An entrepreneur using a paper planner to manage their tasks and responsibilities.

Popular Planning Methods That Help You Tackle Your Tasks

Even in today’s digital age, paper planners and calendars can play an important role in helping small business owners stay organized. Learn how to choose the right planning method for your needs.

As a small business owner, you’re juggling multiple roles and responsibilities every day. Trying to keep your business afloat and thriving — not to mention feeling sane in your day-to-day life — requires an organizational system that allows you to tackle all your tasks without letting things fall through the cracks.

Plenty of digital systems or apps promise to help you manage your time, but the solution might lie with simple pen and paper. More people are embracing old-fashioned day planners: Between February 2017 and February 2018, purchases of paper planners, calendars and organizers increased by nearly $10 million, according to The NPD Group.

There’s also an entire cottage industry focused on productivity. Numerous planning products and productivity experts suggest methods for efficiently tracking and fulfilling your goals — each one with a different spin on how to get everything done.

Here are a few of the trendier ideas:

Try Bullet Journaling

The wildly popular bullet journal method, invented by web designer Ryder Carroll, provides a structure for prioritizing and cataloging your tasks. You can use it with any planner as a means of easily organizing and then finding the tasks at hand.

Though it can (and should) be customized according to your needs, here are the basics of bullet journaling:

  • The index: Much like a table of contents, the index serves as the front-page navigation for your planner so you can easily find what you need. Make sure you number your planner pages for easy reference.
  • Key/signifiers: Next to each task, you will assign a key, which is a symbol that categorizes each to-do. For example, you can put an asterisk next to high-priority items, while a box or circle can be used to denote events to attend or details you don’t want to forget.
  • Logs: These are lists of what you want to get done, broken out by day, week or month. They give you a clear look at your upcoming tasks in a given period.
  • Collections: Apart from your actionable to-dos, you can create collections — or lists — of other important items. For example, you can list books you want to read, marketing ideas for your business or thoughts on a new product line to reference later.

Integrate Time Blocking

In the same way that digital calendars block out chunks of time, this planning method uses visual “time blocks” to indicate focus areas for each of your tasks in a day. For instance, you might block out time in your paper planner from 8 to 10 a.m. to work on a business development proposal, have a staff meeting from 11 a.m. to noon, meet a client for lunch from 12:30 to 2 p.m., and generate invoices from 2:30 to 4 p.m.

The idea is that during these time blocks, which are visually highlighted in your planner, you focus solely on the task at hand. Smaller to-dos can be completed in between these blocks, or you can place them within a specific time block. By making each task actionable and designated to a certain time, you prioritize important work and build in downtime to deal with the unexpected. This strategy helps ensure you get all of your tasks completed rather than letting them languish on an unfinished to-do list.

Priority-Based Tracking

If you can’t let go of to-do lists as your go-to organizing method, you can still make your list system more effective. One popular method leans on accessories that help you prioritize tasks and add depth and structure to a simple to-do list. A plain to-do list doesn’t give you much context —easier, low-priority items are mixed in with time-sensitive, complicated ones, and it’s far too easy to pick the simplest items first and forget the urgent issues that require attention.

Accessories can help. Use highlighters to make actionable tasks stand out, and write details on sticky tabs and put them next to meetings. Brightly colored pens, dividers and stickers can help you customize your planner and keep key to-do items front and center.

Let the Journal Do the Organizing

Planners come in many shapes, sizes and formats — some do all your organizing for you. For example, do you want a daily, weekly or monthly layout, or maybe one that uses all three? If you prefer the flexibility of adding pages as you go, look for a loose-leaf planner. Need an organizing push? Extra features like motivational quotes and list pages may be the answer.

The aesthetics of a planner are more important than you might think. A planner’s paper quality and weight make a big difference. And, you’ll be carrying this item around all year, so make sure it’s visually appealing and inviting to use.

Going to a paper-based system doesn’t mean you have to give up digital features. For example, you can receive notifications before events by setting them on your phone after you’ve recorded them in your planner. Then, use your organizer to jot down notes from your meetings to stay on top of your to-dos and become a paper-planning powerhouse.