Over the years, I’ve tried a variety of ready-made day planners. Some I like better than others, but the one I finally settled on is completely homemade and customized to my own unique needs. If you find yourself growing frustrated with what’s readily available, I’d recommend you read this post on how to make your own day planner. You’ll end up with something that suits you perfectly, often at a fraction of the cost.
Whether it’s a simple desk calendar or a more elaborate message center, every home needs a central place for keeping track of important appointments, special events, frequently called numbers, etc. For our family, that spot is in Mom’s red notebook. (Which you can just glimpse in the lower right corner of the above photo.)
This leather, three-ring binder has evolved over the years to adapt to our changing needs. Comprehensive yet portable, it essentially functions as my second brain.
Pockets on the front flap hold my driver’s license and a credit card, plus any loose papers I need to tote. A legal pad in the back flap allows me to keep a list of miscellaneous chores, errands, and phone calls that need my attention. Everything else is kept bound in the binder, all neatly labeled and organized in divided sections.
The best part of my day-planner system? I made it myself. The cost was minimal, the notebook is completely customizable, and it suits my needs perfectly. Below are descriptions of the sections currently included in the notebook I carry, along with links to free printables so you can make something similar for yourself. Happy organizing!
My personal day planner notebook contains the following sections:
I keep a family calendar in the first section of the binder, so the current month is clearly visible as soon as I open my notebook, displayed behind (not inside) an empty sleeve protector to keep it from getting pulled out accidentally. Successive months follow that, then two year-at-a-glance calendars (one for the current year and one for next).
PRO TIP: You can download free copies of my monthly calendar pages for the current year by following this link: Free Printable Calendars
BONUS USE: On the monthly calendar pages, I keep track of upcoming appointments, lessons, and other commitments. But as the month progresses, I also use it as a concise micro journal of sorts, recording in every little square a few words about something that happened in our household that day — baby took a step, brother lost a tooth, sister made a doll dress, neighbors came to visit. These aren’t necessarily big things, just a sampling of what our lives are like at a particular point in time.
Next comes the section in my notebook most often referenced by my children: our accounting pages. We use this chart to track the money our children have earned and what they have available to spend. Refer to finances for a detailed explanation of how our system works.
PRO TIP: If you’re the one responsible for making sure the family’s bills are paid on time, I’d recommend including a copy of my bill payment checklist under this section, as well.
The next section is a directory of addresses and phone numbers of family members, friends, and businesses we write or call with any regularity. All the information for this personal address book is kept on my computer in a Microsoft Office databank, but I keep a hard copy printed in data sheet form (with everything in columns: first names, last names, addresses, phone numbers, etc) in my notebook.
PRO TIP: I send a lot of letters, thank you notes, and words of encouragement, so I like to keep my family and friends’ addresses handy this way. But even if you aren’t a letter writer, I’d suggest keeping a list of frequently called numbers in your notebook. Here’s a free printable I created for that purpose.
BONUS USE: Throughout the year, as we receive change of address cards in the mail or learn that a friends or family members have gotten married or divorced or widowed, I make note of it on the printed address book I keep in this section of my notebook. Then at year’s end (just before printing the mailing labels for our Christmas letters, I type all those changes into the digital address book on my computer and print out a fresh, updated copy.
In this section I keep my one-year Bible reading plan. You can download the exact same chart I use for tracking my progress here, along with some free printable bookmarks with daily passages: Read through the Bible in One Year
This section also contains copies of Scripture passages my children and I are currently working together to memorize, plus as a record of all previously memorized passages for each family member.
PRO TIP: It is very important to us that our entire family “hides the Word of God in their hearts”, so we devote school time daily to reviewing selected memory passages and favorite Bible chapters.
I keep a running list of prayer requests in this section. I date each request and check it off once it’s answered. Additionally, I keep a 31-day plan for praying for my husband in this section, along with several more of my free printable prayer guides.
PRO TIP: Browse through them all and download your favorites for free by following this link.
Under this tab, I keep a record of which states and countries have been visited by which family members, using a handy little travel chart I drew up for the purpose.
This section also contains a small laminated road map, as well as the phone numbers of favorite hotel chains, membership numbers for travel rewards programs, our frequent flyer codes, and listings of museums, zoos, and parks across the country that offer reciprocal benefits to members of the various establishments we support, like Discovery Science Place, Caldwell Zoo, and Plimoth Plantation.
ASIDE: Want to read all my best ideas for traveling with a big family without breaking the bank? Then check out my book Pack Up & Leave: Travel Tips for Fun Family Vacations
I use this section to record my progress on long-term goals. For instance, one of my goals is to average reading a book a week, so every year, I keep a running list of the books I finish, including title, author, page count, and date completed. (At the end of the year, I type up the results, store it on my computer, and toss the handwritten page, which looks pretty dog-eared by then).
I have a similar page for letters written each month, so I can see at a glance whether I sent a birthday card to my sister last week, or mailed a thank you note for that baby gift, or wrote to my in-laws recently. Another page keeps track of various craft projects I complete each month; another tracks reading, writing, exercise, and weight loss life goals I wrote back in 1995 (which haven’t changed significantly), that I re-read at least once a year to remind myself of long-range plans and the steps I must take to reach them.
Although I have a separate notebook devoted entirely to homeschooling records, I keep a copy of our hourly school schedule, brief lesson plans for the current semester, and working transcripts for my high schoolers in this section.
Pro-Tip: Whenever we have a new driver in the family, I also put a copy of his permit and a driving log for supervised instruction time behind this divider tab. Since I carry this notebook with me wherever I go, that means I’ll always have it with me in the car and can log driving hours as they happen.
In this section I keep a copy of our current partner (our older children are paired with a younger sibling for safeguarding) and seating assignments (we avoid squabbles about who sits where in the van, at the table, or in the living room by making new seating charts each year).
The children are also assigned new chores each year, so that list is also kept in this section. Daily cleaning duties are unpaid, but the older children are allowed to do deep-cleaning to earn money, so a list of those bigger jobs with the standard pay scale is kept in this section, too.
PRO TIP: Once a year I take inventory of minor repairs, decorating ideas, or organizing tasks I want to get done in each room of the house, then print that out and keep a copy under this tab, as well.
BONUS PRINTABLES: This section is also where you will find copies of my bedroom check charts and my daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly to do-lists.
This section holds lots of blank paper for brainstorming and sketching. Here is where I track party rsvps, doodle decorating ideas, jot notes for next year’s Christmas letter, keep a running list of “Empty Nest Activities” (like taking glass blowing lessons, volunteering at the public library, or signing up for ballroom dance classes after the children leave home), record quotes, ideas and statistics for book projects, and — more recently — transcribe favorite hymns and folk songs into harmonica sheet music.
In the back of my binder, I have a section of divided sleeves designed to hold business cards, only I use mine to organize insurance cards, zoo and museum memberships, loyalty cards, reward certificates, portrait club coupons, travel program cards, library cards, movie passes, season passes, dining certificates and coupons, tickets to various events, etc.
PRO TIP: I use sleeves with a larger compartments to hold band aids, alcohol swabs, a small sewing kit, hair elastics, my voter’s registration card, sticky notes, and a couple of credit-card-sized tool logic cards with scissors, flash light, screwdrivers, knife and magnifying glass. I also stash a few postcards, stamps, return address labels, and blank note cards in this section.
Last of all, in the page facing my legal pad, I’ve inserted individual pictures of all our kids and grandkids, ready to show off at a moment’s notice, with frequently called phone numbers listed on the back.
As I already mentioned, there is a slot inside the back cover of my notebook designed to hold a legal pad. And since my notebook has an elastic loop in the back, I always have a pen handy for jotting down notes.
PRO-TIP: I mark lines on the top page dividing it into three columns and two rows, so that I may group tasks under the following headings: Do, Go, Buy, Call, Write, Wish. “Batching tasks” in this way helps to maximize my efficiency.
If I must run an errand, I can tell by glancing down my “Go” column what other stops I should make while I’m out. If I must stop at the store to get milk, my “BUY” column reminds me to pick up toilet paper and light bulbs while I’m there. If I schedule desk time to return phone calls, my “CALL” column makes sure I make them all at one time.
At the end of the month, I transfer my notes neatly to a keepsake calendar page, adding little drawings to make it fun. Then I color it in and make enough photocopies to go in each of our children’s scrapbooks. This keeps me from having to “journal” the same explanations a dozen different times, and also helps me organize photos and mementos in chronological order. If I can’t remember when those pictures were taken at the zoo, I just check my calendar, and – voila – there it is! We were there the 6th of June.
UPDATE: I wrote this original post in 2011. A lot has changed since then. I now store on my phone a lot of the information I used to carry in my notebook, such as business cards and my address book.
One thing that hasn’t changed? My preference for planning with pen and paper. So I still carry a day planner of my own design. It still has all the sections listed above, with the exception of aforementioned addresses and membership cards.
For the past couple of years, instead of punching holes in my printed pages and storing them in a three-ring binder, I’ve taken the whole stack to an office supply company and had it coil bound.
I like the compactness of the spiral-bound version (pictured in the ad below), but it means I no longer have room for my legal pad, which I really miss. And printing it this way is an added expense, so I may go back to the notebook version.
Fortunately, the printables linked in this post (as well as the ones offered in my digital life balance bundle) will work either way: