Last Updated on January 9, 2023 by Stephanie
Have you seen awesome digital planner spreads online and wanted to know how they were created? Or maybe you want to go paperless. Maybe you want the convenience of having your planner with you all the time! If you’re here, that means that you are interested in digital planning, which is AWESOME!
If you’re like me, you’ve probably looked up a bunch of things online and now you are overwhelmed with ideas and don’t know where to start at all. My goal is to help you learn some basics so you can dip your feet into digital planning before you spend a whole bunch of money buying apps and planners and stickers.
What is digital planning?
The digital planning I’m referring to is essentially having a “traditional planner” digitized on a device. Essentially, you have the same pages and features as you do in a traditional paper planner, but digitally. There are pages, calendars, different sections, space to write, etc. All that you know and love about planners are there… even stickers! Here is a sample spread from my own digital planner:
How does it work though?
Digital planners are really just PDF files. The cool thing about PDF files is that you can have them linked to go to different places in the document. This is cool because that means you can click on a planner tab or a date and it jumps to the page you need to look at. It is a complex behind-the-scenes thing, but its execution is AWESOME.
To write on them and add things to them, you need PDF editing apps much like the markup feature on your iPhone for pictures. This allows you to write on it, add images, highlight, etc. The app saves all of those things for when you open it up again! There are even digital notebooks that work in the same way. Check out one of my free daily hyperlinked notepads to try that out.
Why is digital planning better than paper-pencil?
Well… it’s not. Actually, neither is better than the other really. It depends on how YOU work. I am a tech nerd so I’m on devices all the time and I like having my planner digitally. If you want to read more about this idea of digital vs. traditional to hear the pros and cons of both, then you should definitely read this post first.
Now, on to what you need!
The Main Tools for Digital Planning
All right, so I’ll go more in-depth here, but the 4 main things you need for digital planning are:
- Tablet Device or Touch Screen Computer
- PDF Editing App
- A Digital Planner
That’s really the basics you need to get started. As you keep reading, you will find that there are definitely varying degrees of expense and complexity for each of these things. I recommend that you start off simple before dropping what could be hundreds or thousands of dollars on devices and styluses if you aren’t sure this is for you!
Tablet Device or Touch Screen Computer
There are so many different options where this is concerned, but the main idea here is that if you want it to function like a paper planner, you’re going to want the ability to write on it. I do type a lot into my digital planner, but most of the time I’m using it, I’m writing with my Apple Pencil.
As far as the specific device goes, I will be sharing my personal use in a bit, but this is really up to you. Cost is definitely a factor when you are purchasing a device. I will say that there are many options for both Android-based tablets as well as Apple devices.
One question I’ve seen come up is the idea of how much storage for a device. This depends on how you work and what you have available to you. If you have a lot of cloud storage like Google Drive, DropBox, or iCloud, then your device does not need that much storage to it. If you don’t, then device storage should come under consideration. The PDFs themselves are not really that large of files, but when you start adding stickers and extra fonts and whatnot, that’s where storage comes into play!
This is another area where there are so many different options! What I’m going to tell you is this: Quality matters. Again, if you are just getting started or trying your hand at digital planning, just grab a cheap stylus for now. If you’re committed, go for the quality.
Here’s my story with this… I’m an Apple girl, but I looked at the price tag for the Apple Pencil and said that I would never spend over $100 on a stylus. The problem with that is that I tried a bunch of other styluses trying to find one I liked and probably spent about as much money on that as I did for my Apple Pencil. Quality really does matter here and spending a little extra now will save some headaches. Lower-quality styluses often have cheaper tips (you’ll be doing a lot of writing remember!), not-so-good battery life, and connectivity issues. Notice how I say often with that though because you might find a diamond in the Amazon rough and find a cheap one that you love… I just wasn’t that successful.
With that said, in no particular order, here are some highly recommended styluses:
- Apple Pencil
- Adonit brand – There are several different versions for different devices and operating systems, but this brand came up a lot in my research.
- Meko Universal – Cheap alternative that came up several times.
- Microsoft Surface Pen – Microsoft Only
- Logitech Crayon Digital Pencil – Apple Only
PDF Editing Apps
If you search this, here is another one where there are a lot of different apps. However, I will say that there are really only a few that have stood the test of time and are consistently used by most digital planners. You may find another app that works, but these are the ones you will see most often:
- GoodNotes (iOS only)
- Noteshelf (both)
- OneNote (both)
- Penly (only Android)
- Notability (iOS only)
- Xodo (both)
Again, this list is not exhaustive but does give you a pretty good picture of what apps are available. Keep reading for my personal favorites!
This is one that could send your head spinning. I’m not going to lie, there are a million different options for digital planners online. They range from free to $40. They can be super simple and they can have a million linked pages that allow you to track everything you could imagine. There are also themed planners that help you with certain things like fitness or goals or teaching. My suggestion is to watch some plan with me videos, check out some people on Instagram, and see what you like.
In my post 5 Digital Creators I follow, I highlight a few people that I really enjoy and like their content as far as digital planning goes. That is a great place to start.
My Digital Planning Setup
If you’ve followed me on anything or watched any of my YouTube videos, you know that I’m not going to give you the run-around with things. I’m going to always show my honest opinion and share what actually works for me. It’s my hope that by sharing my experience, it will help you figure out things for your own lives!
So, for the big 4 up there, here’s what I use:
- Apple iPad Pro 12.9” (I also use an iPad Mini at school and my iPhone)
- Apple Pencil 2nd Generation
- HoboHybrid Extended Version by DigiSparkles
Apple iPad and Apple Pencil
I have already let you know that I’m a huge Apple fan. My second master’s degree is in educational technology and during the course of that I made the switch from PC to Apple. There were a lot of different things that I saw Apple products do more easily and it made sense for me. I’ve never turned back.
For digital planning, these have been a lifesaver. I love that all my devices can talk to each other seamlessly and love that my iCloud is readily available on all of them. As far as the Apple Pencil goes, nothing beats its connectivity and its pressure-sensitive technology. I love creating stickers on my iPad as well and couldn’t see myself doing it with another stylus. With that said, I’ve tried many others. As I mentioned above, I probably spent equivalent money trying others and it was a waste. Whenever anyone asks what a good alternative is, I tell them to save up for the real thing because nothing compares in my opinion.
I’ve been digital planning for a while now in some ways. I didn’t start really creating things or sharing my experience until more recently, but I’ve been doing it for a while. Originally I started with Notability. I took notes on my iPad and that was one recommended to me by a friend. When I got into using it for digital planning… that’s where GoodNotes came in.
Pros for GoodNotes:
- It syncs with all my devices.
- The elements feature is super cool and makes it easy to import stickers.
- A LOT of people use it, so tutorials and optimized digital files are plentiful online.
- I love that you can input hex codes to change pens and highlighters to whatever color you want or need.
- It can be super organized with folders, which helps with stickers, multiple notebooks, etc.
Cons for GoodNotes:
- It is only available for iOS.
- There are sometimes odd glitches that happen.
- When you import some stickers, they import crooked (it is super easily fixed, but it’s a weird glitch.
- Sometimes the text boxes are weird with their spacing and sizing.
With that said, I have tried several other apps now that I’m more into digital planning and sharing tools and tricks with you guys. I would still pick GoodNotes. The pros for me outweigh any of the cons I’ve mentioned above.
My Digital Planner
I make a lot of digital items including various goal planners, digital notebooks, and lots of digital stickers. Personally, I’m leaving the large digital planners up to others. This is another one that I’ve tried a lot of different ones. I’ve tried some rather popular ones from people that I’ve come to respect in the digital planning space but finally found my happy planner in the Hobo Hybrid Extended Planner by DigiSparkles.
I was intrigued and loved the Hobonichi-style paper planners that I would see on Instagram. I loved that it had an hourly grid for planning. It usually also had a lot of different spaces for adding in other things. So when I went in search of this, I found the Hybrid Weeks by DigiSparkles, I was absolutely sold! The cool thing about the hybrid version is that it is the weeks and the cousin version of the Hobonichi style all in the same planner. You can switch between that vertical and horizontal layout, which is AWESOME!
Check out this video below from my YouTube channel for a plan with me where I’m setting up my weekly spread:
Extras for Digital Planning
Now there are a few little extra things you might want to explore for digital planning. These are the extra fun things that make you think about your paper planner and realize that you can customize things even further in your digital planner!
The first is for all of you paper planners that love to decorate your planners: STICKERS! One awesome thing about digital planning is that you can totally use stickers over and over again. You can crop them, you can create them on the fly, you can find them in a million different colors, and there is an INSANE amount of them available online! Check out a few that I have created here on my site to see how different the sticker packs can be:
Digital Planner Stickers | Goodnotes Stickers Rainbow Coloful Watercolor Functional Stickers$2.99
Digital Planning Widgets | Goal and Productivity Summer Watercolor Stickers | Goodnotes Planner Stickers$2.99
Pretty Florals Digital Stickers for Goodnotes | Digital Planning, Planners, Journals | Sticker Pack$3.99
You can also create YOUR OWN digital stickers with apps like Canva and Procreate! I do this all the time and if you watch some of my plan with me videos on my YouTube Channel, you’ll see me create them all the time. In fact, I create planner stamp brushes to help me make digital stickers quickly.
Let’s say that one thing you don’t like about your planning is your handwriting. Guess what? That is totally okay because there are like a million different fonts you can use in your digital planner! If you have an iPad, I would highly recommend iFontMaker and iFont. With iFontMaker, you can create your own fonts and make your own handwriting into a font! The app iFont allows you to import fonts you download to be used in your apps like GoodNotes and Procreate!
Have Fun and Try it Today
To leave you with some last insights… just have fun and try it! It can be overwhelming, but it could be worth it for you! Try, play, have fun, and then try again. There are a million different options out there, so make sure you are starting simple and getting your feet wet a bit before going off the deep end. Play with what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. Be willing to abandon a planner that isn’t working. Be willing to say that you aren’t going to make things pretty for a while.
It is a fun and wild planner ride, so I hope you have fun and do extraordinary things with your digital planning! Leave comments and questions below!