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I started using a paper planner almost two years ago, and I’m still finding writing out my plans, goals, and habits to be very useful and calming. Recently, though, I came across a niche in the planner community: digital planners. These planners are basically hyperlinked PDFs that mimic the look of a paper planner. With PDF annotation apps like Good Notes, though, these digital planners can be customized to an incredible extent, all without using any papers, pens, markers, post-it notes, washi tape, stickers, etc. Of course, this form of planning assumes you have a digital tool like an iPad or tablet, so it’s not exactly the most accessible option. I’ve found experimenting with digital planning to be a very fun, creative pastime, so I’ve created my own version that I want to share with anyone who’s reading this post. As I’m assuming that most of my blog’s audience are teachers or students, and as most academic planners start in July, I’ve decided to focus my blog posts this month on prepping for using a digital academic planner for the next school year. Or, really, since it’s just a PDF that you can download as many times as you want, digital planners like the one I’ve made can be used over and over again (as long as you have the space on your device).
How I Created My Digital Planner:
YouTube: I watch a lot of videos about productivity, planning, planner set-ups, etc. As such, it’s hardly surprising that I eventually stumbled across videos about digital planning. I use a Happy Planner, so I’m already used to being able to customize my planner because it’s a discbound system that allows pages to be moved around and added. Seeing how much more customization was possible with a digital planner really appealed to me, as my handwriting is terrible and I have no need for so much crafting supplies. I use creative projects to help de-stress during tough points in the semester, so about mid-April I started looking for how-to videos about creating digital planners. I definitely credit the videos by LLovesMac89 as the ones that allowed me to create my own planner pretty quickly and easily.
Keynote: This is the Apple app that I used to create the hyperlinked PDFs. By hyperlinked, I mean that every planner tab on every page is a link so that you can maneuver through the PDF quickly. Want to open up your planner and go straight to your second project? Just click on the second project tab on whatever page you’re on and you’ll go directly to that project’s first page in the PDF. Figuring out how to mask shapes was a slight struggle, but once I figured it out, it was so much fun to create the “planner” and its tabs. I’ll talk more about masking shapes in next week’s post about digital “stickers.” I also made a few digital notebooks with this app, so that I could try out bullet journaling or note-taking via my iPad.
I also have a video tutorial on how I create page templates using this app.
Exciting Update: I’ve also created a digital bullet journal designed with teachers and grad students in mind. It includes six sections for different classes or topics and 37 templates for weekly organization layouts, along with nine video tutorials that show you exactly how to customize the journal to meet your needs.
Good Notes: To actually use the digital academic planner I created, I bought this app for $7.99. It’s incredibly user-friendly, in my opinion, and it makes reading and annotating PDFs so easy. It takes a few tries to understand the various settings, but once you get into the rhythm, you’ll start finding additional reasons to use this app, if you don’t already. While the planner should work with some other PDF annotators, this is the only app I’ve used so it’s the one I focus on in my tutorial below. In case you want to consider other productivity tools alongside your planner, here are a few other digital tools to try out.
MagicEraser: This is a free app that allows you to erase certain parts of images. So, you can design headings, graphs, stickers, etc. and then “erase” the white space behind and around these things so that they are all that’s left to paste into the planner pages. So, for example, if you create a header for each month in Word, you can take a screenshot of that page, then “erase” the background so that all that’s left are the words. There are a lot of free “stickers” and icons to be found online (Pinterest), so using this app can help liven up your planner, if you’re interested.I’ve found experimenting with digital planning to be a very fun, creative pastime, so I’ve created my own version that I want to share with anyone who’s reading this post. Click To Tweet
How the Planner is Set Up:
There are quite a few hyperlinked tabs in the planner. They start with the academic year (July-June), followed by four tabs for projects that you’re working on. The tab at the top of the left page will take you to the fourth page of the PDF, in case you want to add some pages before July begins on the fifth page (i.e. year at a glance pages, contact lists, deadlines list, “sticker” pages, etc.). The three tabs at the top of the right page have no labels, so you can make those sections into whatever you want. Each of those three tabs are linked to the very “back” of the planner, after the project pages.
Side Note: The second and third pages in the PDF are not intended to be written/typed on. They are the blank templates you can use when customizing your planner (more on that later).
The blank pages can be used for making lists (goals, tasks, events) or anything else you find relevant to add to that month. I start each week on Monday, so the final rectangle on the second page is split into Saturday and Sunday. If you don’t like how the rectangles look, you can delete them and just add more of the blank pages so that you have enough for each month (more on that below). For example, you can add a page for each day and make it a daily planner, rather than a weekly planner.
These pages come in the planner, though you can add as many as you need for each project. You can import images into Good Notes really easily, so you could always screenshot or scan documents and then paste them into these sections. You can also use these sections for brainstorming, outlining, tracking progress, writing to-do lists, etc.
The three tabs on the top right of the planner spread link to sections that each have 10 pages, but you can add more or less pages as needed. You can use these tabs for whatever you want, or never use them. A few potential uses: self-care ideas and habit tracking, icons/stickers for planner use, meal planning, contact lists, master lists of deadlines, etc. If you’re a teacher, you might want to use one of these sections as a teaching journal. Or, you can use a section to brainstorm your routines, habits, goals, projects, etc. Here’s a post about making the best of a new year.
Not sure a digital planner is for you? Here’s a video where I go over different types of planners and bullet journals (paper and digital). I offer advice on different styles and formats to consider.
If you don’t want to experiment with adding, subtracting, or moving around various pages, you could still consider how you want to approach filling out the planner. Do you have a stylus you can use to write with or are you going to use the text box function? Both? Are you going to color code? Do you want to add images and icons or just text? To give you some ideas, here are a couple screenshots with examples of how you can use the weekly pages in the calendar part of your planner. I created the icons that appear in the second image using Keynotes. I’ll discuss the process of making these icons/stickers in my next post.
What if you want to design your own weekly layouts or want to make this a daily planner because you have so much going on every day of the week? With Good Notes, changing this PDF into one you can customize in this way is easy, as it only takes a few simple steps, repeated as many times as needed.
Step 1: Click the four-box icon at the top left of the screen (once your planner PDF is open), then click Edit.
Step 2: In the thumbnails, click on a blank page with no boxes. An orange border will appear around its edges once you’ve selected it.
Step 3: Clip Copy, then Done.
Step 4: Click the plus sign. In the thumbnails, go to where you want to add the blank page and click the plus sign that appears between the two slides where you want it. Click Paste Copied Pages. [See image below this next one to see these two elements.]
Step 5: Keep adding pages as many times as you want/need. You can always add more later following these same steps. Once you’ve added what you want, click Done.
Hint: If you want to still use the design of a full week on one page spread, but don’t like the rectangle look, just paste 6 blank pages to each month (click on each month tab and it will take you to the first page of that month). But, let’s say you want to add 16 blank pages after the first page spread of July (so that you can have one full page devoted to each day for the whole month). If you want this daily planner setup for all the following months, you can start with step 1 above, click on all 16 pages you’ve just added, copy them, then paste them after the first page spread of each month. You’ll now have a daily planner rather than the weekly one that I created. Of course, copying 16 pages means that extra page(s) will be included for each month, since no month has 32 days. You can always delete the extra for each month, if that bothers you. Here’s an example of how you can use this latter design.
Step 6: To get rid of the weekly pages with boxes, just follow steps 1 and 2, select all the pages with weekly boxes, and then click Delete.
Voila! You have now converted the monthly planner portion into a completely customizable system, whether that means just a weekly planner filled with blank pages or a daily planner. You now know how to add more pages to the other sections, as well.
Side note: Very similar steps can be used to move around pages in your planner, so you can keep certain types of notes or documents together without having to worry about completing them all at once or leaving empty page spreads in anticipation of more notes/documents about a certain topic/project stage being added later. For example, if you brainstormed for a project and then started to outline it, but then decide the next day to brainstorm more before continuing the outline, you can just add a new blank page between the brainstorming and outlining that you’ve already done.For example, if you brainstormed for a project and then started to outline it, but then decide the next day to brainstorm more before continuing the outline, you can just add a new blank page between the brainstorming and outlining… Click To Tweet
Now that I’ve gone over the basics, here are the links to the two academic digital planners that I’ve made: colorful planner and grayscale planner. [Here’s another planner with the usual January-December schedule.] I can’t guarantee that there are no mistakes with the hyperlinks, as this creative project is still pretty new to me. I’ve tried them both out, though, and haven’t encountered any issues with these versions. Both digital academic planners – this colorful one and this grayscale one – have the same structure, so I’ll just add an image of the colorful one below since this version didn’t appear in the above tutorial. Also, while they each have 158 pages, the colorful one is a slightly larger file (7.7 MB vs 7 MB, after being compressed).
If you’d rather use a blank (6-sectioned) digital notebook to plan, here’s the post with those PDFs. I’ve also created a set of two digital notebooks with 12 hyperlinked sections each. If you want more space on each page than allowed for in the free planners I’ve designed, these two notebooks might be a better match for you. You can use one section per month, with pages that are hyperlinked but not filled with the physical notebook backdrop design. If you want a digital notebook that comes with 30+ built-in templates and 9 video tutorials, check out my Teachable course, “Customizable Digital Bullet Journal.” [If you’d rather just have a collection of planner inserts designed specifically for the grad school experience, check out this collection instead.]
In my next post, I’ll focus more on helpful resources for learning more about digital planning, and I’ll also go over the process of making digital “stickers.” There are more professionally-made digital planners out there, that are designed to mimic the look of physical planners. I’ll link to a few of them in the next post for anyone who might decide that digital planning is definitely for them and they want a more professionally-designed planner that looks exactly like a physical one. Of course, YouTube or Pinterest are the best resources if you want to get a head start on further customizing your planner before my next post.
Do you use a digital planner or plan to start now? If so, I’d love to hear about your favorite, obscure elements of this type of planning.