First Impressions of the Panda Planning System

UPDATE: November 13. Is the Panda Planner a worthwhile investment?  After experimenting with it for several weeks, the answer for me is a firm 'no'. While the concepts behind the Panda design are sound, I prefer working in a digital environment and the design of the planner itself doesn't lead to legible notes or room for enough detail. It turned out that it was simply more efficient for me to take the positive ideas behind Panda and incorporate them in my other tools which I've now simplified.

I received my copy of the hardbound Panda Planner yesterday, and I'm beginning to work with it today.

In order to provide context, I'll describe my time management starting point and why I'm trying the alternative Panda system.


What I've been using up to now:

  • Trello for setting major goals and sub tasks. (Although it's popular, I'm not really all that wild about it since the app seems 'chunky' to me.)
  •  I've recently adopted the prioritization method outlined by Gary Keller in his book "The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results" (which I'll cover in another post). This method requires a deep dive to determine your top priority and then setting aside sufficient uninterrupted time to focus exclusively on it.
  • Monthly, Daily and Weekly Task Checklists in Evernote.
  • A performance review section in my daily writer's journal which I fill in daily.

So I'd have to say I already have a comprehensive goals-to-tasks time management system in place. Am I entirely happy with it? No.

The problem is that my system is overwhelming in complexity and detail and tends to scatter my attention.  I certainly don't feel enthused when I see such a huge list. I find myself ticking off checklist items in a disorganized manner. Whatever I see on the daily list, which I keep up on a second monitor, draws me in to perform the easiest items first. So at day's end, often the smallest items are checked off, with the most important items not having had the necessary time and focus for task execution at a high level.

While I was contemplating this 'scattered focus' problem, I ran into (via Stumbleupon) a fascinating article by Amy Carleton on The Cut - The Centuries-Old Strategy That Turbocharged my Productivity.

She uses a paper planner rather than digital tools.  She cites research that suggests that physically writing down goals and tasks leads to higher productivity. It's not just the process of setting the goals and tasks - it's how you go about it.

Based on that finding, I decided to simplify my system and try a paper based planner to see if a new approach could improve my productivity.

Enter the Panda Planner - a recent addition to paper planners -  and one which purports to 'make you happier, more organized and more productive'.

I decided to give it a shot after looking at the Amazon reviews - almost 2600 of them with a cumulative average 4.5 rating. The product page is full of enthusiastic 5 star reviews.

The planners come in two sizes and I bought the smaller one to take up less desk space.

Panda comes with links to various tutorials and various other e-books and videos to support the use of the planner.

Here are my initial impressions:

  1. The book itself is hardbound and looks like a Moleskine notebook. It's solid and the paper stock is suitable. The size (at 5.25 by 8.25 inches) makes it portable but the entry blocks are way too small. Unless you have tiny and legible handwriting, this really hampers the process of working with the planner.  I hate looking at my entries and having no idea what they say. Tiny readable script is not in my toolbox. Digital planning and task checklists don't have this problem.
  2. The planner has daily, weekly, and monthly sections which are placed in different parts of the notebook. This is problematic since you have to move back and forth between sections depending on what you're entering.
  3. The dates are unnumbered, so you need to fill them in daily. I'd guess that there are probably only enough daily pages for three months or so depending on how many days a week you actually used it. I use a planner seven days a week, so I'll burn through the planner fairly rapidly. So it's not an inexpensive system to use if you have to purchase several each year.
  4. The individual pages force you to drill down to a very few of your highest priorities and tasks. This approach fits the "One Thing" concept perfectly. However, all my other important but not critical tasks still exist, and I want to check off as many as possible for peace of mind and keeping my chores under control. So I'll still have to keep my Evernote task list, but I'll set aside scheduled review times - outside of the priority blocks - to avoid getting off track.
  5. I like the fact that the daily entry starts with a gratitude list, an "I'm excited about" list, an affirmation, a focus area and planned exercise. The day ends with a "Today's Wins" and a "How I'll improve" section.
  6. Unless you've done no goal setting or time management before, the accompanying video tutorials aren't critical to the use of the system. Its design is intuitive. You can take it out of its packaging and immediately start using it.

Bottom Line:

  • The planner version I bought is too small and hard to work with.
  • Given the fact that I'm a writer and need to work in uninterrupted blocks of time, the planner's simplified system has great potential. I'm not sure how well this would map to someone with unpredictable schedules where instant flexibility is needed. Many people can't block out fifty minute intervals which the experts say is optimal. But I can. And will
  • It fits perfectly with the "One Thing" prioritization method. This is critical for me.
  • It has clever positive psychology built in to its design. It ensures that, on top of your top goals and tasks, you're thinking about gratitude, affirmations, exercise, and 'wins' on a daily basis. This could definitely help craft a positive mindset first thing in the morning as you complete the planner entries.
  • It can't substitute for a comprehensive task or project list which most people will still have to maintain in one form or another. So I doubt that for most people it is a time saver.  
  • Overall impression: Panda has a sound and positive concept, but my unreadable handwriting in small entry blocks may be a killer to actually using it.

I'll report my experiences using Panda two weeks in, and then again at one month and three months. By that time I will have filled out the planner completely and will know whether the system is working for me or not.