Planning for visual types

I get asked a lot to share how I do my planning, so today I’m sharing my homemade, hodgepodge system.

I really struggled with organization until I realized I was a visual type. If I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. (It took me decades to figure this out: I was confused by the fact that what I wanted to see was words, not pictures. I finally realized the “seeing” was the important part with the help of the best organizing book you’ve never heard of.)

Because I’m a visual type, binders and traditional planners just don’t work for me. Instead, I cobbled together my own bulletin board and hung it over my desk.

(I use this system for writing/blogging and for the rest of my life. The lines between the two are blurry, but I’m focusing more on the blogging here.)

Here’s what it includes:

1. A 3 month calendar.  I want to be able to see where I’ve been and where I’m going, at a glance. I couldn’t find a suitable printed calendar, so I printed blank monthly calendars off the internet and cut and pasted them.

2. My goals for the year. Seeing them all the time–in the context of my planning–helps me focus and prioritize.

3. Lists of things I need to keep track of. I use index cards to maintain lists of things I need to remember, organized by category. I like this system–which was heavily inspired by Carol Barnier‘s love of post-it notes–because it’s simple, flexible, and manageable. (My cards aren’t color coded: they’re orange right now because that’s what we had lying around.)

I use these cards to track things like post ideas, guest posts, projects, and crazy ideas. I don’t have firm categories: I just make up what I need when I need it. It’s quick and simple and changeable, which prevents my perfectionist tendencies from paralyzing me.

4. Short-term goals for the week. I’ve recently started keeping an ever-changing list of weekly goals here, even though this board started as a long-term planning system. I’ve found I’m better at actually getting things done when the reminders are always in front of me.

5. Notes from my kids, etc. Just because.

6. The unseen corollary. I love my portable planner pad for keeping track of my days and weeks. It’s categories function much the same way that my index cards do on the board. I don’t use it to it’s full potential (because I forgot what’s on the pages I can’t always see), but I do love the weekly spread.

I would love to hear your tips on how you stay organized, what works for you (and what doesn’t), and what clever tricks you’ve invented or stolen to make your life run a little smoother.

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  1. keely says:

    I LOVE paper. Love it. I love technology, too, but my life feels even more so beyond my control if I haven’t physically written stuff down. I work for my church, and my pastor/boss is always recommending iCal and Google docs and online bill pay and I’m always showing up with a planner and post-it’s and a checkbook. I feel like I’m engaging more with everything if I’m actually writing it down.
    And I do the same things at home. I can buy an app to keep me on track with my son’s homework, but I would rather print off his assignments and cross them off as we go.

    • Anne says:

      I’m the same way with paper. I use a few apps to keep track of things on my phone, and I love my checklists, but I love the way you put it: I feel much more engaged with everything if I’m actually writing it down.

  2. Jillian Kay says:

    I’m with keely. I need to plan on paper.

    I made my own calendar too — was in the market to buy something actually, but couldn’t find what I wanted — namely a weekly calendar that started on Monday and ended on Sunday and had columns for each family member, but still allowed for plenty of space to write lists in the margins — to do’s, upcoming but not immediate deadlines, and long term goals and dreams. Since I’m always working in a different spot, I three hole punched it and put it in a binder, but the first thing I do when I sit to down to work where ever is spread my calendar out. In the pockets of my binder I keep rough drafts of my writing that I need to edit, notices from school that I need to refer to, and door to door directions of places I need to go (because I don’t like electronic planners and I don’t trust GPS.)

  3. Kristin says:

    You nailed my problem- I need to see things. I have tried the binder system but I just forget what’s in there. I will think about your system and how to adapt it for me. Thanks! I love you blog- I feel that I have learned so much from it. Like that I am an ESFJ and my husband is an INTP. It explains so much 🙂

  4. Laura says:

    You’ve just made me feel so much better about myself. It’s not that I’m inherently messy, it’s that things have to be lying in plain view for me to remember what it is I’m supposed to remember about them. Clutter (much as I despise it) IS my system. This drives my husband crazy. He will tidy up the piles, stash them somewhere, and then the household falls apart! I need to find a way to honor my visual organization needs, without piling paper and objects all over the dining room table. Thank you!!!

    • Anne says:

      I have a similar struggle: I want everything laid out neatly, or put on the walls, but it takes up so much space! I’m always trying to find the balance between staying organized by keeping things in view but not spreading my stuff all over the house!

    • Sara F says:

      I think you are my kindred spirit! But I married a minimalist who likes nothing on countertops where I have my whole “system”. Had a to do list for today and ended up having to take my Mom to the dr. So much for the bullet journalling, when the first day you start you have to scrap it all until tomorrow.

  5. Jennifer H says:

    I always say, if it isn’t written down, it’s not gonna happen. We have a monthly calendar in a prominent place in our kitchen so everyone can see what’s happening, but now I really like the idea of a 3-month calenday, so I may have to steal that. I also use an awesome weekly planner with a 2 page spread. One page is just blank lines for my to-do list. At the beginning of the year, I go through and write all the monthly recurring things I have to do at my job. Then I add to it as tasks come up. When I complete a task, I highlight it with yellow so I can see what is left to do. The other page is the weekly calendar so I can keep track of any appointments (or playdates, as the case may be).

    While I love the idea of your bulletin board, I need to have my organization more portable, so this system works for me.

  6. Kelty says:

    Thank you for this! (and for yesterday’s post) I feel like I’ve been trying to find the “perfect system” for a while now. I guess I knew somewhere that for me it’s “out of site, out of mind” but I’d never thought about how to apply that to my planning system. It’s also just nice (and encouraging) to see that there isn’t ONE SYSTEM that should work for everyone.

    Now to figure out how to make visual planning work for me….

  7. Leanne Penny says:

    I love this for at least 62 reasons, here are the highlights: Your planning system is YOUR own system. You aren’t buying into someone else’s prepackaged thing, you know you and you cobbled a system to work.

    I love paper too, my thing is that when I have paper to plan on, I over plan things and presuppose that I am a machine and can DO all the things. In other words I am terrible at planning rest, or grace.

    I struggle with planing rhythm… even more than I struggle to spell the word rhythm.

  8. Cori says:

    So my questions is…Where in the house do you keep this? That’s where I get stuck. Trying to find the best place to put something like this, but also not having it front and center for everyone to see.

    • Anne says:

      It’s hanging over my desk, which is tucked into a small corner. (Easy to see when I’m working, but not front and center for everyone to see.) But it pulls off the wall really easily, so if I have Big Planning to do I’ll take it to the dining room table where I can spread all my stuff out.

      • Leana says:

        I like that idea. You can remove the board from the wall. I think that I would have to put that in my planner to do it though.. I need order in my life.
        I get so much more done when I do!
        Fabulous ideas ladies.

  9. Stacey says:

    Anne- I combination of being out of town and your e-mails landing in my spam folder has had me out of touch for weeks! I have so missed your wise words! I too am a visual planner. I love the portability of keeping my calendar on my phone but without the ability to see the whole thing, I was missing things left and right… Love your system and love being back!

  10. Jeannie says:

    I really like your system; it makes so much sense. As for me: every fall, my husband and I each spend about $6 on this “DayMinder”
    (Sorry for the long URL!!!) Anyway, it’s a little fourteen-month calendar which has a whole month on a 2-page spread. In it we write EVERYTHING — I note all my commitments as well as my husband’s work shifts and any commitments he has that affect my day. The daily squares are small but we always manage to fit it all in. Whenever I’m at a meeting (e.g. book club) and we’re planning the next date I whip out my DayMinder, all the while wondering, “How do people remember stuff if they don’t write it down???” It’s very low-tech and cheap — just like us!

  11. Gina says:

    I have to write it down, as well, and have it up, no binders here either. I am perfecting my system but the fridge is the best place for me. I spend so much time opening it to fish out food for the starving minions that I live with1 I look at my planner deliberately everytime, so I don’t go forgetting stuff, double booking stuff etc. Three months is a good idea. I have a weekly whiteboard as well. I think as we are home schooling I need to be super-organised.
    I agree about filling up too much of the space like a machine, though, I am deliberately planning white space into our lives.

  12. Breanne says:

    I love this! I’m a visual as well and kept scrolling back to the main picture to see the details of all the different notes.
    I prefer paper over digital planners and really like the post it note idea, especially since I struggle with making it ‘perfect’ not just in process. =)
    Another question, do you write all your posts for the week at once or in moments throughout the week?

    • Anne says:

      I don’t write all my posts at once. Sometimes I’ll sit down and jot off two or three very rough drafts at the same time, but I can’t do two in a row start to finish. (I don’t usually write and edit at the same time, even for the same post.)

    • Brenda Slusher says:

      I just found you all!! For years I have struggled with the visual, paper thing and my family makes fun of my lists, calendars (can’t function without) and now I finally know that I’m not alone!!! I am so happy! Does everyone have the problems organizing closets, craft supplies, even drawers just areas in the home? I tend to be OCD-is that typical too?

      • Anne says:

        Yes to closets and craft supply woes, but I’m not sure about the OCD thing. I highly recommend the book Organizing Solutions for People with ADD for more info on all of it.

  13. I needed this. I tend to forget about the fact that my phone has a calendar. And I forget that I own a planner unless it’s right in front of me. And I make lists like a maniac and lose them. I NEED this.

    Except, I work partly from home and partly from an office. So, how do I see it all wherever I’m at? A traveling planner or my phone, right? Except that’s not working. 🙁

    • Susan says:

      I have made a habit of putting things on my phone calender and setting reminder alarms. I know me well enough that if a bell doesn’t go off I won’t remember it!
      Put that appointment in and set the alarms as soon as you make it.

      • Kendra says:

        I am visual too and put school info (for reference) and clip bills up on the fridge (so they don’t get lost. Still, the calendar on my iphone has fit the bill for me and I too appreciate the reminder alarms. I used to keep extra info in the “location” line but with the latest update it won’t let me so I’ll have to monkey with that I guess. Another thing that I’d like (and used to have) is a dry erase sheet that can be peeled off my fridge (aka: magnetic, but not the bulkier board style, just like a sheet). I would like it for writing lists. I’ll have to check an office supply store probably, I just don’t get to those often. Loving all the ideas here and glad to see I’m not the only one commenting over a year later!

  14. Karen says:

    I , too, am highly visual. One of the best tips that I ever saw about using a planner on your desk was to get a cookbook stand and put your planner on it.It makes the planner vertical, and your desk area gets cleaned off because it is not laying flat on the desk.(and therefore your planner isn’t covered by the piles of paper that I tend to put down during the day) I use my teacher planner this way at school and it has made all the difference. I have even had teachers come in and take pictures of my planner. If you didn’t have a desk area, you could just mount your planner against a wall using a bracket that you could slide the planner in and out of.

  15. CC says:

    We always had a bullentin board when my kids were growing up- if it wasn’t on the board it did not get done! Each one of the kids had a color and their chore charts. Grocery list, bill paying -everything was on the board. I still have one and all my daughters [8 of them] have the same in their homes. Raising 8 kids alone took some real serious balancing acts. Our house was always neat and clean -never immaculate…but we used lists to keep it all organized and done!

  16. Jacquie says:

    Oh my goodness, I think this is me! I guess I’ve never thought about learning styles and how it relates to task completion for things we already know. Wow! But I’m so there with you — constantly making lists, HAVE to have a paper planner and writing things down is a must (which is so opposite my husband who keeps everything in his head).

    I’ve been working on turning one side of our fridge into a command center so I have a place to put everything — now I need to think about how to make it visual so I see it all once it’s organized there. LOVE the idea of a cookbook stand to hold your planner – Brilliant!

  17. Diane says:

    I’m visual and a paper lover, too, but I have lots of binders and some are duplicates because I don’t remember what I have in all of them, either.

    I’m starting to use post-its on a wall for designated daily chunks of time and days of the week for my repetitive things I do. My problem is that I can’t seem to find a system for keeping track of To Do’s and Projects and feel I’m on a mental hamster wheel all the time.

    • miniglowcloud says:

      I like to write out all of my thoughts/ideas on a piece of paper (I call this “brain vomit”), then I categorize each thing later (both sorting them by “type”: tasks, want to do, assignment, ideas to explore in the future, goals; and by priority). So my mind is effectively cleared, only the stuff I need (projects, to-dos, etc) are taking center stage, and all the secondary stuff is on a piece of paper should I want or need to remember any of them. It works really well for me (:

      • Diane says:

        Thanks for your reply, miniglowcloud! I’ll give your “brain vomit” system a go! I wrote your advice out on a piece of paper so I’m off to a good start! lol

  18. Mandy Williams says:

    Just found this post via Pinterest. Light bulbs going off & angels singing! I guess subconsciously I was thinking, “Well everyone is using electronic systems” but I’m with y’all…adore pen & paper & right in front of me! I’m off to create something that’s ME!

  19. miniglowcloud says:

    This is so cool! I’m also very visually-oriented, and I was looking for new study tips but instead of being disappointed, I’m elated that we have such a similar way of staying motivated and organized! My ‘categories’ are the exact same as yours, only I write/map it out on a piece of blank paper every week, with a mini 2-week calender (I have a bunch of blank month calender sheets in my binder-planner, which I often unclip to see all at once). My post-it’s are everywhere, I use these on color-coded folders for homework. I think I’m going to get a corkboard now, it seems much more practical than loose leaf paper. (though the later is portable…hmmm) Sorry for the ramble-y comment, and thank you very much for taking the time to make this post (:

  20. Kate Love says:

    I’m highly visual also and I’ve been working a piece at a time on making the wall above my desk one big master visual planner to track my writing, school tasks, mom tasks, and misc. To-Do’s. It’s slowly coming together here.

    I’ve been thinking of a blog post about how I organize all of the many hats I wear these days – thanks for inspiring me to add in how being so highly visual makes planning so different for me.

  21. caroline says:

    Glad to see it isn’t just me who needs it all spread out and in view! When I studied for the bar exam, I used every inch of wall space and mirror space (tip: write notes to yourself on your bathroom mirror with a dry erase!!) just so I could have everything laid out and visible. Happy to find similar minds 🙂

    • Diane says:

      Congratulations on passing the bar. I worked 10 years for an attorney and we got along great because he always had papers spread out over his desk and my desk was always covered, too. The “cleanie” secretaries were constantly commenting and wanting to straighten it all out for him because they couldn’t stand the so-called mess, but I knew better! He knew exactly where everything was and we never missed a deadline or lost anything. Everything he wrote needed only one minor revision whereas the “neat” attorneys needed multiple revisions and that took up so much time!! He will always be my favorite boss.

  22. KC says:

    I was just researching planners for next year and came across this article. Yes your style in planner usage is duplicate of mine and describes me perfectly. Have you or anyone come across a portable planner that works well for our style of planning? Must be available in Canada. I’m still trying different brands for years and have not settled on a favourite yet. I know I do like the monthly/weekly style. I’m a fellow visual organizer. I like to label with words not pictures or colour coding and you could say the word money and my brain translates to the image of $$.

  23. Sarah Ellzey says:

    I never sign up for email updates from blogs because email clutter stresses me out. However, I just signed up for yours because I keep stumbling across your posts on Pinterest and they always, always apply to me! I also find your information to be different from what I usually here. Our personality types are so similar (visual learners, HSP’s, avid readers, etc.) that I learn about myself from your self awareness! Thanks for your ministry of writing!

  24. Natalia says:

    Oh my god! These tips are life saving. I thought I needed a really good life planner but I realize now that I need to see everything. I have a white board I will take advantage of! 😀 xoxo

  25. Megan says:

    Wow, thank you so much for writing this! I’ve tried lists, I’ve tried binders, and nothing is working. I keep the list in my head. I know I’m a visual person, I just never realized how it translated into planning!

    I can see that the binder would work if I took everything out once a week or so to see how I’m doing, and having it on a wall all the time, would be so much more helpful. I’m an artist… of course I’m visual! Doh!

    “Kristin says: September 6, 2013 at 10:16 am
    You nailed my problem- I need to see things. I have tried the binder system but I just forget what’s in there. I will think about your system and how to adapt it for me. Thanks! I love you blog- I feel that I have learned so much from it. Like that I am an ESFJ and my husband is an INTP. It explains so much :)”

  26. Leah says:

    I think best with a pencil in my hand, from journaling, to taking notes to planning. I wish I had a space for a bulletin board-style visual planner because that would work very well for me. For now, I update my iCal weekly with whatever is on the paper calendar for the week. I print it off — I love iCal because I have all my weekly responsibilities pre-programmed, so there’s no re-writing weekly chores, etc. Once I have it printed, I pencil in supper meal plans (if I get that far :)…), any extras, use it to track water intake, etc. I keep a goal-planning list on iNotes, and every once in a while I update it by putting an ** by my top 3-5 goals. Once I’ve nailed a few things on the list, I update my iNotes list print a new one. I keep my calendar, goal list and shopping list on my clipboard, along with a blog planner, project planner etc. I would like a binder, but a clip board is simpler, takes up less space, and in 10 seconds I can glance through my 5 sheets of paper and figure out a game plan for the day or week. It works for me, and helps me stay motivated and intentional, especially through busy seasons or times where I’m trying to finish up a lot of projects.

  27. Tina says:

    I was going through Pinterest when I saw your board. That is me in a nutshell. I use the calendar they give free at the banks. They are perfect size for my board. I then use the tiny thin strips of post its to put on the dates. That is for things that I know will move. The todo list goes on the board. I also have an index card for my different routines even (and don’t laugh) stuff I stock or prep on Saturdays.

  28. Ronnae says:

    I moved to a new school and for the first time in 23 years I have deal almost exclusively with email and outlook calendar. I am completely lost! I keep forgetting dates and procedures. I was talking to a fellow teacher and she showed me her wall calendar were she puts all her info. I immediately found a junk calendar from some random website and hung it above my desk. I feel better already.

  29. Benny Patenaude says:

    Valuable ideas , I learned a lot from the insight ! Does someone know if my company might get ahold of a fillable My Life Planning Workbook document to fill out ?

  30. Jessica says:

    I’ve become adjusted to Google Calendar because I love that my husband and I can “calendar” each other and therefore both know what obligations and appointments we both have and when. I also love the “repeat” yearly, weekly, etc options so as never to forget birthdays and anniversaries. That being said, for all the good (and you can also color code)…something doesn’t work for me with it. I feel like I never know visually where I am in the month – how many weeks are left exactly, or what’s coming up soon…I’m thinking of combining Anne’s idea by printing out my Google Calendar and every maybe Sunday? print out an updated version and definitely the 3 months at a time, like Anne suggests. xo

  31. Diane says:

    I got a fantastic deal on a big 3 x 4′ bulletin/white board that I bought just for implementing this idea…have already put up the calendar pages! Now to do everything else for it.

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