Focus On This Podcast

119. Fireside Chat: Establishing Your Planner Habit



You’re just getting started using the Full Focus Planner. You feel a little overwhelmed. You’re comparing yourself to others and feel unsure how to integrate the system into your life in a truly impactful way. Are there people ahead of you on the journey who can help?

In this episode, Courtney, Verbs, and Blake talk with Full Focus advocate and planner user Julie. She gives insight from her own journey with the planner and offers takeaways about how to make the most of the Full Focus System.

In this episode, you’ll discover—

  • The transforming power of starting small
  • How to change the way you think about work
  • Why incremental plans lead to exponential results
  • How understanding the goal structure leads to greater goal achievement



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Episode Transcript

Blake: All right, Verbs. Have you ever felt overwhelmed about trying something new?

Verbs: Absolutely. I think, normally, this falls within something new that’s attached to some sort of financial consideration, because at that point, you can only go with what you know, and the rest feels a little bit risky. At the same time, on the other side of that risk there could be a great reward also. So, those are the types of decisions that probably give me the most angst or potential anxiety in those moments. What about you guys?

Courtney: That makes a lot of sense. Before we started this episode, I was saying I love trying new things. I love it. Like, whatever. Let’s try it. Let’s do it. But actually, if I really dig down a little deeper, there are times that I feel a little unease. Specifically, I thought about instances where I go to a new gym for the first time or try a new type of exercise, like yoga.

I remember the very first time I went to an actual yoga class. I was terrified. I had to work myself up to it. Like, “It will be okay. No one is going to kick you out mid-class. They will let you stay.” There was a sense of… I felt a little overwhelmed by it, but I knew it was good for me. It was a good process to move through.

Blake: I have started doing yoga in the mornings. I won’t go near a public place where people can see me attempting that stuff. There is that fear of comparison. Right? “What will someone think about me?” or “Am I doing a good enough job at this to even be doing this new thing?” If you’ve been trying something new or if you’ve been trying, for instance, to do something like the Full Focus Planner… I talk to a lot of people who get a new planner, but sometimes this tool designed to relieve overwhelm…

Sometimes they can almost feel like they’re not doing good enough or they’re not using it to its fullest potential; therefore, they feel like they’re failing and overwhelmed by the thing that’s supposed to help them succeed and not be overwhelmed. I think the trick is to not have “Blake not going to a yoga studio” syndrome of comparison and competition, but to recognize, hey, you can actually take a more collaborative approach and learn from people who have already been there and done that.

Courtney: What I hear you saying is we need to do some Focus on This yoga together. Just kidding. No. Let’s never do that.

Verbs: Absolutely…not.

Blake: You grossly misunderstood my intent. I can’t stress that enough. But, today, we want you listening to do some collaboration. We’re going to do some collaboration here on the podcast. This is one of my favorite things whenever we get to have somebody on who is a real-life Full Focus Planner user and advocate.

Today, we have a special guest for you. We’re going to introduce her and interview her, and she’s going to be sharing with you really practical insights and tips if you’ve been trying to use the Full Focus Planner, use this system, and really get the most out of it, but perhaps you’ve felt a little intimidated. She’s going to help you out a lot.

Verbs: Sounds good, guys. Let’s get right to it.

Welcome to another episode of Focus on This, the most productive podcast on the Internet, so you can banish distractions, get the right stuff done, and finally start loving Mondays. I’m Verbs, here with Courtney Baker and Blake Stratton, with a special guest in the house as well, but first of all, a happy Monday to everyone.

Blake: Happy Monday to you, Verbs.

Verbs: Thank you very much.

Blake: Let’s introduce our guest that today we have joining us on the podcast. All the way from Kimberly, Idaho, it is Julie Underwood. Hello, Julie. Welcome to the podcast.

Julie: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Blake: I had to be educated when Julie came on… I was told Kimberly, Idaho, was actually the other alter ego Miley Cyrus had once upon a time, and she corrected me on that. It’s a location. It’s a town. There are people in it.

Julie: Very few. It’s a small town.

Courtney: Well, now I’m like, everybody who doesn’t understand the reference to Hannah Montana is totally not going to get that joke, so I’m just going to let y’all know.

Blake: Yeah, that was deep. That one is extra dry.

Courtney: Extra dry. Maybe if you are between the ages of 34 and 38 you may have gotten that one.

Blake: Extra dry and half as funny. That’s kind of my new brand.

Courtney: Well, Julie, we’re so excited to have you today. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do, and how long have you been using the Full Focus Planner?

Julie: Well, I have recently changed what I do. I have been a public school teacher for the last 19 years, but last May I retired (woot, woot), kind of, to start my own business, to start a leadership development business. A lot of that is inspired by my planner use. I started using the planner… I had to look back and see, but I started in the summer of 2019. The first planner I set up all wrong, because I set it up as a quarter, June, July, August, instead of July, August, September, because I was on my teacher calendar, so the first one had to spill over a little bit into September. But that’s when I started using the planner.

Courtney: That’s awesome. We love schoolteachers on this podcast. Our Venn diagram has a large section of schoolteachers who love the Focus on This podcast and, more than that, the Full Focus Planner. So, for everybody who’s an educator out there listening, this is going to be really fun, but also for entrepreneurs. Tell us a little bit about how you got started. I heard you say when you look back it wasn’t set up exactly the way you may have set it up today, but what was it like when you got started originally?

Julie: Well, originally, I started very small. I started by using the Daily Pages. I just started with that. I knew a lot about the philosophy behind the planner before I got one and started using it. At first, as an educator, I felt like so much of our day is set. There’s a huge chunk that’s like, “You’re teaching. That’s all you’re doing.” So, I felt like, “I don’t know how much this is going to help me,” but when I got it…

Learning the philosophies through this podcast and the Lead to Win podcast, which is where I started hearing about the planner, just changed the way I thought about work and was so enlightening as far as how you can design the life you want and that your personal life is part of your work life.

So, I started small. I started using the Daily Pages, and then I evolved to use more and more of the planner as I went along. Even when I just started identifying a Big 3 for myself, I felt like I was living so much more intentionally and designing the life I wanted for myself instead of being victimized by my work, just going to work and working forever.

Verbs: Julie, can I ask…? As you mentioned, you said, “Because my time is spoken for as I teach for a greater part of the day…” What was the breakthrough thought you had when you got the planner and you realized, “Oh, I can use this for a whole lot more than I originally thought”? What was it you felt like you were missing in regard to planning materials or planning devices or planning tools that once you got that planner in front of you, you said, “Oh, there’s more opportunity here”?

Julie: I think just feeling empowered to design my day and that my day didn’t have to just be work, that it was okay to have part of my Big 3 be something personally I wanted to achieve, like a physical fitness goal or helping other people. When I eventually started using, a year or so later, the Weekly Preview… I love that part about connecting. I thought, “That’s valuable, and I can do that when I’m at school if I think about it, if I’m intentional about it.”

So, that’s what I really loved. I felt so empowered that I could shape what was going on. Even though a lot of my day was scheduled, I could still make my day meaningful. It just changed my paradigm for how I thought about work and how rewarded I was and how much I enjoyed it, because I was kind of burning out. The planner really helped me with that.

Courtney: Julie, what you said about intentionality is so important. That is something that isn’t always intuitive for planner users, but as you look back, it’s like, “Oh, really what this is helping me do is be intentional about my time, intentional about my days and my hours.” That’s really the superpower of the planner, so I just love that you used that word.

I know, Julie, when we originally reached out to you about potentially being on the podcast, you sent us a huge list of things you have accomplished, so I would love for you to share that with everybody. I mean, it gets me encouraged to hear other people doing big things when they are using these resources, and I think everybody listening will get some extra oomph today hearing that from you.

Julie: Like I said, I started using it in 2019. At the end of 2020, I decided to… That was a rough year for everybody, and especially educators. I decided to take Michael Hyatt up on his Your Best Year Ever program. So, I participated in Your Best Year Ever, and ’21 has been the best year ever for me. I just feel like it worked as… Because I sat down and was so intentional about goal setting.

I started running the first year I was using the planner, because I could put some physical fitness goals in there and be intentional. So, I started running, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. I thought, “Oh, I’m too late to this,” but I felt really empowered that “If I just chunk it and start slow and do it consistently, I’ll see consistent results.” You guys talk about consistent results all the time and small steps. You talk about baby steps.

So, I put that in place and started running. As part of Your Best Year Ever, I said, “I’m going to do a half-marathon.” I just followed the plan and did my goal, and September 18 of 2021, I finished a half-marathon. That was my goal. My stats were not ideal, but I finished. Woo! I’d also had some other things on the back burner. I had been really interested in certifying to be a John Maxwell certified leadership trainer.

I had been working on that, but the planner helped me be really intentional about the curriculum and feeling like I could get that done. So, in August of ’21, I certified. I went to the “IMC” is what they call it, the International Maxwell event, and I certified in that. That’s part of launching my new business. Just a number of things I’ve achieved that I feel really great about that the planner has enabled me to do. I feel like my life runs the way I want it to, and I’m accomplishing those things.

I retired. I decided I could retire. I could afford to do that, and I could risk doing that. Then I could get started on my business that I want to do. All of those things have been part of the empowerment of the planner and the structure it brings to every day. You do maximize the hours of your life to be and do the things you want to do and be the person you want to be. It has really helped me see and do that.

Blake: That’s amazing. Well done.

Courtney: I just want to say for the audio… Julie, when you were sharing those wins, we were all like, “Yes!” That is huge. Guys, I try to run marathons every once in a while, and I get like four miles in and I’m like, “Yeah, I don’t think my body is made for doing this.” It just starts falling apart. Julie, that is a huge deal. I am so proud of you, and I just wanted everybody to hear how we were celebrating you in that moment. That is a really amazing year. It sounds, for sure, like the best year ever.

Julie: It really has been. Doing the half was just… I didn’t even start running until I was in my 50s, and I thought, “How can I do this?” Just doing it incrementally and making a plan and following the plan made all the difference. It has really been amazing. It has been great. I’m back to walking now, though, FYI.

Courtney: It’s very inspiring.

Verbs: Bravo, Julie.

Blake: Julie, at the top of the episode we were talking about trying new things and some of the hesitation or the comparison or the overwhelm that can happen when we engage in something new…a new initiative or, in this case, a new planner that’s this whole system. You mentioned starting with just Daily Pages, but I’m wondering if you can remember… What was the experience like getting started? Were there challenges to on-ramp into this new way of planning or doing things that you could speak to?

Julie: I definitely did the comparison thing and worried that I wasn’t utilizing enough of the planner, but it seemed like episode by episode… I religiously listen to this podcast, you guys, and you do encourage me so much. You would do something on another feature, like the Index, and I’m like, “There’s an index?” I actually have planners where I’ve utilized the Index. Just different things, because you would approach it from what it would do for me.

Like, for teachers, I know the Sunday scaries are so real. The overwhelm starts Sunday night, and close to a panic attack, with so much stuff to do and so many kids to manage and so many responsibilities. I mean, at one point in my career, I had four preps in two different buildings. I had even six, at one point, different courses I had to be ready for with grades from 6 to 12. So, it was crazy. Kimberly is a small town. You know, the overwhelm starts.

So, when you talked about the Weekly Preview and you said, “This is a way to get that under control…” By the way, my favorite feature of the planner is the Weekly Preview now. It is just my favorite thing, because it puts me at the helm of my week, and it just says, “Okay. What am I going to do this week, and how am I going to be the person I want to be and live this out in all of these different areas?” So, that has been good. But getting started is scary, and you compare a lot.

I have a funny story. I was getting ready to do a training with some teachers, because I do some teacher training, and I always mention you guys. I actually have pictures of the podcast with the three of you, and I have the Lead to Win podcast, because when I talk about my success or success for teachers, I have to talk about those things.

So, I was getting ready to do a training with teachers, and I thought, “You know, maybe I just drank the Kool-Aid, and I listen to these podcasts so much it just affects me this way.” So I tested it on my daughter-in-law. I gave her a planner, because I had an extra one from changing or something. I gave her a planner, and I said, “Just try it out. See what you think.” That was it. I showed her the Daily Pages, and I said, “This is how I started.” I said, “There’s a lot to it, and it’s kind of goal staging and everything.” But I said, “Just give it a try. See what you think.”

Well, a couple of days later, she’s like, “I don’t know if it’s…” She’s a clinical psychologist with a PhD. She said, “I don’t know if it’s the placebo effect, but I actually did twice as many reports today as I normally do. I think it’s helping me.” I said, “That’s great.” I tried not to influence her too much, because she was my control group. I was like, “Okay.” About two weeks later, I asked, “How’s it going? How’s your planner stuff going?” She goes, “It has changed my life.” I was like, “Okay. It’s not just me. This is good.”

Blake: That’s awesome.

Julie: So, I felt like that was a great testimonial. She’s now all in. She’s teaching me about erasable pens. She’s on the Facebook group way more than I am. She is really into it.

Blake: That’s not the placebo effect. We call that the Verbs effect.

Julie: The Verbs effect. I’ll have to let her know.

Blake: You know, I can talk about goals all day long, but when Verbs says, “SMARTER goals,” you go, “Yeah. That’s what’s missing in my life.”

Verbs: Blake, that’s actually an interesting segue, because I did want to ask this question. A lot of people coming into the planner, especially when they’re getting accustomed to how to set their Annual Goals… They struggle a little bit with the concept of framing a SMARTER goal. How did setting a SMARTER goal feel different for you than just making a New Year’s resolution of some sort?

Julie: Well, New Year’s resolutions never work, first of all.

Verbs: Facts.

Julie: Even just the SMART goal without the ER you guys add… Just having it time-bound, but then knowing you can go back and adjust… There were weeks in my half-marathon training that I didn’t get to run when I was supposed to and for how long I was supposed to because we were out of town or we were in the car or something happened.

If that had been a New Year’s resolution, I would have said, “Well, I didn’t make it. I’m quitting,” but because it was a goal and I knew how to go back and reassess and adjust… I felt like I have the philosophy from listening to the way you use the planner that it’s okay to adapt your goals to what’s happening in your life. It’s okay to tweak it and then get back to it. It seems more like an ongoing process instead of just a “You win or you lose.”

Courtney: Julie, you mentioned at the beginning that you started using the planner, and then about a year later, you went through our goal-setting course Your Best Year Ever. It’s about that time of year where we’re launching that course again, so I would love for you to talk through how Your Best Year Ever helped elevate your goal setting for the next year. For those of you who are listening, Your Best Year Ever is really the philosophy the planner is built on. We released that course long before we created the planner. So, I would love for you to talk about that. How did Your Best Year Ever help you with your goal setting?

Julie: It really made me intentional about goal setting. This is one of my favorite features of the planner, too, is how the goals… In the goal section, it talks about your motivation. What motivates you to go after this goal? When you think about goals, it’s bigger than just “Oh, I’d like to run. I’d like to start running.” I realized I had this real emotional thing about being able to be a runner, to define myself as a runner, to achieve something like that.

When you understand the motivation, then it helps you when you’re lagging, when it’s like, “Oh, the last thing I want to do is put on those shoes again and go out and do another five or six miles. I’m tired. I’ve got better stuff to do, other stuff to do.” But it’s like, “This is part of the person I want to be. This is part of the overall…” By knowing that motivation and being able… And I’m not good about going back and looking at them physically all the time. I’m still working on that. But, for me, I did it once. I got it in my head, and I kind of understood, “This is why I want to do this.”

When your discipline lags in the messy middle, you can pick it up and say, “Okay. I’ve got this. I’m going to move forward and keep going.” So, that’s how it has helped me, and just being really intentional about looking at your life as “What’s this year going to look like?” and just giving yourself that day to sit and reflect and think. I think that’s what made all the difference. I know I need more thinking time now, all the time.

Verbs: Julie, at first you mentioned there was a little bit of overwhelm starting off the planner, just because there are multiple parts to it, and a lot of people do feel like that. What could you offer…? What sort of advice could you give to someone who’s starting the planner for the first time? And now, being farther along in your planner journey, there are people who are a year into it and still have some challenges. What could you say to those folks, as well, to get them some motivation to keep going?

Julie: Well, for the beginner user, just start with the Daily Pages. You’ll start to see results, and you’ll feel more in control. Then I think it kind of naturally flows out of feeling that to say, “Okay. What is this Weekly Preview thing? What’s going on with that?” Then you expand out kind of organically with how you use it. Once I started doing the Weekly Preview, so many of the other things made sense.

To a user who has been doing it for about a year… That’s when I shifted my focus to the goal structure. I still don’t have this all down, but the goal structure starts with your annual goals, and then you have quarterly goals, and then you have your weekly goals, your Weekly Big 3, and then your daily goals. It’s supposed to kind of stack that way.

Starting with just the pages, mine kind of went in reverse and wasn’t as well thought out, but doing the Best Year Ever class made me really intentional about seeing that holistic structure. “Okay. Here’s the year in view. Here’s each quarter,” because it had you identify what quarter you’d do those in. I think setting it up by quarters is another way it’s better than doing a New Year’s resolution, because you say, “Okay. I can do this much in this time frame and this much in that time frame.”

So, I would say, for a user who is comfortable with the Daily Pages and some of the other things, it’s time to look back at that goal structure and start expanding that, because that helps you have more control. Then you’ll start using it for all kinds of things. I feel like it’s analogous to how I use my iPhone. There’s a lot more I could do with it, but it makes my life a lot better. There are a lot of great things about it that make my life better, but I know I could access more, and I’m not there yet.

I think that’s how you have to feel. You just have to keep learning more, and as you see it working, you’re like, “Oh! I can do that with my phone?” I come up with stuff all the time. I’m like, “Oh! I could track that in my planner. If I put that in my planner, I’d have it with me every day.” Like, the pocket in the back is something that’s underutilized at first. You’re like, “Oh, I could put stuff in there. Hey, I could have something I really needed or have a doctor’s appointment card in there and know what’s going on.” So, keep expanding how you use it and the features you use.

Verbs: All right, Julie. What has the Full Focus System provided you besides just accomplishing a bunch of goals? I know you mentioned earlier that you had a whole slew of things you thought to do, and you saw opportunity even after you retired and really started digging into this system, but what are some of the things outside of accomplishing goals you have felt motivated by in this system?

Julie: That’s a great question, because a lot of people ask me, “What’s so great about this planner?” I’m constantly gushing about how great the planner is. The fact that the one podcast I listen to religiously is about a planner… I feel like I’m kind of a nerd. I’m like, “I don’t know.” So I told my husband, “Well, it’s not a planner.” He said, “I thought you said it was a planner.” I said, “No. It’s more than a planner. It’s a way of thinking about your life.”

So, it’s more than goals. It’s more than just crossing things off or replacing your to-do list. For me, it has changed my life, in the words of my daughter-in-law. It transforms your thinking about who you are and who you can be, and it puts the power back in your hands. You’re not just an employee. You’re not just a teacher slogging through your 90-minute class periods for seven periods a day and then doing whatever they make you do.

I can be the person I want to be in any job, wherever I work, and it’s based on my perception of myself and bringing my personal life in line with my work life and defining the win every day and defining success for me for that year, for that quarter, for that month, for that week. When you define your own success, that’s truly living a life of significance, and that’s what we all want.

Courtney: Julie, I’m feeling like a spin-off podcast is in the works right now. Nick is working on it. That’s incredible.

Julie: Well, I really appreciate what you guys do. It has helped me and has helped the people who I’ve turned on to it. I know I’ve gotten some teachers buying the planner, because at the end of my training they’re like, “Where do I go to get that?” Which is why I’m really excited to become a Certified Pro. I’m doing that this month.

I’m super excited about that, because I feel like I can’t help people the way I want to help people in my new job with my new business without being able to legitimately say, “You’ve got to get this planner, and here’s how the system works. You’ve got to think like this and live like this, because it’ll change you.”

Courtney: That is really exciting. You’re the perfect person to be… You already were a Full Focus Planner Certified Pro. You just didn’t have the official stamp. So, I’m so excited that you’re going to be doing that. I would like to officially ask you to be my Certified Pro.

Nick: I just need to pop in here and say that Julie and I scheduled this interview before the announcement of the Certified Pro. I was like, “I wonder if she’s going to do it,” and she did. Julie is all in. This isn’t like we found a Pro and then brought her on the show. This is a sincere thing.

Julie: I do. I just share, because it’s part of… When you’re talking about how to help people feel differently about their work and their life and success, I have to talk about the planner.

Courtney: I feel like, for everybody listening, we should probably say what a Full Focus Planner Certified Pro is, just in case you’ve missed it in the last couple of weeks. We have a new training program so you can actually get certified to train other people on the Full Focus Planner. There’s a training day you’ll go through and then a certification test.

Then, once people pass that test, they’re going to be listed on our site in a directory so you can find Full Focus Planner Certified Pros. If you’re interested in being a Pro, there are a lot of things you’re going to get, especially this initial year. So, if you’re interested in that at all, definitely check it out at

Blake: Well, thank you, Julie, so much for joining us on the podcast today, and thank you listening for being with us on a Monday morning. We hope you have an amazing week. This is, as Julie would say…these are not my words…the most productive podcast on the Internet. Right, Julie?

Julie: Yes. Absolutely.

Blake: So, share it with your friends, and don’t forget to join our Full Focus Planner Community on the Facebook, the metaverse. We will be here next week with another great episode, but until then, my friends…

All: Stay focused!