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Top-rated planners for productivity, self-care, school and work

Experts say that planners can help you concentrate on tasks and organize things in order of importance.
Illustration of four different styles, colors and shapes of everyday planners
There are planners designed for everything from daily organization and traveling to wedding planning and meal tracking. Bando ; Etsy ; Papier

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Now that students are returning to in-person learning and employees are starting to filter back into the office, stationery supplies like pencil cases and notebooks might be top of mind. And if you’re the type of person who tends to forget about important tasks and appointments almost immediately, one item you might also want to consider purchasing is a planner. “​​Using a planner consistently is key to helping someone stay organized and focused,” explained Tammy C. O’Neil, CPT, a professional organizer specializing in ADHD and chronic disorganization. “A planner represents a visual daily guide of what your life priorities are and how they will get accomplished.”

Nowadays, there are planners designed for everything from daily organization and traveling to wedding planning and meal tracking. We spoke to experts about the benefits of these various planners for organization, time management and anxiety, plus rounded up some highly rated options for various needs.

LEARN MORE about benefits of using a planner | Digital calendar versus planner | Tips and tricks for using a planner

How to shop for a planner

Since there are so many planners on the market, the experts we spoke to said it’s wise to jot down what you hope to accomplish with yours before exploring options. “Are you the creative type and want to add stickers, etc., to decorate your planner? What size do you want your planner to be? Do you want a spiral bound or hard bound? Will you be taking your planner with you daily? Find a planner that honors your natural brain type,” O’Neil advised.

As you think about what you want your planner to look like, also consider what you will be using it for. Beyond traditional planners designed to track daily, weekly and monthly tasks and events, O’Neil noted that there are also ones created for people who want to stay on top of their workouts, meals and self-care activities.

Planners to shop in 2021

Taking expert guidance into account, we rounded up some highly rated planners for various needs and in several different styles.

Top-rated planner for students: Papier

Papier Academic Year Planner

This planner from Papier is designed specifically with students in mind, beginning in August 2021 and running through July 2022. It includes both weekly and monthly overviews, plus sections to jot down your schedule and assignment due dates every semester. It also has a finance tracker, which can come in handy if you’re trying to stick to a strict budget.

Top-rated planner for work: BulletKeeper

BulletKeeper The Perfect Planner by BK

While many planners are limited by the fact that they’re dated around a certain year or other timeframe, this one from BulletKeeper comes undated, meaning you can fill in the 12 monthly spreads as you go. In between each monthly calendar are five weekly pages, and the end of the notebook has 68 blank pages for you to jot down notes, reminders and more. The vegan leather hardcover comes in five colors: Gray, Brown, Yellow, Orange and Blue.

Top-rated planner with stickers: Large 17-Month Academic Planner is known for its quirky planners filled with silly stickers and calming coloring pages. This spiral bound one is designed to take you from August 2021 through December 2022 and includes year, month and week views, plus pages for notes, coloring and more. It includes stickers to mark your calendars with — and if you run out or just want more options, the company sells several sticker book options.

Top-rated planner for self-care: The Happiness Planner

The Happiness Planner

The Happiness Planner was created in 2015 in order to “combine cognitive behavioral therapy techniques with goal setting,” according to the brand. This iteration of the planner for 2022 comes with 432 pages and includes monthly goal-setting, daily pages, inspirational quotes and more. There are also places for you to track your sleep, exercise and meals, plus take notes and express gratitude for events and accomplishments both big and small.

Top-rated planner for tracking meals: ArtofBarbell

ArtofBarbell Mindful Eating Food Journal

This planner from ArtofBarbell is designed for those who want to track their food intake and become a more mindful eater. Each day has slots to track up to five meals, and within those slots you can rate your hunger and mood at the time of each meal, plus indicate why you ate and how you felt afterward. If you’re still new to your nutrition journey, the planner also includes a comprehensive list of proteins, fats, carbs and more.

Top-rated planner for wedding planning: Erin Condren

Erin Condren Rose Gold Wedding Planner

Wedding planners are a great way for brides and grooms to stay organized during the hectic planning process. I am personally using this one to manage all the endless to-dos leading up to my wedding, and I love that it has a section for my vendors’ contact information and a place to write my vows on top of the usual weekly and monthly overviews. The planner, which comes in several different prints and styles, also has other useful sections, including a place to leave notes during the cake tasting and a budgeting list.

What are the benefits of using a planner?

According to O’Neil, there are numerous benefits to using a planner on a consistent basis. With a planner, you can “control [your] time, money and space” and “improve productivity,” she noted. Melissa Levy, founder of professional organization company Declutter + Design, similarly explained that using a planner allows you to “clear out the clutter in your brain” so you can stay focused on any tasks at hand.

“By consistently using a planner, we can view our life and see if what we are spending time on aligns with our values and priorities,” O’Neil added. “Investing time in planning allows us to track how, where and when we spend our time.”

Planners aren’t for everyone, though. According to Levy, people who “lose things all the time” likely won’t do well with a physical planner. Similarly, she said they might not be the best option for those who “hate writing things down.”

Digital calendars versus planners: Pros and cons

In a world where we spend most of our time in front of a screen, something like a planner can seem archaic and outdated. After all, most phones and laptops come with calendar apps that can sync with our emails. Even Levy admitted that she uses the iCal on her phone to stay organized and share items with family members. However, the things that make technology so wonderful — its accessibility, operability and ubiquity — can also be a burden, particularly for younger generations who grew up glued to their phones and computers.

“We all have a short attention span and that makes our ability to focus on work difficult from the get-go. But when you’re looking at young professionals, they’ve been raised in this world where everything’s on their phone [and] computer. They’re getting notifications constantly,” explained Larry Rosen, PhD, a research psychologist and past chair of the psychology department at California State University, Dominguez Hills. In his research, Rosen has found that technology use and anxiety are directly correlated — one of his studies published in “Computers in Human Behavior,” for instance, concluded that increased technology use was an accurate prediction of illbeing.

Rosen has also found that technology can have a negative effect when it’s used in a learning environment. When he and his colleagues monitored the phone use of 216 college students, they found that FOMO — or an anxiety fueled by fear of missing out online — predicted poor performance in the classroom.

“The phone itself brings about anxiety,” he explained. “The anxiety part — the technological anxiety — directly predicts poor course performance. The more anxious you are, the more social media you use and the more social media you use, the worse your grade.” According to Rosen, you “find the same results” in a workplace setting.

When you use your phone as your planner to keep track of upcoming events, assignments and to-dos, it’s almost impossible not to get distracted by the barrage of notifications and text messages. Rosen refers to this as a “social obligation” fueled by anxiety — “you feel that you must check in often,” he explained.

With a planner, though, those distractions are removed. Using a planner creates the opposite experience — as Rosen noted, all you have to do is “write something down and then check it.” He added that personally, this method gives him more flexibility to organize things in order of importance and create daily to-do lists that he can check first thing every morning.

Tips and tricks for using a planner

O’Neil advises her clients to record their daily schedules in their planners and jot down an estimated time for each task or appointment. Later, they write down the actual amount of time each item required and reflect on whether their accomplishments “aligned with their daily goals.” “If daily goals weren’t accomplished, we review together to remove the barriers,” she explained.

O’Neil also said that crossing things off a list once they’re complete can help you stay focused on the task at hand. “Time chunking” — which involves “listing ‘like with like’ items together in your planner” — similarly “allows you to focus on specific tasks,” she noted.

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