I Tried Calendar Blocking for 30 Days. Here’s what happened!

Calendar blocking is something that I have been doing for a long time, but maybe not to the same extent as you might see online. When I was in university I used what I call a TimeBar or a Chronodex and for really busy weeks I would literally block out time for various projects and study sessions. To the point where the people in my life would cheekily laugh at me for planning everything I do including scheduling naps and meals. But when it came down to it, when giving myself a block of time completely devoted to whatever it was that I needed to do and nothing else, I was at my most productive state.

Now that I’m noticing a rise in the popularity of calendar blocking, I decided I would try it for a month and report back to you as to how it went.

One of the challenges for me when I started this was deciding what app I would use as my calendar. It was a tough decision between Google Calendar and iCal. I use an iPhone and have an iPad, but my personal laptop is a PC and so is my work desktop. I knew I couldn’t rely entirely on the Apple Suite, so Google Calendar it is.

One of the biggest reasons calendar blocking is so conducive to productivity is because it forces you to give your tasks as much weight as an appointment or event. By mapping out exactly when you are going to do something and making sure to give yourself enough time to do it, you are making a commitment, similarly to booking an appointment.

So, I started calendar blocking on August 1st. I used Google Calendar as the platform because it’s available on all devices. For now, I have 6 categories; work, personal, get things done, fitness and wellness, routines, and a calendar for my partner’s work schedule.

This is a breakdown of my calendars setup.

I keep the default tasks and reminders calendars turned off because they function differently than the standard calendar and they don’t really fit into this system.

The work calendar is just to separate that time out from the rest, as I found early on in the process that I do not like calendar blocking for work. For me, it just can’t work because of the nature of my work. But more on that later. I also use this calendar to book time for my casual freelance work, and I differentiate those time blocks by changing the event colour to green.

My personal calendar holds any personal events or certain tasks that are not quite hobby or work-related. For example, I will book a slot to wash my hair using this calendar. Errands also are blocked within this calendar. At the moment, I also schedule meals under this calendar, though I am often tempted to switch them over to my fitness and wellness calendar.

The ‘get things done’ calendar is where all of the meat and potatoes of this system are. Any time that I need to spend in a ‘productive’ work flow (usually in front of a computer or notebook) needs to be scheduled in this calendar. I will keep things pretty vague in the calendar, sometimes adding descriptions in the notes, but usually the details about what I am doing during that time slot are in my planner. For example, I have a languages session scheduled for today. I blocked time for it and have specified in the notes (in this case) what I will be doing during that time.

An example of a ‘productive time’ slot.

My fitness and wellness calendar includes any time slots for workouts and I book time for grocery shopping and meal prepping in this calendar as well.

The routines calendar is a bit of a work in progress, at the moment I just book a morning routine slot and a sleep slot, which indicates what time i plan to end my day. I hope to one day have a guideline as to what i am doing during these routines in the descriptions of the events, but for now I am just winging it, based on my current habits.

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Process

Every Sunday (or Monday if it is a long weekend) I sit down with my laptop and plan the bare-bones structure of my week. This is basically entering anything that is unmovable. For a ‘productive time’ block, occasionally I will book a ‘productive time’ slot and either freestyle what I spend time doing during that slot. Sometimes, I would change the slot to what I really plan to do closer to the day, as things tend to change depending on what I get done in the days before.

For daily recurring items that are at different times, schedule them as a recurring event for the same time every day. Otherwise, it will be overwhelming to add them on a week-to-week basis. Even if the time of that activity changes from day to day, I schedule a recurring slot or task, for the amount of time that it usually takes and change it on Sunday’s when I am planning out my week.

For example, I like to keep track of my partner’s work schedule so I can plan my time around it. I know I won’t be productive when he’s around because my priority is to spend time with him, so I plan most of my productive time slots around his schedule.

I also always schedule travel time. I do this for work by setting two recurring daily events within my work calendar and then I chnage the colour of this specific event to grey. That way, I know this is travel time related to a work event as opposed to a personal event. For personal event-related travel time, I book these on an event by event basis, and I use pink to match my personal calendar.

Tips

  • Set the events up as a daily repeating event and delete it or reschedule it as needed. This is so easy with Google Calendar because you can drag events around your calendar.
  • Always book time for your travel time.
  • Keep your work calendar and personal calendars separate.

I knew I couldn’t rely on calendar blocking alone, I am the type of person who needs a place to brain dump, set goals, and plan ahead. For that, I use the CleverFox Pro Planner.

I still keep things flexible by moving things around as I go, this way I am not bound to anything I can’t do but I won’t lose track of it either. Instead of deleting slots, I tend to move them to ensure there is no lost time dedicated to whatever that thing is. This is similar to the concept of migration in bullet journaling. Doing this is especially good for things that require more dedicated time to being successful, such as learning or studying.

For Work

I tried adding unmovable events to my work calendar but I just didn’t see a purpose of it. It didn’t have any value to me in terms of keeping me productive or on track and I rarely used it as a reference, so I quickly stopped doing that.

I also tried using Outlook for work-related tasks, to see if it would help to keep me focused and on the task at hand.

  • I found out quickly that it truly doesn’t work, at least for me. The only thing it helps with is making sure that people don’t book meetings with you during the time that you have allotted for something else. Similar to what I found during my Bullet Journal journey, I learned that I need two separate planning systems, for work-life and personal life, that are well-integrated or I can’t function.
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Did it work?

Yes, definitely. I found that going back to calendar blocking and doing it systemically everyday (or at least every day that I had large gaps of free time) helped with my productivity immensely. Even on days where I didn’t follow my schedule to the tee, I found that I was still more productive because that time was blocked for something, even if I replaced the block with a new one. Ultimately, I was still doing work that needed to get done. I will absolutely continue to calendar block going forward. Considering the fact that this is a productivity system that is also completely free, given you use something like iCal or Google Calendar, it is at least worth a try.

If you’re looking for a productivity system that will facilitate maintaining a work-life balance, this is a good option, but if you’re anything like me or if your work is anything like mine, you may need to find a unique system for that. But overall, calendar blocking gives you a great opportunity to visualize how much time you’re spending on work and on your personal events, chores, and hobbies.

So my recommendation is definitely to try it out and see if it works for you. I know a lot of people who can’t work with a rigid schedule, so it might not work for everyone but it is worth a shot. Especially if you remember that whatever you book for yourself is not set in stone.

I hope this post was helpful to some of you. I know I’ve been absent for a little while, but I am back now and hoping to get back to a consistent schedule. Until then folks, keep on keeping on!

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5 Easy Steps for Catching Up When You Are Overwhelmed

When tasks and to-dos pile up it can become overwhelming and difficult to catch up; and if you’re anything like me, you might tend to procrastinate when you are overwhelmed. It can be hard to stay motivated when it feels like there is no end in sight. Below are the five steps that I take whenever my plate seems to be overfull.

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  1. Block at least ten minutes to sit down and do a brain dump. Sit down with your planner, notebook, or a loose piece of paper and write down everything that is on your mind. Tasks, appointments, reminders, notes, projects you want to start, chores, literally everything.
  2. Take that list and prioritize your actionable items. If there is anything on your list that will take you less than 5 minutes, keep that on a list of its own. You will do those items as soon as you finish this planning session.
  3. Time block the day and/or week. Calendar blocking is becoming a very popular method of time management and it’s something that I have resorted to, since high school, whenever I am feeling overwhelmed or behind. Take the tasks you have identified during your brain dump and block them into your calendar. Make sure to start by including a block, right after our done your planning session, to complete your list of 5-minute tasks. And make sure to give yourself 5 minutes per task, so if you have 4 -minute tasks plus 5 minutes for a short break. Therefore, this block should be 25 minutes long. Remember to include travel time, rest breaks, meals, and some buffer time.
  4. Start with your list of tasks that will take 5 minutes or less each. Getting these done in quick succession will help boost your momentum and will motivate you to continue. Take a short 5-minute break.
  5. Carry on through your day, keeping as close as possible to the schedule you blocked out but understand that it can be flexible if need be.

I hope these steps help you out when you feel like your to-do list is bigger than what you can handle. Remember, that simply is not true, you just need to prioritize and do what truly needs to be done first.

Until next time, keep on keeping on my friends!

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Clever Fox Planner Pro Review

I have been using the Clever Fox Pro Planner for just over a month and a half. Although I was skeptical at the beginning, I have found that this planner has been effective for me and in combination with the rest of my system, it has nearly solved my planner peace problem. If you want to know more about how this planner has helped along my planner journey, keep reading for a full review, a quick TLDR pros and cons breakdown, and my final recommendations.

I heard about the Clever Fox planners through Amazon, since I was struggling with my planning system, I was often browsing Amazon and other sites for a solution. I found the Clever Fox Planners and would put different ones in my cart and then would delete them, and this went on for a couple of weeks. Finally, once I sorted out my work solution, I decided I wanted a pre-printed planner (as opposed to a notebook and the bullet journal system) and I wanted to try out one of the Clever Fox Planners. I searched through Amazon and compared each planner and all of its features to find the one that I thought would work best for me. I landed on the Planner Pro, a very difficult decision for me because it is huge. Previously the biggest planner I had was the A5 Filofax Fusion and that was half the size of the Clever Fox Planner Pro. There were also a couple of features that I didn’t really see the point of (and I’ll get into that later in the review) so I was a little bit skeptical. But I went for it anyway.

Keep reading for a walk-through of the features of this planner.

The Clever Fox Pro Planner in all of it’s glory!

Construction

The planner I chose was the Planner Pro and it is in a beautiful and bright yellow colour. This planner is A4 or 8.5 by 11 inches in size, and it is huge. If you plan to get the Pro keep this in mind. The Pro is also shipped in a beautiful box, it comes with a ‘How to use this planner’ guide and five pages of stickers. The planner is made of sturdy, vegan leather material. The paper in this planner, is high quality and is essentially bleed proof and does not have any ghosting, except for when I use the Sharpie S-Note markers. The back envelop is very strong but is not big enough to hold a full sheet of paper unless you fold it. There are three ribbon bookmarks, all coloured differently but they match the colour of the planner well, and there is an elastic band to keep everything closed. The Clever Fox Pro can also lay flat straight out of the box.

Goal-Setting Features

The most interesting and unique features of this planner are the goal-setting features. This is fairly new to me, I usually set my goals in a casual way, only and when I felt lost or like I need to refocus. But for the past month and a half, I have truly enjoyed having my goals laid out on paper and being able to visually track and measure my progress has been motivating.

The planner starts with a page for ‘Awareness and Self-Discovery’ it asks you some journal prompt-type questions to get you thinking about your purpose and goals in life. I will be honest; I haven’t done this yet. But I appreciate that it is there and intend on doing it sometime soon. The next page is for ‘Daily Rituals’, another page that I haven’t quite used to its potential but have started filling out. These pages are followed by a ‘Vision Board’, I’d like to say I will fill this in eventually, but I honestly can’t, SMART goals are more effective than visualization in my opinion. These couple of pages were part of the reason I was hesitant about getting the planner. I didn’t really see the need for these pages, but I figured it is only 6 pages total, if I feel like I don’t need them, I won’t use them. But the next couple of pages edged me toward buying the planner, and I am glad they did.

One of the most interesting spreads in the planner is the ‘What Do I Want My Life to Be Like’, which breaks down your 1-year, 5-years, 10-years, and 20 years goals. While I don’t think planning 20 years ahead is necessary, it really does help align your present-day goals with your ultimate life goals. Thinking this far ahead can also orient you in a way that whenever you’re planning, even daily tasks, you are made to think about how these tasks contribute to achieving the future you see for yourself. Following this page, is a spread that breaks down your 1-year goals by the area of your life (i.e., health and fitness, business and career, personal development, etc.). This spread is awesome. It gives you an opportunity to think about the 1-year goals you set for yourself on the previous page and break them down into smaller, bite-sized goals. The most important feature of this page is that it reminds you to ask why you want to achieve a goal, and this is so important and motivating when setting goals.

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Monthly spreads

One of the great features of this planner is that it is completely undated. The monthly and weekly spreads are undated, so if you need a month’s break or know you will have a week that is too busy to plan or not busy enough to plan, then you can skip it without wasting pages.

To start the monthly section, there is a spread for ‘My 3-Month Goals’ and there is a spread for this every three months. I absolutely love this, it gives you space to really reflect on your goals each quarter, how you intend to achieve them, and what reward you will get (or give yourself) once completed.

The monthly spreads are quite standard. The most wonderful part of them is the size. With monthly spreads, I usually feel crammed like there isn’t enough room. The boxes are big enough to write whatever I need to, and I can even use stickers without losing too much writing real estate. There is also a column to the left for notes, and a huge section on the left page for more notes and on the right page there is a little spot for goal-setting prompts.

After each monthly spread, you are given a place to review your month. You are given a space to reflect on the biggest wins, lessons learned, areas of your life that maybe weren’t given enough attention, and more. This spread also has some cool graphics that help you to visualize your progress.

Weekly spreads

The weekly spreads are where this planner really shines. The left-hand page is your space for daily notes, to-dos, and reminders. There is a small amount of space for each day, but I find that it is more than enough for me. Within each daily section, there is a space to put your day’s goal and the three top priorities for the day, which is a practice I did in my later years of university. On the right-hand page, there is space your overall goals and priorities for the week. There is space for a work to-do list, space for a personal to-do list, and a habit tracker. The space for the work to-do list is one of the features that I absolutely love about this planner. When I am at home planning my personal tasks and a work task comes to mind, I have a place to jot it down so it doesn’t get lost. It is so important to dump things from your mind that aren’t relevant to what you are doing in that moment. So that is what I do, I dump work items there and when I come into work the next day, I am able to transfer it into my work book.

The habit tracker is blank so you can decide on a week-to-week basis what habits you want to track. This is a great feature, after a few weeks you may have made a repeating task habitual and can replace it with a new task that you would like to make a habit. Then there is a life-balance to-do list and a section for things you are excited about. Followed by a blank dot-grid section for random notes. Lastly, there is a section for wins, lessons learned, and ways to improve next week. This last section is very powerful, it gives you an opportunity to quickly reflect on the week and think about how you can change your workflow to better achieve your goals.

The dotted paper in the back of the planner is great for bullet journal-esque spreads. I haven’t used too many of these pages yet, but it is nice to have them there when needed.

Pros and Cons

See the table below for a quick summary of the pros and cons of the CleverFox Pro Planner.

PROSCONS
Inexpensive and accessibleThe size. This planner is huge and can be hard to carry around.
There are so many planner variations to choose fromThere is an overwhelming choice of various planners
Bright ColoursThe back envelop can’t fit an 8.5×11″ sheet of paper without folding it
Has a lot of writing space
Paper is thick, almost completely bleed and ghost-proof.
Space dedicated for work to-do list
Made from vegan leather
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Conclusion

I would consider buying this planner again, but I don’t know if I can commit so far as to say I would without a doubt. I might want to try a different CleverFox planner or branch out and try something new entirely. I would recommend this planner to a friend or colleague, especially to a young professional who is sorting out their life and career goals. For now, I will continue to use this planner for as long as I can and hopefully it will continue to help me stay aligned with my ultimate goals.

I hope you have enjoyed this review of the CleverFox Pro Planner. If so, subscribe to my blog and stay tuned for more!

Until then, keep on keeping on!

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2 Reasons Why My Work Planner is Unstoppable

In my post about Planner Peace, I talked about the main challenge I was having in finding a planning system that worked for me, was that I was having a hard time bringing my work world and my personal life together. In my most recent post on Digital Planning, I also talked about my difficulty with needing everything to look perfect.

The first step for me to achieving planner peace was to find the perfect solution for work. Whatever it was it needed to be versatile, effortless, and I needed to make sure I wouldn’t get caught up on how it looked. After over two years of trying various planners and planning methods, I stomped over to the supply drawer at work and picked up a standard, five-subject notebook.

My New Work “Planner”

Why it Works

This work notebook has served me well for the past month and a half and there are a two reasons why.

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Perfection. If you are anything like me, then you want your planners to go look as good as your artistic abilities will allow. As soon as one mistake is made it can feel mortifying and the anxiety that leads up to this moment can slow down your productivity and block your ability to focus. It important to let go of perfection, especially for your work planner

And I have let go of perfection to the point where I just use a huge, lined, Hilroy notebook to write out to-dos and reminders. It’s not pretty, it’s not aesthetically pleasing, but it gets the job done.

Messy but fast and effective.

Versatility. The Hilroy notebook is great for this. Any notebook will do, just like the Bullet Journal System. Essentially, what I am doing is a stripped down version of the Bullet Journal. There is no index, no spreads, and no collections. Just a daily to-do list, with notes, and appointment reminders spread throughout. I can turn any page into whatever I want it do be, whenever I want. This is so powerful when you need to spontaneously write meeting notes, jot notes on a conversation, jot a fact down from a website, write a to-do, and everything else what can be done on lined paper.

Highlighted items are migrated to the next day, occasionally I highlight items I want to be easy to find.
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How it Works

I use a bullet journal type key for the to-do lists, but there are no spreads in the book other than ‘dailies’. I write the date at the top of the page and go from there.

Every day I go through the previous pages with a highlighter and highlight anything I haven’t done yet or any reminders that are still relevant and ‘migrate’ them to the current page. This helps me make sure that nothing gets lost.

I use sticky notes occasionally as well, but it’s not wholly systematic. Sometimes I have a sticky note with me and not my book so I use that.

Other than that, I do use sticky notes for a particular purpose though. I will use sticky notes for personal notes when I don’t have my personal planner around or even out. At the end of the workday, I take any stickies that pertain to my personal life and stick them in my personal planner.

Sticky notes galore but not for decoration.

Have a dedicated space in your work planner for personal stuff and a dedicated space for work items in your personal planner. For me, my personal planner has space for work items. I use sticky notes for personal items, this makes them transferable and only in my work planner temporarily.

If I am at home, and a work to-do, reminder, or idea occurs to me there is a section of my personal planner dedicated to work to-dos. In the morning, when I get to work I transfer this information to my work planner, if it is relevant for that day. I’ll show what this looks like in my upcoming post about my current personal planner.

What I learned through this whole process is that in order to achieve planner peace you need to really sit down and reflect on your habits and how they affect your productivity.

Stay tuned for more! Until then, keep on keeping on!

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Digital Planning and Why it Didn’t Work for Me

As mentioned in my post on Achieving Planner Peace, I used a couple of digital planners for a few months prior to moving on to my current system.

I bought an iPad Pro about a year ago, I wanted it for several things, including work, productivity, Dungeons and Dragons, creativity, and gaming. At the same time, I kept seeing videos on YouTube of folks using their iPads as digital planners. I thought the concept was interesting, and I was going through another phase of planner fail, so I thought I would check it out.

I knew I didn’t want to freehand a planner in an app like GoodNotes or Notability, I figured if I’m going to freehand my planner, I want it to be in hardcopy. So I browsed through Etsy for some premade planners I could use in GoodNotes.

I found a digital planner by ForLittleLion on Etsy, it’s a beautiful, minimalist design, and it was very functional. The planner was jam-packed with features and links.

I started using the planner in August 2020 and stopped using it in February, when I picked up the new digital planner, also from Etsy and started using it. I called it my “work planner” and hoped to use both at the same time. Spoiler alert, this didn’t work out. I used this one until April 2021, and I only used it sparingly.

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There are a lot of reasons I stopped using Digital Planners

  • If I forgot to charge my iPad I was in big trouble.
  • As mentioned in my previous post about planner fail, using two actual planners was not working out for me. Stay tuned for upcoming posts on my current system! Coming soon!
  • My writing was messier than it would be on paper on the iPad, which was not okay for me.
  • I was again wanting to use my planner for documentation but didn’t like how it looked – while the format and aesthetic of the planner itself was professional, it looked unpresentable.
  • Sometimes it’s easier and faster to just write something down on an actual piece of paper or a physical notebook.

Things I did enjoy about the Digital Planners

  • The whole entire planner was linked, with thousands of links, making it really easy to navigate.
  • I loved the fact that there was a “meeting notes” page and that I could duplicate it an infinite amount of times. It was difficult to organize though.
  • There was no need to carry an additional notebook and my iPad, my shoulders thanked me for the short amount of time that I used this solution.
  • This solution was sustainable and environment-friendly.

Even though Digital Planning didn’t work for me, I would still recommend giving it a shot because it is a more modern and sustainable option. I, myself, will continue using some of the pages from these planners for other projects.

I will be posting about my current solution over the next few days, stay tuned for more on that!

Until then, keep on keeping on folks!

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Why I Stopped Bullet Journaling. Planner Fail and How to Fix It.

The Bullet Journal, a planner system invented by Ryder Caroll, has been one of the most popular planning systems on the internet since the Filofax. I’ve been using planners for at least a decade, through my years of being a student in high school and then university and working full-times jobs throughout.

My Planner Journey

I started off my planner journey by buying a cheap, undated, Martha Stewart notebook from Target and making it eseentialy into a bullet journal, but before Ryder Carol actually created the concept of bullet journalling.

I took my notebook around with me everywhere and basically turned it into a DIY planner. Some pages would have lists on them or general notes and some were strictly planner pages with to do lists and my work and class schedules. I used crayola markers as highlighters to spruce it up.

One day while shopping at Winners I lucked out and found a Malden Filofax and this is where my planner journey truly kicked off. The binder was stunning, it had beautiful and bendable black leather, that only improved with age. The Malden was my sidekick, I carried it everywhere I went and it housed everything.

Black Personal Sized Malden Filofax
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I used my Filofax throughout my victory lap in high school and at several jobs. But eventually, the small amount of writing space and the annoying binder rings drove me to buy a bigger A5 sized Fusion filofax. This one i loved as well, with more writing spcae and room to decorate i was able to use it for more. But eventually, the bulkiness of this binder sarting becoming a nuissance and I stopped using it as my daily planner.

I will still use this binder, I’ve put a lot of my language learning matierals in it.

Black A5 Fusion Filofax

After the Fusion, I purchased the Nude Original Filofax. Again, another great binder, but I couldn’t use it for long, for the same reasons as before, writing space and the binder rings. It was around this time that the Bullet Journal was starting to become popular and I was going into my first year of university and was on the hunt for something simple and effective.

So I went to Target and bought a plain black, lined Moleskine and started my first Bullet Journal. And it was amazing, it was the best planning system I had ever used because it was built by me for me. I used the bullet journalling style as an inspiration but made it my own completely. For my daily spreads, I printed out Chronodex Diagrams and glued them into my planner, I would put labels around the Chronodex in the top half and on the bottom half, I had my “Bullet Journal List” including, appointments/events, to-dos, notes, reminders, etc. It was fantastic and now that I am thinking about it, I might have to go back to it if my current solution doesn’t work out.

Black Hardcover Moleskine
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I stayed with the Bullet Journal for years and enjoyed it very much. Sometimes I miss it, but I also want to keep trying new things. I did fall out it bullet journaling in my last notebook. For quite a few reasons, but namely, because I was trying to use it for both work and my personal life and it wasn’t working for me anymore.

I bought an iPad Pro and figured I may as well try out digital planning. But I knew I didn’t want to do a free hand planner digitally, so I went through Etsy and picked the planner that looked the most versatile, the most filled with features, and had a minimalist aesthetic (shoutout to forLittleLion on Etsy). I used the digital planner for a few months and moderately enjoyed it. But I was using it for both work and my personal life again, and it truly wasn’t working for me. I was also running into issues with wanting to use my planner’s work notes as documentation but couldn’t because I have personal notes written on the same page.

Today, I use the Clever Fox Planner Pro. I have only been using it for about two to three weeks, but so far I am loving. Stay tuned if you want to know why I love it, a full review is coming soon. I have an entirely different solution for work, and so far, I think this is going to work for me for a while. Stay tuned for a post about that work solution. The only thing I see as maybe changing in the future is my personal planner, because it may get boring for me.What is the solution to planner fail? I think the solution to planner fail, really depends on the problem itself, so the answer will definitely not be the same for every person. For me, the issue was that after I got the job I have now, I was struggling to mesh my working life and my personal life into one planner. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make it work.

Yellow Clever Fox Planner Pro

If you followed the progression of my planner story, then it should be obvious as to what the first step is, it is to diagnose your issue. Really take the time to reflect on your planning goals, needs, and wants and think about the ways in which your current system supports that and the ways it does not. This will help you narrow down your options and determine what you need to make things work for you.

Once you diagnose the problem. Start working on the solution.

Make sure to sign up for my email subscription and follow me on social media, so you don’t miss out on the follow-ups to this post.

As always, thanks for reading folks and all the best on your journey to planner peace!

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