3 min read

Self-directed workers should use some kind of planner system

Every year my university would send everyone a day-planner. Every year I would promptly toss it in the recycle bin. As that planner flew through the air, arcing towards the basket, my life was getting harder, more disorganized. How could I be so careless with such a powerful too? I didn't realize how powerful a planner could be.

If you're a freelancer, student, or self-directed employee, you need a planner system. 5 to 10 minutes in the morning makes the rest of the day flow smoother. Without one it's too easy to get distracted, forget about priorities, and let other people dictate your day. Here's a few ways a planner can boost your productivity.

Why Use a Planner

  • Brain dump so you can focus on your work
  • Split CEO mode and Work mode
  • Prioritize tasks instead of being reactive
  • Gives you some time to reflect

What to Put In Your Planner

We have the freedom to put anything in our planners. Mine has a section for drawing silly animals (not recommended for productivity nuts). But maybe you're unsure of where to start, or what to pick. Here are some useful options:

In the Morning:


We all use calendars to schedule meetings and appointments, but when's the last time you scheduled time to do some real work? Including a schedule in your planner helps keep your day on track.

Most Important Tasks

What are your priorities for today? If you could only accomplish one thing today, what would it be? Work on that first.

To-do Checklist

Use a to-do checklist for all those little tasks that pop-up throughout the day.

Random Thoughts to Process Later

Write it down so you don't spend brain cycles trying to remember.


First thing in the morning, write a few things to be grateful for. Practicing gratitude can elevate your mood and get you on the right track to start the day.

In the Evening:

Daily Wins

Pat yourself on the back for a hard day of work.

Things to improve

How could today have gone better? How can you make sure the same thing doesn't happen tomorrow?


End the day on a high note with some gratitude.

Other Sections for Your Planner

Blank space

Sometimes you need space to vomit some words on a page, or draw a diagram, or list your crazy new potato-chip flavor ideas. Leave some room or a few pages for jotting down thoughts.

Weekly and monthly sections

If you like to do weekly or monthly reviews, set aside a few pages. Make sure to note important dates, and what you want to accomplish in the coming weeks.

For some, a post-it note with today's Most Important Tasks is all they need. Others need a little more structure to keep things running smoothly. Try not to throw everything into your planner. If you've got too many things to fill out, you'll spend more time planning than doing actual work.

Choosing your own planner

Whether you use $0.40 blank notepads, $50 journals with fancy binding and paper, or a digital solution, choosing a planner is up to you. Here are some options:

  • Use post-it notes
  • Buy a premade journal, like the Panda Planner, or the Self-Journal
  • Buy a blank notebook
  • You could use a system like Bullet Journaling
  • Or make up your own templates using ideas from this article

I'd suggest starting with a premade planner. It's easier to stick to when you don't have to copy down a template everyday. The 5-minute Journal, Panda Plannner, and Self Journal are all popular options. Don't feel obligated to fill out every section everyday, unless you find it helpful. Later if you want to change things up, switch to a new planner, or go for a blank notebook. Play with it and find a layout that works for you.

Try it out

Once you've picked up a planner, give it a try. If you stick with it, you'll find your days running smoother, and fewer tasks falling through the cracks.

Further Reading