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DIY Planner for Under $5

DIY your own planner for less than $5 with a combination of things you probably already have, free printables, and a quick trip to a discount store.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using one of my links, I get a small compensation at no additional cost to you. See my full Disclosures page for more details. Thank you for supporting Vibrance & Bliss.

Trying to get organized but limited on funds? Have a million random pieces of paper and sticky notes flying everywhere and no system to process them? Did you know you can DIY your own planner for less than $5 with a combination of things you probably already have, free printables, and a quick trip to a discount store? Create your first simple planner in 3 easy steps:

1. COLLECT YOUR ITEMS:

Gather what you already have and make a list of the essentials you need to get started. Don’t go crazy at first! Your primary goal is to create a basic system to keep your notes, responsibilities, and tasks organized to increase your productivity and efficiency. The Dollar Tree is a great place to shop for starter planner supplies. Until you know what kind of system will work for you, I don’t recommend putting a lot of money toward different planners. Here’s my pick of absolute essentials when setting up a planner system for the first time.

BINDER


First, you’ll need something to hold everything together. My recommendation for starting out is a simple 3-ring binder. You probably already have one of these laying around. It doesn’t have to be fancy- a simple one will do! I’d start with about 1-inch if you have one. Pocket folders on the inside covers would nice, but it’s not critical. I do always prefer hardcover since I like the option to use it as a writing surface if necessary. If you don’t have a binder, you can most likely find a super cheap one at the Dollar Tree or another discount store (Walmart/Target for instance.)

PAGE-SIZE

Page-size is a hot topic in the planner world, but I’d recommend starting with standard letter (8 1/2 x 11 inch) until you get more comfortable and know what you want. If you’re looking for a more portable/smaller size, half-letter (5.5 x 8.5 inch) is still pretty uncomplicated, but the starting supplies (binder, paper, pockets/tabs etc…) are non-standard and will be slightly more expensive to start you out. This is a great starting set in half-letter size (AKA “Mini Binder”) for only $10 and includes a binder (though not hard-back, unfortunately), a pocket, divider tabs with pockets and lined paper.

POCKET FOLDER

Especially if you don’t have pockets on the inside of your binder, I find this item to be basically essential. There’s nothing worse than having loose papers fly everywhere whenever you open your planner. I hold a myriad of random notes/scraps of paper that I want to keep with my planner until I can process or file them. Finding a cute pattern or color is also a great way to add some personality to your planner if you are using a plain binder or don’t have a view pocket on the front (or even if you do!)

Your pocket folder will also serve as your “dashboard,” which is a fancy planner-term that just means a place to store stickies or other random notes for later processing.

TABS

Tab Dividers are great for separating & locating separate sections in your planner that you want to use for different purposes. I usually have sections for daily, weekly, and monthly schedules, personal, household, business, tasks, and general notes. You can purchase a cheap set of tabs for $1, but there are obviously many other variations that could cost a bit more.

If you don’t want to purchase a set of tabs, you place a sticky note on any page to make your own tabs. I like these sticky tabs in 1-inch or 2-inch, but any sticky will do. (I love to make my own covers with a pretty art print or just colored paper/cardstock and place it in a clear page protector. You can then put your sticky tab on that if you wanted.)

PAPER & PUNCH

I always keep some blank paper in my planner for quick notes, lists, and ideas etc… I like to keep some lined sheets and some blank, and I know many people like grid paper as well (which I personally don’t do). I found a cute set of designed paper in a pack of 40-sheets at the Dollar Tree. (See photos below.)

Odds are, you probably already have either a 3-hole punch somewhere, or at least a single hand-punch. If not, I know they sell a “single” punch at the Dollar Tree. Either way, I would definitely recommend having a hole puncher of some sort, as this is the easiest way to set up a practically-free planner (by using free printables).

The beauty of using a standard binder is that if you’re really starting out and don’t have a punch, you can purchase a pre-punched pack of basic lined paper for $1, so there’s really no excuse to not have paper in your planner. If I haven’t said it enough, paper is essential for planning!

PENS/PENCILS

I could speak volumes on the different types, variations, colors, and brands of pens you can use for planning, but honestly just start with anything you already have. Of course I have my favorites, but if finding the “perfect” pen is stopping you from getting started, anything will work. When push comes to shove, a pen is really just a pen. (Though I will be the first to admit: not all pens are created equal. But that, my friends, is a topic for another day.)

2. PUT IT TOGETHER:

Now that you have all your materials ready, here’s comes the fun part!

Place your folder & tabs inside the rings in the order you’ll find most useful. I like to have my folder in front, but do what works for you.

Decide on the sections you want and label them. Some great starting sections are: daily, weekly, and monthly schedules, personal, household, business, tasks, and general notes. If you want, you could even get more specific: Meal planning, budget, cleaning schedule, kid’s schedules, personal study, goal planning and/or inspiration. Really the options are limitless here- just decide what you most want to keep track of and create a section. You can always adjust this later! Note: I’ll sometimes just use a sticky on the divider’s front if I’m unsure of how I want to categorize something.

Punch & insert your paper. I recommend having a “notes” tab, but many planners just stick their blank paper in the front or the back and find that quite useful. It’s really up to you.

3. INSERT YOUR FREEBIES:

You could literally spend hours on Google or Pinterest searching for the perfect free printables to start out your planner, but if you want to keep it simple while starting out (which I definitely recommend you doing), I have a whole collection of freebies you can download and print right now.

The pages/layouts I would recommend starting with are: (note: all these pages are available in my free printables library).

YEAR AT A GLANCE

DIY your own planner for less than $5 with a combination of things you probably already have, free printables, and a quick trip to a discount store.

MONTHLY

DIY your own planner for less than $5 with a combination of things you probably already have, free printables, and a quick trip to a discount store.

WEEKLY

DIY your own planner for less than $5 with a combination of things you probably already have, free printables, and a quick trip to a discount store.

DAILY

DIY your own planner for less than $5 with a combination of things you probably already have, free printables, and a quick trip to a discount store.

BRAIN-DUMP

DIY your own planner for less than $5 with a combination of things you probably already have, free printables, and a quick trip to a discount store.

NOTES – LINED & UNLINED

DIY your own planner for less than $5 with a combination of things you probably already have, free printables, and a quick trip to a discount store.

Don’t forget to Download the Printables

Decide on the printables you want and then print, punch & insert.

Voila! You now have the perfect basic planner that fills all the requirements of a standard organizational system. The really amazing thing is that now, as your needs grow or change, you can update your planner until it’s working exactly the way you like. Remember – it’s easy to get caught up in the “fun” aspects of planning, but always make sure to keep functionality in mind. Anything will work as long as it helps you get & stay productive, organized, and using your time as efficiently as possible. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

A NOTE ON PRODUCT LINKS

*Note: the links to products on this page are to Amazon where I purchase most of my supplies from, and most of the items I link to are above $5. I stand with my belief that you can create a planner for under $5, but these products are going to be much higher quality than items you’ll find at the Dollar Tree, and as planners tend to receive a lot of “abuse” (read: “loving use”), I recommend investing in some quality supplies once you know what your needs are. Until then, while you’re still experimenting and building your “system”,  Dollar Tree supplies work just fine and will help you get started.

Though I link to Amazon products to give you an idea of what to look for, you do not need to purchase the item from Amazon, as you can find almost all these things (or a version of them) at any Dollar Tree or discount store for a $1 or less. 

NEXT STEPS:

  1. Download the Freebies!
  2. Join the Discussion: What are your absolute planner necessities? Leave a comment below!

What are Your *Most Important* Tasks

When you simply don't have time for everything on your list, decide which tasks hold the most value, and focus on just a few each day.

Have you ever had a day where you worked yourself frazzled only to discover that by the end of the day you really didn’t accomplish much at all, and the things you should have done are still sitting there, staring you in the face?

Buring Ourselves in Busy

Getting things done during the day seems to be a constant struggle for most people I know. “I’m so busy!” or “There aren’t enough hours in the day!” are phrases that I hear so very often. And I get it! I say them myself definitely more often than I should.

So why do we find ourselves “busy” so often? And what does that really mean? How much of what you’re doing every day actually propels you forward toward your goals? Because really, it’s not about how much you’re getting done… it’s about what you’re getting done, and if you’re accomplishing those things that are really going to help you get where you want to be.

If you’re measuring your success based solely on the number of things you accomplish every day without thinking about the actual progress you’re making toward your goals, you might want to take a couple steps back, because you’re overworking yourself for no reason.

Hopefully you understand the valuable nature of time. It’s a limited and oh-so-precious commodity, one that must be safeguarded and respected. And so often, we waste it away like it’s nothing.

We will always hаvе things that will need to get dоnе, but the trick to staying productive is is figuring out what the right things are, and making sure we’re getting the biggest bang for our buck. Establishing your “Top 3” every day and focusing on these tasks first can help boost your productivity and help you get the most out of your limited time.

If you’re tired of wasting it away and want to spend your time the most effective way possible, this is probably the best way I’ve found to help me feel like at the end of the day, I’ve been productive and gotten not just a bunch of things accomplished, but the right things. Sound good? Let’s go!

 

Discovering your MIT

Hеrе are the five ѕіmрlе ѕtерѕ to hеlр уоu establish your “Top 3” and tо gеt thе rіght things done:

1. Brain Dump

Get a piece of paper and write down all the things you think you need to do. If you’ve never done a brain dump, you can find more information about this process here. The idea here is that you’re going to get everything out of your head so you can process it all later on.

2. Establish your Goals & Priorities

If you haven’t done this in awhile, make sure you spend some time thinking about and writing down what you want to achieve in life, as well as what you value most. In order for you to make the best use of your time, you need to know what’s important to you and the direction you most want to head in.

3. Organize

Here you’re going to begin organizing your tasks based on importance, keeping in mind your goals & priorities. Remember: if it doesn’t align with the direction you’re trying to head in, it can possibly be deferred or dumped.

When you simply don't have time for everything on your list, decide which tasks hold the most value, and focus on just a few each day.

4. Schedule

After you’ve narrowed down your list based on what you really need to do, now you can decide the order in which you need to do them. Do any of your tasks have a deadline? Which are the most “urgent” tasks, and which are just there for “someday?”

5. Evaluate

Fight the urge to be tempted away from this important step. Albert Einstein stated that the definition of Insanity is “doing something over and over again and expecting different results.” This is where Evaluation comes in.

Periodically (I like to do this informally every evening or morning)  you need to take a step back and make sure that you’re on the right track. If you’re still not feeling productive at the end of the day, or you’re still feeling guilt over not completing everything on your list, are you really completing your Most Important Tasks? Are there other things that could be a better use of your time, even though they may not be as “fun” or externally rewarding? Or perhaps you need a mindset shift in understanding that you really can’t get every single thing done, but that it doesn’t make you a failure.

Whatever it is that you need to change or do differently at this point, you have to do a periodic evaluation to discover what needs to change and take steps to make it different.

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NEXT STEPS:

I know that was a lot to digest in such a short time, but here’s the good news: if you like this idea of establishing and focusing on your 3 MITs, I go into it in further detail in my FREE course “Transform the Overwhelm: 7 Days to Peaceful Productivity”, which you can sign up for now. Every day for a week you’ll receive detailed instructions, exercises, and support from me as you navigate your own list and work to transform those feelings of overwhelm into true productivity.

Get it Out! – The How & Why of “Brain Dumping”

Overwhelm & Stress are signs of a cluttered mind. For you to be able to process more information, you have to first clear the mental clutter.

Have you ever looked down at your task list and just threw up your arms in frustration because you knew that no matter how diligent and focused you were all day, you would just never get through everything? This has happened to me more times than I can count. There’s something about an ever-growing task list that can send me into overwhelm so fast that I simply lose all motivation and focus to accomplish anything at all.

So what do you do when you see yourself spiraling? Give up and crawl into bed or watch Netflix all day because you just simply can’t handle it?

Dramatics aside, the reality remains that if you’re like most creatively productive people, you probably have more tasks on your list than hours in the day. This imbalance can certainly be disheartening and overwhelming.

Though lying in bed or binge-watching Netflix sounds like fun, most of us simply don’t have (and probably wouldn’t even want) that luxury. Instead, the solution is to move past those thoughts of debilitating overwhelm and work to find mental clarity on your best “next steps.”

So how do we do this? When I feel myself getting weighed down by all the things on my growing to-do list, my first course of action is to sit down and do a good “Brain Dump.”  I’ve found that by using this process regularly, I can effectively clear my mind of the mental clutter and allow myself to focus on my most important tasks at hand.

 

WHAT IS BRAIN DUMP?

A brain dump is exactly what it sounds like – an exercise to get everything out of your brain and onto paper. You literally take every thought that is in your head and record it down for later organization.

Unfortunately, you simply can’t process everything that’s inside your brain at any one time, so removing them from active memory to a place where you can see and recall them later on helps your mind feel relaxed and increases your productivity. No longer are you worried about what you’re going to make for dinner- now the only thing that matters is the current task at hand.

A brain dump allows you to consciously address thoughts swimming aimlessly around in your mind, giving them direction and purpose, thus keep them from distracting you from your tasks, goals and projects.

BENEFITS of a BRAIN DUMP?

The benefits of a brain dump (and the planning-stage afterward) can be huge, though they’re different for everyone. Some positive changes I’ve noticed in my own life include:

  • Better clarity and peace of mind in which tasks deserve my attention
  • More productivity & focus – I know what to do and when best to do them
  • A feeling of control of my own life – I choose my actions instead of living reactionary in “survival mode”
  • A peaceful and relaxed mind – no more internal mental battles or feelings of guilt over neglected tasks
  • Improved sleep, relaxation & guilt-free personal time

HOW TO BRAIN DUMP:

Do these sound like lofty promises? Well I assure you, through careful planning and follow through, it is possible. It all starts with a Brain Dump! So let’s get started.

Here’s what you need to do for a proper brain dump:

Download the included workbook (any notebook or even scratch-paper will work just fine too!), grab your favorite pen and set aside a little quiet time to do this.

(A Note on technology: If you’re more digital-minded, you can even use your computer or phone. The medium for recording really doesn’t matter, but for all my love for technology, if I’m being honest, there is some real value in going the old-fashioned way of pen and paper.)

Start writing everything that comes to mind. Don’t judge, don’t edit, and don’t skip over anything. Any ideas for projects, to-dos, commitments and the likes go on the page. Need to repair your roof before next winter? Your husband needs new boots? Someday you really want to re-organize your closet? Write it all down.

You might be shocked at the number of things you can write down in just 10-15 minutes. The first time I did a brain dump, I filled several pages! Looking at this list when you’re done can seem overwhelming at first, but remember, the more you brain-dump, the more manageable it will become.

WHAT NEXT?

What you do with your brain dump is really up to you. For some, the simple act of dumping your thoughts out of your brain and onto the paper is valuable enough. For me, I have to actually put some additional time forth to organize and process my list so I know what steps are needed moving forward.

If you’re strapped for time, put the pages aside to come back to later. When you’re ready, spend some time going through your list and organize by deadline, category or priority. Figure out out what you most want (or need) to do and focus on. For example, you may make a list of good work related ideas that you should try to implement over the coming weeks.

After some consideration, you may also decide some tasks are unnecessary and remove them from your list. That is perfectly alright! There’s definite value in simplifying your time.

Going through your brain dump like this allows you to sort and categorize the information into a manageable format, one task at a time. For more information on how to process and organize your list, including a detailed walkthrough with additional printables, check out my free course on task organization.

TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL BRAIN DUMP:

As you repeat and improve on your brain-dumping routine, here are some additional tips to help you get the most from your exercise:

  • In its purest form, brain dumping is simply creating a list of unconnected thoughts on a page. Don’t worry about being too detailed or organized just yet – a good brain dump is quick and dirty. To the point. All you’re doing is getting it out of your mind. You’ll spend some time processing and organizing your thoughts later on.
  • Don’t try to sort or organize your list just yet. Let them flow from your brain to the paper. Write the words that come to your mind freely and quickly. Don’t worry about grammar or word choice or even spelling, just put whatever comes to your mind on the paper as fast as you can.
  • Take your time, don’t force it and take a breather every now and again. If you want to set a timer and write until it goes off, you can. I find I feel too rushed when I try this tactic, but for many I know it helps stimulate ideas.
  • Don’t judge or censor yourself as you write. Often we don’t write the things we are thinking or dreaming because “there’s no way I could do that!” or “someday maybe I’ll get to it, but I just can’t right now.” Maybe it’s not in the cards for you at this time in your life, but if you don’t at least acknowledge it (write it down), it’ll just continue floating around in your mind- and isn’t that what we’re trying to avoid? Writing it down tells your mind “ok, I understand this thought may be important for me at some point, but I’ll come back to it when the time is right.” It gives your mind permission to focus on other things. Besides, Brain Dumping isn’t about practicality anyway- it’s about getting those thoughts on paper. Save practicality for later.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS:

I hope you are beginning to see the effectiveness of regular brain-dump sessions, and the role it plays in your productivity. There are few things less productive than having those random, unconnected thoughts floating through your head, taking up valuable brain space, sucking up your energy and focus.

The process of Brain Dumping can feel quite exhausting, but it is incredibly rewarding, helpful and freeing. Think of it like dejunking your kitchen drawer: you’re freeing up a whole lot of space in your mind and clearing the mental clutter that has been steadily accumulating!

It can be a good idea to institute a weekly or monthly brain dump ritual to keep your mind uncluttered and free. You definitely don’t want to fall into the endless mental spiral that prompted the overwhelm in the first place. We want to move forward, not backward.

Now download your printable below and make a date with your brain!

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Overwhelm & Stress are signs of a cluttered mind. For you to be able to process more information, you have to first clear the mental clutter.

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NEXT STEPS:

Now that you’ve completed your brain dump, you’re probably wondering what to do with everything you wrote down. You’ll find out what to do next in my FREE course “Transform the Overwhelm: 7 Days to Peaceful Productivity”, which you can sign up for right now. Every day for a week you’ll receive detailed instructions, exercises, and support from me as you navigate your own list and work to transform those feelings of overwhelm into true productivity. Don’t miss out!