Focus On This Podcast

99. Pro Tips: Creative Ways to Level Up Your Planner



You’re getting into the rhythm of using the Full Focus Planner, but you wonder if there are more strategies or ways to use it that would take you even further. What great ideas are out there that you haven’t thought of yet? How do people from various backgrounds and in different stages of life use the planner?

In this episode, we listen to 12 planner hacks from you, the Full Focus Planner community! Courtney and Blake respond to your tips and tricks and find inspiration for some hacks of their own. The best ideas come from community, and this week we’re taking a cue from you on how to get further, faster.

In this episode, you’ll discover—

  • Another way to use the rolling quarters page
  • A color-coding method so you get a sense of the week at a glance
  • How to set yourself up to more easily find the notes you need 
  • A strategy for syncing up with your team every week



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Episode Transcript

Courtney: 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 Courtney Baker, and I’m here with my dear, dear friend Blake Stratton.

Blake: Everyone is like, “And Verbs too. Right?” and then it’s like, “Aw, it’s just Blake.” Verbs is on his sabbatical, so we wish him well. Sometimes when one of our hosts is gone we’ll have a special guest. I have very good news for you all listening. Not only do we have a special guest. We have special guests, like, a lot of special guests on this episode, and they are all listeners of this podcast. That’s right. This episode is all about you and your genius. Courtney, tell them what’s up.

Courtney: Our next episode is our 100th episode, and as we’ve been getting closer and closer to that, we’ve been thinking of some fun things we could do around celebrating that. One of those was to get some planner hacks from all of you. As much as we love hosting this podcast and love all of the things around the planner, there’s so much of what happens on this show that originates with you all. As much as we are sharing tips for you, we are learning from you, especially in the community. So, I’m really excited about hearing and discussing some of these tips you’ve all sent in.

Blake: Absolutely. So, here’s what we’re going to do. We are going to play the audio. We actually captured the audio of a number of you who shared your tips who were willing and brave enough to share your genius with us. We’re going to play that tip and get through as many as we can. So, if you’re on here, thank you for contributing, and for everyone else, myself included, get a notepad or your planner out, if you can, and jot down some of these hacks that you may want to incorporate in your own routine.

Oh, by the way, I always want to give this disclaimer, Courtney, because there are people who don’t have the planner who just listen to this podcast because they love the sound of my voice and also because they like the productivity tips. The cool thing is some of these hacks are probably planner specific, so maybe they won’t apply to you, but others of them are just inspiring ways to think about how to win at work and succeed at life, achieve more while doing less, and all that good stuff we love to talk about. So, let’s listen to the first tip, shall we?

Mark Martin: My name is Mark Martin. I’m from Anderson, South Carolina. I love the Full Focus Planner. I just started using it a couple of months ago, so I just finished up my first quarter using it. Earlier this week, I set up the next quarter, and I can’t wait to get into that quarter. My one hack that I learned from the first time through using it is that my mind only sees a calendar in the Sunday-through-Saturday format. I see the blocks on the calendar, and my mind automatically thinks the second one from the left is Monday, etcetera.

So, my hack is, this time around, I crossed off the days at the top of the monthly calendar and changed them to a Sunday-through-Saturday format. I love the concept of doing a Monday-through-Sunday, just to work toward the weekend, but for my mind and not getting confused, I adjusted that to a Sunday-through-Saturday format. I love the planner. I can’t wait until my first full quarter using it.

Courtney: I love that. First of all, I love Anderson, South Carolina. I spent a whole summer in college working camp there. So, Mark, thanks for your tip. This is such a great tip, and he’s not even saying which way is right or wrong. He’s just saying, “My brain has been configured to look at a calendar this way,” and he’s like, “I’m not going to fight against that. I’m just going to make this work for me.”

Blake: Exactly. The principle behind this is almost as valuable as the tip itself, which is you’re the boss of your planner, and you should make it your own for what works for you, not the other way around. So, thanks, Mark. Let’s hear another.

Alison Buttenheim: Hi. This is Alison Buttenheim from Philadelphia, PA. I have two hacks I want to share. I don’t use the Rolling Quarters exactly the way they’re proposed. Instead, I use the columns for projects, academic papers (I’m a professor), grants, service commitments, home things I need to do, and things for myself. Because there are two pages, I do a six-week rotation of those twice during the quarter.

The other hack is for step 6 in the weekly plan that’s the self-care planner. I don’t find that as useful for me as using that space to go back and revisit my goals and make some concrete action steps for the week related to five separate goals. I love the planner. It’s great.

Courtney: Okay, Blake. Help me with this one. As she was talking, I flipped back to my Rolling Quarters. For those of you who are listening, maybe you’re having to picture it too. Really, your Rolling Quarters sheet is basically just a spreadsheet. It has a header row and a numbered column. So, she was saying she renames each one of these to different types of work she has to do. Help me with what she was doing from there.

Blake: Basically, what Alison is doing is she’s treating Rolling Quarters… Rather than an extension of her calendar, to see multiple quarters in one view, she’s using it as a project planner for the next six weeks.

Courtney: Awesome. So, she’s labeling the column, and then she’s basically listing all of the milestones within that category that need to be accomplished.

Blake: Yeah.

Courtney: I love that. That’s a really great hack. I might try that out, actually.

Blake: All right. We have another tip here from Aaron Roberts. Let’s hear from Aaron.

Aaron Roberts: Hello, Full Focus Planner family. This is Aaron Roberts from Louisville, Kentucky. One of my favorite hacks involves the daily tasks. I shoot for no more than three daily tasks a day. I do those either during the workday startup ritual or the workday shutdown ritual. I’ve found it can be a good primer to get the day going, like a warmup stretch before a workout, or a good closing ritual, kind of like a cooldown stretch from a workout as well. I seek to avoid those during the day unless I’ve completed my Daily Big 3. Those are just kind of cherry-on-top bonuses for the day. So, that is my hack: the three daily tasks. No more than that.

Courtney: Okay. I love this, Blake. Did you follow this hack?

Blake: I think so. He’s saying he just uses those rituals to set up his Daily Big 3?

Courtney: No. That’s not what he said. What he’s saying here is he actually does three tasks in his workday startup and shutdown. It’s not his Daily Big 3. He’s just using those as like, what he said, a warmup.

Blake: Right. He limits those rituals to three activities.

Courtney: No. Not that either. He’s literally doing three tasks. So, the things, you know, on your daily page that are other tasks… He’s doing three of those in his morning startup. They aren’t his Daily Big 3, but they’re just warmup tasks, little things he needs to check off. He’s including those as part of his morning ritual. I love that idea. I think that’s great. For me, what I would need to be mindful of is making sure that doesn’t creep into my Big 3 for the day, that it really is limited to that workday startup time and that’s it. Like, even if I don’t get all three of those tasks done, I have to move on to working on my Daily Big 3.

Blake: Got it. Makes sense. Cool. Let’s hear from Jen.

Jennifer Eckert: This is Jennifer Eckert from Minnesota. I use a variety of colors throughout my planner for different activities: pink for Bible reading and Bible study group; red for concerts, vacations, and retreats; orange for work and business activities for my side businesses; blue for outside appointments such as doctors and hanging with friends; brown for household tasks such as cooking and cleaning; green for church and for a missions conference I’m a part of; light blue for me to recharge my introvert batteries; purple for homeschool-related activities, including my homeschool group; and light green for hang time with my son. My goals in the front of the planner get listed in a single color, but when I work on them within my tasks, those will be color-coordinated as related to each category above.

Courtney: Blake, I want to see Jen’s planner really badly.

Blake: Yeah. It’s like A Beautiful Mind in planner form.

Courtney: Yeah, it is. Really, her hack is she’s giving herself visual clues. If you are a visual learner, it is helpful to color-code your planner, because it gets you there faster.

Blake: I know some other people who do this, and I think the benefit of it is it’s a little bit more thoughtfulness on the front end for a lot more ease on the back end. She could probably look at her monthly calendar, her daily pages, her appointments, and all that, and at a glance, she could have a feel for the day rather than just a simple overwhelm or needing to compute a bunch of lines first. So, that’s probably the benefit there.

Courtney: I would say, too, in her instance, it sounds like she has a lot of different activities, having a lot of different categories that are in one day. Some people may not need that because they just don’t have all of the different inputs. So, I think for anybody listening, if you’re like, “I have all of these things,” this color-coding hack might be a neat one to try.

Anthony Navarro: Hi. My name is Anthony Navarro, and I’m in Cornelius, North Carolina. My planner hack is I actually take my Full Focus Planner and cut the spine off with a band saw, and then after polishing it, I take an Arc binder punch from Staples, and I carry just one week’s worth of Full Focus Planner information with me, along with all of the other things that go in my Arc planner. So, I don’t have to carry the entire thing with me all the time, just the most relevant week and my goals. I hope that’s a bit of an inspiration to everybody. I look forward to being focused on on Focus on This. Thank you.

Courtney: I love this tip. I love this guy. When you start off with “I take a band saw,” that’s the kind of hack I’m looking for.

Blake: It’s a literal hack. He’s bringing new life to the word. You can literally chop your planner into smaller bits. What a hack that is…literally. Wonderful, Anthony. Thank you for that. I think, for him, that benefit is even more of a “micromanageable” focus. Something we say around here is “If you want to increase your power, you have to narrow your focus.” So, good job, Anthony.

Jennifer LeClaire: This is Jennifer LeClaire from Awakening House of Prayer in South Florida. I love the Full Focus Planner. One of my favorite hacks is my daily recurring task list. I put that right on the far right side of the daily page. Usually, you would put scheduled appointments there, but because I don’t have a lot of scheduled appointments early in the morning, I put my recurring daily tasks, such as updating YouTube or posting in certain social media groups, things I either do myself or things that have to be delegated to various people. So, I make that little list, and it works really well for me. I never forget to do these mundane tasks or to assign them each day.

Another great hack I have come up with is called the little three, the daily little three. That might sound kind of funny. I know we have the Daily Big 3. I find that I’m very efficient in getting my Big 3 done most of the days, so I have an afternoon “little three.” The little three, essentially, is three smaller tasks that will move the bar toward my goals. They’re not as important as the Big 3, but they’re still important. It keeps me focused in the afternoon when I maybe get a little tired some days or am ready to stop. I’m like, “Oh, no, I have these little three,” and I’ll do those as well. Anyway, this is a great planner. I love it. This is Jennifer LeClaire signing off.

Courtney: That’s awesome. I feel like her daily little three kind of tie in with Aaron’s warmup tasks. It’s not the most critical thing, and everybody is well aware their priority in the process. It is a great way to still knock off some tasks, but they never take precedent over that Daily Big 3.

Blake: Awesome. Okay. Let’s hear from Michelle.

Michelle Webb: My name is Michelle Webb, and I’m from Denver, Colorado. As a mindset coach, I like to monitor my mindset and implement strategies that give my mindset and confidence a daily bump. To do this, part of my morning routine is to write down how I feel when I sit down to work in the morning. Am I happy? Sad? Is my energy high or is it low? At the end of the day, I do a daily wrap-up that consists of short bullets about my reflections and insights, what I am grateful for, and for the 1 percent that I will do to improve the next day.

Between these two strategies, I have seen a significant increase in how well I work, my ability to take insights from the meetings I go through and apply them toward my next day, and the ability to see what brings me energy and what detracts from my energy. These, combined, have improved my mindset tremendously, as well as my results.

Courtney: What did Michelle say she does? She’s a mindset coach? Is that what she said?

Blake: Mm-hmm.

Courtney: I just felt really calm all of a sudden. I could listen to Michelle all day. I honestly just feel very relaxed all of a sudden.

Blake: This is a big one. I hear this a lot, people asking questions about how to do this or how they do this. So, thank you to Michelle for sharing how she includes this practice of bringing the emotional state or the mental state into what you’re doing, as well as trying to ramp up using gratitude. It’s super helpful to include in your planner, and it’s also a big part of… I know it’s not the topic of today, but our Full Focus Journal is designed for a lot of that as well because we got so many requests around this topic. So, thanks, Michelle, for sharing how you do it.

Diana Wu David: Hi. This is Diana Wu David from Hong Kong. In my Full Focus Planner, the hack I use is, at the end of the month, I go through the Notes section, and I try to condense the things I’ve written. If they are not interesting or necessary anymore, I fold the page up from the bottom, and then the next page I might fold from the top down. That means that when I am looking for my notes later, I don’t have to go through every single page. It’s such a small thing, but it has been game changing, as I love to go back to my notes, and some of them just aren’t worth going back to. So, that’s my hack, and I hope it’s helpful to you.

Blake: Now, Nick, did you put that paper sound in or was she…? Wow. What a producer Diana is to include the folding of the paper in that audio. That’s great. I think this is a great hack because there are some advantages… A lot of times, people focus on the disadvantages of having a physical planner, because they go, “Oh, well, I like having everything on my phone,” or that sort of stuff.

There are a lot of advantages to having the physical planner, and one of them is the ease of quickly opening up a book and being able to find what you need. There’s a visual component Diana has added to that, a physical component, by making those folds. I think that’s a really creative way. At least half my notes are not worth going back to, so I like that idea.

Stephanie Stollar: Hi there. My name is Stephanie Stollar. I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio. I have maximized my coil-bound planner with a little gizmo I found on Amazon. It’s a bookmark elastic pen holder. It functions as a bookmark. It has an elastic piece that can mark the place I’m on in my planner, and on the front, it has a pouch with a Velcro closure, and I can put my colored highlighters and my mechanical pencils in there so they’re always handy. I just move that elastic each day so I’m just looking at the day or the week ahead. It has been a great addition. Thanks so much.

Courtney: That’s a great tip, and (a little Easter egg for everybody listening) we’re going to make this a lot easier for you in September. Hint, hint. There may be something very similar along these lines coming that will match your planner.

Tim Bahr: Hi. This is Tim Bahr from St. Louis. My planner hack has to do with my Weekly Big 3. I manage a high-functioning team of 10, and after I’ve completed my Weekly Preview and then my Big 3 for the week ahead and I’ve gotten really clear about what my priorities are, I can then put into an email to my team, which I usually send first thing on Monday morning, and I call it “On My Horizon for the Week Ahead.”

This is not a long email, and it’s usually in quick bullet-point format and often includes just lifting up some of the meetings, events, and deadlines that are upcoming, but I typically close out by identifying the three big things on my plate for the week ahead, which are typically among the Big 3 I’ve identified as part of my planning.

Now, the intent here is not to convey that my Big 3 should necessarily be their Big 3 but, instead, to help the team get a glimpse into what I’m focused on for the week ahead, and almost always my Big 3 are relevant to bigger-picture program items that help move their work forward. I’ve found this to also be helpful because it communicates and manages expectations about how I see adding value and having impact for the week ahead. I’ve gotten feedback from members of the team that they find this especially helpful.

Blake: I feel like that’s a leadership hack as much as anything.

Courtney: It’s so good.

Blake: He has taken a tool from the planner and is helping his team… As someone with a boss (I know you can relate to this, Courtney), it’s nice to know what the vision is, what they are focused on, what’s in their sights. It may come across as self-serving, if you’re listening, but it’s truly not, because what your team does… And I’m sure Tim’s team is experiencing this. Now they know better where they fit. It’s like, “Oh, yeah. This is where Tim is focused. I see now how my role is helping contribute to the greater team and direction of where we’re headed.” So, I love that, Tim.

Courtney: In our last episode we talked about how to get people to use the planner who you want to use the planner, and we specifically talked about teams. When you’re leading people, you don’t want to be like, “You have to do this.” This is a really nice way of showing… He’s showing the importance of this to his team without micromanaging it for his people. It’s a great leadership hack. I love this one.

Sam Wechsler: Hello. My name is Sam Wechsler. I live in Boston. I’m part of BusinessAccelerator. I started in early April, and I started using the Full Focus Planner earlier in March. I think mid-March maybe. So, what have I achieved since applying it? I don’t know if I would go through the list of things, but I’m definitely starting to achieve my goals more, and I’m feeling much happier and in more control of my work.

The specific way I… It’s such a tiny little thing, but I love doing it. I just started it. I wasn’t sure what to do, honestly, with the… It’s in the Weekly Preview. It’s between Step 4 and Step 5, and it’s that weekly calendar. There are so many ways it could be used. Meal planning is certainly one, but I hate meal planning.

So, I’m starting to use that to record my gratitude. What is fun about that is I can then, at the end of the week, look back and see all of the things I’ve been grateful for every day. I’m just doing three gratitudes a day and logging them there, and I’m definitely using as much of the rest of the planner as I can, although I still have some work to do. Thanks.

Blake: Awesome. You and the rest of us, Samantha. We all have work to do on our own systems. I love that hack. I remember, Courtney, in episode 88 we gave a whole episode to that part of the Weekly Preview, because people have a lot of creative ideas for how to utilize that. Sam, good job utilizing it for good and recording some gratitude there. I love that. Well, a lot of great hacks have already come in. We have one more for you. This is from Jessica.

Jessica Gasbarro: Hi. I’m Jessica Gasbarro, and I’m from Sacramento, California. My hack is to pick up my planner every day. Even if I haven’t been as organized or haven’t been checking in on my goals, as long as I remember to pick up my book, I will look through it at the very least and make plans for tomorrow, but usually, I’ll end up getting back on track and planning for tomorrow and doing what I need to do. So, I always leave my journal exactly where I know I will see it and be able to pick it up. You have to create an environment where you react, and that’s where your success comes from, rather than just trying to make it on willpower alone. That’s my tip.

Courtney: That’s great. It’s so simple but can have a lot of power, which are really the best kinds of hacks. So, hopefully you all have enjoyed hearing some of these, and maybe this has spurred on some new ideas you want to try out. If you do, if you have some of your own hacks that you’re like, “Oh, people have to hear about this,” please join us in the Full Focus Community and share it there. So, Blake, as we close our 99th episode, what is your favorite hack?

Blake: Well, I’m inspired by one. I feel like I need to have a table saw in here and just make a shape out of my planner.

Courtney: I have one I literally just came up with during this episode. Do you want to hear it?

Blake: Okay. Let’s go for it.

Courtney: I’m trying to think who it was who was talking about how they write what they want to do toward their goals in the Monday, Tuesday, etcetera, on their Weekly Preview page. I wrote down a question I want to start asking myself during my Weekly Preview process. You can kind of see how I got from her hack to this idea.

Obviously, in Step 3, it asks you to review your annual goals or quarterly goals, and then in Step 5, you’re going to set your Weekly Big 3. One thing that might really help me is just to stop for a minute, ask myself this question, and list out “What could you do this week to move your goals forward?” Almost like an ideation step of “What are some things? What would those look like?” Those may not be the Weekly Big 3, but it’s just kind of a step of intentionality with my goals between those two things.

Blake: That’s an important question and, ultimately, ties back to the purpose of the planner in general, which is to be intentional with your life, to decide what’s important to you, what you want, what the results or the goals or the outcomes or the feelings are, or whatever else you want to achieve or do or see, and be intentional about it. So, I love that, Courtney.

Thank you to everyone for sharing your hacks, because, ultimately, if you can make this your own, then you can really own it. Is that a thing? I guess what I mean to say is if you make it custom, you have inherently more ownership of it. So, thank you to everyone who shared, as well as… I know there are so many of you who have amazing hacks we weren’t able to include in this episode. So, please share those, as Courtney said, in the Full Focus Planner Community. Next week, Courtney, it’s celebration time, because we are hitting triple digits.

Courtney: Yes. Blake, did you know we are giving away something special next…? Actually exclusive. We have an exclusive something to give away.

Blake: Yeah. We’re giving away Michael Hyatt’s lake house next week on the 100th episode, so tune in. You will not want to miss that.

Courtney: Yep. Okay. That’s great. We will be here next week with another great 100th episode.

Blake: That’s right. Until then…

Both: Stay focused!