Using a planner (and following planning systems) can absolutely help you master stress, even if you never felt the need to use a planner before having kids.
For example, planning has helped me establish routines around taking care of my home. Let’s face it, I don’t have the same mental bandwidth I had before I had my first child (way back when). I always joke about how I have difficulty remembering what I ate for dinner the night before. You think I’m going to remember when I’m supposed to clean the toilets?
But I digress. Back to the topic of today’s blog post: planning tips for beginners.
Because planning has helped me so much, especially in the last year and a half, I wanted to create this post and offer some tips to those who might feel intimidated by planning and overwhelmed with how to start.
I don’t claim to be a productivity expert or feel like I know everything there is to know about planning, but I wanted to share tips based on what I’ve found to work for me as a stay-at-home mom and as someone who prioritizes keeping her stress levels on the low side.
Whether you’re brand new to using a planner in general or just new to this stay-at-home-mom life, today’s post is full of planning tips for stay-at-home moms, plus mistakes you should avoid.
To begin, let’s briefly go over what planning actually is first (so we are both on the same page).
What is Planning?
When you think of planning, what do you see? Do you envision using a paper or digital calendar to keep track of schedules and appointments? I’m sure that’s what most people think of first. But planning doesn’t always take place within the constraints of a calendar system (monthly, weekly, or daily).
To me, planning happens anytime I need to coordinate getting something done. We all plan on a regular basis, but just might not be aware of it. Before you go to bed, you likely think about what time you should wake up before you set your alarm. That’s planning. Anytime you’re thinking about a future event and taking action to prepare for that event, you’re planning.
Today’s post is for moms who want to improve their planning skills (likely fueled by the realization that you’ve been showing up unprepared and overwhelmed lately). If that’s you, it’s okay. I’ve been there, too, even as a natural planner person.
But before I share a few tips, here are a few ways that I’ve found planning to be helpful in my own life as a stay-at-home-mom:
- Writing down important dates, events, and schedules (think kids’ activities, doctor’s appointments, birthdays, etc.) helps me reduce the chance of forgetting about them. Seeing an upcoming event on my calendar helps me better prepare (buy gifts, arrange for child care, plan meals, etc.).
- Visually seeing my schedule on paper helps me realistically plan for any to-do’s I wish to accomplish. It also helps me see where I might be overscheduled.
- Using a planner and checking in with it throughout the day helps me stay focused on the most important things and reduces the chances of the entire day disappearing without having done anything that I actually needed to do.
Tip #1: Start small
Planning can include everything from writing down appointments, events, and birthdays to also creating lists of books to read and things to buy to using habit trackers to get better at taking vitamins, completing workouts, etc.
With so many options and so many things that you can keep on top of all in one place (your planner), you might feel like you need to do all the things all at once, right from the beginning of your planner journey (which either starts in January or mid-year, depending on when your planner is dated for).
At the start of 2021, I made the mistake of jumping into a new planner after not planning for at least 2, maybe 3 years. I set up a yearly goals page and I created some pages to track my blog posts. I even designated an area to track the books I’d read during the year. All these ideas came from watching YouTube videos from people in the planning community who were using a similar planner. Even when I used a planner before, I never set up such pages.
Fast forward to today, where I now know that research shows that when you begin a new habit, you should start small. And when it comes to being a beginner planner user, it’s better if you just stick to the basics at the beginning.
Stick to using the monthly, weekly, and/or daily pages of your planner. Build that habit and get into a groove that works for your needs. Then, if you want to add things like trackers and a place to house your monthly or yearly goals, go for it. It’s advised that we should never begin more than one new habit at a time. And yes, I consider things like using a planner, tracking, or goal setting to be separate habits.
At the time, I had zero idea that I was taking on way too many new habits at once. Eventually, I started to feel bad because I wasn’t using those pages as I intended, meaning I was forgetting to check-in with them and keep the information up-to-date. I realized I had taken on way more than I was ready for.
If I could go back to the start of 2021, I would tell myself to first get back into the habit of using a planner and wait until you’re more comfortable with planning before doing anything extra.
Tip #2: Avoid buying everything
As a newbie planner, you might seek out tips for how to use your new planner. That might be how you found this blog post. The good news is there is no shortage of information out there to help you figure out how you want to plan.
The inspiration and ideas that can be gathered from people within the planning community are some of my favorite things about following planner Instagram accounts and YouTube channels. However, one of the downfalls has been being introduced to so many products that I never knew existed (hello, planner stickers and discbound planners).
It can feel overwhelming and come as a shock to you if you also never knew of this secret world of stationery and washi tape. Oh, and dot markers and mildliners.
Naturally, if you are someone who just swoons over all the things at Office Depot like me, you will probably feel a giant pull to buy. all. the. things.
One reason why you feel very compelled is that many of the people who create planning content are affiliates of the brands that make all these cute products. They are essentially planner influencers. Their job is to convince you that you need what they are using so they can make a small commission if you make a purchase using their code or affiliate link.
Hold off on impulse purchases for at least 24-48 hours. If after that time you still want to make the purchase, go ahead. But I recommend asking yourself the following first:
- How will I use this? Will I actually use this?
- Where will I keep this? How will I store it? Do I have space for it?
- Does this match my planning style? Or am I buying this just to copy someone else’s?
Also, it’s totally normal to go through a phase of trying different planners or layouts to decide which works best for you. Just know that there is a difference between that and buying a planner just to buy a planner and get that hit of feel-good hormones that comes from shopping (yup, I went there).
I absolutely bought way more planner accessories than I really needed and ended up reselling them on Mercari several months later. Nowadays, I’m more mindful of my spending on planner-related items and always hold off on purchases until I’m absolutely ready. And, I’m hyper-aware of when I’m shopping because I’m looking for a hit of good feels.
Tip #3: Create a cleaning plan
Okay, now for a functional planning tip that you’ll use as a stay-at-home-mom and will actually help you get things done around the house: create a cleaning plan.
In my last blog post, I shared a YouTube video I created where I shared how I turned an undated desktop calendar into a cleaning calendar for all the chores I do on a weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly basis.
But before I set that calendar up, I already had a system in place of what chores I wanted to do during each interval.
Today, list out all the chores that you have to do to maintain your house. Just list them all out. Then, go through and mark the ones you want to do weekly with a W next to them. Do the same for the ones you want to do bi-weekly and monthly. Anything that is more infrequent, you’ll just worry about that later. For now, I want to help you create a plan for the main chores that help keep your house clean on a day-to-day basis.
Once you’ve got them sectioned off, assign a day of the week that you’d like to do those tasks. You know your family’s schedule best so pick what works for you. If you want to split laundry up into one load per day, go ahead. You can split up other big tasks if you prefer, too.
By deciding right now when you will do which task, you are freeing up a lot of mental bandwidth so that you don’t have to think in the future. Trust me, this will free up so much mental space you’ll thank me later.
You can watch my video to get ideas for how I break up my chores as well as see how I created my cleaning plan on the calendar. If you aren’t using your monthly calendar page in your planner, this might be a good place to house your cleaning plan. I use my monthly spread in my planner for events and appointments, so my cleaning calendar is up on a wall in my pantry. It’s been working so well, that I’m kicking myself for not doing this sooner.
I hope that you found these tips today helpful. But because I want to make sure you start your planner journey right, I wanted to share some more. Here are some quick beginner tips:
- Tip #4: Don’t worry about being perfect or writing neatly.
- Tip #5: Don’t compare how your planner looks to anyone else’s.
- Tip #6: Leave your planner in a space you’ll see it often (kitchen counter).
- Tip #7: Sit down to plan your day the night before or the morning of.
- Tip #8: Try not to have more than 7 to-dos on a single day.
- Tip #9: Do the tasks that require the most brainpower when you actually have the brainpower.
- Tip #10: It’s okay if you don’t get everything done on your to-do list. Nobody always does.
- Tip #11: Having a planner doesn’t mean you have to use it every day. If you want to have a day (or week) where you don’t have any plan, that’s totally okay.
- Tip #12: Planning is meant to help you, not stress you out even more. If planning is starting to feel like a chore, take a step back and get back to the basics.
- Tip #13: Your routines and plans should adjust as your season of life changes. Be fluid with your plans.
- Tip #14: When plans need to change due to circumstances beyond your control, take a deep breath. Such is life. Nothing always goes according to plan. It’s okay to cross things off and move things around.
Phew. That was a lot, mama. I hope that you’ve gotten some valuable tips from today’s blog post. If you have any questions about planning, feel free to leave a comment below or send me a DM on Instagram. If you’re an email subscriber, you can always reply to any of my emails (though I’m really bad at checking them, so have patience with me).