How to Make a Personal Planner that Rocks

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Want to put a little order in your life? Consider making a personal planner to suit your life and needs.

How to Make a Personal Planner that Rocks | Life as Mom

Here she is, in all her glory, my personal 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. Without a personal planner, there’s no way I could have written four cookbooks, raised six children through baby and toddlerhood, and managed to run a home business.

I’d have gone crazy trying — if it hadn’t been for a tracking system that truly worked for me.

I’ve mentioned before that my personal planner is my brain on paper. I take it with me everywhere and always have what I need to keep track of household, family, and personal responsibilities.

My planner has evolved with me over the years. At one point it housed 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 wanted to keep on hand. Today, as digital has taken over my contacts and calendars, my personal planner has slimmed down, simplified, and yet, continued to be a powerful work horse to help me get things done.

How can YOU make a personal planner that works for you? One that rocks your world in all the good ways?

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, Organizing Life as Mom, but some basic things to consider include:

  • calendars
  • contacts list
  • to do lists
  • weekly schedules
  • meal plans
  • goal setting worksheets

2. Find planning pages that suit your style.

There are loads of printable planners out there. I could never find one that I loved, so I ended up designing my own. When my kids were very little, I used the planning pages in Organizing Life as Mom. There are a myriad of worksheets, calendar styles, and organizing sheets so that you can basically have every detail covered.

Today I use the planning pages in The Print & Go Planner. I love them for their clean black and white look that I can customize with my own colored pens, stickers, sticky tabs, and Post-it notes.

For a variety of free printable planning pages, be sure to subscribe to the Life as Mom newsletter. You’ll get immediate access to our printables library.

How to Make a Personal Planner that Rocks | Life as Mom

3. Decide how you will hold it all together.

In the early years, I cobbled all my planning pages together into 3-ring binders, but I found that after a few weeks, my personal planner fell out of use. Then I discovered a trick!

You can have a copy store bind your pages with a coil binding. Voila! A SPIRAL-BOUND, personal planner.

That was a huge game-changer. I realized that the spiral-bound format made it super-portable and easy to use. I could fold it back on itself to save space on the counter and to make writing more comfortable. My personal planner gets used every single day now.

Nowadays I simply upload the digital file to Staples and they do a beautiful job printing and binding my personal planner each year. I order it on 28-pound paper so that ink doesn’t leak through and let them do the printing so that all the pages go the right directions.

If you choose to print the pages yourself, it’s definitely going to cost less money. You can even insert laminated pages or dividers to make your personal planner ultra-customized.

How to Make a Personal Planner that Rocks | Life as Mom

4. Embellish with colored tabs, stickers, and Post-it notes.

Printing your personal planner in black and white is significantly cheaper than printing in color, whether you print at home or have the copy shop do it. Additionally, black and white is so much more versatile! You can easily add color with tabs, stickers, markers, and Post-it notes and change those colors in a heart beat, based on your mood or the season.

Your personal planner can be as sassy and decorated or as sleek and streamlined as you like it!

5. Use it.

What truly makes a personal planner “rock” is its usability. If you’re not using it every day, it’s not awesome.

For me, one of the stumbling blocks was to switch to a spiral binding. The second has been to make my planner a regular part of my month, my week, and each morning and evening.

At the start of each month, I fill out my Month at a Glance sheet with goals for the month. Each weekend I create a new time budget and meal plan for the coming week. I write out my weekly goals as well. Each evening I fill out a 3-inch Post-it note with my to-do’s for the next day. I consult my schedule, meal plan, and to-do’s each morning over coffee and throughout the day.

Using my planner regularly helps me get stuff done — and helps me feel like my head is on straight. Find out how to make your planner serve YOU and you’ll have a personal planner that rocks.

If you haven’t already done so, check out the Print & Go Planner and see if a personal planner can help YOU organize your “life as mom.”

Got a personal planner?

What do you do to your planner to make it rock?

Originally published on August 17, 2011. Updated July 8, 2017.

How to Make a Personal Planner that Rocks | Life as Mom

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  1. Staples also have cheaper notebook (binders) for a dollar or two. They’re not as strong, but still a relatively good notebook.

    Also look at the time the stores have their sales for the start of the school year. Even if you don’t need it at the time of school starting, you can hold i5 until thel wh3n you want to start the year.. Walmart is also a good place to buy cheaper notebooks, and if you’re care, ful they ,are relatively cheaper.


  2. Trying to figure out the best way to have a planner that works for ME, and I found your post! I neeeeeeeedddd to do this. I have so much going on in my life and no pre-made planner that hits on it all, and when it gets close it’s not my style. I’ve been so frustrated!

    I’ve looked into Staples binding services, but quick question for you! If I were to choose to buy a super cute planner cover from Etsy, how would I be able to incorporate it? I’m guessing that I wouldn’t be able to do that online, but do you know if they offer binding in their stores? Any other places that offer this?


    1. Do you mean, could you take the Etsy cover to Staples and have them bind it into your planner? Yes, you just need to talk to their copy center employees and explain exactly what you want.

  3. How thick does your planner end up being? I’ve started designing my own book of weekly and monthly pages with a few other pages mixed in and I’m afraid it will be too thick to be portable!

  4. Thanks for the info! I just wanted to add that when it comes to laminated pages, I use permanent fine tip markers/pens and when I need to erase something, I use rubbing alcohol. Also, Costco often has great prices on bulk binders. Thanks again!

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  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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 ..

  9. 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. 🙂

  10. 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!

  11. 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!

    1. 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.

  12. 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?

    1. I cut the top and the inside fold off, so that the pocket measures 81/2 by 11. The notebook paper just fits.

  13. 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.)

  14. 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!!!

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

    2. 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.

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

  15. 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!

  16. 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. 🙂

    1. 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!

      1. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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

  19. 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….

  20. 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.

  21. 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?!

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

  23. 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.

  24. 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. : )

  25. 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.

  26. 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 😉

  27. 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!

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

      1. 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.

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

  29. 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.

  30. 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!

  31. 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!

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

    1. 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)

      1. 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.

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

  34. 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.

    1. 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. 🙂

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

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

        1. 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.