STYLE Savvy: Planner Promises


A few years ago, my husband and I were browsing at the warehouse club near my parents’ home and, as usual, I wandered into the book section. While perusing the choices, I came across a spiral-bound planner. It was done in lovely florals and pastels and reeked of optimism. I couldn’t help myself. I picked it up. I opened it, and was immediately overcome by one thought …

Are they kidding? If I could fit my life into these skinny little columns, I wouldn’t need  a planner!

Nearby, a binder called “the ultimate organizer” (in soothing lower-case letters) also called out to me. This one offered to be the tool that put my life in order, but all I could think was that if I had time to file things by category and use all the lovely labels and folders provided in this beautiful, Type-A tool, I wouldn’t need a planner.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure these organizers work for someone, and that someone will be overjoyed to not only flip through these tools, but purchase them and take them home. There, they will use them and reap the benefits proclaimed on the front covers.

It’s just that I’m not that someone.

Those of us who struggle to keep things in order can be easily seduced by pretty covers and promising proclamations. The market is glutted with organizational tools that tease us with the hope of an end to clutter and easy retrieval of important materials and information. Unfortunately, if you don’t think the way the planner thinks (so to speak), these pretty problem-solvers merely end up becoming part of the piles rather than the path out of them.

I’ve spent a substantial chunk of the last decade teaching and writing about organizing by STYLE. Far from a Type-A paradigm of organizational virtue myself, I’ve learned the value of respecting my own styles, whether personal or organizational. What I hope my readers and students have learned to do is exactly what I did at that warehouse club: pick up a tool and evaluate its effectiveness for them personally. Then, it becomes easy to either purchase it or put it back based on an informed assessment of its attributes, not the promises it proclaims, how pretty it will look on a shelf, or whether or not you should be able to use it just because it says so.

As you approach the new year and consider your organizing challenges, see if you, too, can find a way to make your tools fit you rather than the other way around. Resolve not to begin the new year as a slave to a three-ringed or spiral-bound dictator. If you buy a pretty package, make sure you know what you plan to put in it, because just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge a planner by its promises.

Copyright 2018 Lisa Hess


About Author

Lisa Lawmaster Hess has contributed articles to local, national and online publications, and blogs at The Porch Swing Chronicles, The Susquehanna Writers and here at She is the author of two non-fiction books (Acting Assertively and Diverse Divorce) and two novels, Casting the First Stone and Chasing a Second Chance. A retired elementary school counselor, Lisa is a lecturer in psychology at York College and enjoys singing with the contemporary choir at her church.


  1. And don’t be afraid to toss out last year’s planner right?? New year, new planner. Somehow that failed system I created January of 2017 still looks pretty in its pink and gold polka dot cover… but on to bigger and better things! 😉 My husband has convinced me to use the Google Calendar tool on my phone so we can share commitments with each other and schedule them together instantly. This is great, but I’m more inclined to actually check a paper calendar! So… planning to plan on paper & share with my husband via technology. Thanks for this timely article. Happy New Year!

  2. I also keep old planners and agendas. This is very silly but sometimes I think if the Police ever asked me where I was on a random date because I was accused of a heinous crime I could tell them where I was! The answer would probably be something as interesting as ‘I was at the Vet all morning with the dog’ thus providing an alias! Just for the record I have never been accused of a heinous crime 🙂

  3. I’m also a member of the keep-the-planner club. I recently threw away some really old work planners, but still have quite a collection of both work & personal planners. I often use my planners for notes and planning beyond simple appointments, so I like keeping that information accessible.

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