One Year with the Passion Planner: Leveling Up

In the summer of 2019, I realized it was time for a change. I had been using the same calendar to plan my work since 1995 when I enrolled in my first university course. The calendar I’d been using was the Filofax, a professional calendar that doubles as a binder. Inside the cover, you fasten an annual paper calendar, which you exchange for a new one when the next year starts. For years, the Filofax filled every need I had. But last year, I noticed that I reached for it less often as I entered less information.

Just as when I started using the Filofax all those years ago, my life in 2019 was no longer what it used to be. I started using the Filofax when I went from high school to university. Now, as a university instructor who also publishes articles as a freelancer while simultaneously working on a book project, my professional life had become much more complex and the Filofax, I was sad to realize, couldn’t keep up anymore.

Once I made the decision to move on, the next step was easy. A while back there was a conversation in a Slack channel I belonged to where a group of my fellow Contributors to an online book site were raving about this planner they were using. It was called the Passion Planner. The years I spent in this community had taught me to trust the judgment of its people. So, when the time came to find myself a new planner, I knew where to go.

The Passion Planner is called a Passion Planner for a reason. It helps you plan your weekly schedule and professional to-dos while also providing you with tools to track and plan your passions, whatever they may be.

Large black calendar called a Passion Planner with a soft fabric pencil case with an image from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit
The original annual elite black Passion Planner, size large, together with my Tolkien pencil case from Oxford University’s Bodleian Library. Photo: Erika Harlitz-Kern.

The Passion Planner comes in several different versions. I chose the original Passion Planner with the weekly layout that starts on Sunday. I decided to buy the large-sized planner because what I was missing with the Filofax was the ability to get a literal overview of the week.

Not only does the Passion Planner give you an easy overview of each week, it also provides tools for creating an overview of your life. At the very beginning of the Passion Planner, there are mind maps where you can set up goals for 3 months, 1 year, 3 years, and your entire lifetime. In between June and July, there is a six-month check in, and after December there is a summary of the year.

Each month begins with a spread that contains the monthly calendar as well as goals for the coming month, such as what to focus on professionally and personally, people to see, places to go, and things to learn. Each week contains space for setting similar types of goals, as well as personal and professional to-do lists, an inspirational quote that sets a theme for the week, and a large blank box called “Space of Infinite Possibility.” At the very end of the Passion Planner are blank pages that you are free to use as you wish. On the inside of the back cover, there is a generous pocket, similar to the one you will find at the back of a Moleskin notebook. The Passion Planner has an elastic to keep the planner closed and a permanent book mark of silk that will help you keep track of where you are among its many pages.

As I’m sure you have understood by now, the Passion Planner is a big book. It’s not something you cram into your pocket, or even into a large purse. But the way I see it, that’s not the purpose of the Passion Planner. The Passion Planner demands you to sit down and engage with it, and in engaging with your Planner you are also engaging with your own life situation.

How I have engaged with my Passion Planner is plain to see on its pages. January through March are oriented towards tasks and achievements. The goals I set for those months and weeks are mostly work related, and I can tell that I was under a lot of pressure and stress.

Towards the end of March, things begin to change. The change comes not from one of the weekly inspirational quotes, but from the Passion Planner editor’s comment on that quote. The comment reads, “Focus on working smarter, not harder.” From then on, every week I wrote as my goal: Work smarter, not harder. Still together with work related tasks that I needed to complete.

In mid-May, I added a second goal, this one in the form of a question that I got from Dan Rather in one of the very few interviews where he is the interviewee. This question has been his guiding question throughout his life, and it’s now also mine, “Will this take me where I want to go?”

I abandoned the task oriented goals completely in the final week of May. And in mid-June, I added my third goal, which was Bruce Lee’s motto, “Be water.”

Since then, each new month and week, I have set the same three goals.
Work smarter, not harder.
Will this take me where I want to go?
Be water.

These three goals evolved organically over the course of six months working with the Passion Planner. In combination with the self-reflective pages at the end of each month and the long-term mind maps, the tasks gradually shifted to the to-do lists, the daily schedule, and the Space of Infinite Possibility. Instead of setting up achievement-oriented goals for myself, I began setting up goal-oriented goals.

After one year with the Passion Planner, I can safely say that I have leveled up. Not only in how I plan and keep track of my work, but also in how I plan and keep track of my life. Will I continue using the Passion Planner in 2021? Absolutely. I bought my next year’s Planner already in September.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

A Writer’s Tools of Her Trade: The Importance of a Good Pencil Case and Calendar

When I turned thirteen, my Mom gave me a pencil case. I was starting junior high school (högstadiet) in the fall and would no longer have my own desk where I could keep my stuff. Instead I would be given a locker and carry everything I needed from class to class. I used that pencil case throughout junior high and high school (gymnasiet), as a university student and beyond until the summer of 2019 when the zipper broke irreparably.

I immediately set out to find a new pencil case. Since I am a historian and book critic of history and speculative fiction, I needed a pencil case that suited my professional needs in more ways than one.

First of all, the pencil case needed to be soft. When history and writing are your line of work, you are a writer, a scholar, and a teacher all at the same time. This means that your pencil case needs to hold a large amount of stuff of different shapes and sizes. In my case, this stuff consists of pens, pencils, whiteboard markers and highlighters of different colors, erasers, and small cases of 0.5 HB graphite rods (or “leads”) for my mechanical pencil.

Second, the pencil case needed to have a historical and/or speculative fiction theme. Museum gift shops are an often-overlooked resource for fun, innovative, and unique things, and after much searching among various online museum shops, I found what I was looking for at University of Oxfords’ Bodleian Library: a soft pencil case with a picture from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, painted by the author himself. The pencil case was part of the official Tolkien merchandise collection, and it was absolutely perfect. Because I had to order it from England, the postage cost nearly as much as the pencil case itself and the delivery took nearly six weeks.

After using this pencil case for a year now, I can tell you that it was time and money well spent.

Passion Planner and The Hobbit pencil case.

Around the same time that my old trusted pencil case kicked the bucket, I also realized that I needed to get a new calendar. When I became a university student, the pocket-sized calendars I’d used as a high school student didn’t suit my needs anymore. So I moved on to the professional calendar that was all the rage at the time–the Filofax.

The Filofax is a clever type of professional calendar in that you purchase a cover that doubles as a binder. Inside the cover, you fasten an annual paper calendar, which you at the end of the year remove and replace with the paper calendar of the next year. The cover and the paper calendars are available in different types. My Filofax was a medium-sized cover in green calf leather, and the calendar I used was the Swedish (sometimes pan-Scandinavian) weekly spread starting on Mondays that also came with a political world map, a time zone world map, national holidays for all countries in the world, an address book, and extra pages for note taking.

I continued using the Filofax after I moved to the US, but using a Swedish calendar when you no longer live in Sweden is actually not a good idea. But, when you are in the habit of doing something and that habit still works for you, why change it?

Last year, I realized that I hardly used my Filofax anymore. Instead, I used note pads for lists and appointments while the Filofax lay untouched for days. At the same time, I was writing articles and book reviews for magazines and online publications. Instead of writing down deadlines and other information I needed to keep track of in the Filofax, I used the Excel spread sheet I had originally created to keep track of my pitches and submissions.

Whereas finding a new pencil case proved tricky and required a couple of months of searching, finding a new calendar turned out to be easy. I remembered a conversation on the Slack channel hosted by an online book site where I used to be a Contributor where my fellow Contributors were raving about a calendar known as the Passion Planner. From experience I knew to trust the judgment of this particular group of people, so without further ado I got myself a Passion Planner.

The Passion Planner I ordered was the large-sized, black classic Passion Planner with one week per spread that starts on Sundays. It was a bit pricey, I thought, when I placed my order, but then again, I had just ordered a pencil case from England because it answered to my needs, so I decided to take a chance, despite the cost.

Reader, I am very happy that I took that chance. After one year with the Passion Planner, I no longer use note pads and the Excel spread sheet is only for tracking pitches (whatever few there are during the pandemic). Also, I find it easier to get an overview of what I need to do each week than I did with the Filofax. In fact, I am so happy with my Passion Planner that I ordered my Planner for 2021 already in September.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.