Need planner ideas, FT student, FT employee, FT self employed

I need some help! I am fairly organized by nature but need help determining the best planner method to use. I am a full-time college student(all online currently). I also work full time in a management position so have to keep track of things for work. We use our Outlook calendar on a daily basis for organizing our meetings. On top of all this, I am self employed cleaning out and repairing foreclosed homes for banks. I do 1-2 properties a week. This involves managing 1-2 employees 1-2 days per week to complete these. I have a very organized computer file system(using LiveDrive as an online network drive). I really need to do a better job planning my school work time to go elsewhere from home and work, and track my assignments better.

Any recommendations on a physical planner would be great. I am a believer that most of these types of systems would do the same thing, and it mainly depends on the ease of learning how to use them and then sticking with one. I am looking for recommendations on which one to make the investment in.


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Circa or ring-bound system - both work well

I'm a recent Circa convert, but I still have plenty of ring binder planners laying around that I now use for project/subject specific items. Both are flexible, but Circa has a much higher startup cost. You can get a decent-looking but inexpensive 3-ring binder in classic or letter size at any office supply store, along with an inexpensive 3-hole punch (get an adjustable one if you're going to use classic size). Since the year is already underway, you can find some good deals on this year's dated calendar inserts, or you can roll your own using forms found here or your own designs. I prefer HP's 28-lb color laser paper for my own printing - it's a nice weight and it's great to write on. It also works great in my color laser printer. Lighter-weight papers sometimes get scrunched up in the printer, but the 28-lb goes through with no problems - even for duplex printing.

Welcome, from a fellow busy person!

I wear a lot of hats, too... single mom, volunteer, coder, small business owner, and so on.

Here's what I'm currently using:

My planner:

A Day Timer desk sized (what DIYplanner calls "classic" size) leather binder.
3 months of Day Timer two page per day reference pages at a time.
A year of 2 page per month tabbed dividers at a time.
Alphabetical dividers and address/phone book pages from I-forget-where
A couple of clear business card holder pages
A few custom pages I made for myself (described below)
A few of my own business cards to give out

My folio:

An inexpensive leather (or fake leather, I'm not really sure) pad holder folio I found on sale @ OfficeMax.
Docket Diamond pad (lined letter-size pad made of nice thick, fountain-pen friendly, watermarked paper)
Folders in the folder pocket contain copies of contracts and other info for active projects @ work, and stationery so I can dash off a quick, good-looking message as needed
Extra business cards


I don't follow any published organization system...I've mostly worked mine out through trial and error over the years. The custom pages I use include:

  • "Irons In the Fire" -- A list of my ongoing commitments -- volunteer projects, home improvement plans, things I'm saving for, etc. that helps me keep the big picture in sight.
  • "Long Term To-Do" -- On the lined outside of my most current 2-page-per-month divider, I maintain a list of my long-term to-dos, things I need to do "when I find time", or need to make time for, but don't yet have scheduled for a particular date.
  • "Budget" -- Pretty self-explanatory, I think.
  • "Resources" -- People, things I have access to... notes I want to have at hand when someone asks me "can we do this?"
  • A copy of my son's school schedule.
  • A copy of my mom's school schedule.
  • A CD holder with a bootable Linux distro on it, and some security and communication tools.
  • Reference pages with things like customer numbers and phone numbers for businesses I use on the go like car rental agencies, copy centers, etc, and businesses I patronize in places away from home I visit semi-regularly for business.

I chose the 2ppd reference pages because there is plenty of room for appointments and to-do's, and it accomodates the fact that what I need to keep track of changes a lot from day to day.

I chose the 2ppm tabbed dividers because they let me do long-term planning and keep serving me as the month nears (I don't have to copy long-term stuff to a different layout when the month comes up).

I do any major note-taking, or anything that needs to be filed away on the letter-sized tablet in my folio. It gives me more room to work, and avoids my having to chase about small pieces of paper. There's a smallish pad in my planner as back-up when I'm not lugging the folio around.

Finding a planning method

Wow! What a busy life you have.

Finding a planner is easy. Finding a planning method that suits oneself (and understanding why it suits and works) is harder but rewarding.

I'll start by saying that any of the planning methods would work for you but it depends upon what you want out of them.

As I understand it, you've got your work calender and home files well-organised using electronic systems. And you're looking to improve you home-work-study-life balance and planning.

I suspect that there are 2 main things you could do.
- The first is to find time to do the things you have to do and the things you want to do.
- The second is to have a system to track when you have to do things.

Finding time to do the things you have to do and the things you want to do is not a simple thing (you'd have done it already if it was) but you can start simply.

I suggest you rule up a sheet of paper with the days of the week across the top and the hours of the day down the side. Then, just like a school timetable, mark on the page the periods of time that you CANNOT change that has been assigned to the following categories - Work (full time), Cleaning business, Study, Travel, Meals. Next add in any firm commitments that aren't on the list of categories that you really have to keep - eg. tutorials, etc.

Now, before you do anything else, go through every day and assign yourself half an hour of "personal time" (you can add more, if you can find it with such a busy life). Study is a big personal goal. This is the time for you pursue those small personal items - even if it's just relaxing for 30 minutes, or having a coffee and reading a magazine, or catching up with friends - that make all the rushing worthwhile.

Now you add in those "it would be nice if I can get around to it" things that you do want to do but don't have to do - eg. sports, church, etc.

If you don't have a set date for something just assign an approximate time one of the usual days. The idea is to find how much time you have for the things you don't have time for at the moment and to get a realistic expectation of the amount of time you do have for them.

This process can be a bit daunting when you first do it. But it's also a good way of finding what is and isn't important to you at the moment, especially how many things you're willing to drop off the "it would be nice if I can get around to it" list.

The second item will hopefully help you to make the most use of the "cannot change" time.

For the second item, I suggest using some aspects of "getting things done" (GTD) because it's a system that revolves around tasks and dates for those tasks to occur. It uses lists to identify what you need to do next, where you need to do it, and when. For someone as busy as yourself, a system where you can flick to a date and see the things you need to do would be sensible.

Have a look as some of the posts here about GTD (especially the older posts by Doug) which include straightforward explanations for how GTD works. You don't have to use all of it. Just consider which bits would help you sort out everything you have to do.

P.S. You have so many things to organise that I suggest you start with a simple binder (as described above) with copies of your work outlook calendar and planning lists. Then invest in a planner that suits the system you develop once you know how you want it to work.

My 2 cents: Combine GTD and FTF

GTD - Getting Things Done (David Allen)
FTF - First Things First (Stephen Covey & Merrill's)

In a nutshell, I believe GTD helps you plan from the bottom up and that FTF helps you plan from the top down.
I believe both are important and I believe the two systems can be followed at the same time.
I try to use GTD on a daily basis, and then FTF about once a week to keep track of The Big Picture.

That's my opinion. I hope it helps in some way. Good luck.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Maybe focus on your roles?

You have many different roles - it sounds like you are both an employee and an employer, student, friend, family member perhaps, and an individual with your own needs - that's a lot to keep track of.

Like a lot of the folks hereabouts, I tend to waffle around trying different planning systems. One thing I almost always do, though, it keep track of my goals and master task lists by role. That helps keep me balanced between work life and home life; as a teleworker, those can tend to blend together and one or the other can get neglected. I keep a Circa notebook with the "running" goals, projects, and tasks for each of my roles. As someone else mentioned, I think, the DIYP Harmony template is great to keep track of things by role. I use one of those per week to jot down the roles and 1-2 things per role that would further along my goals under that role (usually copying them from that running list). This becomes my week's "big starry picture", and I'm so busy that I have to force myself to do that planning so I don't get lost down in the weeds forever. If I don't get some of those done, they just get moved out to a different week.

My day-to-day tracking doesn't happen in the big starry picture, though!! :-) I have Outlook both at home and at work, and use the calender to keep up with both work and home commitments. So I can see the "big picture" on the schedule end of things, I sync them both to my Google Calendar (one-way up to Google). That way, work stays separate, home (which might be personal, school, and cleaning business for you) stays separate, but I can see the integrated whole on the G-cal which I keep open on my desktop for reference. If I were traveling around a lot, I would probably print that out and keep it in my notebook.

Your school assignments sound a lot like my ongoing projects - I have some that are several years in the making, some that are a day or two of incredibly intense effort. The difference is yours stop at the end of the quarter or semester! I've tried many different ways to track the deliverables (assignments, for you) and all the subtasks it takes to complete them. I find that one actual, physical page in a notebook (discbound works best for me because of its versatility) per deliverable is best. There I can see at one glance where that is in terms of requirements, resources, completion. If the page gets too messy over time with my scribbling, I can easily recopy the important stuff (a good exercise to remind me of the important stuff) and replace it (which is easy in a disc notebook system). If you need more structure, there are many templates here to choose from, or you could make your own tailored for your specific needs.

You could maybe have a notebook section for Work, Cleaning Business, School, and Personal, with a Harmony sheet at the beginning to help balance it all. These could house your master lists for each project/assignment/goal and role within those bigger sections (for your cleaning business, you might have roles of employer, owner, client service manager, for example). In a weekly planning session, you might review those and pick out the items important for that week and transfer them to your calendar (either Outlook or Google, or a paper calendar) so you know when you need to get to them. You could color code them as have-to and want-to, or whatever works for you.

Don't forget to schedule in some me-time and some fun with the people in your life that make all this matter :-)

Just some thoughts - good luck!