I’m one of those people who tracks and plans things with a paper planner.

For many years, I used the Mead Upper Class weekly/monthly academic planner. It was great when I was in school, and it fit my needs so well that I continued to use it even after I entered the workforce.

Here’s what made it great:

  • Tough binding. Not flimsy metal spiral binding. This made it great for throwing into a backpack where it survived being twisted and compressed in all sorts of ways.

  • Great paper quality. This kept gel ink pens from bleeding through the pages.

  • Tough plastic cover. This also made it great for surviving the twisting and compressing in a backpack.

  • Weekly layout, with daily view. This fit my workflow very well, where I’d plan each day’s tasks and want to focus, but have a little flexibility to kick items later in the week if it didn’t look like I’d plausibly fit something into the current day.

  • Room for slower weekends as part of daily view. This was a very nice, thoughtful touch.

  • Previous/next month visibility right in the weekly view.

In 2015 (?) Mead changed the layout so that it was much narrower. I liked it so much over the years that I gave it a try, but to no avail.

A friend gave me a spare Field Notes planner with the same layout. I tried to go with a smaller version of the Mead Upper Class. I even tried to get into bullet journaling for some time, but didn’t want the overhead of creating the scaffolding around my day in addition to planning my actual day. (I’ll mention that I appreciate the part of bullet journaling where you manually have to write out what you didn’t get done in previous days in order to really feel and call out the fact that maybe you should figure out what to do with an item besides just postponing it.)

These days, I’m just going with the Blue Sky planner. But even that has shortcomings. What I’d like to see in a planner, if I were to design one from scratch to meet exactly my needs, would have the following qualities:

  • Cover the actual year, not the academic year.

  • Kill the reference material at the back. That was handy in school, but I never look at that now that I’m working. I will never need a list of state capitals when I’m in a budget meeting.

  • Give me an easy way to capture loose notes. Not everything should be a line item on my to-do list, but there’s stuff I think of that I’d like to peg to a given date so I have some context. Sticky notes might work if they’re infrequent enough.

  • Better color selection. Lime green, baby blue, and gray are my choices right now with the smaller version of the Mead Upper Class. I like to alternate colors between years and sometimes keep the previous year’s planner around for a few weeks while I transition to the new planner, so it’d be handy to be able to tell, at a glance, which of the two is which.