My new organizer

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:

Click picture for larger version in a new window:

Here’s a close-up of one day:

  1. So — the night before, or the morning of, I write down the date.
  2. 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.)
  3. I mark the hours of the day on the left (the numbers are written on the lines, to help divide the space).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Circa/Rollabind System

As March approached and my moleskine calendar was coming to its end, I analyzed how it was working for me:

  1. πŸ™‚ I like how I customized it myself.
  2. πŸ™‚ There’s something cool about using a moleskine — the paper is nice, the covers are sturdy, it’s self-contained.
  3. 😦 I found myself flipping through pages too often to try to find information.
  4. 😦 It took too much time to hack the moleskine.
  5. 😦 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…

Weekly spread:


Click for bigger view

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:


Click for bigger view

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:


Click for bigger view

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:


Click for bigger view

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.

Download:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Notes:

  • 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.

Instructions:

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:

Guides for weekly sheet

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.

Guides for weekly sheet

I hope this is helpful!

46 thoughts on “My new organizer

  1. Wow Corrie, this is an excellent description of your process! Interesting how you described your flowing from one system to the next, until you found just the right system for your needs.

    I think the Moleskine planner hack, while not super-expandable, works for me because my personal life is not terribly complex, and I handle my company scheduling and such on the Mac with iCal, Mail, Daylite and OmniOutliner. If I had to do work and personal in a Moleskine, it might eventually blow up too.

    I do find that by limiting my personal weekly calendar in the Moleskine to 6 months, it leaves me room to expand if needed β€” trying to cram a 12 month weekly calendar into a pocket Moleskine might be a tough thing to pull off.πŸ™‚

    Thanks for your detailed article β€” I’m sure it will be very helpful for many people still searching for the ideal system!πŸ™‚

  2. Hey!
    Congratulations on your new weblog! I stumbled here while trying to read about Moleskine notebooks… and your first post has proven to be a hit already!πŸ™‚
    I’ve read David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and I also have the Moleskine! : ) I think I’m not utilising the notebook properly and using it to its full potential, as I’m usually using it just to create bullet-point lists.
    It was interesting to read of how you used the notebook and of your new organiser. I like the fact that relevant papers can be added and layered as desired!

    PS. I’m the first comment on your blog! : )

  3. hyperreality – I was really surprised by the subculture of Moleskine notebooks/hacks (I’m also surprised to have “joined the ranks”), and am actually a little sad to be leaving it with my Rollabind/Circa system.πŸ™‚ Thanks for visiting!

    Mike – I feel honored to have a comment from you! You can see how heavily “inspired” I was by your moleskine planner, as I’m sure many other people have been. Thanks for coming by to check it out!

  4. Corrie,
    I can’t say I’ve seen a process-based Circa/Rolla notebook quite as compelling as the one you describe. [-and I work for Levenger.] I think it’s a sure bet we could learn a great deal from you.
    Your ability to describe the development process up to this point is just as admirable.
    I look forward to reading more. Great job on what looks to be a pretty successful new weblog.

  5. Hi Corrie,

    Neat system! Are you willing to share a printable form (PDF? Word? Excel?) of your daily and weekly sheets? I particularly like the style you used and the way you included a way to do health/routines tracking. However, I don’t have the tools to make something like it myself. None of the templates on DIY are quite right; I’ve checked almost all of them.

    I hope it works for you as well as you hope!

    Monimo

  6. Monimo – Sure — I’ll clean them up and post PDFs when I get a chance (later today or tomorrow). I don’t think the daily page will be that useful as the food servings and routines are pretty specific to my life, but perhaps they will serve as inspiration.

  7. I LOVE your idea for tracking food groups. I’ve been trying to do so, but find the Food Pyramid ones a bit cumbersome. The little fruits and veggies are very persuasive! And, do I see some FlyLady influence?πŸ™‚

  8. Alex – Yes! I had a great FlyLady-inspired routine going for a while, and then inexplicably stopped, so our house is now much less clean.πŸ™‚ The fun part about having my own custom-designed organizer pages is that I can add on more “routine” bubbles until I get back into them. For instance, in my latest iteration (which is downloadable), I got rid of the “zone” and “15 min [cleaning]” altogether. Hopefully they will get added back on as I make steps towards getting household-related chores back on a system.

  9. Corrie – wow, that was fast. This gives me something to play around with as a starting point. I really appreciate it! I bought one of the cheap Rolla notebooks from Staples — if the size or system doesn’t work for me, I’m not out of a lot of money. As I get comfortable with what does work, I’ll probably spend more $ on a more durable notebook.

    A tip about Staples: apparently the oldest Staples in our area has the biggest section of clearance items and the most varied stock in general. The manager at the newest store sent me to the oldest one, and voila! I found what I was looking for.

  10. Corrie, this is off-topic, but you mention knowing Illustrator and being open to working on projects for hire. Might you be interested in some logo design production work? Drop me a line and let me know.πŸ™‚

  11. I found all this fascinating. I personally use my diary, a project list and a next action list and find those difficult enough to keep uptodate! Also, I feel very quilty still using paper!
    Although I help people with their time management, I usually stick to working out how they work and what motivates them. Often there is one thing they need to do and then their simple systems work much better. Many have new IT systems forced upon them too and need to find a way to cope with them.
    The nice design points must be motivating you Corrie and I’m sure many will be attracted to those. I love your organising tendency. I’m intrigued to know, for example, how you file all your PC documents!

  12. Shirley – Thanks for commenting! My digital documents are actually not very systematically organized… hee hee! I keep telling myself that I should take a good day…. or three…. to commit to an actual system and reorder all my folders. Maybe the next time I upgrade computers!

    I have a main data drive with seven main folders — PixelMill work-related stuff, personal data, a music folder, my personal photos, and a folder with stock photos. I follow general tricks like using “-” to precede folders that I want to move to the top of a list, or using numbers to help order folders/files. For example, when shopping online, I’ll print the “invoice” page to a PDF and save it as “yyyy-mm-dd-storename.pdf” so that the invoices automatically get ordered by date of purchase.

    I found it interesting that you feel guilty “still” using paper! Do you care to expand on that comment a little more?

  13. Ha! Thanks for that! When you have more projects on the go, maybe you’ll feel more inclined to invest organisation time.
    By using paper, apart from saving trees and recycling issues, all I meant was that after 31 years in the IT industry, I just wish I could say I find it easy to organise myself using tecnology! Some day I must go on on a database course because I find it frustrating I have to enter things multiple times, often to support multiple projects or tools in parallel, even when others seem to accept it as OK. It’s so much easier to abbreviate when writing on paper (and create/toss as required)
    There should be no need for it with the correct master database and a selection mechanism into whatever view you need at the time. And of course I’d want to design my own master!

  14. Shirley – I see what you mean! I still haven’t found a great balance between digital-paper, either, although I definitely like paper for my personal organizer because I don’t need to worry about batteries/charging/etc. But I do find myself double-entering things between computer/planner/wall calendar (work-meetings have an Outlook reminder but I jot the time down in my planner as well; personal events get written in my planner as well as on the wall calendar so that my husband can see it) and don’t know if there is a way around it!

  15. Hi… My name is Becki… I am an “organinzer” junky. Sad, I know… but at least now, I do not feel so alone. This is my first Blog. I never really knew what a blog was, and accidentally stumbled onto yours. I was looking for an alternative to Levenger’s Circa system. I love the concept, but I feel guilty about the price. Your information has been so helpful.

  16. Hi Becki – thanks for visiting! The hole punch was the most expensive thing of it all, but in the long run I’m hoping it saves me money since I don’t need to buy refills or special forms!πŸ™‚

  17. I found this a fascinating read because I am currently in the process of writing about my evolving organisation system. I have been electronic for years but decided to try paper a few months ago; I tried using a notebook, but have been using a small ring binder for the last 4 months and its wonderful.

    I have also developed my own today form and I will be having a good look at what you have done to see if it sparks any ideas for improvements for my system.

    If you are interested you can read about my system http://www.darktea.co.uk/blog/category/series/my-organiser/

  18. Hi Kate – Your blog was an interesting read! You put a lot of thought into your pages and structure which I found very admirable. I think I go at my organizer by trial-and-error.πŸ™‚ I’m looking forward to seeing any further posts that you make about your new organizer/organiser!

  19. Hi Corrie, I was pointed here by Kate, and I love what you have done. I will be taking a good look at you system as I begin to work out the kinks in my own. Thank you for the inspiration!

  20. Corrie-

    I found your site thru DIY Planner and I love your set up. It is really perfect for me. I am wondering how much you would charge to customize yur daily insert sheet for my needs?

  21. Hi there,
    Just discovered your great blog and these organizational products. I’m curious about why you ordered the Rollabind notebook in addition to a Circa notebook – are the rings in the Rollabind system preferable to the Circa rings?

  22. Hi Nancy – I actually got bits and pieces from both. I got a Rollabind notebook but Circa accessories (additional plastic holders and the holepunch). This was mainly because I liked what came with the starter Rollabind more than the starter Circa in combination with cost!

  23. Can you gvie me more details on your “special hole puncher to make the rollabind slots”. I would like to find an alternative to the expensive hole punchers on the the Rollabind and Levenger web sites.

  24. Tom – Sorry to disappoint you, but my “special punch” is one of the Expensive Levenger Circa punches.

    On DIYPlanner.com, however, Sara has a hack for using a normal hole punch and then using scissors to manually cut out the smaller “stem” part of the mushroom. Seems time-consuming but if you’d rather do that than pay for the punch, it might be worth a try!

  25. I find your new system very nice and clever. However, I see that you only use one side of each paper sheet. Have you thought about using the other side?

  26. Hi Michael – I print the weekly calendar pages on both sides before I cut them in half. The daily calendar pages are one-sided, but I often use the back side for notes during the day.

  27. Your system look like the life saver I’ve been praying for. thanks for the clear desciption as well as the downloads. blessings.

  28. that’s a GREAT post! i was just re-vamping my old system of keeping track of my life and decided to see what the deal was with the bubble system. i can’t really find anything good or relevant to my needs, but your post was perfect.

    i think i know exactly what i’m going to do.

    thanks so much!

  29. Hello: I’d like to know if it would be possible to get access to (use) your orginal illustrator, or InDesign files (whatever they might be) from which you generated calendar-weekly-daily.zip

    This would be super helpful if possible.

      1. These designs are great. Would you please send cost info for the original versions of the daily, weekly, project and monthly pages? Thanks!

  30. May i ask where you got those cute (aw! so in love with them, you have every right to be proud) pictures of fruits and veggies from?

  31. Thank you for your post! I stumbled across your blog as I’ve been searching for calendar refills for my Rollabind. Your use is innovative and inspiring. I also appreciate your sharing of your layouts and use of the creative commons license. Many, many thanks.

  32. I only recently began my own planner journey (after being a nerdy kid many years ago attracted to planners I had no use for) and this by far, is the best thing I’ve seen!! I am using the Staples ARC system and am pleased, but I have the large one and will be moving to their “junior” planner in November. I know this is an old post, but it’s still a great (and popular) one. I found this post via Pinterest! Thanks so much for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s