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.