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How to Make a Personal Planner that Rocks

Here she is, in all her glory, my new planner. She may not look like much. But, trust me when I say she is a powerhouse just waiting to be unleashed.

She holds all my goals, hopes and dreams inside her little pages.

I mentioned last week that this is my brain on paper. I take it with me everywhere and always have what I need to keep track of household, family, and writing affairs. I’ve got several calendars, a contacts section, several to-do lists for different areas of life, and several pocket pages to hold extra information or greeting cards that I want to keep on hand.

This is the third time that I’ve bound my own personal planner. And I can honestly say that this baby rocks. While it takes a little more time to put together than a standard binder and requires that I anticipate my needs for the next year a little more specifically, it really works for me to have it spiral bound.

After a recent binder-shopping trip, I also determined that a spiral bound book doesn’t really cost that much more than using a three-ring binder. Have you seen how expensive nice binders are these days? Holy smokes! I spent $5 to have it bound which was a  significantly lower price than the binders Staples had to offer.

Earlier this month, I released the latest revision of Organizing Life as MOM. It’s 173 pages of inspiration and planning pages to put together a household notebook or personal planner that works for you. Every planning page, every worksheet that I have in mine is available in the main book or in the homeschool or blogging add-ons.

For the curious, here’s a virtual tour of my planner and suggestions for making a customized planner for you:

1. Determine what your needs are.

What are the things that you need to keep track on a day-to-day basis? Jot down a quick list so that you have a blueprint for putting together your planner. I get into great detail about this in my ebook, but some basic things to include are:

  • calendar
  • contacts list
  • to do list

2. Gather supplies.

I pulled together my planner based on what I already had: copy paper, cheap folders, and cardstock. I had to buy tabs for the dividers and pay for the binding and laminating. Depending on the office and school supplies at your disposal, you may already have everything you need.

3. Print pages to include in your planner.

You can buy the all-new and improved OLAM for a treasure-trove of planning pages, calendars, and other worksheets to help you get your act together. Or you can check out some of these free sources for printables.

4. Insert dividers.

I used color cardstock that I had leftover from my scrapbooking days as well as some cheap pocket folders that you can buy on sale for a nickel. With a straight edge, I trimmed everything to 8 1/2 x 11, so that all my notebook pages are uniform.

5. Consider lamination.

Laminating pages that you will use over and over again saves you space in your binder as well as a tree. Consider laminating pages that you won’t need to keep records of. I laminated my daily to do list, my meal plan/grocery page, my weekly to do’s, and my weekly cleaning list. I use overhead projector pens which are wet erase. There is a bit of smearing from time to time, but not enough to deter me from this method. My planner is thinner as a result, and I feel good about having a green-er notebook.

6. Bind it.

As I mentioned already, I prefer to have my book spiral bound at the copy shop. You might choose to use a three-ring binder. Use what works best for you.

7. Add divider tabs.

I purchased these old school divider tabs to use for each of my section dividers. I actually found several different brands, but these traditional stick-on tabs from Avery seem to be the most durable.

8. Use it.

Over the years I’ve put together a number of household binders. And often they ended up neglected in a drawer. After some troubleshooting, I realized that a binder was too bulky and unwieldy. Once I switched to spiral bound, it’s as if my organizational world was transformed. A spiral book takes up so much less room on the counter or in my tote bag. It’s easier to write in and much more usable for me.

Find out how to make your planner serve you and then use it.

If you haven’t already done so, hop on over to the OLAM sales page and see if this personal planner ebook can help YOU organize your “life as mom.”

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Comments

  1. Where do you bind your “brain”? And what kind of binding is it? I tried to price it out locally and the guy kept trying to convince me into a comb binding which doesn’t lay flat nor is sturdy enough for the size IMHO.

    • My planner looks much like Jessica’s and I have it bound at Kinko’s. I would guess places like Office Max and Office Depot do this as well. Did the guy just not have the kind of binding you wanted? Would he just do it the way you told him to when push comes to shove?

      When I made my first one a year ago several of my friends tried to convince me to try a binder or other methods before I spent the money on a custom book. I did a bit of xeroxing so I ended up spending around $10 including the binding and cover. What I finally got them to see is that I had carefully designed the book based on what I knew about my own habits. It ended up working great. :)

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      You were right to say no to the comb binding. It’s cheap — and easier for the guy to do. It may be that a smaller store doesn’t do spiral? I did FedEx Office, the store formerly known as Kinkos.

    • Have any of you seen the acr system by Staples? I am just starting to figure out how to make my first planner. I went to staples to have them spiral bind it and found this. The whole system was SO CHEAP!! You can add and remove pages!!! I also scored because a Laminator was on sale!!! Thanks for sharing this learned so much.
      http://www.staples.com/sbd/cre/marketing/arc/
      Teresa

      • Jessica Fisher says:

        Cool. Does it have a hole puncher so you can add your own pages?

        • Yes Jessica, If you look into buying the system that makes the spiral binding yourself, this it is way cheaper but more expensive then a normal 3 hole punch. It was just under $40.00 here in Canada which means will be cheaper in the USA? I was able to make both mine and my daughters binders, and now trying/planning to put together the command central binder, but not sure we need it will one child?? Still thinking it through. But I love the acr because if the week didn’t go as planned just move it over. Plus I do lesson planning one week at a time and need to add that week in EVERY Sunday and I do it on the computer. I was even able to add a pocket folder!!! LOVE the idea, thanks!! I don’t blog so sadly have no way to show you.
          http://www.staples.ca/arc/directory_arc_20051_1_20001

  2. I have just been starting to use a “paper brain” the last few months, but am finding a three ring binder to be great for my purposes. Maybe once I know exactly what I would want in it, a bound book would be useful. For now, it’s definitely a work in progress!

    But I disagree that the binders must be expensive. Since we homeschool, I always check out the section in our local thrift store where they keep the binders and notebooks. For a dollar or less, I buy wonderful, like-new binders, often with a lot of paper still in it. There are often binders with extra pockets and sections, which help me keep good track of the different things in my notebook.

    Thanks for the great ideas! I am going to try to implement more of them to help me manage things well in our home.

    • Definitely agree with you Carlyn! I buy most of all my binders at Goodwill for $1 or $2 and they work just fine :) The season I’m in right now leaves me too unpredictable right now so binding is not a smart choice for me now. With my binder I can re-do as often as needed ;) (which is pretty often)

      • Wow – Glad I read this post and comments – Never thought of looking at Goodwill. We are rural, so the closest is about 30 mins away, and I usually only look at clothes.

    • AllieZirkle says:

      The NEW Avery binders at Staples start at $8.99! Sounds like the thrift store has some great finds. Great idea!

  3. I love this!! I just started using a 2 inch trapper keeper with a filing system in it. I will have to let you know how it goes.

    I never thought to make my own planner and have it bound. What a great idea!!! That makes so much sense because the actually planners that are out there are never quite customized to what I need.

  4. This is going to rock my world! I’m so picky about my planner and it must be spiral bound for me- one of the hazards of being a “leftie”! I just spent way more then I would have like to buy a planner I like- this way is so much better and cheaper! I can’t wait to make my own- unfortunately it will have to wait a year!

  5. I use a binder and love it! I feel like my needs change and I love that I can add to it when needed. My binder stays at home most of the time but I have a planner, that pops out and comes with me where I’m going! It works for me, but your method looks great!

  6. I never thought about laminating my daily to do list or menu/grocery sheets. So smart! I also like your binding idea. That makes it much easier to throw in your bag compared to my 3 ring binder. Thanks for the great tour of your planner.

  7. Jessica Fisher says:

    I can see your point. But, at the same time, the customiz-ability is the key to what makes this work so well.

  8. When I was thinking about the school year starting, I remembered you talking about making your own planner last year, and I did the same. Designed specifically for my needs, and bound for 2.99 + cover at Office Depot. I like my planner to fit easily in my purse, so I made all the pages half-size – so far I’m loving it! Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Is the packet able to reduce to 1/2 size or was it tricky? I am wanting one that fits in my purse too.

      • Jessica Fisher says:

        You can print 2 pages per sheet and that will give you 1/2 size. However the dimensions are a little different than the full-size version, so the borders aren’t “perfect.” I am working on a 1/2 size version of the calendar pages. Not sure if we will be able to do the entire book in that size.

  9. I’m gleaning from ya, sister! Working on my binder, using sheet protectors, card stock, and paper. I’ve been creating similar forms to yours in Excel. One word for binder-seekers: I pick up very nice quality binders from Goodwill on half price days for about 35 cents during July. It seems that they overflow with them in the summer before school starts. I bought around 10, mostly white, but some colors in there, too. A great way to get some of these supplies on the cheap ;)

  10. I recently created my first daily routine/schedule, and it’s inspired me to get the rest of my homemaking life in order. I’m seriously considering buying this ebook, but I was just wondering if you had anywhere with people’s feedback that I could read? Like reviews, or something of that sort.

  11. I found one at Target last year with pockets and all, a three ring binder for under $3.00. I never used it though, I gave it to one of my duaghters. Planners are just not my style, one nice little file works best for me for articles and such. My homeschooler planner that I fill in daily as I go is the planner from Rod and Staff publications. I can slip most anything as far as homeschool subjects into the subject spaces I label, Rod and Staff leaves the subject spaces for you the teacher to fill. A nice little planner for school and the price is right. The best planner I have is a dollar store magnetic pad on the fridge.

    That’s just me… It works though…And it’s do-able for me. : )

  12. Oops! That should read above, the magnetic pad is my *daily* planner. Chores, grocery, ordering list etc. When I’m done I just rip the page off and start anew.

  13. They now make notebinders. They are the perfect solution. You can even reuse them. Cost about $10.

  14. BRILLIANT!! Beyond that I am speechless at the thought of being able to make my own customized planner/calendar/binder. Why didn’t I think of paying for the spiral binding?!

  15. Thanks so much for this fabulous idea. I put mine together and my goal is to use. It only cost me 3.99 at Staples to get it bound. Thanks again.

  16. Lamination??!!!! Why didn’t I think of that last year when I made my notebook???? It ended up being so bulky I barely used it and finally trashed it. I had such high hopes for it……maybe I’ll try again….

  17. AllieZirkle says:

    I’m still a beginner, using a binder, modifying as I go. I use plastic inserts so I can slip in important papers and keep with me, on the go. Maybe in another 6 months I’ll have it figured out and go spiral, but for now, the 1 1/2″ binder with plastic inserts works well.

    :) Allie

  18. I think, like you said, the most important thing is to make it your own. If it’s the latest thing, the best seller, the prettiest, etc. …that doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work for you. I prefer a week at a time, with loose leaf sheets, that is expandable. When I USE my planner right, it helps to ease so much tension.

  19. I wanted to add that I use a thin tip permanent marker to write on my sheet protectors / laminates. It won’t smudge or wipe off but removes easily with a bit of rubbing alcohol on a towel or paper towel. It’s completely kid proofed my binder. :)

    • I am so glad you shared this! Now I know I will laminate! =)

    • So, I tried the thin sharpie on the laminated paper and it rubbed off. I checked with Katie (above) and she is using sheet protectors. So, there is a difference. I’ve had a hard time finding something that works. I just realized that Jessica uses WET erase. Not dry erase. (I totally mis-read that.) Big difference. Now, I’m off to try that. I’m sure it will work better.
      By the way, I bound my own calender with the laminated pages and so far I love it. Thanks for the great idea!

      • Jessica Fisher says:

        Yes, big difference. The thing I’m finding is that unless the wet erase is totally dry, it will smear. So, keep that in mind. It’s also not proven that great to have two laminated pages back to back because they can share their ink.

  20. Wow, just found your site via SimpleMom. I love these planner ideas. I have tried so many things … Just started “homeschooling” my kindergartener (long way to got) and it is great to read all your advice. Thanks and greetings from Germany!

  21. Here’s my binder from last year. I’m making at least one kinda small change- relating to the type of form I’m using in place of the Daily Checklist for 2 days per page form. Thank you for sharing the idea on making one from scratch.

    http://www.halloffamemoms.com/2010/08/homeschool-record-keeping/

  22. Would love to know where you find affordable lamination? Was excited about having this laminated and bound only to be told that lamination would cost me $1.50/page!!!

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      Yeah, that’s the going rate. You could try clear contact paper, that is cheaper.

    • Have you tried a teacher supply shop for laminating? My local teacher supply type shop charges 45cents a foot for laminating. They have the big laminator like the schools use so one foot will fit about 3 pages across. The office stores are insane for laminating costs. I go and laminate all kinds of things from posters to flash cards there.

      • Jessica Fisher says:

        Those are great places for laminating! Unfortunately, we don’t have one locally. But, Mardel where we used to live always had great prices.

    • you can get laminators for home offices, we’re getting one after christmas.

  23. LOVE this tutorial!! I am going to design my own personal planner for next year – so excited! Thanks for sharing!

    (Laminating and using wet erase is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, but never tried it.)

  24. I love this but have one question. You said that you cut them to size and I love your pocket folders but I am not sure how you cut them so they still fit notebook paper. Any thoughts?

  25. I’m so excited about making my own planner! I would like to make it 1/2 the size too. I noticed in the comments you mentioned trying to make 1/2 size calendar pages. If I purchase your updated OLAM are the 1/2 size pages included or do I just have have to reduce the size when I make my own copies? Just curious if this will work before I make the purchase :) Thanks in advance!

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      The dimensions of a 1/2 page are not to scale with the full page, so we haven’t yet found a quick and easy way to reduce the files without completely starting from scratch. But, we’re working on it. ;) At the moment, I do know that you can program your printer to print 2 pages per sheet. Try that with the sample and see if you like it before you buy? I will let you know when we have a true 1/2 size available.

  26. Jennifer B. says:

    Please let me know when you have the 1/2 size available as well. If I can’t take it with me (stash in my purse) I won’t be likely to use it. Thanks in advance!

  27. I LOVE THIS IDEA!! I am totally going to do this and I shared it on my blog linking back to you ;)
    http://healthynbalanced.wordpress.com/2011/12/27/2012-goal-organize/

  28. This is great…I just put mine together this past week- I took extra time because I wanted to include some things that my previous ‘nearly perfect’ planner did not have. Now I have a way to include pages for my ‘current projects,’ ‘goals’ and even my weekly planning review reminders. :)

  29. I need this so bad! Going to start working on it today!!!!! Great IDEA!

  30. Firstly I would like to say that this is the very best page I have come across to get ideas for a Home Planner ..
    I use a Sharpies permanent markers on plastic inserts etc., & the writing is easily removed using Nail Polish remover .I have yet to come across any plastic that this will not remove the marks ..

  31. shelby hyatt says:

    That is one of the best “make your own” planner instruction. It made sense, and had very useful ideas. I would love to see how you use it. Thank you for taking the time to write this up. I am former military, but I swear I am so A.D.D, I can’t stay focused. I have been looking for the perfect binder, and decided I would just have to make my own after not find much, well one but it has too much I don’t need. You gave me great ideas… thank you

  32. Hi Jessica, I love this and bought the OLAM with HS pack yesterday….I have been printing and laminating all day today:) I have a question….in the third picture down on this post, what is along the lefthand side of the left page? I cannot make it out and the current forms are a little different so I am just not quite sure, but would love to know.

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