Planner Lists

It’s been a little over a month since my last post.  Cappuccino has been busy keeping my crazy weekends organized and well planned.  (I have to say that I absolutely LOVE this binder.  It was worth every penny, and I have no desire to move out of it any time soon.)  Since first writing about my new Van der Spek binder, I have been to Philadelphia and New York City, done volunteer work (twice), worked a couple of weekends, gone to a Mother’s Day brunch, and gone back to Philadelphia.  Now she’s helping me to relax during my vacation at home.

This is a list of things to I’d like to accomplish while I’m off this week.  But it’s a loose list, meaning if I don’t get to cross these items off my list, it’s okay—this is just what I would like to get done. 

I started this list a few weeks ago.  Since my weekends have been so busy, there have been a lot of things that I didn’t get to (blogging is one of those things).  So I created this list as a way to get to some of these items while I’m off.  I added things as they popped into my head.

This got me thinking about lists in general.  I love lists.  They help me to stay organized.  They help me to make sense out of chaos.  They help bring perspective to random ideas floating around in my head.  They help me determine what must be done now and what can wait until another day.

Many experts will tell you to keep only one master to do list, that keeping multiple lists will only cause confusion and result in things falling through the cracks.  I agree with this, though only sometimes—it depends on the person and their productivity level.  If you’re just starting out, yes, I would recommend one to do list.  If you’re an out-of-sight-out-of-mind person, yes, I’d recommend only one to do list.  But if you are pretty good at checking multiple lists or need to focus only on what is important right now, then I would say multiple lists are fine.

I fall into the latter category.  While I like to keep “master” lists, they are a running list of everything I would like to accomplish.  But that includes things that don’t need to be done on any specific timetable.  I get easily overwhelmed if my to do list is too large.  I tend to focus on the entire list rather than honing in on what is most important.  So I break my master lists down and pick and choose what to work on first—those items are moved to more important lists, lists that I accomplish first, leaving those other items out of sight and out of my mind.  In this way, what I don’t see doesn’t overwhelm me.  Plus, I like to organize my lists according to how, when, and where they can be finished. 

With so many different lists, it is easy to get confused, I admit.  But so long as I cross-reference my tasks (or at least make some indication that a task have been put on some other list), it’s pretty easy to figure out and keep straight in my head.

I have several lists, both on paper and in digital format.  Over the next few posts, I will discuss how I create and utilize my lists.  First, I will start with my paper lists.

To explain, because I use a compact binder for my daily planner (13 mm rings hold only about 5 sheets of paper), there is only so much information I can keep here.  Things that need to be done on a certain day, items that I need to get to sooner rather than later, or if I need them with me on the go, live in my daily planner.  Everything else is housed in my Household Binder, which stays home (hence the name).  The items that I need in front of me (when I’m ready for them) get moved from the Household Binder to my daily planner as the need arises.  Other items never need to be in my daily planner, and those items stay in the Household Binder, and I work off of those lists from there. 

Individual items or tasks are not kept in either binder based on which category the task falls in (items for ME alone versus items for the house in general), but are divided based on whether I need them with me at all times versus the ones that can stay home.  For clarification of where the tasks live, I will call them Household (items that can stay home in the Household Binder) or Personal (items I need with me in my daily planner).  My personal daily planner is the hub to which all other lists point, so the items in here are the most important.

Let’s start with the Household Binder.  In this binder I keep many lists, as well as a running list of finances for the month, password information, and a full address book.

In my notes section, I have reference lists, or lists of items that I have for reference purposes only. 

Actions don’t necessarily need to be taken for these lists, but they are handy if I need to refer to them for some reason.  Here are a few examples:

Bag List

Yes, this is a list of bags that I currently own and use.  This was created because I’m trying to sell some of my bags, and this list helps me to see which ones I love and use most often.  I like to rotate my bags for the seasons, and within the seasons, by purpose.  If a bag did not make this list, off to be sold it goes.

Body Wash Scents

I love St. Ives’ body washes.  This is a list of the scents I have tried and like.  I can be sensitive to strong scents, so this is why I keep this list, just in case I come across something I don’t like, I can make a note of it here.  I have a similar list for Bath & Body Works’ lotions for the same reason.

Day Trips

This is a list of places my husband and I would like to visit.  This specific list is for places that are close enough to home to do in one day.  I have another list of places to visit that we would need a weekend or a few days for.  When the opportunity arises, we look at this list and choose one.

The Household section includes lists that pertain to the house in general.

Specifically, I keep cleaning lists here: weekly, monthly, seasonally.

I move the little sticky flag from item to item each week (or month or season, depending).  So, in my daily planner, for a Saturday, say, I will write the task of “clean.”  I then refer to this list to see what comes next.  Although it’s changed slightly, you can read more about my cleaning system here.

In this tabbed section, I also keep a list of household items to buy.

These are items that don’t need to be purchased right away.  But I don’t want to forget about them, either.  So they go on this list.  When we have the opportunity to purchase something extra for the house (or if the need arises for one of these items), I will move the item to my daily planner, most likely to my monthly list (see below).  When the item is moved from the list in the Household Binder, it gets a check mark and a notation of which list it has been moved to (shown above).  When the item has been purchased, it will be crossed off completely, both on this list and whatever list it has been moved to.

I also have a list of places within the house to organize.

These items are not considered normal tasks because they usually require more time than an individual task would—perhaps a few hours are needed or an entire day.  Also, items might need to be purchased in order to help complete one of my organizing projects.  Therefore, they get their own list.  When I have the appropriate amount of time to devote to one of these projects, I will schedule it in my daily planner, on whatever day I think I can work it in.

The Household To Do list lives in my Household section, too.

These are items that need to be done eventually but that don’t require a full day or several hours to complete, though, actually, I do see some items that would eventually be turned into projects since they would require multiple steps to complete…

…which bring us to the Projects section.

Projects are different from individual tasks because they require multiple steps to complete, as I mentioned above.  Each project gets its own sheet of colored notepaper.

Projects that are kept here are ones that I would typically work on only while at home.  I don’t need them with me all of the time, so they can stay in the Household Binder.  Should a project become something that I would need with me (redoing the kitchen, say, when I’d need to have my information with me should a contractor call), then I would move it to my personal daily planner.  Until that time, it would stay here and I would work off of the list from this binder.

Moving to my personal daily planner, my first section is Writing, and within this section, I keep a list of blog topics to write about, as well as journal topics to write about.

While I never blog away from home, I will often think of topics when I’m out.  Often they come to me while I’m reading other blogs or reading an article, mostly during my lunch break at work.  So I like to keep this list with me.

The same with my journal topics.  I don’t get to write every day, so I like to keep a list of things I want to write about.  When I have the time to journal, I can easily refer to this list.

My personal Projects section is the same as the Household projects, but these are projects that I tend to work on any given day.

The above list is a running list of all of the projects I have in play at the moment.  By that I mean I’ve already started the planning process for them.  I haven’t necessarily started working on them, but at the very least, I have a list of what needs to be done for them.  Again, each project gets its own sheet of colored notepaper.

One of my current projects is helping Steve with the upcoming New York City Philofaxy meet up.

I have a list of restaurants to contact and choose from (done!) and a list of retailers we can visit (to be discussed soon).  Other notes will go here as they come up.

I love country music concerts and most of them come around here in the summer.  But since we can’t go to all of them, I keep a running list so that we can choose wisely.

Sadly, so far there aren’t nearly as many this year as there were last year.

Next is my To Do section.  Right now, I have a sticky note with a list of spring-cleaning items that need to happen attached to the tab itself.

A lot of these will be completed when the pollen stops flying.  Until then, it’s pointless.

I also have a list of items that I would like to research.

Currently, it is blank because I just moved all of my items to wherever they need to live.  However, this list will hold books, music, or movies to look into.  Once I’ve check to see if they’re owned by my library or I’ve written down the release date, they will get crossed off and/or moved to their own list (read about my book list to get a feel for those lists).

I also have a To Do list here as well.

Typically, this list is more for me personally than for the house.

In the To Buy section, I keep a running list of items that need to be purchased.

I keep backup stock for things like shampoo, toothpaste, etc.  When something runs out, I replace it with the back stock.  I then write the item on my list.  I like this system because it means I rarely run out of something that can’t be quickly replaced (unless I—or someone else—forgets to write it on the list).  It also gives me time to purchase a product—if I don’t make it to the store for two weeks, it’s not a big deal.  I cross these items off as I buy them.

I have separate sheets for different stores.  I usually run to Target for my bath/house items every two weeks or so.  A trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond might only happen once a month.  Other stores, like Staples or Sports Authority happen only when I have time or the need.

Finally, the nitty gritty of my to do lists—my monthly and daily tasks.  These lists are actionable, meaning they consist only of things that require an action (so not for reference purposes or when I get to them).  Monthly lists need to happen some time during that month.  Daily lists need to happen that day.  If items don’t happen within these time frames, they will get rescheduled for another month or day.

I keep my Monthly List on a Day Timer sticky note list.

The sticky sheet is placed on the month sheet itself.  Items will be added here as I think of them, as the need arises, or if they come from one of the other lists mentioned above.

Because I use a compact, I have to rotate in my daily sheets.  I can keep only 2 months worth of daily sheets, so when a month’s daily sheets are placed in my daily planner, I will move the monthly list to that month’s tab before the daily sheets.

This allows for easy access to the list and frees up the monthly sheet for active planning for that month.

Many of the monthly tasks will eventually get moved to a certain day within the month.  Which day will depend on when the task needs to be done or when I have time to work on it.  Daily task lists are also comprised of items that pop up weekly or as I think of them or as the need arises.  Here is an example of a daily task list:

If a daily task gets pulled from my monthly list, the item on the monthly list gets a check mark.  When I’m looking at my monthly list, this indicates to me that the task was placed on a specific day.  When the item has been completed, it will get crossed off on both the daily list and the monthly list, as well as any other list it came from (for example, if the task originated from a master list in my Household Binder).

The final list in my daily planner is the Reminder list.

These are items (kept on a Day Timer Hot Sheet) that I want to get to sooner rather than later but that don’t have any specific due date.  It’s really a very random list.

So there you have it, a list of my entire paper planner lists.  Note that none of these contain my work tasks.  They are kept digitally on Wunderlist.  I did write about this a while back, but I have since added to my use of this product, so I will do an update soon.

Note: I am not affiliated with any of the companies or products mentioned.  All opinions are my own.


  1. hi, first time commenter here.. I was wondering how you synch planning with your husband? Does he have binders, or does he use your household binder as reference?

    1. Hi Saskia! Thanks for your comment and question.

      Our Household binder doesn't include any kind of calendar, just information. My husband uses Google Calendar as his planning method, though it's just for appointments. He's not as into planning as I am. However, we do like to know what the other is up to. I sync my planner with Google Calendar as well (appointments/work schedule only, no tasks). You can read more about the specifics on that here:

      Let me know if you have further questions. :)

  2. I love your blog posts where I get to see inside your planner! I am always impressed with how well you utilize a compact. Working off of lists makes my life so much easier and I usually don't go around thinking I am forgetting something :) Your Day Trips list is one I had not thought of making but it would come in very handy this summer. - - - Nice post!

    1. Thanks, Amy. Yes, there's a lot of moving pages around when using a compact (at least in my case since I prefer the daily pages). But it eliminates my carrying around extra pages that I don't need just to fill out a personal size planner.

      Regarding the lists in my planner -- come are totally unnecessary (as far as planning goes) but come in handy for references purposes. It takes some time to set some up some of those lists, but once they're created, it's just a matter of referring to them and/or adding to them. So it works out well. And the great things about lists is that you can create one for just about anything! :)

  3. This is very inspiring, thank you. I am in the process of setting up a personal binder again after using a pocket binder for a month. Since I have more space again, that is suddenly overwhelming somehow but this gives me many good ideas so that I can feel more organized again.

    1. Oh, how nice! I'm glad this post could offer some inspiration. :) As a compact user, I do find regular personal size binders a challenge to fill. I could carry a personal full of lists very easily. But since I don't need most of them with me all of time, I leave them at home. But I have found that once I started lists for various items, more list ideas came to me.

  4. What a great resource list!

    I have bag lists, too, but they are lists of the things that go IN the bag, so I don't forget anything.

    1. Thanks! And what a great idea, to keep a list of items that go IN your bag. I might steal that and create a list for this purpose myself, though probably more for trips or uses other than my daily carry. I have smaller bags in my larger bag to keep all of the little things together, making bag switching easy and painless. But every once in a while, the items will change. Thanks for the idea!

  5. Hi! I was catching up with my blog reading and I've absolutely enjoyed reading this post. I've come to some sort of planner crisis lately -- meaning, the system I had no longer works (how do I know? I don't check my planner, and do more tasks than those written down). So this came just in time. I think I'm going to set up a new list system inspired by yours, because I think it makes so much sense. My planning is so much more about to-do's than about events, after all!

    Thanks so much for sharing your system and your lists!

    1. Thank you, Becky! Even with a fairly organized planner, when I feel overwhelmed by the amount of things I have to do, I will create a list -- a brain dump -- and organize that into smaller lists if need be. Having so many lists might be mind-boggling for some people, but it really helps me sort through what's in my brain and what need to be done first.

      Good luck on setting up your lists!

  6. Do you use your planner at work? Do you keep it open at work? How do you plan daily? Love your posts, reading backwards now your posts.

    1. Thanks!

      My latest post (the one on Digital Action Lists) explains how I keep track of my work tasks. In short, I do not use a planner for work. I keep all of my appointments (work and personal) in my main planner. I keep track of my tasks in Wunderlist. (You can see the details for that in the latest post.) I keep Wunderlist open all day at work to move tasks around and update my progress, etc. My planner is closed most of the time (I share an office with others), unless I'm referring to something or writing something down.

    2. Seems lije you could do without a filofax. So why do you use a paper planner? Is it ok to ask what do you do at work?

    3. Perhaps I could do without a planner. But I prefer paper over technology for planning my days, schedule, and personal tasks. The exception is work tasks, and that's only because I move items around a lot -- several times a day. Keeping them in digital form makes that much easier. When I used a planner for that, I spent a lot of time rewriting tasks, so moving everything to Wunderlist streamlined that process. I do a lot outside of work, too, so all of that is kept in my planner, as well as various other notebooks and binders.

      I am a librarian, which means I do many different things in a given day. :)


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