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We all have our own ways to plan out our lives; apps, pen and paper, or just shoving it all into your head (kudos to y’all—you officially have got your life together, A+). But there’s a new craze that is jazzing up the familiar paper agenda, and may be the solution to the chaos in your life.
Yielding hashtags like #spreademwidesunday (where you share your weekly design), #planneraddicts, and #plannerlove, the planning community has really taken off in recent years.
One of the people most benefitting from the craze is Erin Condren (EC) and her “Life Planners.” Her pricey, spiral-bound books include choices of a vertical or horizontal layout, design-your-own covers, and more. EC had 150,000 planner sales annually as of 2013, resulting in a $10 million empire . There are some brand alternatives in the Kikki K, Plum Planners, Happy Planners, and more, but Erin Condren has by far the biggest market space and popularity.
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Her vertical planner (pictured above, aka the ECLP) has a huge following and community devoted to decorating and embellishing each week in ‘spreads.’ Each day is outlined as a column with 3 sections (originally morning, day and night) and there is extra space on the side for goals and bottom for other reminders. People then go to websites like Etsy and buy different section header stickers (to track meals, exercise, weather, TV shows, to-dos, etc.), checklist stickers, patterned boxes, and whatever else their little organized hearts desire.
It’s completely personalized for your life, just as an agenda should be.
You might ask why anyone would want a bulky, ‘old-school’ planner to lug around when they could just put it in their handy dandy smartphone? While the phone is more portable, it’s much less user friendly (dots for events– so no efficient monthly overview, plugging in each event painstakingly, different apps for tracking different things) and it’s visually boring and plain (not customizable!).
I’ll admit that the phone has its perks—it can sync up across devices, set reminders, is searchable, and can pull events from emails/texts. However, paper planners avoid the logistical cons that planning-via-app has: phones always need to be recharged, can be hacked or stolen, and not everyone has a smartphone in the first place. Some people use both a paper and phone planner simultaneously, for the unique features each has.
The sentiment and value of having physical items over pixels and bytes is something else to consider. Condren’s response to the skeptics, who wonder why people would be so attached to and carry around a large planner, was that the owner “had a role in creating it. And it’s something that’s super special to them because they helped design it […] it makes [them] happy”.
If you put money and time into something one-of-a-kind, you’re likely to care more for it, and its contents—which just happen to be your life.
In the case of money and time, being a #planneraddict doesn’t come cost-free. Not only does decorating a spread take out a chunk of time each week (about an hour, but you can multi-task– #netflixmarathon anyone?), the cost of supplies (~$4/sheet of stickers, ~$2 for decorative washi tape, pens, and other add-ons to the already $50 planner—adding up to an average of $8/week, or two Frappuccinos) match that of any other respectable crafting hobby– think of it as a cross between scrapbooking and art journaling. However, if you’re really crafty, you can DIY your own stickers using label paper and a computer (but that takes more time than buying them, so you are paying with something either way).
Using these stickers, the planning community adds a variety of features to the standard planner, which have increased the ECLP’s functionality and usefulness. Adding a section for to-do lists can help us remember and track tasks we need to get done. According to Helene Frensel in Psychologies, we feel accomplished and more motivated to do future tasks if we cross off items as we complete them.
Another use for each day (in the planner) is as a journal or diary. With the use of stickers, one of the sections can be transformed into a spot of reflection. Journaling helps us untangle our thoughts and feelings, discover who we are, problem solve through writing, and reduce stress. We can lose important lessons we learn each day if we don’t take time to process them (by writing) and it’s a nice way to look back.
So you might be sold on adding these functions to your planner, but why go through the trouble and cost of “beautifying” your practical paper pad?
Well, there are benefits to having things look “nice” and appeal to your taste. Just like an office space, the more personal it is, the more “ownership and control” felt. People will be more motivated to complete tasks and get work done if the thing telling them what to do is attractive for them to look at.
In creating a spread, you are putting together colors, and shapes in a coherent manner onto a blank canvas, which is basically making a piece of art. The benefits of creating art include nonverbal expression, relaxation, increasing morale, improving cognition, and building a sense of self.
An added benefit to pen and paper is the opportunity to write down the thoughts of the day. Research shows that writing things with your hand on paper neurologically helps the information process into your mind and you remember and comprehend what you wrote better than if you simply just press buttons to type in information.
Besides the product itself, an added benefit to becoming a part of the ECLP consumer base, is the community around the product. Of course, some similarities arise. Most users of the EC are female and affluent; have a bit of free time to devote to it, and like crafting. Through Facebook groups, YouTube and Instagram, these adults have gathered to obsess over glitter, stickers and tape.
It’s like an extracurricular club, but for big kids.
Planning our lives is essential to productivity and living, no matter what the format. Ready to join the army of sticker-loving, organized, extreme planners? Welcome! Grab your wallet and head to Etsy.
On the other hand, if you’ve read this clutching your phone or plain paper agenda, whispering reassurances about how you’d never betray it for something so frivolous, I have a challenge for you. Next week, sit down with some colored pens and stickers, and make your calendar into a piece of functional art.
Maybe it is a little extravagant to put so much into decorating a pad of paper, but a little extravagancy is okay when it comes to organizing and caring about your life.
I never want to be one of those people that has to say they gave up on their dreams.