Planner Organization & How I Use my Erin Condren Life Planner
UPDATE: I no longer use an Erin Condren. For me, it didn't have enough of a healthy life habit section. So, now I use my Healthy Life Handbook.
Over the summer, I knew that I would be in desperate need of an improved organization system! I got on a new training grant, really started taking this website seriously, made some big fitness commitments, and some BIG goals with my Beachbody team! So basically, I had a lot of stuff to juggle and I needed a system that would help me to do that! So, I caved. I finally got an Erin Condren Life Planner. It's something I had looked at for SO long, and with the new changes to this year's 2015 planner - I, well, caved! And for good reason too - because this system works perfectly for me!
You might be wondering - why is talking about a specific kind of planner a "NERD Necessity"? Well, because I'm a firm believer that everyone should have a system, especially if you have multiple facets of your life that you're trying to juggle! Our brain's are not meant to be filing cabinets for the miscellaneous tasks and to-do's that fill our day-to-day lives! You have to have somewhere to record that stuff, whether it's a paper planner or electronic notebook!
Why I switched to an Erin Condren life planner...
As hard as I try to be a paperless person, I get a lot of satisfaction and just feel more at ease writing down my goals and to-dos than I do recording them electronically! For some reason to me, a goal or a to-do list is more tangible when it is in physical form! I can't explain why that is, but it is! Anyways, I do use electronic organization for some things, but my go-to has been and will always be a paper planner!
Switching to the Erin Condren Life Planner (ECLP) has allowed me to streamline my day-to-day planning and organization, and merge that with the most crucial parts of my Life Handbook. As Celes describes on Personal Excellence post about the Life Handbook, your life handbook should go with you everywhere! And mine wasn't going with me anywhere. It was staying at home on my desk. The Arc notebook that I used was just too big to have with me at all times! It didn't fit in my purse. When I was in class and had to carry other materials, it was bulky in my backpack! I love the arc system and will continue using it for other things, but it just stopped being feasible for my Life Handbook!
Last summer, I got a Plum Paper planner off of Etsy! I had looked into Erin Condren, and there were things about their planners that I didn't think would work for me. And the price really overwhelmed me! So, I opted for the Plum Paper planner because it was cheaper. And the Family planner seemed like a great option for me to compartmentalize my life, since you could split your weekly view up into 7 sections! I spent a long time choosing my sections, and ultimately broke them into School, Work, Beachbody, Fitness, Meal Plan, Blog, To-Do...and well, long, term it just didn't work for me! Why? Well...
Firstly, it was very heavy in my purse. I don't actually know what the difference in the paper quality is between these two planners, but the Plum Paper is definitely heavier than the ECLP. I was actually very surprised to find that the Plum Paper planner was thicker than the ECLP, too, as you can see to the left! I believe it does fit slightly more paper, but not that much, so I think a lot of this has to do with the thickness of the paper! I really don't care about marker bleed-through as long as it isn't excessive and tend to use colored ballpoint pens primarily - ie, paper thickness really isn't that important to me!
Side note: I keep accidentally typing Plump Paper planner as I write this! Oh the irony!!
But, most importantly - this planner ultimately really didn't work for me because of those 7 sections! You're stuck with them over the course of having the planner! So, if anything changes OR I just didn't need one of those sections, it becomes pretty much unusable to me! I'm not big into cutesy stickers and washi tape. In my opinion that just leads to clutter in your planner and in your life, and most of those additional stickers just aren't functional - and I'm all about functionality! So, I ultimately just stopped using those sections.
Also, those 7 sections are really small! There are some sections that I only ever had a small amount to write, like To-Do or Meal Plan! While other sections like Beachbody, Work, and School that I always a ton of stuff to write, and it just didn't all fit!
This summer after I got my training grant and launched this website, I looked back into the ECLP and was pleasantly surprised to find that they had made some changes that really worked for me - most importantly they took off the morning, day, night section headers! I don't often plan morning, day, and night! Sometimes I do, but how I plan my weeks really varies by what's going on that week! So, that change was really important to me.
So I went for it! And this girl got herself an ECLP! I think the look of crazed enthusiasm on my face says enough in the picture to the left! Who knew a planner could cause so much joy? Well, my parents probably did...
I'm not going to do an unboxing here, or do a walk through of what it looks like. Why? Because if you google Erin Condren Life Planner, 75% of the information you'll find is that! And I personally don't find it helpful! Erin Condren herself has a walk through video, so why would me doing another one help you? I don't think it would! No - what I'm going to do is I'm going to show you how I use my Erin Condren Life Planner, because I think that's vastly more helpful to people who have either just gotten a planner or who are thinking about getting one! So here goes!
How I use my Erin Condren planner...
Note, I'm going to briefly go through this because this is already going to be a monster of a post and would be even longer if I didn't attempt to keep it brief! If there's anything you have further questions on, please let me know in the comments below!
I'm also considering making a video to walk through my ECLP and how I use it, so let me know if you're interested in seeing that!
Weekly and Monthly Layouts...
Before I get too deep into my weekly and monthly layout system, I highly suggest that you come up with a system for how you want to organize the different parts of your life - whether that's by using the 3 sections strategically or by using a coding system. I personally love to color code. On my dashboard, which I'll get into more later, one of the first things is my color-coded key. Each color represents a different aspect of my life. I have broken things down into 7 categories, and I have both pen colors and Washi tape that corresponds to each of the different 7 categories in my life.
I primarily use pens or stickers in these respective colors to denote these categories in the week view, and then use Washi Tape to mark things in these different categories in the Month view. Ironically enough, I used the same colors and categories in my ECLP as I used to use in my Plum Paper planner. But what's better here is that the sections in the ECLP are flexible and I can write as much or as little related to each of these categories as necessary.
Each month, there is a two-page month view in the ECLP! In this spread, I mark out the big events that are coming up each month! I use stickers for things like pay-days, when I'm going to be hosting Challenge groups, etc. I use Washi tape and/or repositionable stickers to mark anything that is subject to change. But, I primarily use Washi Tape to mark things that are occurring over multiple days, like trips that I will be taking. There's also a lined column on the right of the two-page Month spread. I use this section to write my Monthly goals!
There's also a blank, lined page with each month! I use this to do a Monthly review. I look back at the last month, and write out an overall review, what went well (successes), what didn't (weakspots/to improve), and of course, gratitudes.
Each week is also similarly laid out on a two page spread. This weekly view is perfect for me and how I think! Each Sunday, I spend some time reviewing the last week and planning for the week to come. I use the lined column on the left of the week view to write my goals or my "Focus" targets for the week, as can be seen in the left of the above image. I then will plan out my week, writing the different to-dos in the colors corresponding to each category. My experiments for lab are written out in blue (and as you can see there are a lot at the beginning of the week shown here since I headed out of town at the end of the week)! I blocked out the time when I'm going out of town with green Washi Tape since it was a multi-day event for my Beachbody team. When I start class in September, my class assignments and exams will be written in black with exams indicated in yellow. Blog posts for The Fit Nerd are marked in orange, and so on and so forth.
I also really love the lined sections below each day of the week! I use this area to plan my workouts for the week! This week shown here, I'm continuing my half marathon training as well as going to workouts during the days that I'll be on vacation! All of those workouts are marked at the bottom of the corresponding day in pink - my health & fitness color!
Home-made Laminated Dashboard.
If you spend any substantial amount of time looking into how other people use their ECLP, you'll see lots of dashboards! A dashboard can be literally anything you want it to be - accessible sticky notes, to-do lists, grocery lists, etc. There are tons that you can purchase on Erin Condren or on Etsy, but for me - I really wanted my dashboard to be functional and work for me - if you haven't noticed yet functionality is really important for me! So, I collected ideas from varying etsy shops, from blog posts, YouTube videos, and from Erin Condren's website, and ultimately designed a dashboard that fit what I needed most.
This dashboard was inspired by the repetitive activities I partake in each day and each month. I designed both of these dashboards using Google Drawings, some scrapbooking cardstock, and my colored Washi tape. I review my Mantra, Goals and priorities every morning as I'm reviewing and planning my day. So, I wanted the first side of my dashboard to represent that. The first page contains my Key, my personal mantra and Push goal (which I designed while doing Chalene Johnson's 30 Day Push), my monthly goals and priorities, and a little bit of inspiration! I loved this quote - "You vs. You Baby. Own That Shit," because if I realize that I am my biggest obstacle.
The backside of my dashboard is to help me stay on top of things that are important to me - Daily Habits and meal planning! The top half of the page includes daily habits that are important for me to cultivate or that I'm trying to build into my life - like Meditation (which I failed at this week haha!) and daily cleaning. This is something I've implemented to make sure I'm following Step 4 of forming habits - be consistent! The bottom half of the page is my meal plan. This helps me meal plan each weekend and stick to that healthy eating plan each day!
How I use the notes pages...
One of the things that I was most curious about in getting my ECLP was how I was going to use my notes pages in the back of the planner. How could I use them and what could I use them for that would be the most efficient for what I need?
I did more data collection (such a scientist) on blog posts and YouTube videos, and ultimately settled on something similar what what I did with my Dashboard - I first focused on what I thought were the most important sections of my Life Handbook!
Ideal Life. The very first two blank, lined pages are used for my ideal life brainstorm (top of image above). In this section, I free write about what I would have in my life if everything worked out perfectly. Ideally, I would be X, Y, and Z, have X, Y, and Z, etc. I've down this section in pencil, because I want to have the ability to change it if I change my mind about some part of my life. Interestingly, as I've started to write this section in my new ECLP, I took a completely different approach. Usually, I would say things like - "I'm going to be a well-respected PhD in _____, studying _____, with publications in Science and Nature, while simultaneously being a singer-songwriter and fitness coach." Instead, this time I said...
Sometimes I feel like the older I get the less clear I am on what I want in my life. So, instead of focusing on things and accomplishments, I'm going to focus on feelings.
Life Wheel. The next big section I call my Life Wheel, or Life Evaluation. It's something I do before I set my goals because it's very important to determine what area of your life you need the most work in before you start setting goals. You'll otherwise set a goal in an area of your life where you don't need help, and what does that help really? In this new ECLP, I have yet to go through and re-evaluate my Life and re-score these different areas, but similarly to the Ideal Life section, I'm going to complete this scoring and evaluation in pencil, as it will be subject to change as new goals and accomplishments are completed. To accompany this section, I made another home-made laminated worksheet. This one is a laminated Action Plan worksheet (image to the right above). This worksheet has the same thing front and back. Once I go through the life evaluation, I'm going to choose the areas of my life that need to most work and develop an Action Plan for how I'm going to achieve that goal. This is something I will talk about in a post about goal setting, about taking specific action! I make sure that my goals are SMART, and that I have broken it down into steps to make myself the most successful. I'll talk about what this means soon!
Master To-Do List, Wish List, Gift Ideas. (Not shown) In this section, I use my Master To-Do list (in pencil again!) to jot down anything that's on my mind! Our minds are not meant to remember things! Our minds are mental to analyze, create, etc. Not remember. So if I have a thought of something that needs to be done but am not sure when I'll get to it or how to do it - I jot it down in the Master To-Do List. I also have a Wish List, where I'll jot down anything I've come up with that I want, because you know families and boyfriends and what not are always asking about what you want for Christmas or your birthday. Lastly, I have a Gift Ideas section, so if I think of a gift for someone else, I can just jot that down there! Simple. Straightforward.
Inspiration. Having an inspiration section is very important to me (shown on the right of the image above). Every iteration of my Life Handbook has always had a place to jot down inspiration. I'm a quote-a-holic. But I've also found that in those previous Life Handbooks, I've left a lot of room to write down quotes, but often didn't end up using very much of the section. I use Pinterest and Instagram to share a lot of inspiration. So though I felt it necessary to have a section for it to record those quotes that really hit me in the heart, it didn't need to be extensive! So I set aside a couple pages for inspiration!
Grid Graph Paper.
This was one of the sections that it was hard for me to figure out what to do with, but again I wanted to make sure that I was doing something practical and functional. Soooo I researched what others have done - oh my gosh it's becoming painfully apparent that this is so much a part of myself!
Daily Routines. The very first page of this grid graph paper section was dedicated to my daily routines (left in above image)! I've been really trying to find the best routines for myself to optimize my productivity and my ease of transitioning into and out of the different parts of my day. So, I made one of the pages my Routines page! Again, I did this is pencil, because it is subject to change and I want to leave myself that flexibility. I broke my morning and evening routines into routines at home and at work. At home, I describe how I would like to start my day -- with Coffee (usually), journal and review, workout, getting ready , etc. At work, I have a similar routine that I cultivate. I do this same thing for evening and bed time routines. I adjust these routines as necessary, by adding new habits and removing old habits that just haven't been working
Weekly Schedule/Routine. I also have another routines page in this section, which is more of a description of my focuses day-to-day during the week (bottom right in above image). Since I have various aspects of my life - website, Beachbody, school, Lab work, etc. - I have tried to divide my days of the week up so that I'm spending my evenings focusing on these different activities at various times of the week. Each day has been assigned a primary focus, with some activities for that focus written (in pencil again!) below that focus. For example, since I have class on Mondays and Wednesdays, my days of the week to focus on school and class are Monday and Saturday. Since Wednesday is the last day of the Beachbody week, Wednesday is my day to focus on Beachbody and wrap up the week. Since I tend to post on Fridays for The Fit Nerd, Thursdays are my day to focus on the website! Sundays are consistently what I call my "personal" day. If I get a massage, it happens on Sunday. If I take a "Me" day, it tends to happen on Sunday. But most consistently, Sunday is my day to grocery shop, meal prep, clean, do laundry, and review and plan for the next week!
Month-to-Month Activities Checklist. This is an idea that I got from a number of ECLP "How-to" posts and videos. I liked it because there are certain activities that don't need to happen enough for them to be in my weekly routines, but do need to happen on a more consistent basis. Hence, this month-to-month activities checklist. I thought that the graph paper was the most perfect place to put this section, because I could so easy grid out each month and each activity (top right of above image)! I haven't started using this too much yet (since I just started this planner system), but I'm really excited to get going! It includes activities like budgeting, vacuuming and cleaning my car, cleaning the oven, backing up computers, etc. I'm going to add more activities as I come up with more ideas!
Again, another section that was difficult to figure out what to do with! But, if I've found anything as I've built and optimized my ECLP for me, it's that I just need reflect back on the activities that I will use this for! The two life categories that I'd yet to leave a place for were Beachbody and The Fit Nerd, and these two categories could have a perfect little home in the Blank pages.
Blog Post Section. I think I blog post plan a little differently than most people. I don't really have an elaborate system. I pretty much come up with an idea, create a draft blog post in that section of my website, and build the post in pieces. I'll research it, I'll brainstorm it, I'll rough it out all within my website. I don't do it on paper. I don't do it in a word processor. I just do it all on Squarespace. So, there's really no need for me to have a big section of a big book dedicated to my blog and building content. All I really felt like I needed was a place where I could jot down post ideas, and keep track of the posts that I'm working on! The blank pages section of my ECLP was perfect for that! As shown in the image above, I break this spread into the different categories of my blog, and then I brainstorm topic ideas! As you can see I have some ideas for Nutrition posts, like health in Winter, healthy in college, healthy at happy hour, and so on! I use these pages for brainstorming and only brainstorming since that's what works for how I blog!
Beachbody Brainstorm Pages.
I also made a spread on the blank pages that I use for miscellaneous Beachbody brainstorming! My Beachbody documents, templates, notes, etc. are primarily on Evernote, so that they're accessible from any location and accessible via both my laptop and my ipad! But, occasionally I find myself without either and since I don't really like doing Evernote on my phone, I love that I have this couple page spread where I can just brainstorm ideas! This could be anything from post ideas to Challenge group name ideas to challengers that I need to follow up with, etc.
Keep it Together Pocket.
The last thing to talk about is the Keep it Together pocket. The Plum Paper planner had one of these too, and I really didn't have much use for it! But the peeps at Erin Condren give you lots of options that are both cute and functional! And I've come up with a couple things that I use and refer to often too that I can toss in there!
The first pocket has my monthly budget book and my 21 day fix Extreme eating guide! I refer back to this guide often since 21 day fix or derivatives of it are primarily what I use for my meal planning. So having that nutrition guide handy is always nice!
Erin Condren also supplies a cute little budget book! It's only a 12 month budget book, but since I've been dying to find something to use to keep track of my budget that I could have with me at all times (and didn't require accessing the internet) I went ahead and bought this handy little book!
Other than that, I use the backside of my KiT pocket on the same side as the plastic bag to store stickers and the Perpetual Calendar! I haven't found much use for the perpetual calendar as of yet, but maybe when I get my next ECLP I'll love having that to refer back to for all those important dates. I use the plastic pouch to store stickers and compliment cards, and am constantly snagging strips of EC repositionable stickers to mark important dates in my planner, so having this little pouch back here is really nice!
And that's it! That's how I use my Erin Condren Life Planner! I hope that that all made sense! I have definitely progressed through my fair share of paper planner styles - from Arc to Plum Paper, and finally to ECLP. I'm really loving the ECLP! It's the perfect balance between attractive and functional and I'm very excited to see how my use of the ECLP changes over the course of the next 18 months!
If you have any questions or would like to see a walk-through video let me know in the comments below!
Until next time!!