My history of organizer systems in bulleted list format:
- Early college years: Cheap DayRunner vinyl organizer with calendar refill and address book
- Later college years: Leather DayTimer organizer that weighed about 50 lbs. with binder-ring style calendar, addresses, notepaper, etc., slots for ID and credit cards, zipper pocket, notepad, blah blah blah…
- Briefly: Hand-me-down Palm Pilot from my sister. Spent hours entering stuff into it, then stopped using it because the batteries got used up so quickly.
- Full-time employment years: Yellow legal notepad with tiny printed to-do items listed one after another, crossed off as completed
- Initial self-employed years: Cheap iPads.com calendar notebook with preprinted monthly sheets, weekly spreads, and pages in between each month for tracking expenses (I used it for tracking invoices), notes, etc. Spiral-bound and custom photo and title/text printed on the cover. Low-tech and awesome.
- October 2006 – March 2007: Moleskine-hacked calendar/organizer. iPads.com stopped printing calendars. After dragging myself out of the depths of despair, I designed my own (more details/pictures below).
- Now: Rollabind/Circa system organizer with personally-designed/printed pages. I’m loving it!
I think the Moleskine and Rollabind stuff will be most interesting to readers, so here are some pictures and descriptions:
Moleskine planner hack… I got a large ruled Moleskine and numbered almost all the pages (with the exception of my monthly spread pages).
Pages 1-3: A long list of books I want to read. Handy whenever I went to the library.
Page 4: A list of books I want to buy.
Page 5-92: Calendar.
First, a page (page 5) for my monthly spread. The month/year was written in the upper corner. My dividers were 1″ columns and 7/8″ rows.
After this (pages 6-7) are two blank pages, which I use for tracking what invoices are due and then for jotting down shopping lists and the like, all related to that month. For example, you can see the list of vacuum repair shops that I called in its own box, and my list of projects for the month.
After these two pages is where my weekly view pages come in. The big moleskine has 30 lines, so each day has 10 lines. It took me about an hour to use a ruler and pen and mark out the pages for 6 months, including the monthly-view pages.
At first, I tried putting appointments and events in the left side of each day, and to-do check lists in the right side. (I liked the checkbox system that Mike Rohde discussed.) I began having too many to-do’s and found myself transferring to-dos to other days, so then I tried more of a GTD system — more about that in a bit.
I only created weekly/monthly spreads for October – March, so I added a few pages of simple monthly-view pages to act as placeholders for my next organizer.
I also got some cardstock and cut out a divider with a tab, which I then glued to the page after my extra-month-pages.
The area past the divider (about half of the book) became my to-do lists, shopping lists, GTD lists system.
After trying out GTD for a few weeks, I gave up. Since I work at home, the different contexts were confusing me and I felt like I was using too much paper. I took some of the concepts of GTD (an “inbox” that I process, keeping my calendar pristine by only recording actual appointments) and started using the blank part of my moleskine for a daily project scheduler, borrowing some ideas from David Seah’s “menu of the day” — just not as pretty, not as smart, simpler, more compact, and handwritten:
Here’s a close-up of one day:
- So — the night before, or the morning of, I write down the date.
- I make a list on the right (lettered) of the various tasks and projects I need to work on. This includes meetings, errands, etc. (I usually refer to Basecamp and the calendar part of my planner to help me.)
- I mark the hours of the day on the left (the numbers are written on the lines, to help divide the space).
- Then I write down the corresponding letters of my projects inside the schedule, sort of estimating how long I think tasks will take me and blocking out time for them. If I can do multiple things in one hour, I write the letters next to each other. Unfortunately I often forget to schedule in some time for lunch, as you can see on 1/16 and 1/17.
- As I complete things, I cross them off on the right, and also make a slash through the corresponding letter on the left. If something gets moved off my list, I put an “x” through the letter (although I don’t necessarily do that on the right side; I’m not very consistent!).
And as you can see, Steve likes to jot things down in my schedule without me realizing it until later…
I also used the blank area of the moleskine for keeping track of other stuff, taking notes, etc.
As March approached and my moleskine calendar was coming to its end, I analyzed how it was working for me:
- 🙂 I like how I customized it myself.
- 🙂 There’s something cool about using a moleskine — the paper is nice, the covers are sturdy, it’s self-contained.
- 😦 I found myself flipping through pages too often to try to find information.
- 😦 It took too much time to hack the moleskine.
- 😦 The moleskine isn’t really “expandable,” which is one thing I really liked about my DayTimer binder system.
I started looking at other options, and was intrigued by my sister’s Circa system (from www.levenger.com). The fact that you could theoretically create your own page layouts and build the binder however you wanted was really appealing. I also got sucked in by the coolness factor of the roladex-style pages — no binder rings to mess with, you just “snap” the pages onto the rings. And, with the purchase of the slightly pricey hole-punch, you can add practically anything to your binder!
So, I went ahead and ordered:
- A black junior notebook from Rollabind Systems
- The Circa desk punch from Levenger
- The Circa Page Finder (a plastic bookmark with ruler markings) from Levenger
- A set of Circa Junior Tab Dividers (still on sale) from Levenger
- Junior size Circa Soft Color Pocket Dividers from Levenger — plastic dividers with a slot to hold papers and stuff
I was very disappointed that the Pocket Dividers were slightly too big! They are just a little too tall in comparison to the junior notebook cover. The weird thing is that the Junior Tab Dividers fit perfectly, so you would think that the junior-sized pocket dividers would be similar, but no! So I ended up putting two of the pocket dividers at the very back of the notebook, where they still stick out slightly on the top and bottom but aren’t as noticeable.
Here’s how I set up my new organizer, from front to back:
- A cardstock cover sheet with my name and “return to” info on it
- A plastic blue divider tab (unlabelled for now)
- A 2007 Compact Calendar, which I reformatted to print out in two columns on a half-sheet, deleted some of the holidays, and added people’s birthdays
- My daily inserts (more below)
- The page finder/bookmark
- My personal-designed weekly calendar pages through the end of 2007 (more below)
- A red tab divider
- Various loose pages for things I need to remember and keep track of…
- A temporary “contacts” page with harp teacher contact info
- A basic sheet for keeping track of my Dos Coyotes house account
- A basic sheet for keeping track of invoices and when they are due
- A green tab divider
- Blank ruled pages
- A pocket divider, which holds my loose daily inserts
- Another pocket divider, which is empty but may theoretically hold receipts and other loose stuff
I Photoshopped together some examples of my daily inserts and calendar pages…
I print out my weekly calendar page spread and then hand-write in the dates. Then I cut it in half (trim the bottom slightly) and then use my special hole puncher to make the rollabind slots.
The idea is that actual scheduled events go in the boxes… I’ve been using the extra column space for things I need to remember or do.
Daily page insert:
My daily page is an 8.5 x 5.5 sheet, folded slightly off center so that the right side doesn’t get in the way of the binder holds.
The left side, obviously, is for me to plan out my day. I’m using the same method I have in my moleskine with listing tasks and then blocking them into my day.
The right side is a personalized health-and-routines tracking thing. I like filling in bubble forms, so I made my own bubble form to help keep track of things I think I should be doing every day (exercising, eating breakfast, etc.) as well as my recommended food servings (because I tend to pig out on carbs and protein and not eat enough fruits and veggies). I need to edit this part of the sheet after I go through my small stack of preprinted ones, because I want to add stuff like “practice harp” and bubbles to fill in for drinking enough water and remove some of the things I don’t need. As I develop better house cleaning routines, I’ll figure out a way to add those, as well.
(I personally thought it was very fun and clever to use food shapes for tracking my food! And yes, I was inspired by Dave’s cool Printable CEO stuff.)
So in my rollabind, I just clip the daily sheet over the weekly sheet and fold in the tracker flap, like this:
For now, I’m keeping my page bookmark so that it goes to today’s daily sheet, with the past daily sheets layered on the other side, like this:
I’m planning to come up with a monthly spread, because I’m finding that I really need the visual layout of a monthly calendar as well. I also liked the note pages in between each month that I had in my iPads organizer and Moleskine, so I’ll probably add those as well, maybe come up with a form to keep track of invoices and projects…. we’ll see!
So that’s my new organizer. It’s pretty fun.
Update 3/21/2007: I put together a monthly calendar spread in Illustrator (and showed how to do it step-by-step in a recent post), and also cleaned up my weekly/daily pages so that you can download the PDFs.
- Weekly/Daily organizer PDF pages – calendar-weekly-daily.zip
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.
- You can theoretically open the PDFs in Illustrator and customize them.
- I don’t know how useful the daily pages are to anyone who doesn’t have Illustrator, because the routines and food serving amounts are very specific to me! If you’d like me to customize a form for you, you can hire me. Or, have someone else do it for you.
- If for some reason you’d like to have the original Illustrator files, I could probably come up with a reasonable price. Let me know.
I print the weekly page spread on both sides. So that the box margins are as tight to the edge of the page as possible, I have them aligned towards the middle of the page. This means that when I cut the page in half, I hole-punch the opposite side. For my organizer, I also trim the bottom 1/4″ off so that the pages fit neatly with the rest of the pages. I think this paragraph may be terribly confusing so here is a diagram — the aqua lines show the cuts I make:
For the daily spread, I print it out on one side, then cut it in half horizontally and hole-punch the left side. The dotted line shows the fold that I make.
I hope this is helpful!