Pen and Paper – Tools of the Trade

This post is dedicated to organizing tools. Time Management, yes!

I’ve always said I’m a person of the pen and paper tools. Apart from Calendar and email, I’ve never used electronic planning devices. I have Evernote, Money Manager and a few other apps installed on my smartphone, but hardly ever use them. Luckily, my Google Calendar automatically synchronizes with my phone, and that’s where I put my personal dates.

But I never used a datebook or agenda for more than 2 months.

What I do use, however, a LOT, are notebooks. And here I daresay I have a few tips:

1. The Office Book.

I use one A5 office notebook. Only one. IMAG0262

It has 3 sections: one for to do lists, one for meeting notes and one for mind maps and ideas.


Their advantages:

  • You can use them for more than 1 year
  • You can carry them around the office with you (you only have ONE notebook which goes with you at all times).
  • You can write ideas as well there, or project plans, not just to do lists. Why carry a small notepad, a calendar AND a journal, when you can have it all here?
  • You don’t get confused between writing down dates for next meetings and appointments, or notes. Meetings and appointments stay in Outlook or your smartphone, and this notebook is …well, for notes.

A Moleskine Plain Notebook will do just fine, but I prefer hardcover ringbound notebooks. They’re easy to flip and you can write anywhere on them, which proves useful when you’re in the coffee area or outside during a chat, and need to note something down.

Mine also had a pocket at the back, where I put small bits of paper (you know, the kinds that always hang around from the pages?)

IMAG0264If you, however, insist on keeping flimsy notes and pieces of paper stuck between pages of your office book, then, by all means, get one with an elastic strap band that keeps pages together. Moleskine have them, but, although I am a Moleskine fan, my old pink agenda (above) had the elastic band as well, and was, in addition, ring bound and hardcover.
What could I have wished more?

2. The small black book

If you, like me, think “well, that’s all very fine, but I need a smaller notebook that I can have with me at all times, and A5 is rather large”, here’s my answer for you:

The “small black book” is perfect for writing down thoughts, small drawings or middle-of-the-night revelations. This is mine: a small Moleskine (no, this is not product placement!) sketchbook. IMAG0266

This one’s also organized, after Lifehack’s example. It has  sections:

1. Projects/Mind Maps (usually work stuff or training outlines)

2. Coaching (ideas, plans, blog post outlines)

3. To Do lists (just what the name suggests, including grocery lists)

4. Ideas. That’s where I also include drawings or small sketches.

If you’re not the plain paper kind, they also have them in lined or math paper.

3. Organizer / Agenda

If you insist, you may also use an organizer. I’ve discovered in time that Outlook Calendar or Google Calendar do the work just fine, and skipped the usual organizer. Plus, it provided no space for me to write my usual notes!

The problem with organizers is:
- they’re either weekly-based, and you can write max. 2 appointments in a day’s space. And, really, if you’re to do only 2 things per day, why do you need an organizer?
-  they’re daily-based (diaries) and then you cram all those 20 things to do in there and you have no more space for notes. No, the 2 inches on the lower side of the page don’t count as notes space. And, if you have a project meeting, what do you take with you? Where would you write your ideas?

Oh, right.
What you’re saying is “If I have a 5 item to do list as a result of my meeting, where do I put that?”

Well, that’s why you have the “To Do” section in your Office Book. That’s why it’s useful to make regular reviews and see where you stand towards your plans.IMAG0265

My tip for working with organizers:

At the end of the week (Sunday evenings) or when you do your weekly planning for the days ahead, make a review of your to do list. Decide on 1-2 things you want achieved by the end of the week.
Write them down.
Then write all other things that NEED to be accomplished on that week.
Then copy them in your organizer pages, splitting them by days and booking time in advance for them.

During the week, always go back to that weekly priorities list, and cross things off as you go along.

One more important thing about organizers: If you have one, have ONLY one. Don’t use one for personal dates, and one for appointments with your boss. Sooner or later, you’ll have a meeting set up for you which will clash with your dentist appointment.

When working with an organizer, I used it for setting appointments. Someone would ask “Are you free Thursday at 3 for a meeting with the agency?” I’d look in my organizer and say yes. Then, going back to my computer, I’d realize that another important invitation had just been sent to me. Now I just say “Let me go back to my  computer and I’ll come back to you.” That’s why I use only Outlook.

But if you really, really must write to do’s and notes on flimsy pieces of paper, I have one more tip for you:

4. File arrangements

Most offices come with a desk. Desks come with small cupboards, where you store documents. If you have a vertical filing system, consider the following approach:IMAG0268

The first folder is labeled “Projects – ongoing”

The second folder is labeled “Projects – completed”

Regularly (once per quarter or even once per year) remove the files in “Projects – completed” and archive them.
This way, you won’t have flimsy pieces of paper floating around.

Remember that saying “Deal with each piece of paper once”?
This filing system supports it.

If you have a meeting or get an email which is so long you need to print, or get an outline which you want to read later, and demands action from your side which you can’t do now, place the document into the folder “Projects – ongoing”.

Review the folder each morning. Take out those files and deal with them, one at a time. Once completed, place them in the next folder.

What about those other files, that don’t require action?
Well, these go in the folder “Useful info”. [However, I rarely revisit that folder. I've learned that most pieces of info either demand my (immediate) action or can be trashed. If I need them later, I run a search on my computer. ]

What about you? What personal organizing systems do you use?

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