As a writer, mother, and wife of a busy husband, my days can get pretty hectic. I am constantly looking for any tools to help me achieve an acceptable balance of work and life. Organization, at least on the planning side of my day, is crucial. Writing things down not only helps me remember appointments and tasks, but helps alleviate anxiety when brain-fog creeps back in.
In the past, I’ve tried your typical daily and weekly planners, a few more specialized market-centric planners, and have even dabbled in Bullet Journaling. The only thing that seems to have stuck is using an Outlook calendar for our family needs. On a personal level, nothing, so far at least, has stuck, and for various reasons – size, layouts, organization. You name it, there is always something that bugs me enough to not want to follow the system anymore.
Out of all of those things that have caused me to stop using a system, I have discovered what I truly need versus what I want in a planner or journal. I like having something undated, so I don’t have to wait until the beginning of a year or quarter to buy a new one, or have a ton of un-used pages hanging about, making me feel wasteful. I also like to have an area to write out goals, not just tasks, for both long term and short term. Of course, having a monthly, weekly, daily, AND hourly layout all in one book are also big pluses for me, but not necessarily a requirement if everything else flows together and helps me get to where I want to go.
While I was perusing Amazon yet again for a planner to meet my lofty expectations, the Panda Planner popped up. It had a lot of great reviews, and seemed like a pretty straightforward system, so I thought “Why the hell not?”. There were two versions available: the Panda Planner and the Panda Planner Pro. I decided to go with the first, as I knew it would fit in my bag without any issues. And, to be honest, the price was a factor as well (about $26.00 at the time of purchase), being a product that I had not used before, and with my history of planners, I didn’t want to spend too much on something that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to stick to.
The Panda Planner is non-dated, with three sections devoted to a different spread layout – monthly, weekly, and daily. The daily spread also included an area for an hourly breakdown, so already four big checks in the win column for me. For some, the sectioning by spread type versus by month (for example organized by one month, four weeks, and thirty days) was frustrating, but there are three ribbons sewn into the binding for you to use to mark your place in each section, so for me it’s not a deal breaker.
The monthly spread includes space for targeted plans, goals, a habit to focus on for the month, and self-review when it’s time to move on. It also includes an area for notes, although it is so narrow, it’s hard to fit much. The squares for the days are also in the small side. I found it hard to write in appointments, so instead, I am writing in an asterisk for every appointment that is occurring on that day. This at least gives me heads up that I need to peek at my Outlook calendar to see what I have going on while I am figuring out my week. I am also using the monthly spread to block out larger amounts of time (for trips or if we have visitors), and to write in holidays or special events.
The weekly spread is not like any weekly spread I have seen before. Rather than having each day listed Sunday through Saturday, it instead focuses on planning and goals. It starts off with a review of the previous week, a breakdown of targeted goals for the week ahead, and then gives you an area to plan the steps you need to take to reach those goals. It also has a ‘built-in’ priority system, giving you only 4 project areas to write in for the week. I am typically one of those people that writes everything down that I can possibly think of, only to be overwhelmed when it comes time to switch to another task. With only four spots available, it forces you think about the tasks you MUST work on for the week, versus the things you just WANT to work on.
The daily spread is probably the most useful for me. It has a morning planning area to help get you in the right mindset from the very beginning. Again, it has sections devoted to your goals and plans for that day, as well as an area for more general tasks and quick notes. Most important for me is the hourly schedule. I’m very visual, and to be able to see my appointments and deadlines versus my free time for the day helps me avoid over-planning my day. I even go so far as to put in eating times and nap times, may seem a bit extreme to some, but when you are in the grip of brain-fog, every little bit of clarity helps. The only drawback for me with the daily spread is the range of the hourly schedule. My days tend to start much earlier than 6 am and end later than 9 pm. It would be nice to have a bit more to play with in that area.
So far, this system is something that is easy to work with and incorporate into my family scheduling style, and I can see myself buying this again in a few months. I might even bump up to the Pro so that I have a bit more room to get everything laid out. The Panda Planner is definitely something that I would recommend to anyone trying to get a grip on organizing their life so they can get ahead.