Planning Tools: What’s Best for You?

I was ready.

I’d rented a cabin for the weekend. Sitting at the kitchen table, my coffee cup was close by. In front of me was a wall with pages of a flip chart and big sheets from a desktop calendar. Stacked next to me was last year’s planner, a pack of highlighters, sticky notes in various sizes and colors, and a handful of colored pens.

I was ready to plan. As geeky as it sounds, I really do get excited about planning for next year. 

Last week, we talked about why planning matters, and I mentioned an earlier article where I spelled out the steps for planning your entire year.

Today I want to to talk about planning tools. What do I use, and what do you really need, to plan?

Because I’ve seen too many people use the “I don’t even have a calendar yet…” or “As soon as I get all my stuff together…” kind of excuses for not doing this work.

But I think we choose not to plan because we’re afraid of setting audacious goals. 

So, just in case you are inclined to put off planning today until you get those pretty highlighters tomorrow, let’s talk about what you really need. 



If you haven’t already done so, take time to look back over what you’ve done this past year. What goals did you set and meet? Which did you set and later drop? What is still worth your time?

For next year, identify ONE key goal you want to focus on for each quarter – just one! Make a list of steps you’ll need to take to work on each of those goals.

Use whatever tool you like to brainstorm your options.

Here are a few favorites.

INDEX CARDS: Write the main goal on the top line, then add notes, steps, ideas, etc. on the lines beneath the goal.

STICKY NOTES: Try different colors for different goals. Stick them on the calendar and move them around as your plan evolves.  Write one step on each and stick them on a wall or door to get a sense of flow. The options are endless. 

HIGHLIGHTERS – use them in your planner, on your calendar or on your index cards.  Figure out how colors can help your system.  Color coordinate with a digital calendar if you decide to go this route.

PENS & PENCILS: Splurge here and get a nice pen or use the one you brought home from vacation last year.  Do what makes you happy. (TUL pens, anyone?)

CALENDAR: This is the only “must have” for planning because you have to think about deadlines or due dates.  Buy one off the shelf or print a free one online.

MIND NODEMind-mapping is a great way to play with ideas, and this is one of my favorite apps for that. There are plenty of other choices as well.

Don’t go crazy here. You can get everything you need at the dollar store for $10 or less.  You’ll still be starting fresh but you won’t add more to your after-holiday credit card balance.


Not sure that’s even a word, but you get what I mean.

Once you’ve gotten clear about what you want to do, and how and when you want to do it, it’s time to get things down in writing. Here are two of my favorite tools for this phase.

PLANNER PAD: Over the years, I’ve tried everything from Franklin Covey to DayTimer to some sparkly hand-made planner on Etsy.

And I’ve learned: function matters way more than beauty.

This one isn’t pretty – but the ability to see a year, month AND a week at a time, the unique ‘funnel’ system of capturing and placing all my ideas, and the many ways I can use the extra pages at the back – mean this one wins hands down.

I do fantasize about buying the company so I can make these things pretty…but then I digress.

ACUITY SCHEDULING: This is my go-to tool for online schedulingAs part of my planning process, I have to go in and make sure I’ve blocked OFF times where I can’t see people – like my BPD’s (Business Planning Days), out of town travel, and various standing meetings.

Next week, we will talk about how to find the time to do this work. For now, just start gathering the tools you want to use that will make this functional AND fun!




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