Setting Up Your Planner : Developing a System for Your Hard-Copy Planner

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If your family has selected a hard-copy planner (or if you're still considering this option), then this section is for you. You'll design a location to keep your new planner and put in place the basic system that you'll be using to organize your family's schedule.

Things You'll Need 

  • Your new planner

  • Nails and hammer, screws and screwdriver, thumbtacks, tape, or magnets (as appropriate for installation)

  • Pens and pencils

  • Colored markers (optional)

  • Family address book information and phone numbers

  • Phone-messaging pad (optional)

Deciding Where to Locate the Planner

The real estate business has a popular saying: “location, location, location.” Your entire system will fail if you don't locate your planner in the right place. Do you doubt it? Have you ever ruined a kitchen knife by using it as a makeshift screwdriver because going to the basement to get the screwdriver seemed like too much trouble? But if the screwdriver had been in the kitchen, you would have reached for it first. Location!


Remember, the planner may fit perfectly in a spot and look very artistic, but you must not give in to form at the cost of function.

For many families, the kitchen is the hub of their home. It's the room where they eat, talk on the phone, do homework, work on craft projects, and post notices on the bulletin board or refrigerator. There's nothing wrong with picking this same room as the location for your family planner. The key reason, though, is not because it's the kitchen, but because it's the family hub. Take a look at Table 1 for some other characteristics that will help you determine your own family hub and a good location for your organizing command center.

Table 1. Do's and Don'ts for Choosing a Planner Location
DO Put ItDON'T Put It
Where everyone in the family will see itWhere every visitor will see it
Where the most family members gather at one timeIn a bedroom (or any other room that doesn't belong to the whole family)
Where family members pass it as they enter or leave the houseWhere it will be exposed to extreme heat, cold, or moisture
Near a phoneWhere the dog will eat it
In a place where nothing else belongsWhere it will interfere with traffic flow or activities
In easy reachWhere it will get moved


Don't place a wipe-off planner where there will be a lot of steam—near the stovetop or a shower—because the moisture will cause the ink to run.

We hope you won't have too much trouble determining the room where your planner belongs. Proper location, however, doesn't end with room selection. You'll also want to look at the placement of your planner from an ergonomic point of view. Consider these points:

  • Make sure the planner is placed at a good height. The more people you have in your family, the harder this one becomes. Short people need the planner lower than tall people. If your kids' ages span a wide range, finding the best height for the planner can be a challenge. If you think about this issue from a functional standpoint, though, you may find the solution. Preschoolers will probably have their own set of tools to manage their simpler schedules. All that these young children need is to be able to see that the family planner exists and has a purpose. Teenagers, who are, of course, taller, will be expected to take a more active role in contributing to and following the schedule. So, placing the planner where they can see and reach it easily is more important.

  • Make sure the planner is accessible in other ways besides height. Does your family have some members who are right-handed and others who are left-handed? Then you need to place the planner so that members can write on it with either hand. If you place it with its left side flush up against a corner, then a left-handed person will have no way of writing on it without bashing his elbow or contorting his stance. If someone in your house wears bifocals, then it's way more difficult for that person to focus when looking down at something in close range than when looking up at something in close range.


    Don't overlook the importance of accommodating anyone in your family who is physically challenged. Someone with two strong legs can climb or stoop if need be, but someone in a wheelchair or with arthritis or a bad back cannot.

  • Safety first! Avoid positioning the planner where someone using it will be likely to reach across or lean against something hot, such as the stove, the toaster, or a radiator. Avoid a place where someone might lean in a direction that could cause her to fall down stairs or where she will try to brace herself against something slippery or breakable.

Using Color and Symbols

As we've already explored, some people find it easier to assimilate information if they can see a picture or map rather than written words. This preference in learning modalities has nothing to do with age or intelligence.

However, we can certainly say that most children can identify colors, shapes, and objects significantly earlier than they can read. It would make sense, then, that a family with a young child would benefit from incorporating color and symbols into their planner. The child could learn that she is involved in anything that appears on the planner in a certain color or anything that is marked by a sticker with her picture on it. If you're marking off blocks of time for an activity and the blocks are color-coded, your child will start learning about time, too. She'll learn that small blocks on the planner are activities that take less time than the ones that are represented by bigger blocks.

Even when everyone is old enough to read the words on the planner, people who respond better to color and symbols will like a color-coded system. You can use a different color for each person. Or you can use a different color for each category of activities, such as school/work, sports, chores, and errands. As long as you don't use too many colors, the color helps the brain sort and process the information more quickly because more information is taken in with a single glance.

Color and symbols have their drawbacks, too. Table 2 outlines some of the advantages and disadvantages of using color.

Table 2. Plusses and Minuses of Using Color on Your Planner
Color PlussesColor Minuses
Young children can identify and understand colors.If used inconsistently, color can create confusion.
Some people respond better to color than to black and white.More thought is required when entering information.
Color can help people sort information into categories at a glance.Using color requires a larger, better-maintained stock of supplies.

Because of the drawbacks, you may want to make doubly sure that the benefit to at least one member of your family will outweigh the negatives. If you think about the way the person reacts to things in everyday life, you'll get a feel for his style. Use the questions in Table 3 to help you with your evaluation.

Table 3.  Self-Assessment Questionnaire
Will Color Help You?
1. When you're driving down the road, which do you seem to notice more?
  1. Street signs

  2. Landmarks

2. Do you sometimes reach for the wrong box of cereal in the grocery store because the package is the same color as the box of the cereal you really want?
  1. No

  2. Yes

3. What palate of clothing do you prefer?
  1. Earth toned

  2. Brightly colored

4. How often do you use color to help describe an object (“red truck,” “blue flower”)?
  1. Rarely

  2. Almost always


If you answered more a's than b's, color-coding your planner is probably not worth the trouble.

Using color will work only if you use it consistently, which means that you can't just pick up the nearest pencil and write something onto the schedule. If you've written it in the wrong color, at best you've destroyed the system, and at worst you've caused confusion. So, you must always have all of the colors available for use. If you're using only four colors, and you're willing to let one of them be black, you can get a pen that writes in all four colors—it has four ink barrels—and attach it to your planner. Then you just need to make sure you always select the correct color before writing something down.


The BIC 4-Color Pen provides four-color—black/blue/green/red—writing convenience in a single pen. Suggested retail: $2.34.

Using Your Planner

Now it's time to put your planner to use. Our best advice here is to start slowly, establish a solid foundation, and continue to build on it. Remember when you learned to type? Of course, you wanted to be able to make your fingers fly across the keyboard producing pages of text right from the start. Instead, you were forced to begin with exercises that limited you to just two or four letters. When you had mastered those letters, you were allowed to add a couple of new letters. In the end, your brain could send signals to your fingers without any conscious thought on your part; you'd think about what you wanted to type and your fingers would type it.

So, ease into using your new system by putting just a few of the most obvious items on it. Add previously scheduled events as you think of them. Add new events as they come up. Add things the family is forgetting to do as you are reminded of them. At least at the beginning, you don't need to spend time writing down all of the things you're remembering to do anyway. Your planner will have the most immediate positive impact if you can get it to help you with just a few things that your family is currently neglecting to do.


Doing anything for the first time is like forging through the wilderness. Then, just as the trip becomes easier when you take the same route a second and third time and you start to wear a path, so does the task become easier each time you repeat it. In a sense, you are beating a path through your brain. When you first perform the task, a series of neural transmitters create a weak pathway in your brain. Then, with each repetition and more neural transmissions, the path is strengthened. Soon the pathway is well established and will stay there for a long time, even if you don't use it. That's why breaking a habit is so hard. In the past, some efficiency experts have called this “finger memory,” because after a while the path is so strong that your fingers will do what they're supposed to without your thinking about it at all. Examples include touch typing, peeling an apple, and using a gear shift.

If you couple this brain process with your natural tendencies, you can create a brain superhighway. Let's continue with the path analogy. On some college campuses, a landscape architect plants a large expanse of grass. Then he sits back and waits to see where the students naturally create paths with their walking patterns. Then he has paved walkways installed where the most students walk. On other campuses, the architect installs the paved walkways first. Then the beauty of his landscape becomes marred as students take shortcuts across the grass anyway. Sometimes a rigid administration decides to put up fences—pretty bushes or ugly chain-link—to keep the students on the predesignated paths. How frustrating!

What do paths on college campuses have to do with organizing your family's schedule? You've already selected a planner that conforms to your family's natural tendencies (the wait-and-see-where-they-walk approach). Next, you need to watch to see where the system doesn't quite work out as planned (where the shortcuts are taken). Then, as a final commitment to keeping your family's schedule organized, you must make sure that you don't build any fences that frustrate the system's users.

When your family finds the paths they need to take to be where they would naturally go, the system will become so ingrained in their brains that success is inevitable.

Maintaining Supporting Information

After you begin to work with your planner, you'll quickly realize that if you want to be efficient, you'll need to have more information at your fingertips than just a calendar of your family's events and activities. Here's a checklist of some of this vital information:

  • Phone numbers

    • School

    • Teachers

    • Friends

    • Pizza delivery

    • Doctor

    • Repair people

  • Addresses

    • Friends

    • Extended family

    • Business associates

  • Invitations

    • Events requiring RSVP

    • Events you'll attend

  • Phone messages

You can keep a short list of phone numbers and addresses right on (or next to) the planner itself. Ideally, you'll keep your family's personal address/phone book and your city's phone book nearby as well.

If everyone contributes to keeping a log of incoming phone calls, you can keep missed phone messages to a minimum. A two-part carbonless phone message pad allows you to take a copy of the message with you and still keep a permanent record in case you lose the tear-slip. As shown in Figure 1, the most versatile of these message pads come with tear-slips that are also sticky notes.

Figure 1. This two-part carbonless phone message book features removable sticky-note messages that can be placed where they won't be missed, such as on a door, on a computer monitor, in a day planner, or almost anywhere.


Adams Write 'N Stick Message Book, shown in Figure 2.1, can hold 220 phone messages. Suggested retail: $6.29. Website: www.cardinalbrands.com

A good hard-copy family scheduling system is intuitive to use. Let everyone in the family know that this tool is there to make life easier. Then just start using the planner and refer your family members to it often, and the system will naturally develop into your family's “command center.”

To do list

  • Choose a location for your computer (or planner unit) and printer if you're using a desktop system

  • Enter your family's schedule for the next two weeks

  • Enter your family address book and phone number information (if it's not already entered into the scheduling software)

  • Schedule family training session(s) to teach everyone to use the system

  • Prepare backup system/disks

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