The Elements of a Planning System

Growing up, my friend’s dad spoke passionately about stereo systems. He was a self-professed hi-fi geek and loved his “system.” I confess, back then I didn’t know what a system was, but I guessed that it was important. Today, I’m aware that it was a strategically chosen set of tools, having inputs and outputs, interconnected for the purpose of creating music.

Sound familiar? (Aside from the music part, I mean.)

On this page, you’ll often hear me speak about systems – making a planning system that works best for you, committing to your system. However, you can’t truly do any of those things if you’ve never understood what exactly is a system. Today we’ll cover this topic.

All elements of a quality planning system can be divided into two stages, Planning and Action stages. Let’s examine each stage of the system, so that you may better understand how your system should work best for you.

The Planning Stage

This is truly the input stage of your planning system, where you create strategies for accomplishing, records of key information, and plans for living and working. The planning stage occurs in scheduled segments, typically at the beginning or end of each day, and as a weekly review.

Planning Stage elements:

  • Lists: review and update lists of tasks, projects, key data
  • Calendar: manage a schedule of appointments, record important events
  • Archives: process your notes, update lists and schedules, index key info and store pages
  • Goals/Values: review and update to unify your planning with what is important to you

Some recommended tools: planner with formatted task, scheduling, and list pages, calendar, mobile device, computer with planning software

Quick Tip: Choose tools that compliment your lifestyle in terms of ease of use, writing surface, and storage capacity.

The Action Stage

The Action Stage includes the physical activities of your system at work. It happens all throughout your day. It is you walking through life and leveraging the tools for better productivity. This includes taking meeting notes, capturing thoughts on paper, responding to emails, attending a meeting after confirming its time on your schedule. This is your system at work. The Action Stage reaps the benefits of work done in your Planning Stage.

Action Stage elements:

  • Note pages: capture information from meetings, conversations, phone calls, thoughts
  • Lists: consult tasks lists for next actions, project lists for reference, contact lists for phone numbers and email addresses
  • Schedule: reference for reminders of key meetings, appointments

Recommended tools: portable items that can be carried to office, home, meetings, on the road, planner with formatted list pages, mobile device or computer with planning application

Quick Tip: Simplify your system by choosing tools that accommodate both Planning and Action stages. A day planner containing a task list, calendar, and notes pages as an all-in-one unit is a good example.

Once you understand the two stages that comprise a planning system, you can better create a system that fits your lifestyle. As I always say, no two systems may look alike, just as no two individuals are ever truly alike. It is now up to you to find what tools successfully accommodate your needs throughout each element of the Planning and Action stages.

Do you believe your system fits into these stages? Please comment and share with us what elements you’ve chosen to comprise your system.

You can email Day-Timer Spokesperson Jeff Doubek at