Reader Question 3: How Do You Use Paper to Plan Your Week, Without Getting a Jump Scare from the Week After That?

Most excellent: a reader question today!

“Hello Anna.

I love your blog. I am a computer engineer all into minimalist plain-text productivity methods and applications and I found your tips and tricks fascinating; the perfect couple for my digital organization.

The question: Do you have a method or any kind of resource ready-to-print in order to plan one or two weeks in advance?

Me and my wife want to sit down on Sunday afternoons and plan the coming week and take a peek at the following one (just in case something important is due on Monday and realizing the previous Sunday is not enough). I want to gather all the information contained in my calendar, my TODO list and the recurring tasks (grocery, etc.) and write the week on paper. Do you do something like that?”

This question came just as I was finishing my plans for my own week ahead. Perfect timing!

And yes! I do exactly this.

Although my calendar and some of my lists are digital, I use paper to plan out my week; and I look at two weeks at a time. This way, I’m prepared if something important is happening in the following week.

You make these excellent points about weekly planning:

  • You and your wife want to sit down each week, at the end of the week, and work together to look ahead. This is a great practice for any couple, to sit down and touch base with each other before you dive into the next week’s adventures.
  • You plan to do this at the end of the current week, BEFORE the next week starts. If we think of this in terms of Monday - Friday workweeks, this is the principle of planning out your week on Friday afternoons; so that when Monday morning comes, you know what you are doing, when, and why. (Mondays are much less stressful that way.) You’ve made the important decisions about the week already, and you can start your week strong by acting on them. Sundays work too, especially for planning with your family.
  • You’re pulling information from your calendar, your task list, and recurring tasks to organize your thoughts about the week ahead. It takes all three: time, tasks, and routines.

You want to see the whole week mapped out, time and tasks, and you want to be prepared for something important coming up in the week after.

One week at a time; and yet prepared for the week that follows.

So how might we get all that on paper?

The Big Picture (TL;DR)

When you sit down to plan your week, look out at the next two weeks.

As you write down your plan for the first week, make a space to write down some thoughts about the week after that.

Then, if you see something that you want to be reminded of, make a note to yourself about it in your current weekly plan (e.g. “Conference starts next Monday”)

All the Deets…

Week 1, Week 2: Map Out Your Time and Tasks for This Coming Week, Make Notes for the Week After That

I use a two-page spread that’s a dashboard for the week (Week 1), with a datebook section on the left page of my notebook, and a task list on the right page of my notebook.

In order to get to that dashboard, I give myself places to write down thoughts during the week, for the week to come (Week 2) by making an inbox, and a section for planning notes (any thoughts I have about the puzzle pieces of the upcoming week).

So, it’s four sections: an inbox section, a planning notes section, a datebook section, and a task list section.

Here’s the key: my datebook and task list are for THIS week (or, Week 1). My inbox and planning notes section are for the NEXT week after that (Week 2). I use all of these sections when I plan, but the inbox especially is like a running list for Week 2, the week after the one I’m making the datebook and task list for.

As I write this, it’s the week of June 5.

Below are two pages from my notebook where I’m already doing some pre-planning for the week of June 12. Nothing complicated; just writing down some thoughts as they occur to me.

You might also notice some symbols, triangles and lines; you can read about that system here.

Inbox on the left, planning notes on the right:

handwritten notebook pages with inbox and planning notes sections

To illustrate this post, since I’ve got top secret private stuff in my current week, I wrote up a dashboard for the week of June 12. (But as I write this, I’m actually using my dashboard (datebook + task list) for the week of June 5.)

Datebook on the left; task list on the right. (Note: I haven’t really planned this week out fully yet; I just jotted down a few things so you can see what the datebook and task list looks like.)

handwritten notebook pages with datebook and task list sections

Oh, hey! Do you see that little box at the end of the Datebook page, circled in orange? The one that says “Looking Ahead”?

That’s where I write notes about the NEXT week (Week 2). This way, if I have an important Monday meeting, or something else we need to be aware of in the coming week, it is written down in the current week. (For the week of June 19, we might have visitors. Cool! …and I guess we need to tidy the house. Oh well. Maybe we can do some of that during the week of June 12.)

So I plan my weeks using four different sections, which can be separate pages, or separate sections on the same page. Our four sections are:

  • an inbox - like a grocery list, a running list; just throw stuff in there, you’ll sort it out later
  • planning notes - record your more focused, deliberate, strategic thinking here about managing the coming week (on mine in the photo above, I noted that on Wednesday, June 14, I have meetings all day, so I want to focus on desk work earlier in the week)
  • a datebook - list out all your appointments and hard deadlines for that week (not wishful thinking, though: your real deadlines, with real-world consequences if you miss them)
  • a task list - things you want to do that week that are not as time-sensitive

Map Out Your Current Week to a Dashboard: Datebook and Task List (Week 1)

Let’s say you and your wife are sitting down on Sunday, June 11, to plan the week of June 12.

If it’s Sunday, June 11, and you start your weekly plans with Mondays, then Monday, June 12 now becomes Week 1.

This is where you and your spouse check: your calendars, task lists, routines, and the Inbox and any Planning Notes you made, labeled with the dates for the week you are planning now. You’re using your Inbox and Planning notes dated for the week of June 12 (and other calendar and to-do list items relevant to the week of June 12) to map out your datebook and task list for June 12 - 18.

Plan Ahead, for the Week Ahead: Inbox and Planning Notes (Week 2)

Make an inbox this week dated for NEXT week (Week 2), to consult during your planning session for the week after this (Week 2). Throw anything in there: dates, tasks, notes to self.

You can also make a planning notes section for next week (Week 2), OR you can wait to write out your planning notes when you both actually sit down to think about the week.

This is your strategy section for the week.

For example, since you’re planning together as a couple, does one of you have evening meetings that week, and what does that mean for dinner? Are there travel dates anyone has to work around? Does somebody’s car have to go into the shop, and what does that mean for transportation routines? Can you make time this week for tackling a longer term project? Etcetera. Use this Planning Notes section to think through this stuff.

The Inbox section is for collecting your thoughts on the fly (“Ooooh, I need to mail that package next week”).

The Planning Notes section is for organizing your thoughts (“Car’s in the shop on Monday, so I’ll have to take the package on Tuesday.”)

While you’re sitting down to plan the week of June 12 (which now becomes Week 1), start an Inbox and a Planning Notes section for the week of June 19 (which now becomes Week 2). Now you have a place to put those thoughts, which will be ready for you to consider on Sunday, June 18 as you plan the week of the 19th.

Other Notes About Datebook Sections, Task Lists, Routines

The datebook is for appointments and hard deadlines. (Like my taxes being due on the 15th.)

I don’t put wishful thinking in my date book section. (That goes in the task list and planning notes sections! 😂)

It would be lovely if I could get my desk work done on Monday and Tuesday, but that’s not a hard deadline.

However, the cat going to the vet on Wednesday? My quarterly taxes due on Thursday? That goes on the date book side, because there are real world consequences if I forget that stuff.

The task list is of course, the to-do list for that week.

What about routines?

You could, if you like, write them down in the datebook; but I keep my weekly routines as a separate checklist. (I like my datebook to be uncluttered and only to have stuff that must be done, on those dates.)

Sometimes I print routine checklists out and store them in page protectors in a 3-ring binder, and use a dry-erase marker to check things off.

…and, Here Is a Printable to Help You Plan Your Week

Is it beautiful?


Is it functional? Maybe! Try it out!

This PDF printable includes sections for:

  • Inbox
  • Planning Notes
  • Datebook
  • Tasks
  • and, bonus, a Weekly Routines Checklist

Download it here, and enjoy!

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Wondering how to manage your paper-based or hybrid paper-digital systems? Ask me a question.

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