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No matter how convenient it is, I can’t quite convert from the pen-and-paper schedule to an online calendar. Something about sitting down to plan, the physicality of a tangible planner, and the helpful delay between my thoughts and how quickly I can write them, makes for a more effective process.
As someone who evaluates products for a living, that means I’m typically suspended in an ongoing, Goldilocks-like search for the right planner. Ideally, it should have organizational structures (here are your tasks, your schedule, your notes), as well as the breathing room and lack of pressure to facilitate a healthy approach to self-betterment and growth. In other words, function and holism.
Which is why, after reading about the Panda Planner as the top pick in our buying guide for the best planner you can buy, I reached out to Michael Leip, the founder.
Leip, a cancer survivor, created the Panda Planner system as a way to recover from the anxiety and depression that often accompanies suffering from Lyme Disease, cancer, and traumatic brain injury. The system, which he says is based on scientific strategies for achieving productivity and happiness, worked for him.
The resultant 5.25-by-8.25-inch book, made of natural materials, is an undated calendar that is intended to be used for three to six months. You fill the dates in, so you can choose if the week starts on Sunday or Monday — and it invites you to think about progress from a positive, grateful outlook. Since its inception, it’s been making the rounds — changing hands from big-name editors to bloggers to your extremely organized coworkers. On Amazon, it has over 4,500 five-star reviews.
Below, I walk you through how it’s set up and what it’s like to use.
The Panda Planner’s at-a-day glance
Each day page has a place for you to write the date, three things you’re grateful for, three things you’re looking forward to in the day, some affirmations for yourself, what you’d like to focus on, an exercise you’d like to do, and your projects and priorities.
On the opposite side, there’s a schedule column you can use to block in events, a task-list column, and a space for notes. Below them is a spot to log the wins of each day, and opportunities to improve.
The weekly glance
Every weekly page has a space to record and reflect upon up to five big wins, fewer spots for how you’ll improve, and boxes for “Things I Will Do To Make This Week Great” in four categories: personal, work, family/friends, and relationship. Below those boxes is what you’re looking forward to, habits you’re focused on developing, and a space for something new you’d like to learn and a passion project.
On the opposite weekly page, you’ll find room to record current projects and top goals.
All in all, it serves mostly as an effective prompt for reflection and living your next week with intention.
The monthly glance
The monthly pages have a classic calendar overview so you can schedule big events. In the bottom left is a space for planning: monthly goals and distractions to avoid. On the bottom right is a review to complete after of this month’s wins and the insights you gained. The right-hand side also has small spots for setting your focus and a good habit, and a column for notes.
All in all, the monthly pages serve as bookends for reflection and intention — like most of the planner, it’s trying to healthily blend self-acceptance with growth.
Extra perks like ebooks and the money-back guarantee
With your purchase of the Panda Planner, you also get free access to six different ebooks and a video series to help you quickly hit your goals. The company’s guarantee is that if you “don’t feel happier and more productive, just reach out to us for a simple, no-hassle refund.” No questions asked.
One thing to note is that, since it isn’t a planner with dates, the months, weeks, and days are housed in separate parts of the book, rather than finishing seven of the day pages, getting a week page, and then after four weeks running into a new month page. However, there are three differently colored ribbon bookmarks included, so you can flip back and forth easily.
What I loved about the Panda Planner was its focus on gratitude — there’s something powerful about a purposeful and incremental exercise in positivity.
It’s nice to begin the day with prompts to count your blessings (which can otherwise go disguised as your stressors, like “having a job”). Plus, if you learn anything as an adult trying to form effective habits, it’s that your efforts compound. This positive, accumulative effort of contextualizing life positively brings to mind the Yoko Ono quote: “Try to say nothing negative about anybody for three days, for 45 days, for three months. See what happens to your life.” A simple shift in perspective, like spending more time outdoors, can make the world a more manageable and welcoming place. It’s a small (and not obnoxious) shift, but one I really enjoyed in a daily ritual.
I also appreciated the inclusion of a daily exercise prompt, since small amounts of exercise can have an outsize effect on happiness.
The Panda Planner also helped me be more realistic with myself and stop to enjoy my daily successes more, things I’d normally never tally.
Upon reflecting on certain days, I realized I needed to take smaller “bites” out of my big-picture goals so that I could experience sustainable incremental growth, without feeling guilty or overburdened by my own expectations. The daily “wins” helped me recognize my daily successes (and realize they’re perhaps more important than total attention to long-term goals) even if I didn’t accomplish everything I’d set out to do. While words of affirmation could feel uncomfortable (and I more frequently skipped it than didn’t), the wins section did help me appreciate my own efforts more.
You may not use every section every day, but it’s there should you need a reminder of your own blessings, successes, and opportunities for improvement.
In short, Panda Planner does what a good planner should do by thoughtfully organizing a space for tasks, projects, and a schedule for the day as well as any long-term weekly and monthly goals. But it also helps you contextualize your day-to-day life and growth from a positive, holistic outlook by both not having dates and by having gratitude and self-appreciation prompts. It reduces the strain and self-imposed pressure that can accompany a planner, so you can actually experience healthy growth. All in all, I would recommend taking a look if it seems like a setup that may work for you.