Paper Planner Systems – A Review

One of my daughter’s favorite year-end activities is to go to the store at the mall that is only open for about two months a year – the calendar store.  She browses the hundreds of choices in order to select the calendar with photographs that best reflect her mood and current interests.  She brings it home like a prize and hangs it on her wall.

Selecting the right planner to manage your time is probably not as transcendent an experience for you as it is for my daughter, but it is an important decision that should be revisited annually.

There are many, many choices on the market for planner systems – both paper and electronic.  This post will review a few popular paper-based ones and offer you some criteria for consideration when selecting a paper planner.


Features of a Paper Planner

Paper planners…

  • Can easily be brought into a meeting.  It is much more socially acceptable to write a to-do item in your planner than type it into your iPhone.
  • Do not depend on batteries, system availability, or upgrades.
  • Can become a filing cabinet for spare scraps of paper if you are not careful.
  • Sometimes require writing and transferring undone to-do items multiple times.


Paper Options:

Franklin Planner ( – The quintessential day-at-a-glance planner that allows you to track to-do items, keep your calendar, and take notes.  This system encourages the user to focus on priorities, set goals and even define values.  I recommend the Franklin system for people who want to focus on actions that lead to goal accomplishment.  Because of the need to transfer undone action items, it is especially useful for people who tend to complete most of their planned tasks each day. However, I have filmed a video criticizing the Franklin Planner and often get hate mail because of it.


Planner Pad ( – A week-at-a-glance planner that encourages the user to categorize weekly goals and then funnel those into daily tasks.  I recommend this for clients doing mainly project-based work that requires minimal task changes and reprioritizing throughout the week.  It is very nice to see the entire week in one place, but the space for a calendar is very small and will not accommodate a user with a heavy meeting load.


Levenger Circa ( – The most important feature of this system is flexibility. Users can easily insert, remove, and rearrange pages for to-do lists, calendars, contacts, and meeting notes.  Expect to pay for this privilege, though – it’s not cheap.  Because of the variety of refills available in the Circa system, such as grid paper, storyboards, project planners, and the like, I recommend this system for clients who need specialized templates in their planners.


Getting Things Done (GTD) system ( – The GTD system was developed by time management master David Allen and encourages users to capture and sort all to-do items and then determine priorities and next steps. The calendar is a week-at-a-glance and does not have pre-printed times on it.  There are templates for lists, projects, contacts, and agendas (among others).  I recommend the GTD system for those who are – or want to be – avid list-makers and are willing to spend time learning the guiding principles of the GTD approach.


All time management tools depend on the user, so choose the type of system that functions well for you.  Keep in mind that there is a learning curve with any new tool, and I can help you select and quickly get up to speed with your planner system.


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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


  1. Janet Barclay

    I like different features of all of these. I guess that’s why it’s so hard to choose!

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Yes, I have! Very cool. One of my clients swears by it – it transformed the way she works.

  2. Rhonda C Reed

    I found “Day Designer” by Whitney English 2 years ago, and Love it. It is a handy 5×8 coil bound size and has daily pages that include hourly lines for 6a-8 p, on left side, a To Do list on right side and a place to “Today’s top three” at the top. A general box that says “Tonight” at the bottom left, and a box that is labeled “Gratitude” at the lower Right to help reflect on the day positively. I am very particular about my planner and it has taken me a lifetime to find one I like (and I invested in a Franklin planner!) I keep an electronic MAIN To Do list and keep my Home based tasks and projects list separate from a Car based tasks/errands list on it. I “assign myself” prioritized tasks on my paper planner page and mark them off both accordingly. I wrote your quote on the first page of my planner : “Your To do List is a crystal ball that reveals you future.” Very profound.

  3. Debra Ramsey

    I used to have a paper-based project management system that included 3-ring binder with inserts that had multiple slots on each side, allowing me to view 20 or so 5×7 cards at a Time. I lost the binder in a move and would love to know if the company is still around

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      I’m not familiar with that one. If you are looking for an electronic option that resembles an index card system, check out Trello.


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