Behold the mighty planner, my most cherished writing tool. It's not glamorous, and it doesn't spur creativity, but without it I wouldn't get around to writing often, and certainly not regularly. I use it to make sure that I get things done I have to do, have time for family life, and get to write. I use it to keep big projects (like my novel) manageable and moving along. I use it to keep myself from losing steam between projects. I could not be a writer without it.
The most important thing I use my planner for is marshaling my non-writing life. I firmly believe that in order to be a good writer, you cannot live and die for writing. If it is the center of your world how will you ever write something that connects with anyone who is a non-writer? I have a family and responsibilities, all of which either come before or are on the same level as writing. On the other hand, I am a writer, and I'd like to have time to write. My planner is the catalyst that lets it all get done.
A person can only do so many things in a week, and it's important to know how much you can do. More importantly though, you can only focus on so many things at a time. In our society I think we forget this, and try to multitask to the point that we have to many things going to do well. I made my planner (available for free below) to reflect that. The average person can only focus on normal household tasks and three other goals a week, so my planner has three goal slots per week and no more. By goal I mean an action to be accomplished in a set period of time that takes multiple steps. For instance, have a cleaner house is an aspiration but spring clean this week is a goal. If I, and as far as I can tell, the rest of humanity, try and focus on more than three goals a week it tends to be detrimental to mental health, and it often results in many things either left undone, or done very poorly.
My planner has two pages for each week. The second page is a days-days-of-the-week calendar. The first is what I think of as the week's over-view page. I fill out the overview page first and then use it to figure out when to do what. I sit down on Monday morning (my planner starts on a Monday, I hate the ones that start on Sunday) and I make a list of everything that has to get done that week in the to-do section of my planner. This is boring stuff. Shopping, bills, normal household tasks. I also write down my three daily routines down for each day of the week- my devotions, my physical therapy exercises and walking the dog. I write down any appointments I need to make and people I need to contact. Unless I had a brain fart, all of the appointments I've already made are written down. Most of my must do items are actions that require only one step. If any of them require more than one step they are a goal, which I write in the goal slot on the top of my planner.
My rule is to have no more than two home/life-related goals per week so that I always have room for one writing goal. Generally I don't have any goals that must be accomplished on a certain week and cannot be worked on earlier, or delayed till later. Occasionally I do though, and I usually end up with multiples. They're things like doing my taxes or planning my garden so I can buy seeds on time. If I find I have three must do now goals, I try and delegate one or two to my husband. SometimesI just lose a week of writing. It happens. Since this occurs maybe twice a year, I don't worry about it much. The rest of the time I pick one home life goal to work on. Because I have young child, these goals often take longer than they used. to. If I wanted to paint a dresser pre-child, I just made that my goal and I had enough time in the week to do it. Now I break goals like that down into smaller goals and do one of the smaller goals each week. Instead of my weeks goal being to re-paint the dresser, it would be to sand down the dresser. Then I'll write down the steps to make that happen in my to-do list. For that particular project it would be- buy sand paper, use power sander, do detail sanding, wipe off sawdust.
After I've got my one house goal, I pick at least one writing goal like blog this week. I write it in the goal slot and write down the steps it need to take to accomplish it. Rough draft, revise, edit, upload, pictures, post. Some reoccurring goals eventually turn into routine. You become so familiar with the steps involved the time and brain power it takes to accomplish the goal decrease dramatically. At this point you might find that your week feels a little empty when you set it as one of your goals. Instead of making it one of your goals, continue to write down all the components in your to do list, but pick a different goal. I haven't gotten to the point that blogging is a routine instead of a goal, but I'm hoping to soon, because I have bigger projects I want to get to.
I now have one goal slot left in my planner. Sometimes I leave it blank if one or both of my other goals require a great many steps or I have a very long list of non-goal related things to do, or we're traveling or have some sort of special event that's going to take lot of time. Most of the time though, I pick the third goal. If I had my druthers it would be another writing goal, but half the time, it's another life goal. I break whatever it is down into steps and write it on my to-do list.
Besides using my planner to make sure I have time to write, I use my planner to give my writing life structure. When I have a big project on, like a novel, I break each bit of the process into smaller goals and set my self deadlines for each one as I'm working on them. I don't set whole-book deadlines in advance because it psychs me out. I can handle one deadline at a time. Using my planner keeps me focused on the step of the process I'm currently working on without worrying about what I'll be doing next. I also use my planner to do small writing projects (this blog, for example) while doing a big one. It also lets me keep from lying fallow between big projects. While ideally I'd move from one project to the next, sometimes it's just not possible. If I jump into an idea before it's gestated long enough I never get a finished product I like. Instead, when one project is done and the next is still stewing in my mind, I give myself little writing exercises to keep my skills sharp.
To use my planner, just download it and fill in dates and months as you wish in your word processing program. If you're a student, I have this version with a place to write down assignments. Three hole punch it, spiral bind, whatever it is that you want.
If my version doesn't float your boat try something from this list:
http://www.emilyley.com/products/printables daily planner, callendars and more
http://scatteredsquirrel.com/printable/personal-planner/ - many options for formats and layouts, and all in a very pretty color scheme.
http://www.wendaful.com/free-printable-inserts/ inserts for planner systems and notebooks you may already have, or want to use.