How to Create a Functional Planner
Guide for setting up a functional paper planner if you’re a work from home mum (or dad) building your own business
Before I found out how life changing a paper planner could be I was struggling to stay on top of everything while running a home and building a business. Not only was I feeling overwhelmed by the demands of both, but I was also frustrated because I felt like I was falling behind on the things I wanted to achieve.
When I spotted a pretty planner that had been discounted in the January sale at my local stationery shop I had an a-ha moment: “perhaps this is the tool that will help get me on track”, and that’s when my planning journey began.
However, my journey with planners got off to a shaky start. For the first few years, I struggled with planner fails until I discovered that paper-based planners were totally "a thing" with a dedicated community sharing tips and inspiration. That was when things really took off.
And over the past 18 months I’ve tested out many things in my paper planner, and through research and experimentation I’ve found a planner setup for functional planning that’s a great fit for work from home mums (or dads) building a business from their kitchen table, keep reading if you want to know more...
What you’ll need to create a functional planner
A rings based planner cover - I’ve found the best success with a ring binder style planner simply because I can add sections and pages that are tailored to my specific needs. By using a ring binder style planner you can quickly switch things around as well as easily test things out, all of which will make your planner completely personalised to you. You’ll also need to think about the size. Three of the most common sizes are: Pocket - very small and compact, great for on the go; Personal - gives you more space than the Pocket size, easily fits in a bag; and A5 - the largest of the three options, lots of room for writing, ideal desk based planner. I chose to go with an A5 size planner because I wanted room to fit every thing in and space for making notes.
A great pen - This may seem trivial but if a pen is scratchy to write with or the ink doesn’t flow nicely you won’t enjoy using it. I had to find ways to make my planning experience satisfying otherwise I wouldn’t stick with it, and a gorgeous pen was one of the things helped.
Dividers - these are usually made of card or a thin, flexible plastic and have tabs at the side, top or bottom. They’re great for dividing your planner up into sections, which makes your planner much easier to use. We’ll look at some ideas for sections below.
Planner pages - also known as refills or inserts. These are the meat of your planner, they’re printed sheets designed for helping you organise your life or business.
You can buy them ready printed from online stores such as Filofax, or by searching Etsy if you know exactly what you need. If you have a printer, paper trimmer and hole punch you can buy them as digital files which you print yourself, again search Etsy if you know what it is you’re looking for or Keshinomi if you need some inspiration.
Alternatively, if you’re a creative type, you could opt to create your own insert templates using online tools such as Canva or professional tools like Adobe InDesign.
Later on in this article you’ll find a list of top ten planner pages useful for those creating a tool for managing home life and building a small business.
You may want to also include - plastic wallets for storing things in; paper clips to use as page markers or for keeping loose pages together; sticky notes for quickly adding temporary notes to a page or book marking a page; and a high lighter pen for crossing things off or making important things stand out.
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What does your planner need to do for you?
First up you’ll need to think about the areas of your life and business that you need to manage and keep organised. Making a list can be helpful, especially if you start with what isn’t working right now. When I began my planning journey I knew I needed a place for brainstorming and creating projects, as well as keeping track of important dates. I also needed something to help with meal planning because making family dinners each night was causing me a lot of stress.
Create your sections
Next you’ll need to choose your planner sections. Typically planner sections will have dividers for:
Diary/Agenda: This is the section where you’ll log appointments and deadlines, schedule tasks and map out your life and business goals.
Business: Here is where you’ll manage your business, this could include financial trackers, goal planning, task lists, project brainstorming.
Home/Family: In this section you’ll keep home and family life organised, such as meal planning, parent teacher meeting notes, home maintenance, errands, budget keeping, and family medical details.
Personal: This can include your own personal goals or projects, habit or health trackers, personal finance or savings, and self-care
However, some people like to break things down further. This is where a rings based planner is so helpful because you can add or remove dividers and sections until you find your sweet-spot. For example, you might have a main section for contacts or you might choose to include it as two sub-sections, one within business and another with home/family. This is why it’s so important to first think about how you want to manage and organise your life and business, as it will guide you when it comes to how you set up your planner sections and the pages you include.
Fill your planner
Finally, you’ll need to add pages to your planner for managing home life and building a small business. The top ten things you should consider adding are:
Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly planning pages: These diary/agenda pages are going to be the backbone your paper planner system. Dailies allow you to map out your schedule and prioritize your tasks for the day. Weeklies are like zooming out so you can see what you have going on for the week ahead. Monthlies are ideal for organising meetings or events, such as birthdays and anniversaries. Quarterly and yearly inserts are useful for future planning, plus they give you a bird’s eye view of what’s happening in your life over the next 3 months if it’s a quarterly view or 12 months if it’s a yearly.
Goal planning pages: In addition to your diary/agenda pages, goal planning pages are an important part of a functional paper planner. These pages are perfect for getting your goals down on paper and keeping track of your progress. You can break your goals down into smaller, doable steps and set deadlines for each one. This helps you stay on track and make progress, no matter how big or small your target is.
Task lists or an inbox: A task list or inbox is a vital part of a functional paper planner. It's where you write down all your to-dos, whether they're for work, home, or personal goals. This helps you keep track of everything and make progress to checking them off. You can also use it to jot down those great ideas that you’re quite ready to act on now but don’t want to forget. To get the most out of your task list, review it regularly, prioritize tasks, and break down larger tasks into smaller steps. Including a task list in your paper planner helps you stay organized and on top of your to-do list.
Project planning pages: If you're tackling a big project, having a dedicated space to plan it out can be really helpful! Project planning pages are designed to break down a large project into smaller, more manageable tasks. You can brainstorm ideas, set deadlines, list things you might need, create a budget, and track your progress. By breaking the project down into bite-sized chunks it will feel more achievable and less daunting, which can help you stay motivated.
Financial planning pages: These pages can help you keep track of your finances, budget your expenses, and plan for the future. You can create pages for tracking your income and expenses, saving for specific things like a vacation or a deposit on a house, and planning for retirement.
Meal planning and grocery list pages: These are a lifesaver for busy mums who are juggling caring for their family with building their own business. By planning your meals in advance, you can save time and money, reduce stress, and make healthier choices. Use these pages to plan out your meal for the week and create a shopping list. It can also help you save money by reducing food waste and avoiding unnecessary mid-week trips to the supermarket.
Health and wellness tracking pages: These pages can help you focus on your physical and mental well-being. You can tracking your exercise routines, water intake, sleep habits, and emotional wellbeing practices. This can help you stay accountable and motivated to make healthy choices and manage stress. Additionally, you can use these pages to track your progress over time and spot any areas that might need improvement. Adding health and wellness tracking pages into your planner can help you make sure you’re properly taking care of yourself.
Time blocking pages: Time blocking is the productivity technique of breaking your day into chunks of time and assigning specific tasks or activities to each block. This can help you stay focused and avoid distractions. I personally like to use a daily insert with a time-based schedule for this. You could also use dot grid or squared note paper to quickly map out your day but by using a dedicated page designed for managing your day you can save yourself a lot of time.
Brainstorming and idea pages: Having a space for brainstorming and jotting down ideas is essential for any one building a business. You can jot down new project ideas, blog post topics, or even random thoughts that come to mind. By keeping them stored safely in your planner you can quickly refer back to them later when you're ready to start working on them or need some inspiration.
Contact pages: Building a business often requires networking and collaboration with others. By having contact pages in your planner you can keep track of important contact info for potential clients or partners to collab with. You can also use these pages for notes from meetings or conversations, which can be really useful when following up.
This top ten list is a great place to start but there’s so much more you could add to totally personalise your planner to your exact needs. Your planner is your tool for making life easier when it comes to managing your home and building your business, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different refills for your diary section or to test out new planner inserts designed for very specific tasks or subjects. And do comment below if there are any go-to inserts you can’t live without!
Bottom-line for a functional planner setup
In conclusion, setting up a functional paper planner can be a game-changer for work-from-home parents who are building a business. By using the right tools, such as a rings-based planner cover, dividers, planner pages, and a gorgeous pen, you can create a one-of-a-kind planning system that works for you. Give it a try and see how a functional paper planner can change your life for the better!
I'm excited to help you create a planner that will make managing life much easier. I’ve shared some great tips that, when followed, will help you increase productivity and reduce stress. But if you need a little extra help then reach out to me here.
Until next time Planner Friend, don’t be afraid to test out new things that could make managing life much easier!