Back To Basics- DIY Paper Planner

I had every intention of organizing my life digitally, to fit all the details of my appointments, play dates, to-dos and tasks within the confines of my Iphone when I first got it at the beginning of the year. 2010 was going to be the year of the “digitally organized me.” The plan was to sync it all up to my laptop, which I’m on more hours a day than I care to admit. It should have been the perfect solution. I should be organized by now. I shouldn’t be forgetting prenatal appointments. I shouldn’t be bobbling around the 50 trillion things that I need to do but keep forgetting because they are living in my head or an app that is hard to coordinate with my daily calendar.

Oh, I have tried the apps. I have about 10 calendar/to-do/list making apps on my phone right now, but there’s always a glitch. They either don’t sync to my computer properly, they are too specific, they are too general, or they just plain suck. Okay, let me not place all the blame on the apps themselves. Most of the problem lies with me. When I think of something I need to do, my first instinct is to reach for a pen and paper and write it down, not grab my phone, find an app and type it out. I keep thinking I can re-train my brain, and I keep failing. So I don’t end up writing it down because I’m supposed to be “digital” now, but I don’t immediately put it into my phone because it seems like too much work. It all ends up floating around in my over-crowded, hormone drenched, sleep-deprived head.

And sure, I could use websites directly from my laptop.  So many tout the awesomeness of Google Calendar or iCal. I’ve tried out websites like SpringPad and Evernote. But nothing seems to just… gel. Nothing is as effortless as pencil to paper. There are no passwords involved, no technical loopholes to jump through, no compatibility issues. You just write it down. And then? You get to cross it off.

If I’m being entirely honest, though, I will say a big problem with having my life on my computer is it requires me to be on my computer more. And sometimes what I really need to do is not even open the damn thing. Sometimes I need to not even log on to check my list of daily to-dos and appointments because you know what? I will get sucked into things like Facebook and Twitter. I’ll end up window shopping on Amazon after I get an email about a sale, and before you know it I’ll have wasted so much time on my computer that I could have accomplished three to-dos that don’t require the internet or a keyboard (like a load of laundry, a grocery list, and cleaning out the pantry).

So all this is to say that I’m going back to paper… for now. Though I’m not entirely ruling out phasing back into some digital organization eventually (the kind folks at have offered to give me a tutorial, which I fully intend to take them up on). I was really close to ordering a MomAgenda Desktop Planner the other night, but I just can’t justify spending $50 on something I’m not positive will work out. See, this is not the first time I’ve decided to go back to paper. I have so many day planners sitting around this house, 90% empty. But, I tell myself they just didn’t work for me, the format wasn’t right.

So I made my own for about $15 (roughly estimating the cost of paper and ink I used) with the help of some awesome free printables I found online. I put them all in a 100% recycled paper 1″ binder I picked up at Target for less than $6. I grabbed a pack of these super cool, re-usable Clip-Tabs for about $4 to make it easy to navigate the stack of paper. Then I printed off the following pages:

Monthly Calendars, Master Weekly (cleaning) Checklist and the Daily Docket from Simple Mom

Blog Weekly Calendar from Living Locurto

The Eat Sheet (menu planning), The Balance Sheet (to-do list) and the Weekly Family Calendar from Mommy Tracked

(I also looked at getting a subscription to, but again, I want to give myself some time to see if this system is actually going to work before I spend any more $$ on it. If I get into the grove, I just might let myself splurge on the $30 yearly downloadable membership.)

I organized it in the following order:

The Balance Sheet (x5) (I like to to keep a master list of my to-dos at the front, and then use that to assign my daily tasks. It’s also easy to just open the binder and add something to the list when it comes to mind.)

Monthly Calendar

Weekly Family Calendar, The Eat Sheet, Blog Weekly Calendar, Master Weekly Cleaning Checklist,  Daily Docket (x7) < repeat order for # of weeks in the month, then start over with the next month’s Monthly Calendar

Each week is easy to turn to and marked with a Clip-Tab to the right. Each month is marked at the top with a tab and labeled.

The *plan* is to fill out the next day’s Daily Docket the night before to give myself some clear goals for the following day. This will also be the first time I’m actively trying to meal plan. Hopefully this cuts down on the number of trips I make to the grocery store, wandering around the aisles aimlessly, only to come home and feel like there’s “nothing to eat.”

I only printed enough for 2 months, mainly because I don’t want to kill too many trees if this ends up being like the rest of my paper planners and goes unused. Also, turns out not much more than that fits in a 1″ binder, but I plan to recycle pages as time passes, like the Daily Docket, Blog Planner and Eat Sheet, and just hang on to past Monthly Calendars.

So far, I’m liking having my binder open next to me as I work on the computer. As soon as I hit publish on this, I get to reach over and cross off one of “Today’s MITs (most important things)”- Tell Baby Rabies readers about new paper planner. Awww, don’t you feel special? YOU all are that important to me 🙂

Have any tips or tricks or links to add? How do you manage to stay organized?

Kendall is 2 1/3 and I’m nearly 28 weeks pregnant, and that to-do list is frighteningly long.

50 Things to Do Before You Deliver: The First Time Moms Pregnancy Guide
Available now: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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  1. Question – did you try Google Sync? That’s what wirelessly syncs all my appointments between my iPhone, my two computers, and my online calendar. It’s my lifesaver. I can type in my event on any of my devices and in minutes it shows up everywhere else. I can even use Outlook to invite my husband to events (like prenatal appointments and birthday parties) and his phone is automatically updated with the info too.

    What I love about the iPhone appointment capabilities is that it automatically recognizes dates, times and contact info in the body of an email so when somebody says “I’ll see you Tuesday at 2 pm” I just click on “2 pm” and it will automatically open an event with the sender, the time, and the date as the event details. I just hit save. It’s genius.

    I can’t do paper. For one, I hate my chicken scratch handwriting and I’d never be able to read it later, and for two, the only thing I’d drag around with me is my phone, so that’s where everything has to be stored.

    Good luck though! I’ll be impressed if you keep up with the paper. I could never do it.

    • I don’t think I’ve tried the “sync” option. Is that free? Sounds awesome. For me, I think so much of it has to do with just getting too caught up with other things and distracted online. Plus, with a lot of the calendar apps, there isn’t a great to-do list app that coordinates with it. I like having a fluid to-do list that I can pull from to get stuff done throughout the day, and I’ve never found a good to-do list app or website that works with Google calendar or iCal.

      • You don’t need an app for this – and yes, it’s free.

        This is the technology that wirelessly syncs my email and calendar – just the same way that the Microsoft Exchange synced my Blackberry when I worked my corporate gig. Some people buy the $70 “Mobile Me” from Apple for exactly this purpose, but since I’m smarter than that (wink!) I knew I could do that syncing with Google Sync for fuh-FREE.

        I never need to get on my computer to schedule appointments – I just open at event, select a few details (or, like I said, just hit save if I started the event from some email info) and then BAM! It shows up on my ‘puters and everything. I even get reminders! (which I desperately need.) And I can put the address in so when I need to find wherever-it-is-i’m going all I do is click the address and it opens the location in Google Maps. And honestly, the best part, is putting stuff on my husband’s schedule wirelessly as well. All he has to do is hit “accept” and he’s booked. He sends me appointments too. That’s the only way we keep our shit straight.

        • You are a GENIUS and you just saved me $70! I was going to suggest Mobile Me as well b/c we use it to sync our iPhones and Macs (which really keeps me organized so well with little effort) but this sounds like a way better option and I’m all about free. Thank you so much for the tip!

          I definitely suggest using something like this b/c it’s super easy and you always have your phone with you (I use iCal). I put things in right away, even if they’re half done b/c I’m in a rush and that way I don’t forget them. When I used paper planning I always ended up not having it with me or forgetting what was coming up in the weeks ahead. I like that I can set reminders to do things ahead of time and I really need that now more than ever being pregnant and having a toddler.

          There really isn’t a great to-do list option, I usually just write them down on a sticky note or something.

          As far as meal planning goes, I have 2 dry erase boards on the fridge. One for lists of what we’ve run out of and one for planning our meals for the week. I just go through my cookbooks and whatnot and write down what I’m going to cook each night or if there’s a special event or something and then make my grocery list off of that. It’s really helped cut down on the amount of money we’ve spent at the grocery store and the amount of time I’m putting into making dinner. We’ve also cut down on how much wasted food we’ve thrown away.

          Good luck!!!

  2. My son was a 24 weeker and keeping his MANY follow-up appointments with specialists, Early Intervention/PT/Speech appointments straight is enough to give anyone a stroke. Add to that his baby sister and all her well visits and we have a recipe for disaster if things aren’t written down. I am bound to forget SOMETHING!

    That being said, I still make lists on a daily basis and I have a planner and use it every day! My family and friends have tried convincing me to go digital and I have a smartphone as well (Droid), but I love writing things down and having them in front of me. I also like being able to cross them off and I am 99% sure I will always be a pen and paper kind of person.

  3. I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while. I have my own personal one that I used to carry around with me, but then we also have the calendar on the wall… and the one on the door (dry erase).

    I need to merge them all into one.

  4. I live and die by my Google calendar which I’ve synced with the husband’s. I also jot notes and to do lists on my white board that sits in front of my face all day. I love being able to check things off as I go.

    You’re going to love meal planning. My suggestion: Write out just a week at a time and do it Sunday morning. We’ve been doing it for about a month now and it’s been fabulous. We’re saving so much money and rarely need to make a run to the market unless we need something super fresh. We’ve got our weekly bill to somewhere around $75-80 and that gives us about 6 dinners and the husband takes the leftovers for lunch the next day. It also has made us eat healthier for some reason that I have yet to determine.

  5. For some reason, once I had a baby, a paper planner was something I just couldn’t keep up with. So soon after my son was born, I started keeping my to-do list taped to the front door. Sounds lame, but since we spent most of our time in the living room, it made sense to have the list where I could see it.

    I’m not very organized, either, but I used to be. I make lists and stash them everywhere, and just yesterday I went through them and found about 5 lists. I need to combine them all. And I’ve used Google Calendar as a reminder system for when to pay bills. The only problem is that I get my reminders via email, and they are quickly buried by all the other crap that comes in.

  6. I did the same thing once I decided to quit working and stay-at-home with P. I tried digital, but like you said, there is just something about having it all in front of you and being able to cross things off! I have a similar recycled binder from Target and I printed lots of the Simple Mom downloads as well. I also ordered a $5 printable weekly calendar off Etsy and it’s working pretty well for me.

    Good luck with your semi-new endeavor!

  7. like you, I am always looking for the next big thing that will keep me on top of it all. I might just have to try to emulate your new method… reading about it has my geeky heart all pitter-pattering. good luck! 🙂

  8. Wow, you did a great job! I’m like you, I just can’t get into using digital calendars. I’m a pen and paper kind of gal. I use the notes app on my iPhone for quick notes if I’m on the go, but other than that I just write everything on Post-it notes. I’m definitely going to be making one of these so thanks so much for sharing your tutorial! I think it would also make a good gift for someone you know who needs to get organized and it’s easy to customize and make it pretty! 🙂

  9. I agree – when it comes to scheduling and looking things up, paper is still the best technology for me. I’m many years out of grad school but I still buy a student planners every fall. I’m currently using a stylish one from Barnes and Noble with a bird and branch design.

    I track to-dos, events, and my food and exercise log in the weekly calendar part. There’s a mini-address book in the back but the empty pages in the back are where I personalize: books to read, things to buy, measurements for the house, restaurants to try, logins & passwords, favorite quotes and poems, vacation ideas, and hours for the local library. I also list Christmas gifts for everyone in our family (purchased/made, wrapped, mailed). There’s a pocket in the back where you can save receipts and coupons. LOVE IT. I grab a reporter’s notebook (long skinny sheets of paper) and write top to-dos on that and use it for a bookmark so it’s in my face.

    I know there’s an app for every thing but paper keeps it all together effortlessly.

    It’s almost like a diary – I enjoy flipping back. I also circle every day I work out and it motivates me to see a whole week circled.

    I don’t do meal planning but maybe I should give it a try! The things that make me doubtful is that sometimes my husband wants to make his own dinner – he gets in random moods and I’ll be mad if I make the effort to cook a proper meal for nothing.

  10. Your walking through the grocery store comment resonated with me most. I’ve found a paper solution to meal planning that works well for me. I have a word document that lists the things we need at least semi-regularly with a space ( ___ )for a check mark or number in front of them. This forces me to pick a few meals and check off what I will need to make them. BUT it also reminds me to go check weird stuff that I would otherwise ALWAYS forget, like going to see if my husband needs a new toothbrush … because he won’t tell me on his own. Good luck with the paper planner!

  11. I’m still in denial that this digital planner stuff can’t be mastered. I use Yahoo! for my email, and love that they have a calendar along the bottom of the screen. The iPhone syncs with Yahoo cals, so I can enter it in either location (online with email or via my phone) and it syncs and sends me reminders. Not the most glorious thing in the world, but it’s working so far. When I remember to enter it. Post it’s have also been doing wonders 😉 My main motivation for keeping it digital… one less thing to lug around! The more I can stuff into my iPhone, the better I feel 🙂

    Love the templates!!

  12. I do the same thing! I have tons of cute planners I never actually use. I bookmarked the sites you mentioned and already bought a subscription to the listplanit one. It’s awesome! 400 lists! Thanks for mentioning it.

  13. I got a $1 large grid calendar from Michael’s around the holidays last year for this year. It has a small picture at the top and each day has several lines you can write on. It’s hanging on the wall by my desk. I track paydays with a $ sign, bills in a single color (writing pd over the top when they are paid), and write appts for each person in their own ‘color’. visits and other stuff might be written on pen and so on. Anything else is just listed on a small notepad on the fridge (groceries, to dos) — and then the sheets are recycled when I’m done.

  14. Basically you have to train yourself to look at your calendar, but that’s not much different than a binder. I track birthdays on there, too. The notepads I get are also $1 from Michaels. If you went right now, you’d probably find halloween or thanksgiving themed ones. I’ve got one with a turkey on it, one with snowflakes, and one with an owl, and just rotate them with the seasons.

  15. The majority of our “family stuff” is written on a dry erase calendar right next to the garage/laundry room door (we use it to leave the house every day, so that was the most logical spot for it). My OB appointments are written on there, but I also keep them in my calendar on my blackberry (with reminders. And super scary? I just put a 10 hour reminder in there for my c/s so I don’t make the mistake of eating something too close to surgery time.)

    The blackberry thing came in super handy yesterday when my doctor’s office called to reschedule several of my appointments. Now I just have to remember to actually put them on the family calendar.

  16. Thank you for sharing. Although I used a small Filofax planner for years before becoming a Mom, it just doesn’t cut it now. I really appreciate the printable links and am going to give a similar system a shot…along with finally trying to get a handle on meal planing!

  17. Wow, Jill. You are certainly motivated. I am much the same as you. I try to hard and start out with the best intentions but I always lose my organization mojo pretty quickly after I start. Keep us updated on your progress.

    p.s. I didn’t know about google sync either. I just set up a google calendar and shared it with my husband so he can see it. I set up sync and as I was putting events/tasks into my computer they would instantly show up on my iphone. AWESOME!

    You might want to try it.

    I also heard about the website they have an app to match but I haven’t tried it yet.

  18. I just went to download these (I’m a total paper girl) and the first thing that popped up when checking the Simple Mom site was a roadtrip packing list, which I am in dire need of. Three kids, 2 weeks, five 6+ hour stretches in the car. Did I mention the last time I took this trip I left ALL of my pants folded neatly on my bed at home?! Thanks for this.

    • I’m sorry but this made me laugh so hard. I left all my makeup at home once but pants would be much worse (and more expensive!)

      • I laugh too. Now. At the time I was driving with my in-laws across states that left few options to stop and pick something up. I opted to wash the jeans I was wearing while I wore other outfits during the trip. So, basically while I was sleeping. I’m glad that trip is behind me.

  19. I have a hybrid system set up, but I like your idea. If I may make a suggestion…print the downloads on colored paper to further separate the sections. Also, print heavily used lists or calenders that will stay in the planner longer on card stock. They will be more durable.

    Hope this system works for you!

  20. I’ve been using my new planner for about a week, and I have to say that it’s had a surprising effect. I do feel more oranized. But more importantly, it seems to give me more of a sense of purpose. Like a professional stay at home mom. I can look back to see how much I accomplished and I feel so much more important. DH can see just how hard it is to stay at home. I used to keep a lessonplanning binder as a teacher and this feels much like the same thing. Nice to have a little piece of the professional me back. So thanks for all the links – I feel like now I am organized AND happier.

    And I wanted to say that I think the difference between paper planners and technology planners is the sense of urgency that comes when using a computer/smart phone to stay organized. Our computers and phones make us feel like we have to be “plugged in” all the time. Where as sitting down with paper and pen is somehow relaxing. I’ve done it both ways…and although I think that the computer planner is more efficient, using paper and pen makes me happier in the long run.

  21. Thanks for sharing this! I’ve got a hodgepodge system too – traditional calendar on the laundry room door, lists in a notebook, Motivated Moms to-do lists in a binder, errands in my iPhone…your post helped me find a couple of tools that will help me get it all in one place.

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