Getting organized can be simple...and cheap
Lists,  Organization and Productivity

How to get organized on the cheap: A guide for the budget-minded planner

There are so many excuses for not maximizing the way you use your time. My handwriting is messy and even with rulers as guides, my bullet journal will never be as neat as those on every how-to blog. Making a color-coded planner takes too much time. Etc., etc.

The primary reason I used to avoid getting organized sooner? Cost. One  problem with organization is that it’s a huge, profitable industry. Beyond calendar white boards and organizational stickies, the primary tool of the organizer is the agenda. A throw back to when they were required for school (and some weeks I could barely fit all my homework assignments into the space available), I don’t have fond memories of agendas. Thus, it’s tempting as an adult to go with a more attractive version. The popular (and admittedly extremely attractive) Erin Condren agendas, for example, run $45. While $45 averages out to less than a dollar a week over that year, it’s a hard number to swallow for the budget-minded organizational aspirant.

I needed a solution that cost less, especially in case my organizational good intentions fell apart.

What I wanted in a planner:

  1. Undated, 365 days so I wasn’t restricted to a January 1 start date
  2. An hourly layout past 7 pm and including weekends since I work most of the daytime hours
  3. Large enough that I could write everything I wanted without feeling like it was cramped or messy like those horrible school homework planners
  4. Durable! I need to carry this puppy with me or I won’t use it
  5. Week-at-a-glance view
  6. Room for additional notes

The best option for me was this $14 Appointment Book.

To personalize the agenda and give myself extra daily reminders of the goal setting I’d been working on, I created a custom cover. I looked at eight areas and set goals for each: career, health, personal growth, spirituality, finances, friends and family, romantic relationships, and self-care. I found images that represented my goals and created a collage for the cover. Check back for a post on SMART goal setting and vision boards.

How To Plan

Using the agenda is a weekly ritual. On Sundays I sit down and evaluate the next week. I begin by filling in the essential items: Leave for Work, Work, Work Out. Then I look at my social obligations and fill those in. From there, I see the white space where I have time to take more leisurely walks with Bentley or work on other projects.

Bentley loves helping me get organized

The whole process takes less than 15 minutes and goes like this:

  1. Write in the dates at the top of each page
  2. List big weekly, monthly or yearly projects based off of your vision board at the top of the page
  3. Fill in essentials (work, workout, etc.)
  4. Fill in social obligations
  5. Leave one day a week (Sunday for me) completely open for working on impulse projects, binge watching Scandal, reading a book, and relaxing
  6. Decide which of the big projects listed in number 2 you can do part of this week and block off time for it
  7. Fill in shorter home-based activities (cleaning, brushing the dog, walking the dog, etc.)


One tip I find valuable is actually using the hours listed. After filling in your essentials (I even include my commute), I vacillate between feeling like my entire day is already stolen from me and like I have so many hours that I could be using. Those hours can easily be wasted. Limiting the time you allot yourself on a project keeps you focused.

Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get to everything. Some days are rough, and it’s OK to push a chore back a day or two. Just reevaluate before the end of the week. Because you’ll regret it if you push back everything all week.

Another tip is to leave yourself extra time. There are always things you won’t expect. You won’t realize how long it will take to make your dinner. A friend will call unexpectedly. Your prescriptions will get lost in a FedEx warehouse, and you’ll spend an hour at Walgreens as they hunt down your meds. You won’t anticipate that it takes two hours to organize your thoughts on a topic for your next blog post instead of the planned 90 minutes. You’ll leave time for cooking but forget that you have to dig up the recipe first. When you leave yourself white space, you’re telling yourself that it’s OK if things change. Stay flexible. This doesn’t have to be a diary of how you spent each minute of your day. It’s a plan for maximizing and organizing the time you do have.

Use the white space around the calendar in the way that works best for you. I like reminders of my top goals for the month or season because it is too easy to forget that I meant to go through my saved papers now that tax season is over. However, some people find inspirational quotes for each month or a vision statement to be of use. Even writing down the 5-day forecast can help you stay better organized as you plan out your days (and wardrobe)!

Is the appointment book style agenda too plain for you? This Panda Planner is a nice step up at $25.97.

Know of any organizational tips and tricks I should try? Please share!

This is the first in a series of posts on organization and goal setting. Stay tuned for posts on using a day planner to plan the perfect trip, create a personalized vision board cover for your planner, how daily agenda use has already improved my life, and more.


One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *