The Perfect Planner is No Planner At All

Hey there beautiful badass dreamer, you!

Yes, I’m talking to you.

It's that holiday limbo time again. You're excited for the holidays, and you missed your weigh in this week because Thanksgiving, plus leftovers all weekend (you feel me, right?), but you're gonna get your $h*t together in the new year. Oh yeay!

You're excited and motivated for the new year, and you’re already searching for the perfect planner that'll put your goals on auto-pilot.

:::sound of tires coming to a screeching halt:::

Let's be real now. A planner won't save you from yourself. Just like a scale won't save from your mom's Thanksgiving leftovers. ::two snaps and a head roll::

I love checklists and planning as much as the next girl, but I've also been guilty of getting super motivated on January 1st -- making a million super duper detailed lists, Pinterest boards, and lists of Pinterest boards.

Lists of Pinterest boards people -- come on!

But then, come January 3rd, I never look at them again. I’ve lost momentum in early January (very early). Wongt wongt wongt.

So, I started doing something differently: I STOPPED USING A PLANNER.

I stopped looking for thee (with 2 e’s) perfect planner, and now I think completely differently about my time and goals.

I’ve always found planners to be so anxiety inducing. But don’t get me wrong, if you prefer to use one, then use one. If there’s one that fits you, then totally go for it. Go all in. (I’ll send recommendations in an upcoming email.) But, if you’re still in search for the “perfect planner” then hear me out: there’s another way!

You're gonna be a lean, mean, Goal Achieving Machine if I have anything to do with it! :)

So, grab some wine, cheese, and Thanksgiving leftovers (if you still have any!), this is gonna be a good one!

The short answer: A planner/goals and a calendar/time are two separate things.

The long answer:

When I think planner I think *goals*. When I think calendar I think *time*.

In other words...Planner = Goals, Calendar = Time

Since goals are irregular and fluid, they change due to milestones, effort, motivation, etc. and time is regular since each year has 12 months, each day has 24 hours etc., I've never found a "perfect planner" that forces the two together.

It's a square-peg round-hole situation. So, I separate the two.





I zoom out super duper big picture. Like write a list of 100 dreams, write a letter to my imaginary grand kids giving them advice, or -- my fave -- write my obituary (or Wikipedia page). Nothing puts things in perspective like you’re own mortality. After all, my guiding question when I reflect on the big picture is: Am I doing something I’m most proud of?

I’ll illustrate with one of my favorite stories is of Roz Savage. (If you’ve taken my money playshop/course you know it already). She was an investment banker in London for about a decade. She wrote her obituary as if she changed nothing in her life. And then she wrote a different version, one that was written in the way she wanted her life to be remembered and with the impact she wanted to have in the world. From that day forward she focused on realizing her dream. She now holds the world record in rowing around the world’s oceans for a longer distance than anyone ever. She’s an advocate for climate change and ocean conservation.

So ya, that’s where I start. My obituary. If you want to be less morbid, you can also write your own ideal Wikipedia page. But don’t stress too long on these activities -- you have a life to live and analysis paralysis is not why you’re here.

I believe you’re already you, and as you are, you already know deep in your heart what you need. What keeps you up at night? What do you fantasize about on your worst days at work.

You already know what pulls at your heart strings -- even if it’s not fully formed in your mind, you already feel it in your heart. Run towards that like your life depends on it.

I know this can be the hardest part of getting started sometimes -- just deciding on the bull’s eye. So, that’s what Become A Goal Achieving Machine is all about. 

For me, it’s being an artist and educator. Right now, the clearest vision I have for what that means to me is making a documentary film that tells stories of financial empowerment (rather than poverty -- which I think is overemphasized in the film genre).

Once I have that, I then break down my vision into years (not just one year) but as far as my heart can see.



I then break that down into quarterly-ish milestones (like apply to 3 grants by the end of the quarter) or projects that aren’t time bound (like make a feature film). Sometimes I let the milestone, not the time dictate the goal. So, a film festival deadline falls out of the perfect quarter so I make that the next milestone -- regardless of the timeline not being a perfect quarter.

I do put these on a Google calendar if they have a hard deadline.



And then, I sort of stop there as far as goal setting and move into goal tracking.

Going forward, I just take a day per week-ish (Friday afternoons, or Saturday mornings if I don’t get to it Friday) to plan out the following week by identifying the most important thing I want to accomplish the following week and then make one goal for the week: What would I be most proud of accomplishing in the next week? I also reflect weekly on progress and update my tracker (see Insightly, below).

I then do a “brain dump” -- get a blank piece of paper (or in Insightly, see below) I write down everything I can do to accomplish my most important thing for the following week. I pick the five most important from that list, then plot those onto five different days (Mon-Fri). Thus, those become daily goals.



I set one goal per day because I used to set a ton of tiny tasks that were hamster wheel busy tasks, and made my achievement tied to how many I accomplished. So, when I had some left over, I felt deflated. To combat this, I realized, that if it can't fit on a post-it, then it can't fit in one day. So, I shifted my focus to doing one big impactful thing -- like calling a potential funder for my film, or editing a draft of a scene, etc. But a big move the needle type of goal, rather than a bunch of hamster wheel tasks.

Although I set a goal per day, when the day comes things have usually changed, priorities have shifted, new information has come in. So, each morning I identify 1 thing that’s thee (yes, 2 e’s) most important thing I can accomplish that day.

I do that thing first. I do the most important thing first each day. From that, flows empowerment. In other words, if my focus was only on accomplishing a goal in the future I would always be attaching my happiness and fulfillment to some goal post later in time. Instead, I attach my empowerment to that day (and to the present), so that I am doing each day, the very thing (or a very close representation of it) that enriches me.

For example, I can’t make a feature length documentary every day, but I can do something that represents that each day -- like edit a bit, film, schedule a film shoot, etc.

I attached my power to the present so, in the words of Shannon Egan (from a past interview), “The decision to feel empowered is a choice you make every day.”



Once the most important thing is done, I ask myself: What’s the one thing I can be doing right *now* to make everything else easier or unnecessary? (from the book, The One Thing) I then choose a task -- like reply to an email, or edit a video for a client -- and then set a timer before I start on the task. I try to finish before the timer’s up.

Since the best information you have -- about your energy level, your priorities, your mood, your hunger, your desires, your progress on goals, etc. -- is in the present, I try my best to be present with my goals and dreams. For example, your progress and energy level tomorrow are unknown, much less what your life will look like in the next month or in 12 months.

The best time to make a decision (and take action) is always now. So I try to make decisions moment by moment and not plan ahead too much so I don’t fall prey to analysis paralysis.

In addition, I try to do something that scares me and pushes me a little each day, like with marathon running -- you start with going a short distance, and then the next time you run a little farther or a bit faster. I do this daily with actions -- like emailing someone I think won’t write back because they’re way more influential, or publishing my work online even though I’m afraid no one will engage with it. Don’t matter. I can be scared, but I’m going to do it anyway. Otherwise, in a year from now, I’ll be in the same place I am now -- still not having run that marathon because I didn’t take the first step and keep pushing myself. No siree...not me! ::three snaps and two head rolls this time::



  • Insightly -- I use Insightly (an online free-ish CRM; client management system) to manage my weekly and daily tasks, my contacts, and projects. Note: I don’t use the calendar though.
  • Egg Timer -- for timing tasks within my days
  • Notebook & Google Doc -- Besides that, I carry around a blank notebook for when analog inspiration strikes and also have a google doc called “My Notebook” for when digital inspiration strikes. Neither have numbered pages or anything. Just clean open space without rules where I can draw/write freely.
  • Note: I don’t write down my big huge dream. I do exercises like writing my ideal Wikipedia page and have that on paper or in a google doc. But otherwise, I feel the vision in my heart and literally just don’t have it written down. I’m so obsessed with the vision that all I do is think about the thing I want to accomplish all the time. It’s like when you first meet someone and have a huge crush on them. You think about them all the time. You don’t need to write down their name in order to remember them -- you’re already obsessed (and probably Facebook stalking every moment you get). That’s how I feel. I’m so obsessed with my vision that I don’t write it down. It consumes my every thought. Whatever that is for you, listen to it. Don’t feel like you have to do the thing you’re “supposed to do” -- do the thing that won’t let you go even if you try.




So, how do I manage my time. Again, this is different from managing my goals.


Each December I ask myself: “What dream vacations haven’t I gone on yet?” This year, Japan, a road trip with the fam, and the Northern Lights are at the top of the list. So, I first put those on my calendar.

Yes, I schedule the year’s rest and vacation time first.


I make sure to note the birthdays of the people I love most and any birthdays divisible by 5 (including my own! Eep!), like my little sis turning 25. They grow up so fast!

I make sure I account for any trips they may have planned or time I’ll need to keep clear for special surprises. Hey, sis! ;)


I look at any milestones that have dates and plot them on my calendar. Like a conference, a film festival deadline, etc.


That’s sort of it. From there I just go week by week and each Friday I block time for the most important thing I want to accomplish in the upcoming week. This overlaps with goal tracking -- #4 above.

I use good ol’ google calendar to schedule my time. Each Friday I block time for going the gym three times the following week (bye bye Thanksgiving leftovers!), account for any upcoming events (birthdays, deadlines, etc.) and block time for everything on a google calendar. I also make sure to build in buffer and down time. Yes, I schedule my down time, so I can look forward to watching a movie and doing nothing, and can look forward to rest, rather than burning out. I try not to work on weekends as best I can while still reaching my milestones.



  • Google calendar -- My scheduling tool #IHeartGoogle
  • Calendly -- for meeting scheduling. (I was all about Sunrise calendar, but they got bought by Microsoft. Alas.) Calandly takes away the back and forth of scheduling one-on-one meetings. #thumbsup

So, no planner. The closest I get is a google calendar, but I see that more as a scheduling tool rather than a life/goal planner.

This system works for me because I want to spend the least amount of time planning and the most amount of time executing so I can do the things (and be with the people) I love most for the largest portion of my time. As you can tell from the pie chart below :)


But again, I *love* planning, which is why I have to force myself -- with timers, by not having a traditional planner, etc. -- to stop planning and get to the actually doing part!

Nonetheless, if you like having a planner, use one! But be cautious -- because, the point, after all isn't to plan, it's to execute. 

Now that you’ve read all this (Woo hoo! You made it to the end! Thanks!), turn off your computer/phone/tablet, and go do one thing -- not plan -- actually do one thing that is part of your big badass dream. Go, now!