If you’re like me, you’ve started to think about the New Year. This time of year is filled with reflection on the last year and excitement of what’s to come. Maybe even some anxiety. Did you hit all your goals for this year? I’ll admit I didn’t hit a few of my personal ones. Even still, I’m so proud of how 2017 went and I’m looking forward to a new year. I’ve started planning out my goals and that comes with planner and bullet journal setup.
This is a hot and heavy post about getting your planner or Bullet Journal setup for the New Year. While a bunch of this content is for people setting up a Bullet Journal, I try to walk through the “why” behind every step. This “why” is universal and can be applied to any planner system. I started to write a long post about setting up my personal bullet journal and then do a second post about my professional bullet journal only to realize that the underlying principles of preparing for the New Year for both my personal and professional life are consistent. Even when I say New Year, I really just mean a fresh start. This could mean a new job (congrats!) or even just a refocus. If you are reading this and its March… Keep reading. This post is a guide to what you need to set up your planner and how to get ready and organized.
Bonus: You can read and implement the suggestions in this article in a few hours. Isn’t a few hours a small price to pay for a more successful 2018? ‘
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To minimize stress in the New Year, I have 3 Steps to Planning
- Understand your Schedule – What months are crazy? When are big vacations? What requires advance planning?
- Goal Setting – What is important to me? What do I need to focus on more?
- Set-Up for Success – What information or accessories do I need to accomplish 1 and 2?
Let’s go into these steps in a bit more detail.
1. Understanding your schedule
In order to achieve your goals, you need to understand what your schedule looks like for the whole year. This seems pretty self-explanatory but there are things I used to lose sight of every year. With a little extra attention, I’ve greatly minimized this. For example, I like to keep track of when I need to go to the different doctors for preventative medicine visits. Every holiday season I scramble and try to cram in that last teeth cleaning before the end of the year. To understand your schedule, lay out all the different things you need to do during the whole year. I know it’s hard to look 12+ months ahead but it is important for you to understand the ebb and flow of your schedule. Some ideas include:
- Doctor’s Visits (Tip: Make your next appointment before you leave. It gives me major anxiety every time I have to make a commitment for a year from now but I’m always relieved later on. Don’t forget to put this appointment in your calendar!)
- Vet Visits
- Kid’s Sport Schedules (I get dragged to college football games so the fall is really hectic for me.)
- Work Vacation Days
- Haircuts (On more than one occasion I have scheduled a hair appointment only to realize I have a wedding I’m going to the week before that I had wanted a crispy cut for.)
- Throwing out Make-Up (yes, make up has a finite life and apparently you should start fresh)
- Big Expenses (This past year I bought a car and put in a patio in my backyard. Both during the summer…. I felt like I was hemorrhaging money even though I had been saving for ages.)
Looking at the year in advance is a great way to make sure you know exactly how your year is going to look and to plan accordingly. I’m not one of those bubblegum people that will tell you that if you just focus on your goals your dreams will come true. Why not? Because that’s not realistic. Because life happens. Events pop up. You’re double booked. You spend a month with back to back travel between work and personal. Hopefully, by planning everything out in advance you can better prepare. By preparing for life, you are better able to focus and achieve your goals.
2. Setting Goals
Pick a few aspects of your life you want to improve in the next twelve months. This could be anything. Reading more, eating healthier, spending less money, saving more money, a home project… Pick no more than five goals for the year.
Once you have your rough goals in mind, we need to turn them into SMART goals. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. MindTools has a page detailing the history of SMART goals, in case you want to learn more. The jist of SMART goals is that if you set goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely, then you are more likely to achieve them. For example, a goal that does not meet this criteria is “improve fitness.” How would I evaluate my success? Let’s look at turning this goal into a SMART goal.
SPECIFIC. I will improve my fitness by going to the gym more.
MEASURABLE. I will go to the gym 160 times during the next 12 months.
ACHIEVABLE. Well, 160 times is roughly every other day, so 3 or 4 times a week. Yes, this is achievable with my other demands.
RELEVANT. This is relevant to my interests. This is realistic but will push me.
TIMELY. Put a deadline on your goal — in this case, the calendar year 2018.
A great example of a SMART goal for a work related project is “By the end of 2018 I will have lead a project team to build and test a prototype of Product XYZ.” Once you have your goal identified and refined, you can break it into milestones such as completing a design, kicking off tooling, and developing a test plan. Next, consider how long each of these bite-sized milestone chunks will take. If it will take you 12 months to do one of these chunks, accomplishing your goal within 2018 is probably not realistic. Creating and planning your goals is an iterative process. Go back and revise your goals until they meet all of the SMART criteria.
3. What do I need to accomplish 1 and 2?
This step is the extra mile in preparation that makes a big difference. Most people, in some form, look at their schedule and set goals. What I’m about to tell you will help keep your goals and your upcoming appointments on the forefront.
Start planning for your milestones about a month and a half out. I learned this trick as a program manager but this works for both work and professional milestones. For all the calendar appointments that require extra steps, such as buying gifts for a wedding or birthday, put a little note about those items for the month prior. My brother’s birthday is in September. This is right when football season starts and I’m always super busy. Since he doesn’t live in the same state as me, last minute gifts are a little tougher. (Amazon Prime is a lifesaver for this. Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial) Planning ahead is especially important for big expense items. If you know that you need to have a large cash reserve built up by July 1st, the end of June is not a good time to start saving. For all money related goals, I recommend you try to have your amount saved up as early as possible.
For all these goals and milestones, it’s much less stressful to accomplish things at a leisurely pace than to scramble at the last minute. Add these milestones and your bite-sized pieces to the monthly or weekly pages of your planner. This makes it easy for you to check if you are on track.
How do you hold yourself accountable for your goals? Let’s take the fitness goal I named earlier. Holding myself accountable for this was an evolution. I used to only set a goal of going to the gym 12 times each month. Some months were great. Other months, it was the 22nd and I had gone once and I would throw in the towel, promising myself I’d do better next month. Thus, I added the yearly target of to keep me from giving up. Now, I track the number of monthly visits and at the end of each month I add them to my yearly tracker, so I can see my progress toward the overarching goal. Every person works differently. Try a couple different methods. Perhaps monthly rewards are good motivation? Find out what works for you.
Post your goals somewhere you will see them every day. As I mentioned in my post about task prioritization, sometimes it’s easy to get distracted and forget what your goals are. For work especially, I highly recommend posting your goals somewhere you will see them everyday.
You can grab a Scribbles that Matter Journal (featured in the above photo) from Amazon.
How to set up your planner or bullet journal
This is the walk-through of how I actually set up for the next year.
Let’s go down the list of the 4 types of information I have in my bullet journal/planner.
- Scheduling and Organization – Future planning and task organization.
- If you are using a planner, this is all built in for you. (I know all planners are different but let’s assume you have an average planner…) Your planner already has a yearly overview and monthly pages. You will use these pages to write down future appointments and the events mentioned as part of understanding your schedule.
- If you are using a bullet journal, you will need to set up some sort of future log. One layout I love is this 4-page view that lets me see 6 months at a time. (You can see a photo of this higher up in this post.) This makes it really easy to understand my schedule and know what months are going to be crazy. I write notes at the bottom for the tasks that I need to remember or accomplish during the month or roughly that time of year. I use this Future Log to handle all of my future planning. For personal planning, I do not make my monthly pages in advance, or my weeklies, or my dailies. For work, I use a planner to supplement my bullet journal. If you have a different method that works for you, go for it.
- Goal Setting and Holding Yourself Accountable – Set your goals and figure out how you will track them.
- Most of the planners I’ve used have pages dedicated to goal setting. A great example is the Erin Condren Life Planner. This planner has a page where you can fill out your goals. Then, each month has sections where you can write your monthly focuses. I bought a hardbound 8″x10″ Erin Condren Life Planner to help organize The Paper Gazer and all the awesome content I want to bring you. The LifePlanner is totally customizable and you can even pick the weekly layout. If you are interested in buying one of these, you can use this referral link for $10 off your first purchase!)
- In my Bullet Journal (work and personal), I dedicate a page of my notebook to neatly summarize my goals. This page has tracker bars to see how my overall progress is. When I create my goals, I also think about how I am going to hold myself accountable. For me, this involves translating my 160 gym visits goal into a 15 times a month goal. When I make my monthly pages, I create a little tracker for my gym visits. The same is true for my yearly save goal — I have a total for the year and then I break it into monthly goals.
The great part of understanding my schedule is that I can account for the busy months. You should outline your milestones for each goal somewhere. A bullet journal is flexible enough that I would make a summary page and put each goal with detailed planning on a separate page. This way you can look back and see how you are doing compared to your milestone dates.
- This is a great example set up from Jessica (@prettyprintsandpaper) for her goals. She uses stamps to make this layout but personally, I think using a ruler is easier.
After a year, I’m starting the big migration into my new @leuchtturm1917 bullet journal for work. These are two of my grounding pages – one to anchor me in what I’m working on, and then one to record the things I’ve accomplished along the way. What are your big pages you keep in your work journal? #Planwithmechallenge
- Useful Information
- I keep a significant number of lists and diagrams that I recreate each year in my bullet journal to keep handy. For example, I keep a list of frequent flyer numbers and other important numbers and login information. I keep a list of dimensions around the house. I have a list of different gym exercises and how much weight I use.
- With a bullet journal, I have way less anxiety about using a blank page for these types of lists. With a planner, I could never decide if using one of my 10 note pages was worth it. At the end of the year I would have 10 blank note pages. If keeping a list of useful information handy is going to make your life easier, do not stress about using the note pages. That’s what they are there for!!
- Pro Tip: Many companies, like Moleskine and Erin Condren, have academic planners that go 18 months. You can check out the Moleskine 18-month planner and Erin Condren 18-month planners on Amazon. Usually, you can find these planners discounted around the New Year, especially in stores. The Erin Condren one I bought for my blog? I bought the 2017-2018 in December… That means I have extra months worth of pages to use as note pages!!
- Check out this home care check list that I made for my bullet journal.
A revision to oddly one of my most-loved spreads: a master grocery list that I refer to when meal planning and making my weekly grocery list. It’s in my back-pocket bujo so I don’t have to make it every time I transfer to a new journal. #bulletjournal #bujo #bujojunkies #mealplanning #plannerlove #planneraddict
- Fun Stuff
- Not everything in your bullet journal has to be useful or boring. You can keep a list of fun quotes like Jessica (@prettyprintsandpaper).
The Nitty Gritty Bullet Journal SetUp
I’m kind of nuts. When it comes to setting up my new bullet journal, I lay everything out. I make a list of the order I want pages and I write each page spread title on a small post it. I put the post-its in my bullet journal and imagine I am flipping through. Do I wish pages were in a different order? It’s okay because I haven’t touched pen to paper yet. Rearrange. Once I’m happy, I start to make my spreads. Most of the time, this just involves me hand lettering the page title. I use my Crayola SuperTips or my Tombow Dual Tips for this.
Part of the beauty of a bullet journal and having one Leuchtturm notebook a year for my personal bullet journal. I keep a list in my current bullet journal of things I want to include for my next bullet journal. While most of the time these are pages I added wherever convenient for the current year, for the following year, I like to move all my collections to the beginning of my notebook.