Toss Your Day Planner. Use a Goal Planner to Achieve Your Dreams.

Claire Splan

For years, picking out a new day planner has been one of my favorite end-of-year rituals. I love wading through the many planner designs and themes, trying to find the one that will give me the brightest outlook and the most motivation to make the best use of my time. I’ve had some gorgeous planners over the years that filled my weeks and months with beautiful nature photography, creative artwork, and inspiring quotes.

But all of those planners had one fatal flaw: They were not designed to keep me connected to my goals. They were fairly effective at helping me manage my time but they didn’t help me achieve what I wanted to achieve or to shape my life into being the kind of life I truly wanted. I tracked deadlines and appointments, birthdays and holidays, but the bigger things that I wanted and dreamed of never seemed to find a place in my days and weeks and I was watching year after year evaporate without making much progress on the goals that mattered most to me.

The problem with the usual day planners

The worst thing about all my pretty planners was that they offered no way of getting into the “big stuff”—the significant, life-changing, soul-satisfying issues that I wanted to dig into and build my life on.

Instead, my planners just helped me to organize and track the minutiae of my life, while my major life goals went untracked and, therefore, lagging behind—if they didn’t fall off of my radar completely. At the end of each year, I’d look back through my calendar and see every event of the past 12 months, but I’d be no closer to achieving my real goals. Not surprising, really, considering that my goals were nowhere to be found in my planner.

So this year I’m trying something different.

Instead of searching out a visually inspiring planner, I’m using a goal-oriented planner that will help me focus every week on what I want to achieve and how I’m going to use my time to get there.

What’s different about a goal-oriented planner?

Goal-oriented planners typically offer a few key features you won’t find in other day/week/month planners:

  • Undated calendar pages
  • Big-picture goal-setting pages
  • Vision board pages
  • Goal-setting by life area
  • Quarterly goal pages
  • Mind-mapping pages
  • Monthly calendar/monthly review pages
  • Weekly calendar pages with goals/priorities/habit-building, etc.
  • Blank or bullet-journal pages for note-taking, more mind-mapping, etc.

Here’s why each of those features is helpful — maybe even essential.

Undated calendar pages

While you can find pre-dated versions, many goal-oriented planners have undated calendar pages for monthly and weekly views. This allows you to adopt your goal-getting plans at any point in the year, not just in January. Or if you need to take a break from pursuing your goals, you can leave it for a month or two and then pick it up again whenever you want.

Big-picture goal-setting pages

It’s hard to set meaningful goals until you take the time to envision the bigger picture. What do you want your life to look at? What’s your mission in life? What really matters to you? These planner pages help you figure all that out.

Vision board pages

Here’s where you translate your dreams into images. You can use your own drawings, photos clipped from magazines, or stickers (which are often included with the planner) to make a collage that illustrates the life you’re creating and the goals you’re working towards.

Goal-setting by life area

Goals should be about more than losing a certain number of pounds or saving a certain number of dollars. If you take a broader view of your goals, you can create a fuller, more well-rounded life. A good planner can help you achieve a better work-life balance by focusing your goals in an array of life areas, such as health, finances, career, education, relationships, recreation, spirituality, and more.

Quarterly goal pages

Setting goals for an entire year can be too overwhelming. A planner that breaks your yearly goals down into quarterly goals creates greater focus and makes those goals more achievable. You can then take those quarterly goals and drill down to weekly steps that lead to success. You can even find goal planners that cover just 3 months.

Mind-mapping pages

A mind map is a very effective tool that helps you diagram and dissect your goals into steps or phases that are easier to visualize and act on. Mind maps are especially helpful for visual or non-linear thinkers.

Monthly calendar/monthly review pages

Monthly calendar pages help you plot out your goal steps and make longer-range plans, but what good is that if you don’t take the step of evaluating your progress? Goal-oriented planners often give you pages to evaluate the past month to track what you’re achieving, what you’re struggling with, and how you can improve.

Weekly calendar pages with goals/priorities/habit-building

You need more than just a week-at-a-glance page or spread to ensure that you are making the best use of your time. A goal planner gives you space each week to prioritize your efforts, track habits you’re trying to establish, and re-think what’s not working.

Blank or bullet-journal pages

Whether you use them for note-taking, journaling, doodling, or even more mind-mapping, look for a planner that gives you a sufficient number of blank pages to deal with the details, dilemmas, and emotions involved in going after your goals.

Selecting a goal planner

There are a few planners available that offer many or most of the above features. Most range in price from about $20 to $40 but they can go higher. Here are a few to start your search:

  • Panda Planner: Created by someone who was trying to get his life back on track after suffering from Lyme disease, traumatic brain injury, and cancer, the Panda Planners are available in 3-month, 6-month, or 1-year versions.
  • Smart Planner: Available in a couple sizes and in 12- or 13-month editions, these planners come in “animal-friendly leather” covers in a range of colors.
  • Legend Planner: This line of planners offers several editions, including one with hourly slots to plan the days more precisely.
  • Clever Fox Planner: I chose the Pro Planner version from the Clever Fox line because I liked the lay-flat binding as well as the clean look of the pages. The Pro Premium edition also offers pages for tracking finances in addition to other goals.

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Writer/editor. Author of "California Fruit & Vegetable Gardening" and "California Month-by-Month Gardening."

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