Ever since I was in Jr. High, I’ve used a planner. Most of my life it was some sort of Franklin Covey, Day Runner kind of system that I used, but in 2006 I was inspired to build my own system, loosely based on the GTD methodology presented in the book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity and various life hacking posts on “Moleskine hacking”.
Why do I insist on keeping a notebook? To quote Dwight Schrute,
“I keep secrets from my computer.”
But seriously, keeping an analogue notebook will make your brain work better and make you more productive. Promise.
The Core System
The first part of my system begins with my weekly tasks page. This is the big tasks I have to get done this week. The two pages are each divided in half, creating four section: Work, Work Misc., Personal and Misc.
Work is project work, Work Misc. is usually internal projects or other work related activities (like doing expense sheets or something else equally horrible). Personal and Misc. are pretty self explanatory.
Each week I copy over any tasks from the previous week that I haven’t completed and as the week progresses I write any tasks that develop back over into the appropriate section. This provides me with a week at a glance view of everything I have going on and everything I need to do be working on.
The second part of my GTD Hack is the biggest difference between my system and others I’ve seen out there and, for me, it’s the most important part of the system. I call these 2 pages my “Day Map.” On the left page I’ve divided the page into two parts. The top of the page consists of two headings:
The 3 Things I Have to do
The 3 Things I Have to Work On
Both pretty self explanatory but I’ve found these little tasks to be really important for me. One of the key tenants of GTD is that you don’t create a bunch of to-do lists that never get done. But for me the 3 things is a good balance of “If nothing else I have to do these 3 things.”
The bottom of this page is also really, really important it’s my “Return and Report” section. At the end of each day I sit down with myself and ask how the day went. What went well, what could have gone better and what got in my way, and most importantly, how am I going to do better tomorrow. This is really important, don’t skip this last part.
The right hand page is my day at a glance. I have four boxes for the things I want to do every morning (but don’t always get to), Exercise, Read, Blog & Write. I check these boxes off, when I do them and write notes next to them as to what I actually did. Then I have time slots to for each hour of my day. This is less about day planning and more about time capture. What did I spend my day doing. I’ll often make notes throughout the day. I end the page with another box for end of day planning.
I then use different colored flags to denote tasks, reference items, and good ideas - things I’ll want to come back to later. The rest of my notebook is filled with notes I take all day long. Each meeting I’m in I write something down about it. Who was there, action items assigned to me or my team, key take-a-ways, random thoughts, etc. I also make sure to take a few minutes each day to write down the various thoughts floating around my head.
My Promise To You
I can’t overestimate this enough; We live in a state of constant over stimulation. Your brain is always coming up with ideas. If you don’t have an outlet for those ideas while they’re still in early development, your brain will struggle to save the goods ones and get rid of the bad ones, freeing it up to work on more good ones.