As promised I am going to explain a bit about how I put together my new planner.  It is working very well, and it has some advantages that off-the-shelf planner’s don’t for the academic lifestyle.

As you may recall my old GTD system fell apart and I stopped paying it any attention.  Last week I put together a new one and it appears to have addressed a number of the core reasons why the old one didn’t work.  An interesting blog post this morning brought home to me the reason that the off-the-shelf planner’s fall apart.  (I was a Franklin devotee for a very long time….)

A detailed, daily view calendar for someone with few scheduled events
will cause the person to lose interest in  checking it. There’s no
reward in the constant reminder that you have nowhere specific to be
today. As a result,  you’ll stop checking it a few days before something
important happens, and you’ll miss it. A monthly view calendar for
someone with six appointments a day is obviously also a problem in that
it becomes difficult to manage.

This may all SOUND very obvious but it took a while for me to get it through my thick skull.  I am no longer calendar driven. I’m not even really task driven, since most of my tasks are big-uglies (like “write conference proposal”).  I am project driven.   That needs to be the focus of my organizational scheme.

So, in that spirit, here’s what I am doing.

Binder: I am using a disc-style notebook that allows me to easily add and remove pages.  These are binders that use discs instead of rings to hold the paper.  They do require a special punch, but have some advantages.  Here’s a picture.

<img src=”/images/100083-92795/Rollabind1.jpg” border=”0″ width=”173″>  <img src=”/images/100083-92795/flat.JPG” border=”0″ width=”130″>

Comparable items are available from Circa (available from Levenger), Myndology, and Rollabind that is sometimes available at Staples.   I also found this style of notebook at the Saks 5th Avenue outlet.  I use this kind of notebook for two reasons:

  1. You can bring the cover around to the back and the book still lays flat; this means it takes up less room on my desk.  (see the 2nd picture above)  This was the most important selling point for me.
  2. It allows me to quickly and easily move pages around without having to wrestle with the jaws of death that some ring binders seem to have. 

Having said that, there is no reason you can’t use just any old binder for this.  Anything that will let you add, move and remove pages is fine.

I chose to do this in a binder that takes 5.5″x8.5″ (half letter-size) with room for tabs so that the whole thing fits in my bag.  The rest of this will assume you are doing the same.

Calendar:  It still needs to be there, but unlike pre-packaged planners mine is exactly 3 pages.  I primarily still use google calendar for my schedule.  On a weekly basis I reprint this month and the next two months worth of calendar pages from google calendar, one month per page.  It looks something like this:

<img style=”width: 346px; height: 266px;” src=”/images/100083-92795/month.jpg” border=”0″>

Key things to note is that this is only my hard landscape, holidays and my husband’s schedule.  Exercise, soft landscape, and anything else that is discretionary aren’t on the printout.  I punch these 3 pages and put them into the binder.

Dividers:  I had some purple card-stock (8.5×11 size) from 3 ring binder dividers that I used to make pocket page.  These are my dividers.

Forms: Some people like blank pages, but I prefer structure.  In putting this system together I made heavy use of a great site called DIYPlanner. The site has a TON of excellent templates for a planner.  Most of the ones I chose were from the official classic-sized core 2-up package
This allowed me to save paper, as it puts 2 pages (the same page) on
each side of the page.  I also printed 2 sided.  This required a bit of
experimenting with my printer but the secret turned out simple.  In the print dialog you have to specify WHICH 2 pages at a time you want printed (since there are far more forms in this package than you will want or need).  Then you choose Properties and click Print on Both Sides and Flip Pages Up (as per the image)

<img style=”width: 367px; height: 259px;” src=”/images/100083-92795/print_dialog.jpg” border=”0″>

What this does is ensure that when you print the pages you can cut them right down the middle and have 2 half sheets with room for your hole punch on the correct size, everything printed the right way up. 

The next step is just to pick your forms.  Here are the ones I chose.

To Do/Tasks/Next Actions/Whatever you call them:  I have determined that multiple context really doesn’t work for me; I don’t look at some of the lists for long periods of time.  Thus I have gone back to one next actions list using the following form:

<img src=”/images/100083-92795/todo.jpg” border=”0″ width=”418″>

This form have several advantages that work for me:

  • There is a check box at the beginning – always satisfying to check things off
  • There are two lines, since I write big and often need quite a bit of information there
  • There is a due date spot, since many items have dates attached
  • There is a delegated to box for when I can delegate something
  • It isn’t tied to any date.

If I want to write a context at the top I can, or I can use the smaller box at the beginning of the line.  For now I’m not doing that and it is working out well.

Then I have a divider/pocket page (see above).

Agenda/Waiting For:  I realized recently that half of my agenda items were checking up on waiting-for’s with people.  Specifically I had a list of things to touch base on with each important person in my life.  Now I have an Agenda form for them:

<img src=”/images/100083-92795/agenda.jpg” border=”0″ width=”450″>

I put the person’s name on the top line and then keep a running list of what I need to talk to them about, whether it is something new or a follow-up.  This is working out really well as I now am remembering to talk to people about everything when I see them.  So far I have one for my husband, adviser, mother, and a couple of friends. 

Then I have a divider/pocket page (see above).

Projects:  This is my most important section.  I have 2 different templates here, one for the left page and one for the right:
<img style=”width: 340px; height: 267px;” src=”/images/100083-92795/proj1.jpg” border=”0″><img style=”width: 314px; height: 183px;” src=”/images/100083-92795/proj2.jpg” border=”0″>

Again, there are some key features here:

  • Each project has a place for the name, description and outcome statement.  Projects are more likely to come out well if you can clearly state what the outcome should be and this forces me to specify it.
  • The section on Challenges and Solutions is where I put roadblocks that I need specific help on.
  • The rest of that page and all of the 2nd page is for either notes or specific tasks when I work on that project.  The tasks can be moved to my next actions list as appropriate, but I’m not strict about what I use those pages for – they are open spaces for me to brainstorm or whatever.

I have several pages of these in between each of my final secret weapon – Durable File Tabs (Post-It)

<img src=”/images/100083-92795/tag.jpg” border=”0″ width=”150″>

These tabs allow me to create a section for each project that I am working on with as many pages as necessary.  I write the name of the project on it and can add or remove as necessary.

That’s it – the rest of the binder is blank pages.  I have spares of each form in it (in their section) but mostly fill the binder out with a bunch of lined paper for taking notes or adding into the other sections. 

So far it is working like a dream – I am checking it, have it out all the time, use technology for what I need (syncing calendars with my husband and having the computer beep at me when I need to go do something) and paper for everything else.

I realize that I have strayed somewhat far afield from true GTD.  There are many aspects of the system I still use, not the least of which is the ubercritical GTD flowchart.

<img src=”/images/100083-92795/gtd.gif” border=”0″ width=”412″>

This flowchart helps me to keep clear and moving forward, even if I don’t write it down the same way he might suggest.  I also am a total fanatic about the 2-minute rule.  (If it takes less than 2 minutes to do something, just do it now.  It will take you longer to put it into your system then to just get it done.)  So in many ways I am still using the core of the system, but my lists look a bit different than what David recommends.  That’s OK.

That’s enough for now.  Comments, ideas, improvements, etc., always welcome.