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Calendars are for managing your time. But planners are for dreaming without limits

A woman sitting on a blank planner watching the sunset.
Josie Norton for NPR

It's easy to appreciate calendars for their utility. They work overtime to keep the messiness of human life confined into neat little grids, squeezing our lives into seconds, minutes and hours. Despite our best efforts, we still return library books late, forget birthdays and burn breakfast.

I appreciate a calendar's valiant efforts to manage time. But I love my planner because it gives me space to dream.

For the past several years, I've kept a planner with me at all times. At its most pragmatic level, it contains weekly and monthly calendar spreads that give a visual representation of the week's events and appointments. It helps me remember where to be and when. How much of my time is spoken for.

The real magic in planners, to me, comes in the negative space where I reflect on the past and envision the future. Cracking open a fresh week's layout on a Monday morning and seeing the empty pages expand like a canvas waiting to be filled, the tone of the week yet to be set, the possibilities endless. Organizing disorderly thoughts into orderly lists in the blank space. Starting every year, month and week writing down goals and dreams without limits. Looking back on past victories and failures and memories that may get lost in the daily churn of life.

I've become partial to Passion Planners, which contain a mix of calendars, reflection prompts and journal pages. It's got just enough structure to get me in the right headspace, with plenty of blank space to fill in freely and make it my own.

You start by creating a wishlist for your ideal life. The idea is to be as specific as possible — and to not limit yourself to what's realistic.

Planning helps me ensure that I'm not a passenger at the mercy of my calendar, but rather driving toward a destination that I choose.

You then pick the one goal that would have the biggest positive impact. You break that goal down into smaller tasks, and then prioritize them. Then, add those tasks to the calendar. This method takes a fuzzy idea in your head and turns it into something that you can actually accomplish.

There's no pressure to make it perfect. From there, you can reflect every month on how you spent your time, what the highlights were, and whether what you did actually aligns with the goals you set — or whether you need to revisit those goals completely.

Away from the constant glow of multiple fluorescent screens, using a paper planner brings me both joy and a sense of calm. It leaves no digital footprint, but it does leave a paper trail that you can look back on for years to come. It doesn't buzz impatiently when you don't look at it, and it will not be exported to Outlook.

It requires you to sit in quiet conversation with yourself, reflecting on your past and visualizing your future. It forces me to answer hard truths, like what do I really want out of life and am I spending my days in line with who I want to be. After all, our lives are the sum of how we spend our time and what we pay attention to.

Planning helps me ensure that I'm not a passenger at the mercy of my calendar, but rather driving toward a destination that I choose. It's an important ritual that deserves weight and ceremony. And some really nice pens.


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Ariana Stone