positioned further in from the binder edge. I was just wondering how you manage with the pen loop on your Osterley?

  8. The pen I use for everyday writing is larger than any Filofax pen loop will comfortably allow, so I don't even bother trying. However, I do manage to use the pen loop by hooking the pen clasp to the outside of the pen loop. So the pen isn't flush against the tabs. The binders still close without a problem. Although the picture below is of my compact regency, I do the same with the osterley:

    I hope this helps!


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