Creating a Medical Planner – The Analog Edition

Personal organizer with metallic ring binder

Better organization can save time, sanity and maybe your life

With the year winding down, now’s a great time to take some time out to think about next year. How do you feel you measured up when it came to caring for your health? Were you able to stay on top of your needs or did you feel buried under them? If you felt swamped keeping up with the normal tasks of life on top of the extra needs of chronic illness, the winter is a great time to slow down and reconsider your approach to juggling and organizing your time and energy better.

Now, I’ve mentioned creating a personal medical record before and there are quite a number of good reasons to keep one. However, trying to compile your medical history – even just the highlights – can feel like a daunting task. Instead of trying to backtrack, it might be easier to start right where you are and consider creating a custom planner for the coming year to better organize your health care going forward.

I’ll admit, I’m a journal junkie. I have a desk drawer stuffed with blank notebooks of every shape, size and type. My “planners” have evolved over the years to be drop-all, scratch-books where I keep track of to-do lists, rants and vents, random notes and just about any other type of writing you can imagine. This year alone, it’s helped me manage multiple new treatment schedules, juggle more medication changes than I can imagine as well as provide a safe space to vent out feelings that didn’t have a place anywhere else. Don’t let the words “planner” or “record” hem you in to certain ideas about what’s “supposed” to go into your record – anything that makes your day run more smoothly is useful information and what goes into your notebooks never needs to venture beyond you and the page.

Making a medical planner doesn’t have to be depressing or a chore – and having one can save you time and stress by letting you organize all your most important information right where you need it. And, even if you feel like you don’t have a creative bone in your body, it doesn’t take an artistic genius to have a little fun with colorful pens, papers, washi tape and other accessories  – all at  price ranges to fit any budget.

And while there are more and more digital options available, there’s still something fun, relaxing and freeing about allowing yourself to cut loose (literally) with a glue stick, stickers, markers and whatever other media you have lying around the house. So, this post is going to focus on some ideas and basics for creating a good old-fashioned paper planner.

Step One: The Foundation

The foundation of your planner can be as simple as a composition notebook or as elaborate as…well as elaborate as your needs, time and resources will allow.

If you’re not sure about your needs in a planner, or if this is your first time attempting something customized, start at the low-end of the price scale. Discount stores tend to have a great selection of basic notebooks at bargain-basement prices, making it easy to experiment with a few different types and sizes without feeling pressured to stick with your first choice.

If you have a little more disposable income, you can really go to town in an office-supply store such as Staples or Office Depot where you can be simply overwhelmed by the selection of notebooks available. But before you reach for your wallet, a good general rule of thumb is the more basic the tools, the more creative (and custom) you can be with them. Fully-featured planner systems can be very tempting, but consider the added on expenses of compatible accessories. When in doubt, simple is best.

Of course, simple doesn’t mean plain or poor quality. Staples has a line of basic 3-ring binders in a several different sizes and styles, all very affordable. My personal favorites are their exceptionally rugged, thick Better View binders. Not only do they come in a range of vibrant colors, but they have rubberized joints for long-term wear and tear without ripping and slots to easily include a cover and labels. Staples also has a more recent line called Arc, a disc-bound notebook system that’s being described as a more affordable version of the luxe Levenger brand books. While a few afternoons browsing the selections might leave you a little poorer, you certainly won’t leave the store lacking ideas.

And for the more DIY-oriented…

This tutorial from  is as basic  as you can get, using one of the most recognizable and accessible materials on the planet – your grade-school composition notebook.

If you’re feeling more ambitious, you can also try binding your own planner from scratch – difficulty will vary depending on what kind of book you’re looking to create. Some can created with as little as a few binder clips and rubber bands. IHanna created her planner using an old familiar favorite style 3-ring binder, but with her own flair. Ahhh Design only uses 2-rings for her planner, making an even more compact, ready-to-go planner. Customize from the ground up, using some of the most traditional bookbinding techniques throughout history – Google will be there to walk you through every style of binding ever created.

Hipster PDA. Photo by John Arundel, September ...

You can get started with the most basic of tools – the internet has you covered.

Another fun option to play with is the Hipster PDA. At it’s core, is another universally-found material; index cards. Sounds too simple to be useful, yet the possibilities are endless.

Step Two: A System

Creating a system doesn’t have to be complicated, but you do need to have some basic idea of what you need in a planner. If you’re a paper-hoarder with post-it notes and reminders scribbled on napkins, then some folders to keep them all corralled is an automatic organizational upgrade.

In my case this year, with the addition of new doctors and treatments, one very necessary upgrade was the inclusion of a place to keep doctor’s cards and phone numbers. This was easily fixed with some business card holder inserts (the types that you usually find inside a new wallet or checkbook). The clear plastic windows now make it a snap to see all my new doctor’s numbers at a glance – along with any notes scribbled on the cards. The same effect could be created using a system of colored post-it notes, paper clips, or anything else that comes to mind. Have trouble remembering names? Maybe add a mnemonic device such as a rhyme to keep track between Wacky Doc Wesanksi and Dopey Doc Davis – add a sketch if you’re more visually oriented.

Again, if you’re just starting out, start simple. Blank pages (lined or unlined) give you free rein to experiment with what might work for you without any commitment. It might even be a good idea to have a spare “experimental” planner where you can road test templates, ideas and other ways to organize your thoughts and plans. If you need some inspiration to get your imagination going, DIY Planner is one of the oldest and largest planner-making communities around, with a public Flickr group where members can show off their work. Other Flickr groups in the same vein are Do It Yourself Planners and What’s In Your Planner.

Step Three: The Tools

Now this is where you can have fun. There are tons of free planner templates available online, as well as tutorials to help you make exactly what you need.

Some items of special importance for lupus patients can include:

  • Slots or holders for doctor’s cards, insurance cards
  • Folders to hold recent blood tests or other records
  • A “Read Me First” page where you can keep an updated list of medications, warnings and emergency contact information
  • Daily/weekly/monthly calender
  • Copies of legal papers such as a Health Care Proxy (in case you can’t make decisions on your own behalf)
  • Password information if your doctor’s offices use an online medical portal or website
  • Any medical budget information (such as pharmacy coupons or special discount program information or HSA information
  • Charts to track recent blood pressure/ cholesterol/ sodium levels/ sleep patterns if your doctor has recommended tracking them
art journal 8.27

Make your planner something you’ll want to use

DIY has a great selection of health-related templates to give you ideas, but it’s not hard at all to create your own using any free word processing program.

And once you have the practical stuff squared away, treat yourself to the fun stuff – devote time to finding tools that won’t just help you keep organized (and sane), but will make you want to use your planner.

  • If you blog about lupus or any other topic, blog planners have become a very popular way to organize ideas for posting. Check out sites like Confessions of a HomeschoolerTitiCrafty and My Joy-Filled Life for ideas and downloads.
  • Wreck a few old magazines and newspapers and create a collage
  • Google “art journals” and feast on the ideas until your eyes explode
  • Just have a blank journal section for any stray thoughts you care to write down
  • Create a recipe section of new foods to try
  • Have a clip bin to collect any interesting lupus-related information or articles
  • Have a rant section
  • Treat yourself to stickers, colorful pens, markers, rubber stamps
  • Try your hand at calligraphy – the controlled practice at creating artistic lettering might prove meditative

Do you have a medical planner? What tools help keep you organized? How do you keep it fun as well as useful?

4 thoughts on “Creating a Medical Planner – The Analog Edition

  1. What a great resource! I have a monthly planner that I use for appointments and medications! It is so useful to have one as I would be lost without it – Lupus fog gets to me…… Great post 🙂

  2. Ro Molina: This was a fantastic topic. I feel strongly that everyone should keep their own personal medical records at home. For people who have SLE, this is even more important. It is not uncommon if a patient has to switch rheumatologists that the new doctor can have a difficult time confirming the diagnosis. In fact, 20% of the time, the all-important ANA test will be negative during treatment for lupus. I have had a couple of patients end up having severe flares when their meds were stopped by their new doctors. I’d recommend keeping all the labs, tests, biopsies, and doctor notes that made the initial diagnosis of lupus as this can keep this tragic occurrence from happening. Keep up the good work! Donald Thomas, MD

  3. Great guide with a lot of inspiring links! I agree with you. This is the time to update it and plan for what to record and where next year will go. I’m planning posts on this subject, soonish.

    Thanks for the mention of & link to my DIY Planner Guide!

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