Tips for Setting Up Your Planner

In my last post, I talked about the benefits of using a planner, and how you can use one to jump-start your organization and productivity goals for 2021. If you didn’t have the chance to check it out, you can read it here. If you have decided to give a paper planner a try, your next step is to take some time to set it up and make it your own.

The type of planner you decide to use will affect how you set it up, but your goal is to make sure that your planner works for how you want to use it. 

Pick Your Planner Style

If you purchased, or plan to purchase a pre-printed 2021 planner, then a lot of your “set-up” may already be done for you. Most planners do a good job of putting a bunch of pages in the front that may be helpful. Things like yearly calendars, a monthly view calendar, and maybe even places to write down goals or intentions for the year. You can choose between a monthly view, weekly view, and even daily view. The other benefit is that you can find planners in just about every price range, and there are a lot of great designs to choose from. When you are making your choice, look at the pages and ask yourself how you would use them.

For my personal planner, I use a modified bullet journal format. I started doing this a few years ago because I couldn’t find a pre-printed yearly planner that worked exactly the way I needed it to. I also like to keep meeting notes, and other lists right in my planner, so finding one with enough blank writing space was always a challenge. Plus, this system allows me to put a little creativity into my daily notes.

If you have not heard of Bullet Journaling, it is a method that was designed by Ryder Carroll and introduced around 2013. It’s a great method designed around efficiency and productivity. He has a website, a book, and a lot of loyal followers. You can check out the site here, or give it a quick Google. It’s good stuff!

One of the nice things about doing your own setup is that you can use just about any notebook or journal you may already have, you can use a ring binder (example here), or choose a disk-bound planner (example here). Then add the paper of your choice. For 2021, I decided to simplify and use a moleskin journal that I already had (example here). I have quite a few other blank journals and my intention is to try to use them up before buying another planner (wish me luck!).

Things to Include When Setting Up Your Planner

In Case of Loss

This should be one of the very first things that you see when you open your planner. In an unfortunate circumstance where you lose your planner, this may help it find it’s way back to you. Include your name and phone number. Some planners will even have a line to put a reward. This is one of those personal things, but think about how badly you would want your planner back and reward accordingly. I’ve heard of anything from monetary rewards to coffee and good karma.


The first few pages of my planner are for an index. Because I take so many notes, I sometimes need to go back and reference information. You can arrange your index by page where you have an entry for each page, or you can index by topic. For example, say you often take notes at a monthly meeting. Your index topic would be “monthly meeting,” and then you will put page numbers for each instance of these notes. Two things to remember, 1) you would need to number your pages, and 2) you will need to periodically update your index. I do this as a part of my weekly planning. I will go back through the prior weeks’ notes and fill my index accordingly.

Sample Index

Monthly Pages

In the front of my planner, I usually set up monthly pages. There is one page for each month, along with a thumbnail calendar for that month. This gives me space to write down things like birthdays and anniversaries. It is also used for events or occasions outside of the current month. 

Example of Monthly Page

Annual Goals

When we write down our goals, we are more likely to achieve them. Keeping a list of your goals and intentions for the year on the front pages of your planner is a great way to always have those goals right at your fingertips. You may also want to include space to track your progress to those goals.

How I User My Planner

My planner is a running account of my day, so I date the pages as I go along. At the beginning of each month, I will add a page for that month. If you use a disk or 3-ring binder you can use monthly tabbed dividers for this. Each day I put the date at the top of the page, make some notes about things I need to remember to do, or appointments for that day. Then I take notes as my day goes along.

When I have a meeting and want to take notes, I will write down and highlight the meeting title, then go from there.

Part of my workflow does include an electronic to-do list (currently Asana), I use my planner in conjunction with this because I don’t always update the electronic version in real-time. When things come up that I need to do I will write them in my planner. If I get it done during that day I will cross it off. If it is more long term, I will add it to Asana and give it a due date.

Example of daily use

It may sound more complicated than it is, but it is a system that I have personalized through years of trial and error. Hopefully, as you get into a planner habit you will come up with a system that works for you.

While I will usually advocate for using a single planner that includes work, home, and personal, I will give one word of caution. If you have a career/job where you take notes that may include personal/confidential information then I recommend not merging your personal and work planners together. This is by no means a substitute for legal advice, but if you leave a position and are required to leave behind this information then you may find yourself having to leave behind your whole planner.

I am always curious as to how others use their planners, so if you feel that same curiosity then Pinterest is a great place to search for ideas. I am truly amazed at the creativity that some people put into their bullet journals. If you would like to share your planner journey, please leave me a comment below.

Published by Jenn DePauw - Organized Priorities

Jenn is the owner of Organized Priorities, a Colorado-based company specializing in Organization, Productivity, and Operations. As an organization and productivity professional, Jenn specializes in individual and team productivity coaching as well as organization for both individuals and small businesses. She is also the author of The Organized Priorities Blog (, an organization and lifestyle blog that focuses on making life more organized, more productive, and a little easier. For helpful tips on everything from weekly planning to home organization, and daily celebrations to words of encouragement you can follow @organizedpriorities on Instagram.