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    Updated on Apr 10, 2020. Posted on Apr 10, 2020

    The Best Planners Worth Your Time And Money

    Now you can cross "getting a planner" off your— oh, wait...

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    Some people are just naturally driven and organized. Good for them! The rest of us need a little extra help when it comes to figuring out how to manage our time and reach our goals.

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    If you’ve heard the hype about bullet journaling but feel overwhelmed by the idea of creating your own system, we’ve got you! Each of these planners provides some level of structure for a lower-lift way to plan your day and manage tasks. We tested out some of the top goal-oriented planners for how much motivation and structure they provide, portability, ease of use, and space for notes or reflection.

    Editor's Note: We're currently updating these picks! Check back soon for more.

    Papercode Simple Elephant Planner

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    Shocking no one, the Simple Elephant is incredibly simple in both structure and function. By reducing clutter on its pages, this planner aims to reduce clutter in your mind as well. It’s undated, which means you can jump in at any point in the year and skip weeks for vacation without losing pages. Customizing it and filling in the dates as you go can also help you feel more connected to the process while minimizing any worry about when to use it.

    This planner has a smooth leatherette cover in matte blue, and weighs in at a very portable 12.3 ounces. It’s soft but durable enough to take some dings and scratches. The pages themselves are not flimsy, and an elastic strap keeps the planner closed during transport so you don’t have to worry about bent or damaged pages.

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    This is the only planner we picked that doesn’t have a daily page with space for hourly scheduling. Instead, it features a two-page weekly spread with a few lines per day. (If you’re looking for something with more space for daily pages, try the Lemome planner, which has a dedicated page per day with a column for tasks and a column for hourly scheduling. The Lemome is structured for productivity, but there isn’t really enough space to use it as designed.) The Simple Elephant’s choice to go with a weekly spread means it can fit an entire year into one sleek book. This makes it the inexpensive planner to help keep your mind on your goals.

    The Simple Elephant planner has an equally minimal philosophy: top of page, top of mind. The top of the first page of the weekly spread has a large box titled “Goals For This Week,” which you can fill out on Monday, or Sunday if you plan ahead. The second page of the weekly spread includes two boxes marked “Successes” and “What I Can Do Better” which you can use at the end of your week to reflect on your wins and areas for improvement. These boxes are not huge but do provide space for notes, and their location at the top of the page makes it easy to flip back to review past accomplishments and build on what you’ve learned.

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    You will have to do a little work before getting into this planner, but even this is pared down compared to the prep work required of other journals. In the front, you fill out a page with a list of what you’re grateful for and some affirmations. This way, if you’re feeling unfocused when you look at your weekly spread, you can flip right to this section to inspire yourself. On the opposite page is a list of five goals for the year. Again, this makes it easy when you’re planning your week to remember just what it is you’re working toward. The planner has three bookmarking ribbons so that you can pick which pages you would like to be able to easily turn to, eliminating the time you might spend frustratedly searching for a specific page.

    The next two pages might seem hokey: a vision board and a mind map. This space is unlined, so you can use pens, markers, or colored pencils to depict the things you want and the way you approach them. The creators of the Simple Elephant claim that this engages “both sides of the mind” for maximum motivation, and reviewers seem to agree! But you’ll want to do a little thinking before you get creative there, since this is a yearly journal and the pages are not easy to remove.

    The simplicity of this planner helps cut through the overwhelming feeling of working out how to achieve what you want. While that means you won’t have space to plan your day on an hourly basis (something you could supplement with, say, Google Calendar), for this price, you can’t beat it.

    Get it from Amazon for $18.

    Day Designer Mini Planner

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    If getting your life organized has always felt like a distant fantasy, this beautiful yearly planner is a dream. Following on the success of the larger Day Designer Flagship, the Mini manages to contain an entire year’s worth of daily pages without too much bulk. The original Day Designer was a behemoth, but the newer Mini option means you can stash it in your bag if that’s how you roll. And it’s so pretty!

    The cardboard front and back covers come in various patterns, from black-and-white stripe to floral to tropical. The front cover has a pocket for stashing receipts or other papers, and you’ll find two sheets of gold planning stickers inside. The stickers come in a variety of shapes, including stars, hearts, and hexagons. Each of the two sheets also includes labels with room for writing and flags to draw attention to a specific line or item. Like the rest of the planner, the stickers are elegantly designed to work with the flow of the daily pages and are generic enough to adapt to your needs. There are instructions and planning pages in the front. Tabs will bring you right to the monthly outlook, followed by daily pages. This is a dated planner, and you can start in January or choose the academic calendar version, which begins with June.

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    If you want to jump into this price range right away, a very close runner-up is the Ink & Volt Undated planner, which at $32.50 lasts six months, making it a total of $65 for the year. We picked the Day Designer Mini over Ink & Volt due to the simplicity of the Day Designer system. Ink & Volt is not as streamlined, and we found some of the sections actually distracted from the ease of use we were looking for. If you’re truly looking to your planner to encourage productivity and goal orientation, the Day Designer is the way to go. Day Designer has an undated version as well, called the Today & To-Do, but each notebook lasts 90 days, making yearly use cost $156, vaulting it into the luxury range.

    The four goal-setting pages at the beginning of the mini planner allow you to figure out how to align your values, passions, and strengths to maximize your effectiveness at realizing your goals. This section will require some prep time to reflect on what you’d like to accomplish over the next year so you can break it down into manageable steps. It’s not an overwhelming amount of prep work, but you will want to set aside some time to really consider it, since the planner will be with you for the entire year — unless, that is, you rip these pages out, which is easy to do since Day Designer planners come with twin loop-wire binding.

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    At the top of each page is an inspiring quote, followed by a section for three top priorities. Unique to the Day Designer system is a section for “the Four D’s”: due, dollars, dinner, and don’t forget. This section can be a great way to keep track of dinner and money, as it allows you to flip back in the planner and look at patterns of eating and spending. You’ll also be keeping urgent issues like bills that are due or other things you don’t want to forget at top of mind near your daily priorities — which makes it easy to glance at your day and see what’s most important.

    The brunt of the daily page is a column for your hourly schedule and a column for your to-do list. The hourly schedule runs from 7 a.m.–7 p.m., making it a true day designer.

    At the bottom of each daily page is a section for any notes you have and a small box for gratitude. Saturday and Sunday are combined into a single page, with space at the bottom to plan your next week. In the back of the planner there are pages for notes, and the front cover comes with a pocket. Every inch of this planner is maximized to help you make the most of your time. Other planners in this price tier were great, but this portable version of the Day Designer is the one to help you organize your life around accomplishment.

    Get it from Amazon for $54.

    BestSelf Co. Self Journal

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    When you spring for an expensive planner, what you’re really paying for is the system and the work that has gone into designing it. The Self Journal, from BestSelf Co., is a system designed with positive psychology and productivity in mind. Its structure is meant to get the user into a peak-performance state specifically to achieve three quarterly goals. Each journal spans 13 weeks, so it costs $124 per year to use this as your main planner. The way the Self Journal helps you break down your goals, find motivation, track habits, and plan your time has clearly been researched, and the ease of use will help you wring the most out of each day.

    The book itself is cloth-bound, in blue or gray, with three ribbons for bookmarks. The pages are thick as all get out, meaning you won’t experience any bleed-through from pens or markers. The prep work for the Self Journal involves deciding on up to three “result goals” you are trying to accomplish, then breaking them down into progress goals and actionable steps to meet said progress goals. After filling out those three pages, you set a due date at the end of the quarter, reflect on your motivation by writing about how the goals will improve your life, then you sign and date it. Some people find this step a little superfluous, but making an explicit commitment can really help lodge these priorities in your mind.

    After this prep work, you start planning your life one week at a time. There are two-page monthly spreads with plenty of room for notes, and then the journal moves into two-page weekly spreads. These pages start off with a section for three milestones you’d like to achieve by the end of the week. These weekly pages are also very useful for creating and tracking habits that will help you meet your progress goals. Habit tracking is a way to rack up easy wins that will motivate you to stay focused on what you’re trying to achieve. You’ll also have space to reflect on your week: successes, happy moments, lessons, and opportunities to plan your next week in a way that builds on what worked. The design of this weekly section is integral to the way the journal can help you stay focused for 13 weeks — even if obstacles pop up that could throw you off your game (as they’re wont to do).

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    The daily page spread is the true game-changer, with one page for an hourly 6 a.m.– 9 p.m. schedule and a column for notes, and a second page for planning a goal and specific targets to meet. This is followed by a motivational quote and space for reflection at the end of the day. Each page also has a section for gratitude because the creators of the Self Journal are huge on leveraging positive psychology to turn intentions into actions.

    Part of the logic behind a 13-week journal is that while it is expensive, it provides you with more space than a yearly planner would for the type of reflection that will allow you to skillfully orient your days around realizing your goals. The creators believe that yearly goals are too cumbersome and actually distract more than they contribute to productivity. If you like the sound of this journal but don’t want to subscribe, you could purchase one for a focus “sprint” for something you’re trying to get off the ground in 13 weeks. The Self Journal also comes with 19 grid pages for notes, which you might use in part to create an overall yearly vision, mind map, or to jot down longer ideas.

    If you’re looking for more of an external brain in a planner and are willing to pay a bit more, you could try the Full Focus planner. But we found the ease of use of the Self Journal contributed to a more seamless flow of planning, reflecting, and basking in the glow of getting stuff done. There is plenty of space to plan each hour of your day, meaning you would only have to supplement this with Google Calendar if you wanted online alerts. The Self Journal is small enough to be portable, so you can bring it with you to check in throughout the day. Though this system is very structured, it’s also highly customizable. Its ease of use makes it somewhat addictive, in which case the subscription option might come in handy. Make it your own and turn that dream into a manageable goal!

    Get it from Amazon for $32 or from BestSelf for $32.