The ultimate color coding guide (part 1)
Planning & Organization

Color-Coding Your Planner – A Detailed Guide (part 1)

In a previous post, I’ve mentioned color-coding as a way to boost your productivity with the help of a planner

I also said it can easily be a subject on its own since I can share so many tips and ideas about it with you.

Well, the next (obvious) thing was to do so. 😉

So, here I am, ready to give you the best tips, ideas, and advice on how to color-code your planner so you could rock this planning technique.

Since there’s so much to say about it, I’ll break this up into two separate posts.

The first part (and that is this one 😉 ) will show you various ways how you can classify your items and mindfully choose colors for color-coding so you can use your planner more effectively. 

(and in a way that works for you!)

The second post will be dedicated to different tools and specific ways of how you can color-code your planner.

Sounds interesting?

Yaaaay…! 🙂

Now, let’s get going!

What is color-coding

Here’s my way of explaining what color-coding is.

(just in case you’re totally new to this concept 😉 )

Color-coding is basically highlighting the items that share a common feature with the same color and using a different color for items that have some other feature in common.

(I’ll get to various ways how you can classify those features shortly)

As you know, people are VERY visual beings, and color-coding is using this fact to its advantage.

The point is to make the colored items pop into your eyes the moment you open your planner so you could take whatever action you need on them accordingly.

This way you get a pretty good overview of the items which deserve your attention on a certain day, so you’ll successfully seize the day and make good use out of it. 🙂

Also, you can instantly see what’s on your agenda in the future.

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Ways to classify – what to color-code

Now that I’ve covered the very basics, it’s time for some fun! 🙂

And by that, I mean the different ways you can classify all of your various items for color-coding.

As with anything else in life, there are a number of ways you can do this, and each one has its pros and cons.

After a while, once you try out at least a few possibilities (and as you will see, there are many to choose from), you’ll figure out what works best for you.

You might even develop some new system which will suit you the most.

Now, let’s start!

Here are some of the ways you can classify the items in a planner.

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Color-coding by category

This is probably the most common way color-coding is used.

In this approach, you’re grouping the items according to a category to which a certain item belongs.

To make it easier to understand, here are some examples of categories.

It could be work, business, blog, home, garden, cleaning, maintenance/repairs, school, finances, fun, self-care/me-time, family, exercise…

If you’d like, you can use this way to group items by Level 10 Life categories.

By type within a category 

If you’d like to focus mostly on one or very few categories in your life, you can decide to use a color-coding system that breaks a single category into smaller segments and then use a different color for each segment.

For example, you can color-code “inside” the work category.

Its segments might be the physical work itself, marketing, design, internal matters (staff meetings, calls, emails…), paperwork, customer-related…

Or, home category – cleaning, errands, meal-related, bills, maintenance…

You get the picture.

If you believe this way of color-coding would fit the best for you, think of ways you can divide your desired categories into segments and you’re finished.

Color-coding by person 

In case you have a busy social life or you’re the main organizer of a family household (which I believe is a more common case for using color-coding), you can classify according to the person to which a certain item is related.

Except for having a color for yourself (obviously!), you can have a color for your significant other, kid(s), family members, friends, colleague(s), and even your pet in this scenario.

Of course, this way of noting and tracking items makes sense only if you pick a color for the people (or beings, if you decide to follow the “pet” idea 🙂 ) you frequently interact with.

By productivity level 

If you wish to ramp up your productivity level, classifying your items by how important and/or urgent they are is the way to go.

You can further divide each of the two to get a more subtle overview of what should be your primary focus, and what you should do next.

(and if you’re unsure how to determine what items are important and/or urgent to you, take a look at the post Your Key To Productivity 😉 )

How to color code your planner - ideas for categories infographic

By the time needed to accomplish it 

Another way to classify your items is by the time needed to accomplish them.

You can decide to mark quick 5-10 minutes tasks, those which last 30 minutes, an hour, and longer.

This way you can organize what to do and when. 

For instance, you can decide to do one or a couple of quick tasks in between longer ones.

Or first, do a couple of quick tasks just to break the procrastination mode and get the motivation for completing other assignments.

Whatever you find that works for you. 

By the time of the day 

If your planner doesn’t have a schedule, or if you write your items randomly in a brain-dump way, you can later organize them by the time in a day when you should perform a specific item.

(and you can also read about how to be productive even if you don’t have a schedule)

In this case, your color-coding groups might be morning, AM, noon, PM, evening, or even nighttime.

This way you’ll get an overview of when you should work on a certain item in a day without assigning a specific time for a certain task upfront.

By the level of difficulty 

You can decide to simplify your items by dividing them into only two groups according to their level of difficulty – easy or hard.

In a way, this approach can give you both an estimate of how long it will take you to accomplish an item and when you should do it.

Here’s what I mean by that.

Most of the time, easier tasks take less time, and harder longer.

And depending on your character and habits you can decide when you should do them.

Maybe you’re a person who likes to “eat the frog” and do the hardest task first.

Alternatively, you can do a few easy ones to warm up and get into the zone so you can then tackle the more demanding work that awaits you.

Try out and see what suits you the most.

Color-coding by location

Let’s name another way you can group your items together.

It could be by their location.

This might be a useful system if your days tend to have a fair amount of items that should (or can) be performed in different places.

Groups can be as simple as indoor/outdoor, or more specific like home, garden/yard, commute, workspace, outings.

Then you can decide what items to place into each category so you can use the time in a more productive way.

What I mean by it is this.

When you’re in a certain place, you’ll be able to do the item assigned to it – and not to go back and forth to accomplish the whole list.

For example, when commuting, you can also pick up the kids from school and do grocery shopping, or some other small errands.

Or, you can insert some activity when you’re in someplace.

Again, an explanation.

You could use your commute time to listen to an audiobook or podcast, or read an actual book and maybe even write a few lines in your journal – if you’re not the one who’s driving.

(talking about ways how you can add self-care into your day)

Although this approach is not a common one, it might work for you – at least from time to time.


I believe I showed you both some common and less frequently used ways you can group your items for color-coding.

What you’ll use will depend on your needs and preferences.

Of course, don’t forget this system is not written in stone.

You can vary your color-coding key depending on your needs for certain days, weeks, months, or periods of life.

Try out and see what type of classification works for you the best at the moment and go from there.

Inspirational Quote - Broken crayons still color

Assigning a color

This is an easy thing to do.

Depending on how many groups your chosen classification method has, you’ll use the same number of colors.

When picking a color, I suggest you use the one that associates you the most with the group you’ve assigned it to.

For example – I always associate red with something urgent, and green with something relaxing – say, casual outdoor activities or self-care.

Or, use blue for your son and pink for your daughter.

I know these colors are stupidly cliched, but they’re also widely accepted so it makes tracking easier.

You see, the point of color-coding is to take advantage of the association between a specific color and a certain group of items. 

And when you use the associations that are already formed in your brain (either by your personal preferences or by society’s perceiving), it makes tracking easier.

Because if you often catch yourself questioning “what did I mean by this color?”, or choosing an “unnatural” color for a specific group of items, it will not make color-coding much helpful to you.

(I, for example, can never associate red color with relaxing activities – not even in my wildest dreams!)

On the other hand, if you instantly (or as soon as) recognize what color belongs to a certain group, you’ll be able to use a planner more effectively – which is the bottom line.

The smartest thing you can do (if you want to be sure that you won’t forget or confuse your chosen colors and their matching categories) is to add a color-coding key on a spare page of your planner or bullet journal and keep it as a reference.

Printable color coding stickers bundle.

Here are a few other tips, as well.

If you use a classification method that has a certain grading level (like duration, productiveness, how difficult it is) you can use a similar group of colors from “high” to “low”.

Like, red-orange-yellow, or different shades of blue, green, pink (or any other color you like or already have at your disposal) from the darkest to the lightest.

Here’s what you can do, as well.

You can combine the two color-coding classes for one item – that is you can have two colors for a single item.

(I wouldn’t go beyond that, because it would make this system way too confusing and harder to track)

For instance, you can mix the category and the time needed to accomplish a certain item, or productivity and difficulty level, or a person and the time of the day… 

Whatever you find to be the most useful combination to have.

With this way of color-coding, I suggest you go with a color grading system for both classes, just so that you can figure out what the combination means more easily.

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I’ll stop here for now because it’s already a long post.

If you want more color-coding tips and ideas, check out the second part of this post dedicated to tools and ways to color-code your planner

(there are some amazing ideas you probably never thought of! 😉 )

Also, you can have a look at this quite intriguing post – Should You Use A Habit Tracker Instead Of A Planner?

(you might discover it could work for you! )

Pssst... Here are more related posts just for you, dear! 😉

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