Putting It Down on Paper: A Look at 12 Goal-Oriented Paper Planners

A few months ago, I mentioned that I had been using a goal-oriented paper planner for a while in order to reflect on my daily progress toward various goals in my life. I had tried several in my quest to find one that really clicked with me and found that many planners had some great features and some little drawbacks that kept me looking for other approaches.

Several readers then asked me for a review of these goal oriented planners that I tried. In order to make the review as thorough as I could, I did some research, found some goal-oriented planners I hadn’t tried yet, requested copies for review, and found myself with a big pile of different (mostly) goal-oriented planners to review. I spent some time with each one and I’ve come up with twelve (or so) that I would recommend to various people and one I’m going to stick with going forward.

I’m basically only going to write about the ones that I would actually recommend to various people. I tried a few that either had huge flaws that keep me from recommending them to anyone, or ones that were good but were wholly superseded by other journals. For each journal I talk about below, I tried to identify who exactly I would recommend that goal-oriented planner to, so if you’re using this guide, try to find the description that best matches where you’re at in your life regarding goals and interests and follow that recommendation.

Please note that the ones I reviewed here do not make up an exhaustive list of goal-oriented paper planners. This is a market niche with a lot of entrants right now. The ones I have chosen to review were ones that (a) I’ve personally used in this fashion or (b) were recommended to me by friends and people I trust. I requested a review copy of each of them, but I did buy a few of the ones for which the publisher wouldn’t send copies in order to be as complete as possible. There are undoubtedly many more goal-oriented paper planners out there that I could mention, but these are just the ones I have hands-on experience with. (As noted above, I did look at a few more, but I excluded them if I really couldn’t recommend them to anyone.)

Before we get started, let’s talk about what a goal-oriented paper planner actually is.

What Exactly Is a Goal-Oriented Planner?

A goal-oriented planner is basically a paper planner that integrates features that encourage you to make steady progress towards larger goals in your life. Typically, this includes specific features that revolve around daily evaluation and review of your goals and a regular deeper review of those goals (usually weekly). Different planners approach this in different ways, which is why a review is worthwhile.

While the goal of most of these planners is to help you achieve some number of goals in your life, they also usually function as a normal daily/weekly/monthly planner as well, incorporating the usual features like an appointment schedule and to-do lists.

It’s worth noting, right off the bat, that the value of any planner, goal-oriented or not, is directly correlated to how much effort you put into it. If you make a conscious effort to actually use the features of the planner and make sure to record everything of note in there – all of your appointments and to-dos – you’ll definitely invest some time, but the planner will become extremely useful for you. If you don’t, then it won’t be particularly useful and you’ll find yourself dropping it.

I personally find paper planners to be incredibly valuable. They work regardless of whether my phone has a charge. I can take them anywhere. Plus, I find that writing things down locks them into my mind far better than simply typing those ideas out. In terms of things I want to reflect on and consciously remember, analog tools are the real winner for me. Digital tools are best for storing lots of data for later access, but it’s not particularly good for helping you integrate all of that information into your head.

What Features Do I Look For in a Goal-Oriented Planner?

After using quite a few of these, I’ve found that a few features are almost required for me in a goal-oriented paper planner that I’m going to use every day, and a few more are highly desired.

First of all, there must be a single-day view that includes an hour-by-hour calendar and a to-do list. This is absolutely required, but this is basic planner stuff. When a planner doesn’t have this… I’m probably ditching it.

Second, there needs to be a place to set a small number of top priorities for the day. I use this during my daily reflection, when I think about my day and decide what’s going to be the top priority for that day. This can be just a blank space without any prompt, but there needs to be adequate space for it.

Third, there needs to be a place to reflect on my goal progress for that day, as well as space to note things I’m grateful for. This really can be a chunk of blank space, but there either needs to be blank space or formal places to put these things. Without it, I’m not going to be using the planner every day. As I noted above, I do a daily review and these are essential parts of that review.

Fourth, there must be some sort of space to do a weekly intense review of my goals. Again, this can be a couple of blank pages at the end of each week, but it needs to be there. For me, success in achieving goals is heavily tied to regular reviews of those goals, and that’s done perfectly in a planner where I already have tons of notes on what I did towards those goals over the last week.

I expect those things to be present in any goal-oriented paper planner or journal that I try. If they’re not present, I’m probably not going to stick with the system long term.

There are other things I enjoy, but don’t find vital. I do like a daily quote for reflection. Sometimes it doesn’t match up very well with my day, but sometimes it really clicks and makes me think about things in a fresh way. I like having several ribbon bookmarks incorporated into the book, so I can have one for the day, one for the week, and one for the month, at least. Most journals are roughly around 6″ by 9″ in size, which is perfectly fine for me, so I generally won’t mention it unless it’s exceptionally smaller or larger than that.

What About a Blank “Planner” or Notebook?

I wanted to mention this one first as a baseline, even though it was not the first goal-oriented planner that I used, simply because it’s such a clear-cut starting point. I had tried several different goal-oriented planners beforehand and always found little things that I didn’t like about each one (in fact, the one I ended up deciding was the best of the lot isn’t exactly perfect, but it’s pretty close), so I essentially decided to “roll my own” by using a blank planner and incorporating all of the features I wanted.

I started with an extra blank notebook that I had on hand – specifically, a Leuchtturm1917 hardcover medium dotted journal. I basically spent several hours laying out the entire notebook by hand, organizing it based on the exact features I wanted on each page. I made up a two page layout for each day, using the two facing pages so that when the journal was open I could see two pages of information at once about a particular day. At the start of a month, I hand-drew a calendar view, and after each Sunday, I had a four page “weekly review” section.

On each “day” layout, half of one page was simply an hour-by-hour calendar of the day, with a to-do list on the other half of the page. On the opposite page was space to mention my big three goals for the day, as well as a simple step I would take to move forward on each of my ongoing goals and projects. At the bottom was space for five things I am grateful for, so it served as a gratitude journal, too.

This was almost exactly what I wanted in a journal. The only problem is the time it took to lay it out by hand. I spent a day doing nothing but a layout, using a pen and a ruler and a bit of advance planning. It turned out wonderfully, but it was an enormous investment of time.

A much better approach, if you want to go this route, is to print your own planner. If you have used a bunch of goal-oriented planners in the past and know what you like about them, you can make up your own layout using Microsoft Word and print it yourself, putting it in a binder of your own choosing. I think making your own planner is far and away the best DIY approach if you find yourself not perfectly happy with a few planners, but I recommend trying a few already-designed ones yourself so that you can gather a bunch of ideas first. It’s also the least expensive option once you reach that point.

Bullet Journal

Bullet journaling is where I started upon this road toward finding a goal-oriented planner. Bullet journaling is basically a system whereby you can transform almost any notebook into a journal or planner of your own liking. You can think of it as a more formalized set of rules of the “roll your own planner” idea I mention above. The official bullet journaling website offers a page that describes it really well.

Basically, if you want to mix together to-do lists, notes on everyday life, goal planning and tracking, daily planning, and other things into one consistent package, this is a very effective way to go about it. It turns your planner into a one-stop shop for all of that stuff.

The only problem is… well, I quickly learned that I didn’t want a one-stop shop for all of that stuff. I wanted a single place I could turn to for my goals, plans, things to do, and appointments – that’s it. I wanted to know what I was supposed to be doing today and have an obvious place to record things I needed to be doing tomorrow or next week or next month.

For all of the other miscellany of life, I carry a pocket notebook and a pen with me where I jot down things like interesting ideas or notes from a meeting or someone’s contact information, and I go through that pocket notebook regularly and put the information in places where it should be, like in the contacts of my phone or in my searchable archive of notes in Evernote.

Don’t get me wrong, you can use bullet journaling to create your own planner, but for me, it basically ended up in two different states when I tried using it. One time, it basically ended up like a messier version of my “roll it yourself” planner I described above – a bit less up front work, but a bit messier and a bit harder to find things. That’s when I tried using it with some tight restrictions on what I put in there. When I tried it with very few restrictions, I found that it was very hard to use it as an actual reference for my day, as the actual dates were always spread out all over the place in a haphazard fashion.

There is a nice pre-made Bullet Journal available that incorporates all of the features of bullet journaling, although I think it works best as a “starter package” to get your feet wet. Once you “get” the system, it’s just as easy to do it yourself in your own notebook without all of the persistent reminders. After all, one of the appealing features of bullet journaling is how flexible it is.

I would recommend the Bullet Journal system to anyone who has very free-form needs for their planning and wants to incorporate a wide variety of notes and lists and subsections of their own design.

Momentum Planner

Momentum Planner is a printable planner, meaning that it is delivered as an electronic document (a PDF) that you can fill in partially on your computer, print, and then continue to fill out by hand.

The entire planner is broken down by year, then by quarter, then by month, then by week, then by day. You’re encouraged to start by filling out a page of five annual goals and relate them to quarterly objectives. Similarly, each quarter has a page that summarizes the annual goals, then focuses in on that quarter, helping you figure out your objectives for each month within that quarter. The monthly pages follow that pattern, helping you to identify the weekly objectives for the four or five weeks within that month that follow from the monthly objectives.

The catch, of course, is that if you print all of those pages, that’s a lot of paper. What I ended up doing when I used this was to print them in small batches and duplex them. I did everything by hand except for the monthly, quarterly, and annual pages, which I typed out.

One of the big advantages of the Momentum Planner that stood out to me is that, because the whole thing is printable, you can organize the pages in whatever order you want. I personally like to put weekly review pages right between Sunday and Monday date pages, for example – that works the best for me, and some printed planners don’t do this. With Momentum, I can put those pages in whatever order I like, and you can put them in whatever order works best for you.

The big disadvantage of this planner is that you have to print it yourself and find some way to bind it yourself. What I ended up doing after a while was printing a fresh one every week, which I just stapled in the upper left. I duplexed all of the pages to save paper. It had a cover page, followed by the annual page, followed by the page for that quarter, the page for that month, the page for that week, and the pages for the seven days that week. I often kept the document for next week printed off as well so I could add appointments. I just stapled them in the upper left. This was a “best option” solution.

I think that, if you pair this with a better long term calendaring solution like Google Calendar and you have the ability to conveniently and inexpensively print a lot of pages, this is probably the best planner of the lot. Many workplaces offer some degree of printing services for employees, so if you’re in that boat and you also use an electronic calendar solely for remembering longer term dates, this is really useful. As part of a weekly review, you’d just take upcoming events out of Google Calendar and move them by hand onto this document (or do it digitally before you ever print it). The best part is that it’s free – for the most part. The monthly planners are free, but you have to download a fresh one each month. If you want to have one with months laid out in advance and a matching quarterly and annual planner, it does cost $12.

The only real drawback I see is that it’s just a lot of paper and it’s very hard to use this conveniently for long term planning unless you use a binder and a hole punch. I found a binder to be just too big and clunky for planner use.

I would recommend Momentum Planner to those who have easy access to printing and don’t mind pairing it with a digital calendar for long-term tracking.

Panda Planner

The Panda Planner is the first goal-oriented planner that I used seriously and thus it’s the first “traditional” buy-it-and-it’s-ready-to-go planner that I’m going to mention here. Even after trying it out years ago, I still think it does quite a few things extremely well.

The basic Panda Planner (there are several variations) is a 5.25″ by 8.25″ hardcover book with 240 pages that covers roughly sixteen weeks of planning, depending on how you use it (mine lasted for three). There aren’t any real introductory pages – instead, it launches into six monthly views (spread across two pages each) that feature a typical calendar view and some basic goal setting tools on the edges. This enables you to cover almost any permutation of months that this planner might cover, as it’s undated. After that are sixteen weekly reviews, each of which are spread across two pages, and those provide a lot of specific prompting about the week that passed and the week ahead.

Following that section are roughly ninety daily sections, each of which take up two facing pages. These include all of the sections I like – main focuses of the day, a schedule, a to-do list, a gratitude section, and a few other specific prompts that were a bit less relevant to me. Again, since this is undated, you don’t have to use it on weekends and can skip days as desired. I’m an “every single day” kind of user with very rare skip days, so I found that a Panda Planner lasted me for almost exactly three months.

The planner has three embedded ribbons, which I kept at the current month, the current week, and the current day for convenient bookmarking.

This planner nails virtually every feature I look for in a goal-oriented planner in a straightforward and user-friendly way. I would absolutely be happy using this planner in the future. It does a great job of keeping you focused on goals and projects.

The one thing that holds me back from giving a wholehearted and full-throated endorsement is that there is very little space anywhere for free-form notes or writing. If there’s something you need to record that doesn’t fit into their predefined categories, there is extremely little space for it. It was that limitation that eventually encouraged me to try other planners, as I constantly found myself wanting to jot down and record various things and there just wasn’t room. There’s a lot of stuff on each and every page, but that means that each item doesn’t have a whole ton of breathing room and there just isn’t much space for extra notes.

I would recommend Panda Planner as a great default goal-oriented planner, as it hits well on almost every note.

Rituals for Living Dreambook and Planner

The Rituals for Living Dreambook and Planner – which I’m going to shorten to RfL for the rest of this discussion – is a planner recommended to me by a close friend who described it as life-changing, and I can see why it would be for people in certain situations in life.

This planner is a year-long 6″ by 9″ planner, organized by quarters, months, and weeks. Rather than having a daily view, the planner focuses instead on a weekly view broken up into daily schedule columns with a lot of goal-oriented sections around the edges of the page.

Two features of this goal planner really stood out for me.

First, the opening section is marvelous – it’s the standout feature of this planner, in my eyes. It walks you through a wonderful process of taking some larger visions you might have about the life you want and transforming them into really good and really specific year-long goals and projects. It takes a soft approach to this, with lots of white space and encouragement to brainstorm, and then takes that brainstorming and nicely codifies it into goals that are then broken down piece by piece all the way through the planner. I really, really like how this is executed.

Second, a lot of the book focuses on healthy daily and weekly rituals and routines. It offers a preprinted checklist of things you should try to do each week to stay mentally and physically well in the upper right corner of each weekly spread, as well as a suggested thing to try for the week that encourages physical and mental well-being. The obvious goal here is to establish a system of healthy daily and weekly habits and routines, which is great, and I like the fact that these are pre-filled, even if they aren’t all necessarily ones I would follow. It just provides a really good starting point.

I also liked that there is an abundance of blank pages and whitespace for free form notes and things, which is something I really value.

The one thing that holds me back from a pure endorsement of this goal-oriented planner is that it is not robust enough on the planning part for me. I lead a very structured life with a to-do list that sometimes seems infinitely long. I block out time for certain activities and have to be pretty careful with all of my planning to ensure I have time for everything. The planning areas in this notebook aren’t robust enough for what I need in balancing a creative career, a fitness routine, lifelong learning, being a great parent to three very different children with different needs, being a great husband, community commitments, spiritual growth, finding time for at least some hobbies, and so on. I need more space for to-do lists and daily reviews, more than anything, and while this planner does incorporate mild weekly reviews and very strong quarterly reviews, it’s just not enough for me in the planning and review department.

I think this is a great planner for someone with a slightly less busy life who is really seeking direction, but that’s just not quite where I am at in my own life journey. I know what my goals are right now and my days are filled to the brim with achieving those goals and sticking with my other obligations.

I would recommend the Rituals for Living Dreambook and Planner for anyone who has visions for the future but is struggling to codify them into goals and daily routines.

The Mastery Journal

The Mastery Journal really stretches the definition of what I would call a planner, to tell you the truth. Rather than encouraging you to write down a daily schedule or make up a daily to-do list, the entire book is meant to push you toward a single large goal (like writing a book or recording an album or a programming project or something akin to that) over the course of 100 days. The book makes the assumption that you have some significant scheduling control over those days on your own, which is a very interesting approach.

The book is made up of 100 entries, each one consisting of two pages and covering a day, and those entries are subdivided into groups of ten – between those groups is something of a “weekly review,” except that it happens at the ten day mark.

The individual daily entries don’t have any sort of schedule or real to-do list at all. Instead, they’re mostly broken down into six sections – a morning ritual section, where you step through a checklist of several steps that will get you ready to do creative work for the day – and then four sections that each define a creative work session of some length, probably an hour or two. With each one, you define what you’re going to do for that hour, do it, and record some info about it – what time you did it, what you did, what your energy level was, how productive you were, and so on. The last section of the day is kind of a daily summary, where you reflect on your overall performance that day and think of ways to have a better day next time.

This type of data is really, really useful in terms of figuring out when you’re most energetic during a given day and when your productivity and energy starts to fall off.

There is some guidance toward the beginning in terms of coming up with a good morning ritual and an overall plan for executing this big project you have in mind. In other words, the book starts off trying to get you to the point where you have a good plan for a day and now you just need to execute it, which is where the individual day entries come into play.

It’s important to note that you don’t have to do these pages consecutively. For example, let’s say you’re intending to write a book on the weekends in the coming year. You could simply use this book every Saturday and Sunday until the book is complete – it would actually do a great job with that approach.

I think this planner hits a home run for people who don’t necessarily need tight scheduling and lots of goal coordination, but instead just need some discipline and focus toward achieving a single larger goal like writing or reading or studying or recording an album.

I would recommend The Mastery Journal for creative workers who need routine and discipline – people who need to establish a routine of creative work in order to accomplish a major project of some kind, like writing a book or completing a programming project, and really need a disciplined routine to pull it off. This planner will nail it!

The Simple Elephant Planner

The Simple Elephant Planner is probably the most straightforward goal-oriented planner that I looked at. It starts off with four pages for defining annual goals, jumps straight to a set of monthly calendar pages, then the rest of the book is made up of weekly spreads and a bunch of pages for notes at the end. There are no daily pages.

The weekly spreads themselves are incredibly simple, with a very quick goal review section and then seven blocks, one for each day of the week, that just consist of several blank lines. Write in appointments free form! Record things you need to do! However you want to fill them up is really up to you.

This simple structure is really good for people who are focusing on just one or two goals and have a limited number of appointments and to-dos to keep track of. For example, let’s say someone has a steady job and is mostly focused on one or two self-improvement goals outside of work. This planner is almost perfect for that situation.

What it’s not is a full-featured planner for people with incredibly busy lives to track. There is simply no way I could use this book with the number of things I have to remember and take care of on a daily basis. I simply could not list all of the stuff regarding a single day in the space allotted here.

This is a great planner for someone who has just enough going on that they’re struggling a bit to keep it all straight in their head. They want a place to record things like a few doctor’s appointments and their niece’s birthday. They have one or maybe two big goals they’d like to achieve in the coming year – maybe something like going to the gym each day and want some motivation for that goal.

If that sounds like you, this is the right planner for you. If your life sounds way more busy than that, then you can skip this one.

I would recommend The Simple Elephant Planner for people who lead moderately busy lives and want to focus on a particular goal or two in the coming year.

Daily Greatness Journal

The Daily Greatness Journal is one in a series of daily planners that each focus on one specific area of life – there’s a version for training, a version for parenting, a version for yoga, a version for healthy habits, a version for growing a small business, and so on. All of these variants follow more or less the same structure, with variations that are geared to the specific area of interest.

The main Daily Greatness Journal is more or less the “prototype,” as it follows the same structure as all of the others but isn’t locked into any sort of specific goals.

The Daily Greatness Journal starts off with a very robust section on specifically defining one’s goals, then it moves onto four quarterly sections. Each section starts off with a quarterly plan and ends with a quarterly review. Between those two are thirteen “weeks” and three month-long calendar layouts sprinkled appropriately in the middle (before weeks 1, 5, and 9, by my count). Each “week” consists of a weekly plan, followed by six daily pages (assuming a day per week off, I guess), and a final weekly review page.

The individual day pages consist of two columns, one of which is a schedule and short to-do list and a very short daily habits reminder. The other column is basically a series of questions about your day. What’s interesting about these is that they vary from day to day throughout a given week. It’s kind of like a guided questionnaire about what you’re hoping to get out of the day and then, at the end, a few reflections on the day. Theoretically, you’d answer the first several questions at the start of the day and the remaining few at the end. This is a really effective setup by someone who wants to live a more considered life and reflect on their days, but isn’t particularly good at structuring that reflection on their own.

In fact, the entire journal – in terms of the inspirational quotes used everywhere, the colorful nature of the pages, the page layouts, the questions used on each daily layout – gives a strong sense that this planner is meant to encourage a person to live an overall healthier and well-rounded life. While it doesn’t prescribe anything specifically, the whole planner nudges you toward some good daily habits for physical and mental and spiritual health, things like daily exercise and meditation. It doesn’t completely lock those in as a mandatary goal on every page, but it really does nudge you in that direction.

Out of all of the goal-oriented planners I looked at, I felt this one was the most like a life coach. It really provides a lot of nudges to the reader to adopt healthier habits and routines and to adopt a more growth-oriented mindset while working toward goals.

For some, that type of hands-on life coaching is really going to click. For others, it’s not. I think it has a lot to do with the station you’re at in life.

I would recommend the Daily Greatness Journal for anyone who wants a lot of nudging and guidance toward a key goal or two and towards healthier lifestyle routines and responds well to a more hands-on coaching approach.

Passion Planner

The Passion Planner is a full-sized (meaning the pages are full 8.5″ by 11.5″ sheets of paper) planner that stands out for a couple of key reasons.

First, it includes a lot of blank pages near the back and encourages you to use them in terms of planning out and defining goals during reviews. The book starts off with a simple planning practice and basically tells you to do it back there, with plenty of space. You can also use those pages for lots of freeform notes, something I like quite a lot.

Second, the material at the beginning which lays out how to define four key goals for the upcoming year and how to build those goals into a plan that carries through the year is really well executed.

Third, the monthly reviews are extremely well executed, with plenty of space to flesh out thoughts and a meaningful process to go through that helps you rework your big goals a bit for the coming month based on what happened in the preceding month.

Finally, the weekly schedule layouts take advantage of the large pages and really make everything work in a smart way.

This is a really, really good all-around planner, and I actually used it for a few months until something happened that made me stop using it. Simply put, it fell apart.

I typically carry my planner around in my “portable office,” which is a North Face backpack. I’ve carried tons of notebooks and planners and other items around in it over the years. Almost all of them handle the minor wear and tear with ease. I have never, ever had a planner fall apart in there until this one. It just started shedding pages left and right. Looking at the comments on this at Amazon indicates that this is a consistent problem with the Passion Planner.

I think that the book will hold up fine if it regularly just stays on your desk or moves between your desk and a drawer, but if you’re consistently carrying it with you in a bag or something, I really can’t recommend the Passion Planner for now. The design of the book is fantastic except for that key binding issue.

I would recommend the Passion Planner for anyone who will largely be using the planner in one location without extensive daily carry in a bag, as the layout is really well executed but the binding seems to struggle with significant carrying.

Get to Work Book

Let’s get this out of the way now: if you’re pretty strong already at formulating goals on your own and reviewing them consistently without much hand-holding, the Get to Work Book has a lot of very good things going for it. If that doesn’t sound like you, you may want to choose another journal.

The biggest feature that stands out with the Get to Work Book compared to the other goal-oriented planners I reviewed here is the spiral binding, which allows it to be open without taking up a whole lot of table space. This is really nice if you want to position it open on the corner of a desk or work table while you do other things so you can see it at a glance. That’s a nice design feature. The cover is really thick and sturdy, too, as is the spiral binding – I don’t think this will come apart very easily.

The interior of the journal borrows very heavily from traditional planners. There isn’t a whole lot of space given over to directly holding your hand in terms of helping you define goals and review goals. There are some nice blank pages – both blank and gridded – near the back for coming up with goal plans on your own, but there is almost no structure for it. Each month does have a nice two page layout for defining a goal for the month, but it’s placed at the back of the month, which I found a bit unusual. Most planners place planning pages at the front of a given month.

The weekly schedule pages are very straightforward and offer plenty of white space around the edges for to-dos or gratitudes – it’s pretty free-form in that regard. The weekly schedules are organized by month, so you’ll find a monthly calendar layout followed by four or five weeks of weekly layouts, followed by the aforementioned project plan, followed by a single page of monthly review.

While this is definitely a goal oriented planner, it comes off as a good choice for someone who already has mastery over the process of planning, executing, and reviewing goals in their life and basically wants the journal to get out of the way and provide just the basics and some white space along the way. That’s great for highly self-motivated people who are already goal oriented, but people who are not might not get maximum value from this one.

I recommend the Get to Work Book to someone who prefers spiral binding, as well as to those who are already goal-oriented and naturally know how to plan out goals and regularly review them.

SELF Journal

The SELF Journal is absolutely perfect for someone who is focused on a very small number of very specific goals over the next quarter. This is a three month planner with daily pages that is highly oriented around the creation of, continual review of, and completion of three quarterly goals.

The journal starts off with a goal planning process that walks you through defining those goals very clearly in a way that makes them very actionable, breaking them down into a pretty clear plan. This is excellent goal planning material.

After that, the book moves on to the standard planner fare – it has monthly layouts, followed by thirteen single-page weekly reviews that are very oriented toward the goals you defined, followed by 90 or so double-page daily plans. Those daily plans include a daily schedule with plenty of whitespace, a little bit of space for a daily to-do list, a place to do gratitude journaling both in the morning and the evening, and some really good daily reflection questions about how today went and what you can do to make tomorrow better.

This book is really designed to be examined as part of a morning routine and then again as part of an evening routine. To get the most out of it, it really needs to be a component of a structured life. In fact, I think this journal really is best for an organized busy person with a clear morning and evening routine already in place who has a strong desire to start thinking about personal and professional goals from a higher level.

I recommend the SELF Journal to someone who’s already fairly organized but needs an extra boost in the path of stepping back and defining bigger goals for themselves. If you have a fairly organized life but can’t quite find yourself putting the pieces together to do something bigger, this is probably the right one for you.

Ink+ Volt Planner

The beautiful Ink+ Volt Planner has a very nice minimalist layout all throughout the hardcover book that I find really appealing. It’s organized in a sensible way, with plenty of whitespace everywhere, and it never feels overcrowded.

What makes it stand out, at least for me, is that although there are goal-oriented elements, it doesn’t really push long-term goals very hard. There are only two pages at the start for planning annual goals. After that, the planner quickly switches to a very interesting focus – the thirty day challenge.

The book is very much oriented around thirty day challenges, where you spend a month really focusing on one particular goal or habit. Thirty day challenges are quite popular because they give you enough time to really know whether the habit is right for you without committing to a lifetime of change. You can succeed at a thirty day challenge without feeling like you’re locking yourself into a lifetime of misery if a particular change isn’t right for you.

Each month in this planner comes with the usual elements – a month-long layout along with four or five weekly schedule layouts (each spread across two pages) which make it convenient for scheduling. It also includes a single page for setting monthly goals and a single page for a 30 day challenge for that month.

Each week, in addition to the two pages of weekly schedule, there’s also a page for goals for the week (basically a checklist you fill in that covers the top of the page) and reflections on the week (at the bottom of the page) and, perhaps more interesting, a full page that’s basically a reflection on the week prompted by a question of some kind.

It’s all done very elegantly – the design is just beautiful and very minimalist. However, I couldn’t shake the sense while I was using it that it was perfect for someone who is largely happy with their life but feels like there is just a little something missing and wants to proactively find the missing pieces through thirty day challenges and reflections. This isn’t a person trying to achieve giant things, but instead a person who is on a journey to improve a life that seems good but perhaps isn’t fully satisfying and wants to apply some structure to that journey by achieving personal challenges.

I recommend the Ink+ Volt Planner to someone who is most of the way to a life they love and wants to experiment with some new directions in specific areas in a very focused way. This might seem like a very specific type of person, but I think there are actually a lot of people out there in this boat, and I think the Ink+ Volt planner is perfect for them.

Full Focus Planner

This last planner is perhaps the most interesting of all. This is clearly the “can’t sit still type A personality” planner, as it is a quarterly planner with double-paged daily layouts with very large spaces for a daily to-do list and schedule along with daily reflections. It’s clearly designed for a person who is juggling a lot of plates.

A few elements of this journal really stood out to me.

First of all, there’s a large section that revolves around defining a morning and evening routine, as well as a workday start and a workday finish routine. The idea is pretty clear – if you impress upon yourself a few key steps at the start and end of each day and of each workday (and one of them is a planner review), you’re probably going to see success. In fact, if you think about that for a moment, this planner really works best if you put it on your nightstand when you go to bed each night, so you can review it before bed (and thus follow the evening routine mentioned in there) and then review it again when you wake up (and thus follow that morning routine).

Second, the book starts off with a goal-setting rubric for ten goals in a quarter (each one in service of a single annual goal, which you also set). Naturally, some of those goals are probably going to be small-scale goals – for example, when I used this journal, one of my quarterly goals was a daily habit I wanted to install in my life to help my marriage that took about a minute a day – but that’s still pretty strong.

Third, this planner is very oriented around daily and weekly reflections. Every week has four pages of weekly reflections and seven pages of daily reflections – one for each day. This is clearly intended to try to tease out the meaning in an overstuffed to-do list. I find that when I’m at my busiest, that’s when stopping for a little bit each day for reflection is actually most important.

Finally, and this was perhaps the most interesting thing, two pages of the weekly reflection are oriented towards rest. This planner is clearly oriented toward borderline overworked people, and thus having the planner actively push you toward taking a break, getting a couple good nights of sleep on the weekends, and doing some things that are purely for personal enrichment in order to recharge really stands out.

My only real complaint about this journal is that there are a few elements that just feel almost unnecessary. They’re small ones, like marking whether a day is “front stage” or “back stage” or “off stage.” I understand why it’s there – it’s a way to think about the day ahead a little bit – but it does something that some business books do where they try hard to force a metaphor that doesn’t always quite work. There are several small signs of that in this planner. When I used it, I basically ignored it.

In summary, this is the best goal oriented planner for super busy people, in my opinion. It comes the closest I’ve seen to replacing a well-executed digital to-do list and project planner in paper form while also providing ample room for reflection.

I recommend the Full Focus Planner to people who are trying to balance an already very busy life with a desire to achieve a healthy number of goals and need a clear structure to make that work. This is probably the best choice for those who feel like they have little downtime but a lot of goals and things to do and need a structure for all of the appointments and tasks and goals all at once, in paper form.

Which One Will I Use?

If there was a printed and well-bound version of the Momentum Planner, that’s the one I would use. I like this planner quite a lot and would use it if it didn’t require so much printing.

So, what I did instead is priced out the cost of printing this as four bound volumes at a local print shop. Why four? I basically set one up for each quarter – one for the first quarter, one for the second, and so on. The price was completely reasonable – it was actually cheaper than all of the quarterly planners on this list.

So, going forward, this is the one I’ve chosen to use.

However, making that happen involved quite a bit of additional effort beyond simply ordering a product from a website. It’s also more expensive than other options.

So, if I insisted on having a finished and professionally bound planner, I’d probably choose the Full Focus Planner. Once I start sliding out of the “sandwich generation,” I can definitely see myself preferring the Ink+ Volt Planner, as it’s a bit less intense on the “huge to-do list” aspect of my life right now and really intrigues me with its focus on thirty day plans.

What if I were going the absolute most frugal route possible with this? Honestly, I’d buy a bunch of cheap notebooks at the local dollar store and emulate the layout of the Momentum Planner by hand. That would take some time, but not as much as one might think, and the cost would be literally pennies per month.

I think that every single journal I mentioned above is perfect for someone at a particular stage in their life, as long as they’re goal oriented and want to move from having vague dreams to having concrete goals and a path to achieving them. It’s all about figuring out which one matches your place in life the best.

Good luck!

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.