My Anti-Planner

Inside cover of ring-binder bullet journal

Have a look inside

I love watching YouTube videos that show planners and bullet journals being set up and filled in. I kept a long-hand journal from about age 10 to age 30, and I always expected to return to journaling someday. Since that time, I have kept an annual planner, in which I write upcoming meetings, appointments, and anything else that is scheduled. I buy one each year which I use for both work and home activities. I can flip back through them for a record of concerts and plays I’ve attended, family celebrations, and work achievements. I can also see meetings and events crossed out because they were cancelled or I didn’t attend.

For the past two years, I’ve left more and more blank pages in my planner. All my scheduled work activities are in Outlook where my availability can be viewed by my colleagues. I set reminders for personal appointments in my phone calendar or reminder app. I make lists in Evernote. I track budgeting in Quicken, exercise in Fitbit, books in Goodreads, and plant observations in iNaturalist. My paper planner was becoming redundant, but I missed being able to “flip through” my year in print.

Last year I designed my own journal pages. I created a two-page spread for every day, with designated spaces for work, home, exercise, books and movies, etc. I also left room for drawing/doodling and for recording my thoughts. I was very pleased with my template.

How long did I use it? Two weeks! There were days when I had nothing to report in a category. There were blank areas on those pages. And I found I had no interest whatsoever in writing about my thoughts and feelings!

2021 brings me to my “anti-planner.” I call it that because I do not use it for planning or scheduling! The purpose is not to check the planner and remind myself where I need to be or what need to do. If it’s important, that information is already in my phone or work email. Nor is it a bullet journal in its original sense (bullet journaling for productivity was created in 2013 by Ryder Carroll).

Open bullet journal showing daily page layout

Daily pages

My Anti-Planner has a page a day for recording whatever I like, with one caveat: I record only things I have done. No planning allowed! No to-do lists! No reminders!

Things I have done uses positive language such as: started decluttering office, continued decluttering, or finished decluttering. If I had an unproductive day, theoretically I could fill in: fed the cats, ate breakfast, had a shower, watched 3 episodes of series, opened new box of chocolates 😊

My goal was to be able to flip through a month (and eventually a year) and see “at a glance” what happened or what I did each day. I did not want to see things that were crossed out, carried over, or unfinished. My prerogative!

I chose a page-a-day format because it allows me to summarize what I’m doing at work – multiple assignments, initiatives and projects. I could go a step further and summarize the pages into weekly or monthly spreads, but I decided not to. It would take more time to create the summaries. It’s purely a leisure project, and I have the leisure time to flip through the daily pages!

However, given my exacting ways, I developed a “system.”

  • I made a list of the categories I wanted to include. They are: work, personal errands and appointments, personal activities, and special days. Family stuff that impacts me is “personal.” I don’t record Rom or Link’s appointments. They are adults!
  • I listed the items within each category I thought I would be doing most often. As examples, in the work category, I have Zoom meetings and reports; in the errand category, I have car appointments and haircuts; in the activity category, I have meal planning and workouts; and in the special day category, I have everything from Pi Day to family birthdays to Winter Solstice.
Colour scheme: purple, orange, red, green, blue, yellow, aqua and fuchsia

Colour scheme

  • I assigned a colour to each category. I wanted to use lots of bright colours throughout.
  • I suggested images for the various items (such as scissors to represent haircuts) and Link made me a set of circular stickers with colour borders. The errand category has a red border, so the car appointment and haircut stickers have a red border, and so on.
  • I decided on a journal size and type. It had to be customizable, so no bound notebooks. I would need to add and remove pages. I had previously used 12.5 x 20 cm planners (5 x 8”, close to A5). I decided to go a little smaller and buy a ring-bound personal-size planner cover, which is 9.5 x 17 cm (3.75 x 6.75”). I am sure the iridescent puffy cover is not to everyone’s taste, but I find it amusing!
Round labels for bullet journal include birthday parties, celebrations, cafe visits and friends

Custom stickers

  • Link then scaled and printed the stickers to 2 cm round (0.75”) so they would fit well on the pages.
3 types of page inserts for bullet journal

3 types of inserts

  • The cover came with some divider tabs and start-up paper. Rather than cut and punch additional paper sheets, I bought packages of inserts. One set had 12 monthly dividers along with 12 monthly and 60 weekly calendars. I wanted the month dividers (low cost), but I didn’t expect to use the calendars. I bought additional paper – a packet contained lined, grid, and dotted pages – but I later found daily pages with hourly markings, and I prefer them.
  • I see that only 4-6 months’ worth of daily pages will fit in the binder, so I will have to take the used pages out at mid-year and store them somewhere – in a box or another binder. Do I really want to buy 2 or 3 binders every year? I don’t know.
  • I made a 2021 year-at-a-glance calendar where I will note how I used my vacation time from work (4 hours this day, 10 days this month, etc.)
  • I wanted to make a couple of trackers to hold myself accountable for tasks. But instead of putting them in my anti-planner, I made them big and stuck them on my fridge.
Bullet journal page with work activities listed

Work day – stickers represent “day at office” and “in-person meetings”

Bullet journal page with personal activities listed

Weekend day – stickers represent meal planning, plants research, and decluttering

  • Finally – I started recording my daily activities! I place the relevant stickers on the outside edge of the page, so I can literally flip through and see what my month or year looks like.
Bullet journal weekly spread with fitness theme

Week of fitness activities

  • There isn’t enough room on the page after I fill in work activities, so I started using the “weekly overview” pages to track fitness only. Next year: bigger binder and page size.

Fine-liner markers used for writing in bullet journal

  • As an additional conceit, I write with markers that match my category colours. Link chose the category colours to match the marker set 😊
  • I keep the binder, extra pages, stickers and markers on my desk, and note my activities every evening.
  • In the event I can travel again someday (it still seems a long way off), I added contact and emergency contact cards, and a little notebook for scribbles (shown in first photo).

I have completed daily pages for 6 weeks and I’m happy with everything except the page size. Since I invested in the binder, dividers and pages, I’ll use them for the rest of 2021.

Link started their own simplified anti-planner, with their own custom stickers. They use a week-at-a-glance layout, and they place stickers for the activities they did each day, for example, a cooking sticker with the name of the recipe. That’s it – no description!

The supplies are all from the Recollections line at Michael’s craft store. This range is very poorly represented online but always seems to be discounted in the stores. The cost was $8.97 for the binder, $5.97 for 12-month calendar set, $3.97 for paper inserts, and $3.97 for the hourly-marked page inserts (needed 3 sets for the year). The mini-notebook was $0.75, the round labels were $3.99, and I already had the markers. So, $41 for everything including tax. Not bad for kitting out a new hobby. I paid for everything myself – not a sponsored post.

I would love to hear about your paper planner, journal or system, if you have one.

22 comments

  1. I devoured this post, and thought, I must reread slowly later, again. So this is clearly my catnip!

    I went rogue on planners a while ago – I have an A5 book – currently it’s lined and buff coloured (not ideal), previously blank and stark white (loved). Each year I also print a year to a page, this year I’m trying a different format. But I used that to track dates (then sleep overs) with Nathan! And also visits to beaches. When I was unemployed, I captured a name or activity (name of someone I went and saw/socialised with). I used black pen, and then categorised things going over in colour.

    So my planner is just free space to write – there’s a fair bit of angsty feelings (nice outlet), bored writing, but also lists (beaches to visit, things I want to do in coming few days). I like to record financial sorts of things – like pay in this secondment vs my substantive role. I also like to put the days on every second list, and list what me or Nathan/kids have on (me on the LHS, his on the RHS) whenever I feel a bit blurry on the upcoming obligations. This little hand written activity doesn’t preclude my regular GoogleKeep lists, it’s just a self soothing exercise – and more socially ‘open’ to sit down and do with Nathan (as I needed earlier on when I kept having meltdowns due to clashing schedules/overbookings!).

    There’s nothing I resist more than moving to a new planner. THen I relish working out what I should transcribe, as a reference. So much of what I create, I like to refer back to. Like tracking savings/mortgage pay off. For a while, I listed booked to read – then the layers of white out tape got a bit much, so… I’ve moved to a Google Sheet! (complete with colour code for reserved, ready for collection, and of COURSE, call numbers!)

    Ok, I might stop before I max out lol!

    • I can imagine you with your library “to read” list in a Google Sheet, wow! Does your library have those features in your customer account area when you log in? (mine does)

      I recently exported my Goodreads “books read” to Storygraph and it told me what mood and pace I like according to its algorithm; that was fun.

      The only new list I’ve kept lately is new discoveries on Spotify; I have added a monthly “playlist” to the journal.

      In my very most nerdly list, I note wild plants I should be able to find in my area, but haven’t yet, in the hopes of finding them and checking them off sometime this year!

  2. I bought three planner/diaries this year! Three!!! (Five if you count my work diaries!) None do quite what I want. Love your refusal to have lists that are carried forward, and the positive “achieved” records. I may have to design my own too – my diaries are always full of lists. I use coloured pens in my work diary for different aspects. I will blog on my diaries next month. May have to bookmark this post for later in the year when I plan for 2022!

  3. agirlushouldknow

    Wow, I might do this. I have a bullet journal that I started a few months ago, then a new one at the start of the year. Both times figuring I would track things about my health/stress/etc but in the end I don’t fill it out. I wonder if its because the expectation I have for myself is too rigid.

    I like this idea better, thanks for sharing!!!

    • I do think health trackers are a good idea. It can be reassuring to see that a problem is not as constant as you think it is; or – it can provide evidence that it is constant, which provides motivation for seeking treatment or making lifestyle changes. Although you have made “a few” changes, LOL! When the evidence is there in print, it’s harder to ignore.

      But, you could also just make lists or notes about what you’ve done or accomplished. It gives me a boost!

  4. Juhli

    I have to admit I am exhausted just reading about this lol. Every time I try to set up a recording system either for planning or journaling it lasts about two days. We won’t talk about all those handwritten lists on my desk and the ones on the computer. I really like all your stickers and colors though.

    • Now that I’ve done the set-up, I literally spend about 3 minutes a day updating it. I like the hobby aspect of designing and decorating the book. Otherwise, a plain notebook with a page a day would have been fine!

  5. Great post. I have tended to be a planner as well, but one thing I learned in working with clients is the day can change quickly. So, what I found myself doing is having an inventory of priority tasks on one list and another being what I wanted to accomplish over the next two days.

    Note, a lesson taught me by a great project managing friend is to triage what is needed from a client or for a task earlier on. Then, you can request needed information or supplies and move on to other things while you wait. If put the entire task off, you delay the project.

    She was also big on writing reports in what seem to be an unusual way – she would prepare supplemental sections first and dole those out while she completed the analytsis. In other words, she would have Sections IV, VII, XI and the Appendix completed first as we had every thing we needed. And, then she would write the other sections after the analysis.

    Keith

    • That’s good advice, Keith. For work, I keep a list of priority tasks. I check it in the morning and decide “What can I do today that will move the top priority items forward?” I didn’t like the Getting Things Done book or system, but I took away one good practice from it – if a task comes to my attention and I can do it in two minutes or less, I do it immediately, and don’t move it to a list. That especially applies to answering quick emails or scheduling meetings. I love the idea of getting information from a client (or supervisor) to triage the work.

  6. Mary

    After a number of years of regular bullet journaling (early user–but not one to decorate it) for work and now retired and in pandemic mode for the past year, I call my current journaling efforts ‘bullet lite.’ No longer try to keep everything in one journal, so I free write in a hardbound leuchtturm dotted page book and keep a slightly smaller soft-sided cover book in which I use a two page setup for monthly dates, followed by pages of a running list of family concerns (blue fineline marker), medical appts (red fineline marker), things done or ordered, or awaiting delivery, etc. (in black fineline marker). I draw a short blank line ahead of each of these entries to check off as needed, Usually end up with about four running activity pages used per month. At the start of the next month, I simply repeat the process of the two page date list and activity page(s). Rarely need to forward any activity from the previous month. None of this is as extensive or as detailed as the journal I kept when I was working.

    • Great system, Mary! You have really got it streamlined. I’d be interested to know if the brand-name notebooks have special qualities you seek out (ideal size, paper weight, colour of covers, etc.) You have inspired me to start using notebooks for my miscellaneous notes.

  7. Fiona

    You have such neat handwriting! I always feel like I know someone better after I see their handwriting. Also very entertained to see the note, “heavy snow shovelling”!! It’s so satisfying seeing the colours, stickers and design!

    I try my very best to have a planner but I’m hopeless. I buy one beautiful design after another, almost all ending up unused. I can see why you would design your own! It’s like a garden path that’s not in the right spot if you get the wrong planner.

    Therefore almost every list I make is on the back of an envelope, a scrap of paper etc.! I’m forever finding scrappy notes everywhere. The only exception is my work planner. As a teacher, we have to record brief details of every lesson taught in a work programme, so I do tend to stick with that.

    • Hi Fiona, Thanks! I guess I did grow up in the era when neat handwriting was rewarded. I was thinking recently that “signatures” will be a thing of the past now that most kids don’t learn to write cursive. I like handwriting because for me, it aids my thought processes and memory. Maybe the same is true for keyboarding if that’s what you grew up with. I never write any kind of document by hand, just notes and scribbles. So! I have had it with trying to keep track of all my handwritten notes on post-its, index cards and scrap paper! Especially now that I work from home much of the time, all my personal and work notes get scrambled. I often find myself trying to find a scrap on which I did some calculations. I am going to try using two cheap notebooks, one for home and one for work. Although I’ll have to flip through them, at least notes will not get lost! (Mary has given me inspiration, in the comments above). I’m still overhauling my home office office space. One of my biggest projects ever! I have a cork board I will put back into use. If there is a “scrap” of information I need to have at hand, I will literally post it on the board. Wish me luck! PS – I am thinking of instituting your Kanban-style family task list in the kitchen.

  8. Mary

    Hi Anne – As requested — Regarding the brand name I mentioned above in my comment, the Leuchtturm1917 dotted journals have nice, smooth paper that handles the ink of the pen I use very well. Pen preference is Uni-ball Vision Elite-Micro tip–I buy them online in a box of 12 as I can’t find them locally, The dotted line vs lined paper works for me as it gives me a bit more visual openness when writing (if that makes any sense). On the other hand, the soft-sided journals I have been using for listing tasks/activities come from my v. extensive 🙂 stash of blank journals purchased over the years; they vary in size and paper weight/style. Currently using a lined version with a bit heavier paper weight, around 80 pages, size 5″x8″. This one was bought in a TJMaxx a few years ago–was a set of three notebooks that probably only cost me a total of $6. When traveling, I have always carried a small Moleskine notebook.

    As you note in your response to Fiona, writing things out in free hand helps me remember/capture things in ways that typing doesn’t. Like you, my handwriting has always been praised (even though I’m a lefty, but not one who slants left when writing). Love seeing a beautiful script move across the page. Discovered they weren’t teaching it in school when I heard my teenage nieces out west couldn’t read handwritten cards/letter I sent them…had to have their parents read them! Yowza. Sad.

    Good luck with finding your sweet spot for journaling and tracking life.

    • Thank you for your detailed reply! Let me introduce myself; my name is Dar 🙂

      I am currently using the branded paper that accompanies my journal; the daily pages with hourly markings seem to be thicker than the blank pages that came with the set. I had tried them but my ink bled through. I’m using Staedtler fine liners. I like them but I haven’t committed yet! I have never done well with rollerball pens because I find they take a long time to dry. Maybe you have overcome that problem somehow, especially being left-handed!

      I use large 5×8 Moleskine notebooks when I travel, too! But I have a big stash of notebooks of all sorts to use up. Mostly gifts.

      My 20-year-old nephew couldn’t read the last card that I wrote for him in long-hand, either!

  9. I use a quarterly bullet journal. The front has three months of calendar and a future sheet and things like books coming out and so on. Then a page or two pages depending on the day for each month. I do have a small checklist to remind me to exercise and meditate but most of it is for journaling and creative ideas. I also have a separate notebook just for creative plans for the year.I do lots of coloring in the quilt and knitting planning states so not much coloring otherwise.

    • Hi Barb, It sounds like you designed how you lay out your journal and how you use it. Quarterly seems just right to me so it doesn’t get too bulky. I look forward to having creative ideas someday, haha! I popped by your blog and I see you’re in the midst of the southern deep freeze. I hope you stay warm and safe!

  10. I LOVE a handwritten list of things to do that I can cross out but I treat those as disposable and discardable and that part I don’t love so much. I hadn’t thought of doing something like this but I really love the idea! I wonder if I could manage to keep it up though. I have a journal for JB that I’ve kept since they were born and have tried to write in it somewhat regularly, and now I have one for Smol Acrobat to keep up. Then again, those are long form, more like short posts and essays, whereas this could be much simpler and easy to do. I’m going to give something a try!

  11. I’ve been bullet journalling at home and work for about 5-6 years. I More or less follow the traditional methodology with a few variations. This worked alright until two things happened – I decided to switch away from Leuchtturm and try a different type of journal. This experiment was successful, filled it and ordered a new book BUT *they* new and improved the paper. Yeah, nah. No. That wasn’t great. I went back to the Leuchtturm but I’d lost my journaling mojo and I was really struggling to find the energy to do it (Last year was a bit crap on many levels). At the same time, pre-covid last year, I was given a week to a page diary (migoals one) around the time my work notebook ran out of pages. The layout worked really well for me – room for notes, lists, meetings, home stuff I need to do etc So, I’ve kept going with the work diary.

    But the home bullet journal was getting more and more neglected. So, after looking at about 23453 youtube clips of other people’s walk throughs… I have a goal digger from migoals. It’s bigger (B5) but there seems to be enough room for everything, I’m only on week three, but I like it so far.

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