No one likes a planner that stays empty.
We are all aware that the key to success with almost anything is consistency— this includes using your planner effectively every day!
Unfortunately, no matter what planner we buy, we're the only ones responsible for using them.
Why is it so hard to stick to planning?
Like anything, planning regularly is a habit, and new habits are difficult to establish.
It is pretty obvious when we aren't sticking to our planner. When weeks of unfilled pages go by, it can be a sad sight to behold.
Why is it so hard?
1: Get Realistic about Planning
You have probably envisioned yourself using your planner each day. You feel excited about what it could do for your life.
It's easy to see how something could transform us, but much harder to do it. Our imaginations can set us up for failure and disappointment.
So before you start, make sure you perform a reality check:
- Accept that you might get off-track
- Accept that it's not going to be perfect
- Accept that your plans are going to change
When we stay realistic about what we can accomplish, we signal both self-compassion and understanding to ourselves. People that practice self-compassion have higher success rates with their habits.
2: Get Specific: Know your Why
When we understand why we want to do something, we can increase our chances of success. Take some time to think of why you want to use a planner every day.
When you know the benefits you'll gain, you'll be more likely to stick with planning. Knowing your personal benefits will increase your resilience in forming a new habit!
Here are some "why's" to get you started:
- To take better care of yourself
- Accomplish your short term goals
- Become more creative
- Increase your self-awareness
- Record recent and past memories
- Keep track of your personal life
- Track your time
- Achieve long term career goals
- Project management
- Journaling and self-reflection
- Become better at priorities
- Schedule appointments
- Accomplish short term goals
- To improve your financial health
- To improve your focus
Regardless, keeping your "why" in mind will help motivate you to work on this goal.
3: Find a Consistent Trigger to Plan Your Day
Habits are stronger if they are cued by triggers.
Triggers are around us every day. When your alarm sounds, the first thing you might do is make coffee. When you slip on gym shoes, you go to the gym.
Some triggers are better than others though. And the strength of a trigger depends on who you are and your lifestyle. Take consistency, simplicity, and personability into account.
A trigger can also be something like a pairing. Pairing a habit with something else can help strengthen habits . For instance, only watching a certain show if you exercise.
Gretchen Rubin talks more in-depth about this:
Here are some examples of pairings and/or triggers that could help you cue a planning session:
- Morning Coffee or Tea: Most people consume some form of caffeine in the morning. This could be the perfect way to wake up depending on who you are!
- Arriving at Work: Sitting at your desk or arriving at an office could be a good trigger. Delay turning on your computer, and open your planner instead.
- After a Skincare Routine: A good night-time skincare routine can be a good trigger for using your planner. It's the perfect way to extend your self-care.
- After a Workout: You can use post-workout dopamine highs to help you focus on a short planning session right after. Changing Clothes: A transition in clothing can make us feel better, and can serve as a powerful trigger.
- Changing Clothes: A transition in clothing can make us feel better, and can serve as a powerful trigger.
- A Particular Snack: Having a certain healthy snack (a bowl of nuts) could be a good trigger to associate with planning.
- Listening to Music: Music can create a specific mood and help you focus on a task. For instance, listening to a certain song or playlist could cue your planning sessions. If you are ADHD or neurodivergent, you might find you benefit from ambient sounds or tracks from brain.fm!
Depending on your personality, you might need to experiment with different triggers to see what works best for you. Keep in mind that triggers only work if you act on them immediately.
4: Start Small and Simple
"Inch by inch, anything's a cinch."
Simple planners are happy planners.
Don't dive-in and expect yourself to come up with Pinterest-worthy spreads with perfect handwriting.
The chances are: you're busy like everyone else. If you are just starting out, it's best to choose one thing that you want to plan every day.
Here are some examples of starting small:
- Measure your Habit: Use stickers for each day that you remember to open your planner. This way, you'll train your brain to use your planner. Even if you don't fill in each day, that's okay. The act of opening the planner is what matters.
- Write down One Major Task: For instance, set one major task that you must accomplish that day. Use your schedule for things that you know will happen regardless, like breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Keep Short Planning Sessions: if the habit you're trying to create takes too long, you'll make it harder. Set a timer for 5 minutes maximum to plan out your day.
- Write down your Sleep and Wake times: Doing this is a great way to get used to using a paper planner. If you can do this for 30 days in a row, you'll have a habit that you can build on.
- Write a Quote Each Day: Use a quote generator like RWG and write something that resonates with you.
- Write a Daily Mantra: Use a mantra generator and copy a mantra each day for 30 days.
5: Make Using your Planner Enjoyable
Habits are easier when we make them enjoyable.
If your brain perceives an immediate reward for doing the habit, it will want to keep doing it. 
Your planner is where you take care of the most important person: you!
You might want to learn how to use planner stickers (or make your own!)
And taking care of yourself should be a joy, not a dread!
Find stickers, pens, highlighters, and other accessories that spark joy in your planning session.
Highlighters can be used for color coding your priorities.
6: Track Your Progress
It can take up to 66 days to solidify a habit . That's why tracking your progress is important to discourage you from breaking the chain .
Research shows that it becomes more likely we won't form a habit if we keep skipping days.
This can be as simple as opening your planner and placing a sticker of your choice.
However, if you need to track your planner habit better, there are other options.
Habit Notepad: A notepad in a visible place that tracks your planner habit. You can create your own at home, or purchase a habit tracker to help you stay on track.
Using a Weekly Tracker Notepad can help you keep track of habits like staying consistent with your planner.
7: Find your People
When we surround ourselves with likeminded people, we increase our chances of success. This is easy to do in planner communities on Facebook and Instagram!
Even if you feel too shy to share your planner on Instagram, seeing other people post their layouts can help you stay on track.
You can join these groups on Facebook to hang out with other planner aficionados: :
And you can follow these hashtags to stay involved in the planner community!
 Rubin, G. (2015, January 5). Try pairing: One of the easiest ways to strengthen habits [Blog post]. Gretchen Rubin. https://gretchenrubin.com/articles/video-try-pairing-one-of-the-easiest-ways-to-strengthen-habits/
 Norton, M. I., Mochon, D., & Ariely, D. (2012). The IKEA effect: When labor leads to love. Journal of Consumer Research, 42(6), 952-966. https://doi.org/10.1086/674817
 Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Random House.
 Clear, J. (n.d.). How to build a new habit: This is your strategy guide [Blog post]. James Clear. Retrieved from https://jamesclear.com/new-habit