Every year at this time, the gyms are packed. Self-help books are on sale on Amazon. Folks are arriving early to the office to make a good impression. People are buying extra floss for their New Year’s resolution to flossing their teeth daily. Ok, maybe that last one is just me.
The point is, the New Year is a time for goal setting. Many of us found 2016 to be a challenging year, and we want 2017 to be a better one, whether it’s for work or for our personal goals. Unfortunately, by February, four out of five of us who have set goals for the new year will have abandoned them.
Many of us have heard of SMART goals. To set more motivating goals, they need to be Specific (as in, clearly defined); Measurable (something that you can actually measure your progress towards); Attainable (can you actually do this?); Relevant (if you’re an entry level employee, getting to CEO may not be relevant for you right now); and Time-bound (when are you going to accomplish this goal?).
The problem is, even when we follow these guidelines, it’s hard to achieve our goals. That’s where using a written planner comes in. Research shows that people have better long-term memory and comprehension when they write things by hand. Around this idea, a whole crop of entrepreneurs, designers, and mommy bloggers have developed paper planners to improve goal-setting and make planning more fun. I’ve picked a few of my favorites and reviewed them here for you.
Action Day Results Planner
Developed by Icelandic computer executive and strategic planner Thorsteinn Gardarsson, the “Results Planner” helps you close the gap between planning and getting things done. An extensive opening section walks you through Gardarsson’s philosophy on values, goals, and actions. You set yearly goals based on your ideal self. The yearly calendars are at the beginning after the goal-setting section, and then the planner is organized by week.
Each week asks you to list tasks to execute, and has a section for delegation and teamwork. Since the Harvard Business Review reports we spend over 50 percent of our time in collaborative activities, many of you will find this especially helpful. At the end the planner has lined pages for notes. The planner comes in different sizes, including an 8×11 version, always my favorite.
Stats: Both calendar and academic year versions available. Two sizes, 8×11 inches and 6×8 inches. Two binding options and seven color options, wire bound with two color choices; and thread bound with five color choices.
Daily Action Planner
Developed through a collaboration between Angela Jia Kim, a concert pianist, and Sara Blette, an entrepreneur, the Daily Action Planner aims to make planning more fun. Sara and Angela exhort you to “Organize your Gorgeous Chaos.” The planner encourages an initial brain dump each day, asks you to reflect on your schedule, and helps you organize “3 Weeds” (unpleasant tasks) and “3 Seeds” (growth potential tasks). The “seeds” remind me of Steven Covey’s “important, but not urgent” tasks from “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” that help nourish the long-term vision we have but may not be pressing on us at the moment.
The Daily Action planner is portable. It’s a small, wire-bound notebook and you have one for each month. Coupling it with the Google Calendar you may share with colleagues or your partner, it helps organize the daily view of what you need to get done and align it with your overall vision.
Stats: 30-day and 90-day options available. One size, 6×9 inches, wire bound, six color options.
The Get to Work Book is an American-made planner by blogger Elise Blaha Cripe, who has taught online workshops on goal-setting. The planner is designed by Jolby + Friends, a design house in Portland, Ore. and printed there as well on recycled paper milled in Wisconsin. The planner starts with a year at a glance, allowing you to plan out projects, goals, and a vision for each month.
Each month starts with a card-stock calendar that has a motivational text in intriguing fonts, small area to write a focus for the month, and a small calendar. The page is perforated and you can tear this out for your wall to inspire you each month. There’s a gridded page on each of the month tabs. Then, there are weekly pages with eight columns. The first has space for three action items, and then on the top of each day column there is space for three action items.
This tactic of setting three action items for each week and day reminded me of the book “Organize Tomorrow Today,” by Dr. Jason Selk, who advises professional athletes, and college basketball coach Tom Bartow. Each day, they recommend setting three action items for tomorrow to help your subconscious mind chew over them while you’re finishing your day and sleeping. The Get to Work Book is perfectly designed for this strategy. At the end of each month, the book includes a project breakdown page and a goal reflection page to help you look back on your progress. The very back has a few gridded notes pages, and one feature I really like — it passes the “Sharpie test” so you can use a Sharpie marker without bleed through.
Stats: Both calendar year and academic year versions available (academic year sold out now). One size, paper 7×9 inches and book 8.25x9x1 inches. Two binding and color options, wire bound in chipboard or black bookboard and unbound version.
The LifePlanner came out the same year as the first iPhone, which is seemingly anachronistic, but speaks to the power of planning on paper. For those of you who color-coded your notes in high school or college, you will love this planner. The cover is customizable with many different options, and can be written on with dry-erase markers.
For goal setting, each month has a section for writing down your monthly goals. A set of stickers is included to help color code your activities. I particularly like the “Perpetual Planner” included in a pocket at the back, where you can record birthdays and anniversaries and transfer it to future planners. The LifePlanner also comes with fun accessories, like additional stickers, a clear snap-in pouch, and a snap-in “dashboard,” also a dry-erase friendly piece, where you can keep your goals front and center.
Stats: 12- and 18-month versions available in three layouts: vertical, horizontal, and hourly. One size, 7×9 inches. Wire bound with four customizable colors, and more design options than I could count, including floral, patterns, nature, quotes, metallics, and personalized photos (yep, this one is a lot of fun to design).
Poppin Pocket Planner
Poppin’s pocket planner is part of Poppin’s larger set of tools designed to help you “Work Happy”–a motto that was all over the box I received from them. This planner is colorful, bright, and another great option for you color-coders out there. It also comes with stickers to help you organize your day. The inside design is simple, with monthly and weekly pages. The front page has a pocket, which makes it helpful for looseleaf paper notes.
One feature I like about this planner is it’s simplicity–there are big, unlined spaces for each day in the weekly pages and both lined and gridded pages at the back of the planner for notes. I tend to take a lot of notes at meetings, so this lets me fit in more if I have multiple meetings by writing a bit smaller.
Poppin has colorful to-do list pads on their site, one I especially like which is a long, horizontal to-do list that fits below your keyboard (it works great to help lift up your wrists as you type. There are 52 sheets so you can use it every day of the year.
Stats: 12- and 18-month versions available. One size, 6×8.5 inches. Two bindings, four colors, soft cover in black and white and wire bound in aqua and pink.
My last “planner” isn’t really a planner, and it isn’t on paper, so I’m contradicting myself. However, it was unique and I thought I would share it. Self-Authoring is a website where you can write an in-depth analysis of your personality, envision your ideal future, and write a structured autobiography. The site prompts you with questions, and you take a bit of time to reflect on each one.
Created by a team of clinical and research psychologists, the site is based on research that will help people feel happier, less depressed and physically healthier. I found the questions to be thought-provoking and helpful, although harder than I expected! You definitely won’t sit and write the answers to all the questions in one setting, but it can help determine who you really are and what might be standing in the way of achieving your goals.
This year I was really struggling with what goals I should set. We’re almost through our first year of having four children, and nothing huge is changing for our family in the near future. What did I really want to achieve this year? Self-Authoring helped me think through the changes that I might want, and what was working really well for us. It would go well with any of the planners described above to kick-start a really great year.
Stats: Online at selfauthoring.com
I would love to use all of these planners, but I’m still deciding which one might work best for me. Do you have a favorite planner not mentioned? Let me know in the comments.
Nicole Coomber is a lecturer in management and organization for the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business and mother to four boys. She writes about managing parenthood and work at managingmotherhood.net.