How to Make a Custom Planner

One of the most important prerequisites for doing what matters is planning. Although I do a lot of my work on the computer, I’ve used paper-based planners ever since I was in middle school. I prefer to plan during contemplative time away from the computer, and I’m old-fashioned enough to like having my productive life neatly contained between covers.

I don’t like traditional three-ring-binder planners, as they tend to be hard and bulky, so I researched possible alternatives. The most appealing options were the beautiful leather organizers from X47, a German company, and the Midori Traveler’s Notebook from Japan. Each of these featured a leather cover and easily interchangeable inserts in easy-to-create half-letter or A5 size. Of course, these planners were expensive, and not exactly what I wanted, so I decided to make my own custom planner. I had a tremendous amount of fun with this project, so thought I’d share it here.

Planning helps you use time wisely, and making a custom planner can help you spend time as you need to.

The first step was to make a perfect leather cover. I liked the Midori cover, but wanted a flap closure and an interior pocket. I found the perfect shell for less than $20 — a leather journal from Barnes & Noble. An alternative would be to buy a nice piece of leather and cut and dye the cover yourself. Working with leather is fun and easy, and this project is an especially easy way to start.

Before: Here is the leather journal I adapted for this project

How to create a Midori Traveler's Notebook style planner for entrepreneurs, homeschoolers, homesteaders, and yes, even travelers.

After: Here is the outside cover of the altered journal

It is now a custom planner with Moleskine Plain Cahier  inserts and custom pockets. It’s working very well so far, and I plan to make another envelope-style insert plus a permanent master packing list and other custom forms.

The finished custom leather planner.

How to adapt an existing journal

To do a similar project, remove the pages from a purchased journal. Save them, as you can use them later if you like. Note that there are no interior pockets in the original journal, and plan to add them if you like. I definitely need pockets!

Remove pages from purchased journal.

Take out the pages from a purchased journal.

Use a leather punch, awl, or ice pick to make four small holes at the top and bottom of the spine. You can find a leather punch at Tandy Leather or Hobby Lobby (use HL’s weekly 40% off coupon to get the heavy duty model for about $13). My old punch is the one my grandmother used for years, so it’s special to me.

Use a leather punch or awl to make holes for elastic.

Use a leather punch or awl to make holes for elastic.

Remember making paper snowflakes when you were young? Using the same technique, fold and cut scrap paper to make patterns for interior pockets and exterior decoration.

Cut leather to make organizer pocket.

Use scrap paper to make patterns for pockets.

Decorating your planner is optional, but half the fun of creating your own organizing tools is making them beautiful and pleasant to use. I cut the shape below because it fit my leather and was easy to fold and cut. Oddly, my first thought was to put this over the spine of the book, but as I tried in on, I noticed it fit the flap even better, so that’s where it ended up. The leather is a swatch I picked up at a Tandy Leather store several years ago.

Cut pattern to make leather decoration.

You can add contrasting leather pieces for decoration.

Make pockets

Next, fold one end of the leather insert to make a pen pocket. You can make a smaller loop-style pen holder, but I like to carry one pencil and at least one pen, preferably more, so I made a larger pocket. You can glue or sew it on. I used a leather needle and waxed heavy thread to sew down the edge.

Make a pen pocket by folding the leather.

When all shapes are cut, use E6000 adhesive to attach leather to leather.

Use E6000 glue to attach planner pocket.

Next, clamp it all around with binder clips and/or weight it with sewing weights and let it dry overnight.

Clamp and weight the glued leather overnight.

The decorative flap has been glued on and is weighted to dry overnight.

Put in elastic bands

Inserts are held in with small round elastic that is threaded from top to bottom. I didn’t have black elastic on hand (available at any fabric store) and didn’t want to go to town, so I decided to dye some white elastic. I used Higgins Permanent Black Ink, which was the only permanent black dye I had on hand. Stretching the elastic around a baking rack keeps it from looking too greyed out when you stretch it in the book. Any old paintbrush or sponge can be used to apply the ink. This worked fine, but buying black elastic in the beginning will save you a step.

Dye the elastic.

When the dyed elastic dried, I threaded the leather needle with it, and ran it from top to bottom, creating a total of five strands. Each of these will hold a custom planner insert of some sort. On the outside, you see the elastic only at top and bottom, but the full strand is exposed on the inside. At this stage, I also used the heavy waxed thread to make some decorative stitches on the spine, using the holes where the original journal pages had been attached.


Inside view of the cover, including pockets and elastic.

Next, I wanted to add my name to the planner in a permanent way, so I used letter stamps to stamp my name into the leather under the flap. This is easy — score a light guideline with a pencil, line up the letters you need in the order you want them, then place one letter at a time on the line and whack it with the mallet. I usually do two whacks — one short tap to seat the stamp into the leather, and one harder tap to get a firm imprint.


Outside view of the cover with decorative stitching and metal stamps for lettering.

Print your custom planner pages and fold them into a little booklet.

For the datebook portion of the custom planner, I will use my Doing What Matters Printable Planner. I created these week-at-a-glance pages and have used them for many years. I print one quarterly booklet at a time on résumé-weight letter-size paper, fold the pages in half (no staples needed), and slide them under the middle elastic band.

Create your own custom planner pages or use the Doing What Matters Printable Planner from

Use an old file folder or other cardstock to create small pocket files for miscellaneous items. You can find good insert templates at My Life All in One Place. If you prefer Moleskine-size inserts, remember to size these templates to fit the notebook size you select. The folder depicted below was cut from an old file folder and decoratively reinforced with card stock designed for scrapbooking.

Use scrapbooking cardstock to make file folder inserts for your planner.

Choose notebooks and inserts for your custom planner

Add the inserts of your choice. In addition to my Doing What Matters Printable Planner, a one-page-per-month yearly calendar, and my little pocket file, I add two or three notebooks. I have used Moleskine softcover notebooks with both plain and lined pages, and have experimented with other brands of notebooks, including the Clairefontaine French-Ruled Notebook, which I return to when I need to work on my penmanship — all of the lines remind me to write more beautifully! I use a fountain pen for my planning, so I’m pretty picky about paper. (Amazon links are affiliate links, of course; details in footer.)

A couple of years ago I discovered Rhodia Rhodiorama notebooks, with their buttery soft covers, creamy dot-grid paper, and beautiful colors, and have been using them for everything. I have three in my planner now — one for education and work-related ideas (anise), plans, and lists; one for the volunteer work I do (tangerine); and one for my commonplace book (purple). This is still in addition to the personal planner pages I print myself.

Keep a small yearly calendar tucked into the front pocket.

The inside view of my custom planner with its pockets and datebook insert.

The last step is to replace the leather tie that wraps around the notebook to keep it shut. I added a turquoise stone to it as a decorative touch.


Making a custom planner is not only a lot of fun, but also a way to get exactly what you need. You can create a planner with separate inserts for micro-business, homeschooling, travel, creative journaling, caregiving, prayer, business expenses, and so much more. Try to include only the things you want to carry around all the time, or you may find your planner too fat for comfort.

If you make a planner cover and post about it on your own site, feel free to leave a link in the comments — I’d love to see it! You’ll find more articles about time management and planning in Planning and Organization, and you can purchase the Doing What Matters Printable Planner and the Peaceful Planning booklets at Everyday Education.

2 Responses

  1. July 30, 2013

    […] Campbell shares How to Create a Custom Planner at Doing What Matters, remarking that “Although I do most of my work on the computer, I’ve […]

  2. December 15, 2014

    […] normally use a week-at-a-glance datebook, with a small two-year planner tucked into it, and this usually works perfectly. During especially […]

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