Author’s note #1: Ironically, I’m presently in between assignments right now so I’m not working for someone else. Either way, this is my tried and true system for many years now. I am working on several business ventures of my own, and I still use the below system, although I don’t have meetings and conference calls right now as illustrated below. Anyway, If I were working for someone else right now, I would probably have continued to procrastinate writing this post!
Author’s note #2: I formerly used the almighty A5 size planner for the same purpose as described below. I switched last year from A5 to a US half-letter-sheet size for convenience. I wouldn’t have switched from the A5 if we used the same standard sheet sizes here in the US! My A5 was the rare, gorgeous, calf leather, tan Sandhurst Filofax which I’ve owned for 17 years as of this writing. I am still hoarding it, which is just plain wrong, and I know it.
I wanted to write this post because I have written about my system before on my blog and on comments to other ones here and there. I thought I’d delve into detail on my system in case anyone finds a helpful morsel or tidbit. My last post, Running a Work and Personal Planner, briefly mentions the content of my work planner, so here is the whole enchilada, unabridged. You’d never know from reading my rambly posts that I rarely say two words in any of the work meetings!
And now, the guest star…
Workhorse. Weapon of choice: FranklinCovey tangerine-y, zip binder (my first zip binder!) with slim rings.
Classic/Half-Letter size with 7 rings. Franklin Planner calls this Classic; DayTimer calls it Desk. DayRunner has one too. These all use the US half-letter sheets (5.5” x 8.5”) and are similar in size to an A5 although they are not the same size sheets or hole punch formats.
This entire planner is centered around one element: the Weekly planner. Every work action I need to tackle in a week goes on here. It requires some ‘syncing’ but that is part of what feeds the Weekly and it’s the bit on which I thrive. The key method for this planner is that it’s managed week by week. Hardly anything gets populated in advance in here (because it doesn’t act as my calendar).
- The ritual is I typically fill in the week on a Monday morning. A Friday afternoon or weekend might work for others, in my case it just tends to make sense based on the ridiculous amounts of work email received over the weekend, redefining your Monday “when you get in this morning” priorities, or their piece of the puzzle they worked on over the weekend which is now back to your court for the next action, etc.
- The Weekly format I use for work is vertical columns week-on-two-pages.
- I use these weekly sheets as more of a planner (less of a calendar).
- I hack this format into my own custom weekly format, as I’ve described before on other blog comments, but for those of you who are interested and haven’t seen that description before, I am rehashing it here. I came up with this hack-format about 10 years ago and it provides me great comfort.
- I completely ignore the timestamps. I sort of write over them if writing on a line that has one.
- Every week, I use a ruler (usually the page-marker-ruler because it’s right there!) and a semi-bold black felt-type ink pen and draw a few horizontal lines to create my custom sections on the planner.
- I put my timed appointments and meetings on the top section (I just handwrite the time of the meeting), or anything that is truly time specific. This handwritten time stands out to me enough since I don’t have back-to-back meetings all day. I like it top-of-page because I don’t usually get to control my schedule and this highlights where I need to be when and what I need to prepare for.
- The section below the appointments, I write in deadlines and rather inflexible must-do-today stuff. I call this section “DUE or DO TODAY.” There’s most always going to be more than fits there, so we will get to how I manage that in a few minutes.
- The lower section is used to group stuff for this week. Each column might be just one subject/project, or it might be items that are similar in nature – it’s free-form and I just adjust it each week as needed. Sometimes I put a heading or title at the top of these little lists, but not usually because I already know what they contain.
- Saturday and Sunday don’t get drawn on because I don’t need them for work unless there is something out of the ordinary that requires weekend work. These can be used as bonus spaces for more lists or notes.
- I jot down the entries from my Outlook work calendar, this helps me mesh my work timed appointments with everything else. Just the time and topic, not all of the other details that are already in Outlook – as mentioned in my previous post.
- The new emails, flagged emails, Outlook schedule and any shared project lists or project software are all reviewed to extract what’s due this week, deadlines, special arrangements, etc. etc. and filled into the weekly pages accordingly. This is not everything under the sun, but rather is focused on my work that I need to do. I don’t replicate every piece of every group project here, just what I need to focus on, my work, etc.
- This planner is dedicated to work and as detailed in my previous post, I add (sync) only certain personal to-do’s in here as needed (such as a dental appointment in the middle of the work day).
Other Key Tools
Additionally, I stick a large, lined 4″x6″ sticky note on the week and I write on there those messy reminders and little stuff that must be done or remembered that week (THIS is my place for that little stuff that we all never really know where to write down).
- Every week gets a fresh sticky. I use a Sharpie or similar marker to write across the top WEEK OF 4/3 – 4/9.
- At the beginning of the week, the sticky note goes on the right size of the planner so that it only covers up Thursday-Sunday. On Thursday, the sticky moves to the left side to only obscure Monday-Wednesday.
I stuff a trusty notebook (or steno pad) in the planner (perfect fit). This notebook is my “daily planner” and capture device.
- Each morning I write the date across the top of a fresh page and fill in the musts for the day (many of which were deadlines or tasks already recorded in the weekly planner, so this is copied to the daily pad). This becomes the big blown-up version of the day. Sometimes at the end of the workday, I will start up tomorrow’s page – especially when I didn’t finish key items for today and need to roll them over or there is something wildly important that I need to be sure stays on my radar in the morning.
- Now that the pad is populated with today’s focus and agenda, I work from that Daily pad for the day. Weekly planner stays open on my desk for quick visual reference throughout the day, and it goes to all meetings with me. Throughout the day, depending upon the ebb and flow of things, I might pluck a few more things off the big weekly view that I can knock out or follow up on today.
- I typically devote both facing pages if needed for the day. The priority list is on the most convenient sheet and then I usually add notes/capture on the other page. When I don’t use much of a page, I will just append to it the following day instead of turning to a new sheet.
- This pad is invaluable to my day because it’s unstructured and spacious enough that I do not worry about running out of room for the day’s stuff. The size, (about 6”x9”) is also a very good measure of about how much I can actually do in one day.
- This pad is where I jot down the zillion little things that come up, transcribing voicemails, etc.
- The flexibility of the notepad allows me to turn a page just use more pages if needed. I just make sure to put the date at the top for context.
- At day’s end, or in the morning, any of these things that are still undone get transferred to where they belong (the weekly planner, or the next day’s list or into a future date or project list or whatever).
- After everything has been transferred, the previous pages get clamped with a binder clip. This is the signal that there is nothing left lurking back there that still needs attention. If I don’t complete the transfer for a day or few, the pages remain unclipped until the capture and transfer is complete.
- You could easily use daily sheets in your planner for this, but it’s the simple portability of the notebook pad that make this work for me. When I worked in an office, I carried this pad with me everywhere and left the planner at my desk almost all of the time, except for meetings in which case I would also bring the planner. Having that pad with me all of the time was great because it seemed even when I just went to the kitchen for coffee, someone would ask me for something or I’d think of something that needed to be done, so I could always capture these requests and thoughts.
- The other reason I favor the separate notebook over the sheet inside the planner is that I can see my Daily and my Weekly at the same time. If both are buried in the planner, then you have to flip back and forth to see both. This works fine for some people although the system I’ve got going works best for me because I am very This Week focused and I want to be able to see it all of the time!
- These pads I choose usually contain about 80 sheets, so they last about three months and are usually slim enough to stuff into the planner.
- Tip: the best ones ever were steno pads with colored sheets. They are quick to spot on a busy desk.
Observations and Other Bits
- The key to this and any planning system is to review everything and make sure anything undone is transferred and not left behind.
- My system of planning includes re-writing when things don’t get done and also recurring items, and I am OK with that since I choose to use a handwritten system anyway. To me, I like the writing – it’s part of the process and it works well with my mind. When I am faced with rewriting something that didn’t get done, it is another opportunity for evaluation of this item. Even the re-writing of items is part of why my system alleviates stress and worry – everything is accounted for. Here I decide – does this stay on this week’s lists or do I just need to store it on a Remember Me list, etc.
- It is used in conjunction with project lists that are part of our company’s shared systems. In no way does my planner take place of those master lists and project lists. I do not handwrite long project lists and timelines in my planner. It’s just my week full of detailed things I will be doing and following up on. It’s also a clear illustration of the week’s deadlines and priorities – across all of the things going on that week, not just one project or subject at a time.
I have the Monthly calendar sheets as well. These are great for overviews. Typically, I only put in what I call “highlights” – the deadlines or major events overview. major work deadlines (like go-live or launch dates), and things like that. Even if I wrote nothing on them, the ease of flipping to that visual tool in my planner and being able to see the days and dates so quickly at any time is unparalleled in convenience. I really don’t use the Monthlies at work much day-to-day but they really shine when I’m in a meeting or on a conference call. At a super quick flip to the monthly tab, I can see exactly which day of the month that event begins, the big important dates, etc.
A few other sheets in my work planner that include some pertinent info that I refer to often, along with extra sheets in case I need quick access to note-taking. Nearly all meeting notes are taken on my computer or iPad, but every once in a while when that is not an option, I go to the blank sheets in my planner. I’ve been to some meetings at meals or coffee shops where it was easier (and more engaged) to write in my planner than on my iPad.
I keep some cheat-sheet pages in my planner. These are those nuggets of info that you need access to when your computer is frozen, the network is being rebooted, or the Internet is down. IT professionals will assure you the Internet is never down. But you know what I mean. For me, these nuggets of info include a printout of the company phone list, cheat sheets with log-in info for a few people who routinely ask me “what was my log in again?” for our shared project software, the card number details for the credit card I need to use frequently for company purchases but I am not the cardholder, and the hotline emergency number for reaching IT when the Internet is down. It is important that I have this number handy because of the swarm of Internet-less people that crowd my desk with panic eyeballs as wide as boiled eggs looking at me like I am the last human on a zombie-crawling island, because I am the only one packing a planner.
Using my work planner system is the least stressful way of planning (and surviving) my day and my week.
Thank you very much for reading. 🙂