Me? Doing a Planner Review? Here Goes…

I’ve been a “planner” for a long time now. From keeping lists of lists (really – sad, but true) to homemade binders, wall calendars and, eventually, daytimers, I feel a compulsion to lay things out in black-and-white (or blue-and-white; I can respect a good blue pen when it comes around). I have used an admittedly hodge-podge system over the years; what – and how – I plan ebbs and flows by life season and I don’t actively pursue new organizational methods.

In short, I won’t be starting a planning podcast anytime soon.

I’ve also jumped around with my planners; the first one to which I formed any real attachment was a free daytimer handed out to all incoming students by my university student union when I was a freshman. I dutifully poured over syllabi, writing down deadlines and textbook lists and planning out my (very pitiful) social life.

Some years, especially when the kids were young and I was essentially just focused on keeping them alive, I didn’t use a daytimer at all and a shared family calendar was enough. But as the kids have gotten older and my work and home managerial responsibilities have increased, I use a planner. Daily.

Sadly, my planner doesn’t “do” life for me. If I have an over-full planner, chances are I’m going to have an over-full life. This topic is highly relevant right now as I’m looking for ways to overhaul some responsibilities and grasp ahold of those weeks I have left (out of my very fragile 4,000) and enjoy life and the people in it that make it joyful (and maybe even choose to fail at some things along the way)?

So, while planners are a great tool, they are no replacement for balancing life. To paraphrase the words of Gretchen Rubin (talking about technology): I want my planner to be a great servant, not my master.

With this in mind, let’s explore how I plan!

The last few years I have…are you ready for this?…used planners from the DollarStore.

My planner for 2021 cost $1.25…and I loved it. In fact I was elated to see it show up on the shelves for 2022 and I gladly forked over $1.25 and walked out with plans to keep moving forward with my DollarStore system.

It’s a month-view daytimer. I loved the notes section on the side and the extra pages at the back for long-range planning; I augmented each day with a separate to-do list that I would keep next to the book (something I still do with my current system using the Sprouted planner).

And then I saw Sarah Hart-Unger had discussed the Sprouted daytimer in Episode 68 of her podcast Best Laid Plans. I rarely comment on planner posts because…well, I was contented with my $1.25 planner. (And if you’re contented with a $1.25 planner, you probably aren’t the type to comment on planning posts.)

But I mentioned how it looked like a great planner for my needs. Within 24 hours I had an e-mail in my inbox asking if I’d like her copy of the Sprouted Planner. [In the comment thread, I referenced my $4 planner, but when I went to buy it this year, it was $1.25, so I’m sure it was $1.25 the year before, too.]

Um, yes, please.

Getting this parcel from Sarah before Christmas was so fun (and Abby’s first comment when she dug it out of the mail was: “WOW, she is very neat!”

I had a rough time around Christmas and just couldn’t get my head into planning for…anything. 2021 was a hard year and I was tired and knew we were facing more restrictions and likely another bout of online learning (turns out I was right).

But a few days before we rang in the New Year, I found enough enthusiasm to get started, and haven’t looked back. I absolutely LOVE my Sprouted planner and fully intend to purchase one next year.

I have no experience doing reviews of any sort; this was gifted to me by Sarah (who isn’t affiliated with Sprouted…but I believe this planner was gifted to her). So don’t expect any crazy picture-perfect influencer spreads. It is not neat and colour-coded; that’s not how I roll. I also don’t have a specific system I’m trying to recommend because I just do what works for me and it’s a bit scattered.

With that caveat out of the way, let’s dive in:

Front cover + storage

I love the aesthetic of the book. It’s hardcover and is exceptionally well made. The paper is thick enough to prevent bleedthrough (though I just use basic ballpoints, so I’m not sure about anyone using Sharpie pens or other more elaborate writing utensils).

The ring binding works like a charm and never catches (major pet peeve of mine). It’s big, but not bulky. I have no problem slipping this into my laptop bag when I escape to a cafe to work. But, most of the time, it simply moves between my bedside dresser, the dining room table, and my desk.

It’s classy looking and very “me” in terms of the design. I think Sprouted offers other cover options, but suspect this is the one I would have chosen anyway!

On the inside cover there is a pocket. This is SO handy. Last year, in that $1.25 planner, I taped an envelope inside the front cover to store assorted papers, receipts, and stickers. These items fell out constantly and this much sturdier alternative is a significant improvement.

In fact, if anyone from Sprouted happens to be reading this – I love the pocket so much I really wish there was a back pocket, too! Hint, hint…

I’ve stopped recording “tough” days via stickers [I did this last year in my daytimer, mostly to track hormonal issues – a sticker was a nice way to say…”This day sucked, but at least I have a pretty sticker to show for it!“] but have been putting stickers on special days – family birthdays, anniversaries, major holidays. I also keep a running list of blog post ideas. I spy one that says “Planner overview.”

Prompts + Long-Range PLanning pages

Okay, I’ll admit when I saw all these high-level planning pages I did a bit of an eye-roll. But they are genius.

Heather (the creator of Sprouted) has put a lot of thought in to these layouts, offering some great perspective about the various areas of our life we likely all want to prioritize. Here is the “People” layout where I’ve listed my overarching goal to “Be Kind” and then ideas like:

  • More solo walks; even just around the neighbourhood.
  • More coffee dates with friends.
  • More low-key dessert/coffee invites; less pressure to do meals.
  • Spend more time at bedtime with kids – even 5 minutes would be a great place to start.

There are also pages devoted to “Things” – which offers high-level planning by month, a page devoted to hopes for the year ahead, and a set of blank pages where I’ve set up my “Ta-Da” list for 2022.

Of course, I was thrilled to see this “Year List” page and wasted no time in creating a hard copy of my Goals for 2022 list.

weekly spreads

A quick word about my system. While I rely HEAVILY on my planner, I also almost always have a running list that contains overlap if I have an especially hectic day. On those days, I will typically list everything on one of my beloved scratch-paper pads that I mentioned yesterday. I keep these handy (i.e. with my planner) as I move throughout the day. For example, off to the right-hand side I can see “L2,” “larvae counts” “3 mo.” and “environmental impact” which were prompts for questions I ended up needing to ask over the course of the “SBW” [Spruce Budworm; how’s that for a fun topic] call from 1:00-2:00 pm. So I may scribble on the pad during meetings and add/subtract to-dos as the day goes by based on new scheduling developments.

I also have some work responsibilities I never list; checking e-mails and even some regularly scheduled big action items are so ingrained at this point, I don’t take the time to write them down and monitor their execution. My planner is predominantly to help me stay on top of tasks that are time-sensitive or I’m likely to forget.

I had some specific names/information recorded in the weekly spread (and on the scratch-pad), hence all the chicken scratches. (I was going to use a whiteout pen, but got lazy).

Here is a completed week. I LOVE the amount of flexibility in these layouts.

  • I use the top “free” space to record my joyfinding exercises.
  • I write down a meal plan as I go through the week in the space just below the date
  • Anything with specific timing I highlight in yellow (this is mostly calls/video meetings as I still rarely have in-person meetings)
  • The other side of the spread I use to list general to-dos for the week. These can migrate over and end up getting listed under a specific day but, more often than not, I simply tackle these when I’m able since they are not time-sensitive (things like: draft my monthly family update email, send a reminder email about progress reports, schedule some meetings for early February, sign and return forms related to corporate taxes, mail our confetti notes, and take the kids sledding – I guess the sledding one would be time-sensitive if it rained). I review this list throughout the week and if anything hasn’t been taken care of by Sunday evening, I move it forward to the following week.
  • I have been tracking my daily outside walks, phone pick-ups, total screen time, and the Psalm we’ve read for the day. For pick-ups, I’m actually subtracting the number of times I use my phone as a camera. To me taking pictures is hugely important and I don’t want to come down hard on myself for excessive pick-ups if it’s done for photography. But still…I sure do handle my phone a lot (and last week was worse. A lot worse.). Sigh.

Above is a picture of last week’s spread first thing Monday morning. This week was significantly less busy (John was out of town, so I was very purposeful to book as light a week as possible), but even still it filled up quickly once things got started!

You can see I only have one meal listed (Monday). I sketch out meal ideas over the weekend, but don’t have a strict meal plan and just fill things in based on what ingredients I have/the time I have available for prep.

monthly spreads

My monthly spread for January just had too much specific information, so I’m showing you June so you can get a sense of the layout.

I have to get my engagement and wedding band inspected every 6 months for insurance, so that is already listed but other than that (and a heart sticker on Father’s Day), June looks deliciously open (sounds like something Anne of Green Gables would say)! I’m not using the month-view that often, but it’s very handy for long-range planning.

Each month ends with a full spread of prompts. I’m really, really excited about these.

And there is a yearly review at the end of the book.

I think this is a great feature. The questions are insightful and relevant (they do vary slightly month-to-month) and I don’t think I’m going to feel pressured to answer everything (or give long, detailed answers), but I appreciate not having to think through big questions to ask of myself. Having the prompts in place seems like one responsibility off my shoulders. Now when the planner can start doing laundry and taking the kids to the dentist, then we’ll really be getting somewhere…

extra pages

At the back of the book there are about 30 extra, lined pages. At first I wasn’t sure how to fill them, but I’m starting to come up with ideas…

I’ve decided to track things related to mood and overall health (i.e. if I was tired, details of my downright terrible period – sigh). I don’t enjoy doing this; it feels tedious and another thing to remember but since I’ve gone back on hormonal treatments + iron, I really want to be as specific and thorough as I can be to monitor symptoms/results. I also used a little code of up and down arrows to signify how I felt overall (mood/energy/headaches).

I’m reading a Psalm with the kids at the breakfast table most days and have written down some favourite verses as we go along.

favourite features:

Honestly, I like just about everything in this planner (not paid or perked in any way!). I thought I would feel obligated to fill in every high-level planning page, but I don’t.

I really, really, really love the month tabs. It makes for easy navigation. I do use a small paperclip to hold together weeks of the month that are completed so it’s even faster to locate the current weekly spread.

I appreciate all the extra pages and the overall sense of flexibility with how to use the layouts.

If I had to come up with any critique, I feel like I’d prefer to have a bit more space for daily to-do’s (lines) and less “free” space in the weekly spreads. That said, I can see many people wanting it exactly as shown here. I like the structure but feel like I have more space than I need on the right-hand side of the layout. If I was designing the planner, I think (?) I’d do M-F on the left, S+S on the top right and cut down on the size of free-form space on the second page (but not remove them entirely as I sure do love those boxes and currently use the header/footer ones for the “Joyfinding” and “Grateful” lists that I maintain each week).

There you have it my first – and probably only – planner review!

Are you a planner person – or do you prefer wall/digital calendars?

36 thoughts on “Me? Doing a Planner Review? Here Goes…”

    1. That colour system looks…incredible! What a great way to see things at a glance. And it’s also downright cheerful to look at. Somehow seeing you have to take out the trash in bright pink (I’m speculating here; I have no idea if you ever list “Take Out the Trash” in bright pink…) would feel a whole lot better than “Take out the Trash” in plain black…

  1. I use a combo of electronic/paper planners. Anything where I need to leave the house and/or be left alone (i.e. work meetings) have to go on our shared Google calendar. We do this so we avoid car issues and so we each know when the other is going to have *a day*. But I also use a paper planner to track my personal goals.

    Your planner is beautiful, but all the questions and reflections seem like homework to me! I honestly just want a planner with a month layout and then weekly layouts and a couple of blank pages here and there. A pocket is nice, but not necessary. This stripped down planner seems impossible to find and so I end up sort of creating my own. *sigh*

    I do think yours looks so pretty and that would entice me to use my planner more often, too!

    1. I honestly thought the same thing about all the reflections (i.e. a lot of work)…but I really like like them. I’m only one month in, granted, but I think that even writing down a few lines feels like it gives me a good prompt to reflect on the month. It also puts things in perspective. Like, January felt like an especially cold, dark, snowy and hard month. BUT it was fun to write down what I was listening to, watching, reading, looking forward to etc…

      I’ve always been a hodge-podge system type of girl, too! I will admit I just can’t get into digital calendars. I think they are so practical (and my husband LIVES by his), but try as I might, I am really paper all the way.

      If what you want is impossible to find – why not create what works for you?! Go for it. This is the first time I’ve really used a “nice planner” and if Sarah hadn’t sent this, I guarantee I’d still be using my DollarStore one! But now that I’m using the Sprouted one, I just really appreciate the features I didn’t really I was missing (if that makes sense)?

    2. Last year I used a Classic Moleskin – weekly planner. It is more basic. It was a good start for me as I used to just use a small monthly planner but the kids are old enough to be busier. Between that and work the moleskin worked pretty well.
      This year I indulged in Ink + Volt. It also has a lot of prompts and I will see how it goes for the year. It does feel a bit like homework sometimes but I’m hoping it will also keep me on track with meeting some goals this year.

      1. I remember Sarah mentioning the Ink+Volt planner, too. I think it has “monthly challenges?” I like the monthly prompts in this planner, but I’d say I spent less than 5 minutes filling them in for January (could have spent a lot more, but…I already record lots of information in other ways, too – like my One Line A Day Journal).
        It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out by the end of the year because planner “needs”, as you’ve highlighted, can really ebb and flow based on current life season.

    3. Thanks for the nice words, NGS! I totally get the reflection piece being overwhelming at first.
      Also, I hear you loud and clear about the stripped down planner *taking copious notes*

  2. Hi Elisabeth! I found you via Sarah Hart-Unger and I have enjoyed reading both of your blogs when you post. I had to comment because I originally found Sarah because I am (admittedly) productivity and planner obsessed! Ironically I have moved away from a paper planner system this year as my life has become increasingly more mobile and I am required to work in many different locations. However, I truly love reading about the planner journeys of others. Just wanted to pop in and mention that I like the Sprouted planner layout and that a personal favorite of mine is the Full Focus Planner for a daily and quarterly planner.

    1. Hi Stephanie!
      I think Sarah talks about the Full Focus Planner quite a bit? I am, admittedly, very out of the loop on all things planner-related, but I have really enjoyed the process of using the Sprouted planner for more than just tracking my to-do’s and staying on top of my schedule and have appreciated the prompts for more general topics like goals/values and some prompts for monthly reflections.

  3. I love planner reviews so thanks for sharing! I used to use Erin Condren planners. Then I shifted to bullet journals in 2017. I got pregnant shortly after getting married in 2017 and life was forever changed and as a result, I needed less out of a planner, so the bullet journal was perfect. I fit about 2-2.5 years in a bullet journal so I only bought 2 for the 5 years I used a bullet journal. I didn’t plan much/ask much of myself so that approach worked great. I’m still not planning a lot or asking a lot of myself, but I felt the yearning to get back into a system, so I bought the Wonderland222. Grateful Kae uses it, too. I’ve been really happy with it so far. It’s a bound book, which I wanted, and A5 size, so pretty small. I got a cover for it w/ extra ribbons for marking places and added tabs to indicate the months so I could more easily navigate it. I really like the gantt charts that are towards the front of the planner. I use those to track workouts, days of 10k or higher steps, whether I read that days Count of Monte Cristo section, when I started/finished each book I read, and whether I’ve purged the videos of that day. My annual project is to go through all my old videos and delete the ones that aren’t worth keeping – I usually work ahead on this. As of yesterday I’m up to Feb 16th. That has been a fun project as it’s fun to see Paul as these younger ages!

    I used to be a chronic over-planner, but having kids has helped with that big time. I have gotten much better at saying no to things – it’s sad that it took having kids to feel like I could say no! But having kids is the ultimate prioritizer. My time is limited, so you can’t say yes to everything I might have pre-kids.

    Oh and I was also like you and loved getting syllabi and filling out the planner that I would buy at the college bookstore! We also got planners in middle/high school, I think. So it’s always been in my nature to plan!

    1. Yes, I’ve talked a lot about how all those “good” things I don’t do.
      I did about 6 months in a bullet journal, but I didn’t like the amount of work it required of me. I really like having flexible structure (is that an oxymoron?).

      This is the biggest planner I’ve had in terms of size, but since I don’t commute for work, it’s fine and I actually like the “heft” of it.

      I’ve heard Kae and SHU talk about Wonderland222. I have done zero research in to planners, but I’m so glad it is a great system for you! I really like Maya’s idea of doing different categories in different colours. It’s so fun and whimsical (and practical, too, as she mentioned being able to see at a glance if there are real disparities in where her time is going).

    2. Lisa – I loved reading about your planning story. I’m really glad you found a planner you’ve been really happy with so far. The academic planner that I’m making for this year has some similarities to the Wonderland222.
      Kids are definitely the ultimate prioritizer, you are spot on about that.
      And YES to the college syllabi…that was like my Christmas morning too…filling out my planner with all that. Lol, I’m so glad I’m not alone in the planner nerdery.

  4. Reading this post, I don’t know how you ever survived with the Dollar Store planner! I guess you just kind of “grew into” this one. It does seem nearly perfect for you.
    My planner is about the same size but the days take up the entire two-page layout (the left side has place for weekly plans at the top and then M-W, the left side has Thurs-Sun.). So it doesn’t have all the “free” space on the right page. I like it this way because I write more in each day, but I’m sure if I had your planner I would adjust and use that right page for more things.
    It’s fun to see how people organize their planners! I’m using mine more this year, so I like to get ideas.

    1. I think this planner is going to make me more of a “planner” – in terms of recording things. Having one space for everything is really nice! When the pandemic started I had a different DollarStore planner which was a similar layout to the Sprouted one, and I found it very depressing since all of a sudden I had nothing to fill in. That’s why the one from last year was really nice for pandemic life. I could see a high-level view and things didn’t look quite so bare because in the span of a month, there were fun events – while in the course of a week, due to restrictions or sudden spikes of COVID – we might all of a sudden be homebound. It’s really interesting how the pandemic changed my approach + how the space in my planner impacted how I felt about my time (i.e. depressed when the pandemic hit and all the things I had filled in got cancelled + nothing new got added).
      That tangent about COVID aside…I’m so glad you’re enjoying your planner this year. You should blog about it, Jenny. Hopefully you put some big gold star stickers on the day you were successful with the half-moon pose?

      1. Thank you for sharing your process and layouts. I too want flexible structure and it’s hard to find! There doesn’t seem to be just the right mix of the things I like. I want to get back to recording what’s ahead and I also tend to use my planner as a way to record moments that I want to remember. I’m feeling more motivated to do that!
        And reading the comments has me pondering a colour coding system too!
        Thanks for the great review and post.

    2. I can absolutely see the appeal of the weeks taking up both pages, Jenny. I’ve had similar planners too, and then realized that my brain thinks about to-dos in terms of the whole week vs by day. I’m glad you are liking the planner you are using, and utilizing it more this year.

    1. Thank you for the compliment, Joy! Fun to see that you’re a planning guru too (via Elisabeth’s comment).

  5. I prefer to have my own planner, as opposed to just scribbling stuff on the “family” calendar (just realized I haven’t gotten a 2022 family calendar, yet, because we were in Florida and it completely slipped my mind becasue I had my personal planner with me). I’ve always just used the month-at-a-glance spreads, but my 2022 also has weekly spreads. I’m trying to figure out how much to transfer from the “weekly” to the “monthly.” It seems redundant to have everything on BOTH spreads, but I also don’t want to overlook important dates or details. Stay tuned….

    1. Last year I had everything on a monthly spread and this year I am definitely relying far more heavily on the weekly spreads just based on the layout of the planner…

    2. Hi Kimberly – I’m staying tuned! Not that you asked but I use my monthly spread to plan anything ahead of time…so, for the next week & beyond. Then at the start of the week, I transfer that week’s plans to my weekly spread, and add any additional details (time, place, what to bring, etc.). I always have my week open and operate out of that spread. I only reference my monthly spread for adding/planning ahead, and for writing out the current week (now I’m just repeating myself). Hopefully that makes sense. Anyway, it’s always fun to hear how other people plan and what they do, so thank you!

  6. I love planner reviews and peeking into other people’s planners – so thank you for that. I’ve been a planner person since highschool. I used to utilize the “free” merchandise planners that companies gave out (usually daily planners) that I prettied up on the outside and then tweaked to my liking on the inside.

    I have gone through multiple iterations of planners and tried different companies and layouts. I have recently settled on a $10 Fringe planner that is pretty basic, but provides all I need (monthly spread, weekly spreads, a couple of pages for notes) and it’s spiral-bound (!!!) – my favorite.
    I used an Inkwell Press planner for years before that (and I love the quality and feel of it), but they moved to a disk-bound system which I just *HATE* with a passion. So bulky, so ugh.

    And as much as I love paper planners, I also have a digital planner that goes hand in hand with my paper planner. One thing paper planners can’t do (yet?) – send audible reminders LOL

    1. I should use digital calendars more. I just love paper…same with books!
      I’ve tried to use my digital calendar to set up work tasks, but it just doesn’t stick in the same way that using a paper planner does…
      Maybe I should stop trying to force a fit and admit that paper is where I’m at these days!

    2. Thanks for introducing me to the Fringe planner, San. And for a peak into your planning life. I have to say, I feel the same as you about the disc-system. And YES about the audible reminders of digital planning. I think a lot of people hybrid between the 2 for that very reason.

  7. Thank you so very much for the awesome review of Sprouted Planner, Elisabeth. Admittedly, I’ve read it about 5 times already. More than anything else, I’m elated that you love it and it works so well for you. That’s always my highest hopes. It’s always great fun to see how other people plan, and even more so when it’s in SP!

    Super interesting thoughts about what you would change if you were to design it! You can bet I’m going to play around with that layout and see how it looks.

    Thanks again for the honor of a review! I can’t slap this smile off my face.

    1. Hi Heather! I’m so glad you stopped by!!
      I really have enjoyed the SP (definitely not paid or perked to say so!!) and there is so little I would change (and this week I’ve really wanted all the “free” space on the right-hand spread, so go figure).
      I use it constantly throughout the day and get excited to look ahead and plan long-term. It’s such high quality with a lot of unique features (to me at least, coming from a $1.25 DollarStore planner). I’ve never really considered myself a “planner” type of planner, so I don’t see any need to try out other options moving forward. One of my mottos is decide once and Sprouted checks all the boxes, so I’m thrilled with my “decision”! And another shout-out to SHU for pulling me in the loop.

  8. I love a detailed planner review! I have been really bad in the past about using planners consistently, but I bought a $10ish one at Target in December and I’m determined to see it through. It has a two-page spread for each week so I put my commitments on the left side, which has the days listed out, and then the second page is used to make my weekly to-do list. There’s a dotted section and a lined section. I use the lined section for my to-do list but want to find a use for the dotted section – still deciding!

    I love all of the prompts that the Sprouted planner has. Maybe if I am good and use the planner I have now throughout the year, I’ll treated myself to a Sprouted planner for 2023! Bookmarking this post so I remember. 🙂

    1. I have been loving the Sprouted planner. I can definitely better understand why different products work well for specific people. So far, Sprouted has been great for me, but the options truly are staggering!!

  9. Thanks for sharing your system! This planner is so “you”! And I’m so glad that you found one that is working for you without you having to hack it too much.

    My issue is that I need a full page/day. And that makes for a BIG planner over a yea.r. I don’t know one designed like that would work for me. So, years ago I hacked a pdf of one I found online and have tweaked it over the years to be a custom set up for me. I won’t go into the gory details but the left side has space for appointments, the right side is to-do’s and there is a tiny space at the bottom for notes/reminders.
    I just print a bunch off and then use them up, repeat as necessary. 🙂

  10. Very late comment here to say thank you so much for posting this!! Definitely trying to find a magical unicorn of a planner—I have used Hobonichi, Wonderland, and Erin Condren….may try this next.

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