On Planners, Productivity, and Idle Pleasures

Happy New Year, everyone!  Here is my first confession of 2013:  I’m a planner geek-nerd-obsessive.  I love the tactile and aesthetic delights of a paper planner, as well as the practical benefits. Opening a new planner on January 1 is something I start looking forward to weeks before the calendar page actually flips.  I absolutely agree with Daven Allen (productivity guru and author of Getting Things Done, or “GTD” to his many disciples), who believes that if we are always trying to remember what we have to do (or want to do), and when we need to do it, then our brain will never be free to tend its higher purposes:  creative work, art, serenity.


For me, planning is not about “productivity” in the material sphere:  working more to make more money, to “get ahead,” or get more stuff.   It’s about making sure my precious days reflect my life priorities.  In addition to doing good professional work (writing, speaking, teaching), I also want to keep a harmonious household, and have time to focus on my family.

to doBeyond that, there are the “idle pleasures” that make us whole people.  For me, these include knitting and sewing, learning French, practicing violin, studying birds, and walking aimlessly through the woods.  A good planning system keeps me from frittering my days away mindlessly, and gives me a kind of creative productivity that allows more freedom and joy in my days.

For years, I’ve been pretty much in love with my Franklin-Covey planner, and after so much use the green leather binder that houses the planning pages has become worn and inviting. So for me it’s kind of a big deal that this year I’ve decided to “date other planners,” and am trying the Planner Pad, recommended to me by Waverly Fitzgerald, author of the meditative book, Slow Time:  Recovering the Natural Rhythm of Life (which I reviewed here).

Sorry, Planner Pad people–I covered the logo on the front of the pad with this sticker from the good folks at Microcosm.

The Planner Pad breaks through the simple linearity of most calendars.  You can find out all about it on their website, but essentially it works like this:  Each week appears on a two page spread.  The top third of these pages is divided into seven columns that you label as you choose–each column representing a particular project, role, goal, or theme in your life.  These can change week to week, as needed.

Possible labels I might use include:  Current Book Project, Tangled Nest, Speaking/Teaching, Household/Family, Meal Planning, Garden, Radiant Health, Craft/DIY, Personal, and perhaps a column for Dreams/Wild Imaginings (even hardcore GTD-ers have such a category, which they label “Someday/Maybe”).  I suppose “Other” would also be a useful category.

In each column, you record the most important things you want to accomplish, or anything else you want to remember to think about regarding that theme.  In the middle third of the pages, the columns are labeled Monday through Sunday, and in the blank lines underneath, you create your daily to-dos, drawn from the intentions written above.  The bottom third is for specific appointments and time-based scheduling.

This all seems more organic to me than a typical planner, and full of possibility for focusing more clearly on priorities, dreams, and intentions, rather than becoming lost in daily to-do lists.  There are also full-page month views, planning calendars for the coming three years, and plenty of blank pages for notes (these I’ve index-tabbed, and use for things like lists of books I want to read, films I want to see, gift ideas for friends and family, quotes and words I’d like to use in my writing, and a record of birds seen in my yard).


The Planner Pad ain’t pretty.  It comes in a rather clinical black or green, with a plain, executive look. In an attempt at aesthetics, they created a colorful “Seasons” version, which isn’t at all to my taste.  Even so, I find that with my colored inks, my post-it notes-to-self, and the images I always tape into my planner, this notebook is already starting to look quite Lyanda-ish.

I love handwritten missives, and always carry cards and stamps in the front pocket of my planners, so I can write a postcard or thank you in spare moments.

Poet Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  What tools do you use in seeking an answer to this question?  As a planner nerd, I’d love to hear about them.


  1. Kendra

    I’m a fellow planner-nerd! But, since the advent of the Palm V (Feb. ’99) I have not used a paper planner. I have to admit, your planner is a lot more beautiful than mine; I currently use my Samsung Windows phone. This is used for the family calendar, my daily To Do list, reminders, birthdays, books I need to read, house projects I’d like to complete, etc.. Pretty much my entire life is in my phone. Not pretty, but the OCD is kept in check. 🙂 I do have a cute picture of our cat, Marley, as my wallpaper (Elise took the photo). And the previous wallpaper was a photo I took at the beach of wet dunes with dog paw prints leading off towards the horizon. You have inspired me to remember that my “planner” should not be just my endless To Do list. It can be so much more. Thank you!

  2. Nancy

    I’ve never seen that one before. I used to be a big Day Timer fan, but was/am always on the search for the “perfect” planner and I designed my own from time to time. I currently use my own custom setup that I am always tweaking, and I love seeing new ideas. Thanks!

  3. Deb

    Oh dear. I am not keeping up with the Joneses at all. I’ve tried different planners only to find myself in full revolt against linear time and overwhelming “to do” lists. Currently I’m using a tablet, calligraphy pen, and scraps of paper to organize myself. And I’ve just started including daily writing goals as well as those idle pleasures. I like the idea of perhaps upgrading from the tablet by experimenting with page layouts…my plan for my one wild and precious life is to stay wild as I can and keep it at the right speed. Thank you for the intriguing ideas…

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  5. gillian

    I have been using Planner Pads for 15 years (?) and love them because they are so flexible, and you can keep all of your important info in one place.

    I use the monthly calendar pages to plan a month of meals, rather than record appointments, and do annual garden planning on the blank back pages. I make Xmas lists and record purchased presents in the back, too, so I can track them all year. I also annually transfer all my important phone numbers to the mostly-blank cover page. (Best tip.)

    I love how you can alter this system to fit all your needs and I love feeling pages in my hands, too!

  6. I too am a planner geek. I love them. And I don’t even wait till January 1 I start my new ones on Solstice! Of course that’s possible because I use The We’Moon Planner that has a couple weeks prior to the new year in it. I’ve used this one for several years now and haven’t switched because it has moon, wheel of the year holiday and other such information in it. But it has very little room for things for each day. So I fill in what I can and use post its and little pieces of paper for everything else. I find there is a lot of “every thing else”. There are always the days or weeks things I need to or would like to do, quick notes on things to look further into, notes on blogging or writing subjects that I want to remember to take time to work on and so much more. So I am curious about other planner options…only I dread having to fill in a whole years worth of moon info and such. I wonder if there is something out there for me that has it all…

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