Circa Agenda - to use or not use?

I need some help -- specifically the BTDT advice coupled with insightful questions that makes DIY.P the place to be.

This past August, I purchased a 2007 Agenda (Classic) and a 2008. I knew that I could return the 08 if I didn't use it. Now I'm waffling between doing something DIY for 2008 or just continuing on in my haphazard manner.

For the last 3 months, I've been completing about half of my monthly "to do's" listed on the front of the tab for that month. I've been using the month view to record appointments and the weekly view to list appointments, note mileage, record when things happened (mailing dates, for example), and that sort of thing. M-W, I go pretty strong, then I peter out. And, most importantly, out-of-site equals out-of-mind and certainly equals that I'm not writing it down.

From a GTD standpoint, I don't really bother with contexts too much. Home, Work, and Out would pretty much cover it, if I had the rest of the system working. I still cherry-pick my inbox, leaving the things that I just don't feel like doing for "later." I know that getting a handle on my schedule/agenda needs won't fix that character trait (flaw?). I just want to offload my brain so that I can focus and cut down on distractions.

There is something appealing about the free-form nature of GSD, but too many of my "to do's" have hard landscape issues involved. Bills have due dates, there are family activities to schedule, doctor appointments to keep -- all of those things require future calendaring. The GSD blogger uses an electronic device for that, which won't work for me. One, I hate to type into my phone and I won't pay for online connectivity. Two, if I didn't have to pull my circa out to check my schedule, I doubt it'd see the light of day more than once a week.

It would be fair to say that I have a wandering focus -- I work on one project till I get sucked into something else. On good days, I can return to that project several times until it's done. When I was in college, I'd switch between two or three things on purpose: when I'd lose interest in one, I'd switch to the other, etc. Now that I'm older (and getting even less sleep - kids), I find that pulling myself back is getting harder. And it's even easier to say to myself that I'll work on the stinky tasks "tomorrow."

Any help sorting this out would be appreciated. I've been spinning my wheels on this since Friday, when my punch came in.


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You can't do it all at once

I'm still trying to solve my own problems, so I won't presume to have all the answers for yours but I'll take a stab at something anyhow.

My biggest issues have been that I get a lot of simultaneous Stuff in my inbox that I need to deal with. I'm a software engineer, so there's always bugs to fix, reports to make, new software to write, old software to improve, etc.. As most of these were a "as soon as possible" thing, my daily to-do list was HUGE, and not really a reflection of what I was going to do that day. And with multiple projects to choose from, I did exactly what you did -- cherry-picked something interesting, and then worked until I got tired of it, and then hopped over to something else. Everything suffered.

I started with GTD in May, and at first got very excited -- contexts and their own lists! I still use it, but also like you, my contexts are pretty straightforward. I'm home, I'm at work, I'm in transit between the two. I have a few "Agenda" lists for key people in my life (boss, spouse) and a few lists for gift ideas, books to read, etc..

What's really changed my life for the better is using a tickler file -- the infamous 43 folders used to file away work for the future. Here's my setup now:

* Scratch pad of Rolla-punched paper for "inbox" capture -- someone calls and wants work done, etc.. I recopy this neatly onto a 3x5 card.

* In front of my face: a playing card holder with a set of my current projects noted on 3x5 cards, one card per project or request. Project overview on the front, notes on the back (e.g., "Testing this on Dec 5, failed with message xyz"). If I have too many projects, then something gets bumped into...

* The tickler file. Anything I can't deal with Right Now gets dumped into here, about four business days out. If my boss drops in with a critical project, then one or more cards from the holder is Voted Off the Desk and dumped into the tickler.

* When a project is done, the card goes into a stack on my desk next to the holder waiting for my weekly review, then is filed in a box for reference during my annual performance review.

* Anything from my inbox I don't want to see gets dumped into the tickler for the future.

My planner is still my calendar and those crucial lists, but I realized that I didn't need to take my work to-dos with me: they only get done when I'm sitting at my desk, so it's now part of my desk setup. I trust in my tickler to hand me things to do, when I need them.



I use a similar setup, but my tickler is a 3x5 box made of wood. I work from home, so both home and work stuff is in the same box. In fact, I have the same playing card holder. :)

One mod, for my schedule I use 3x5 pieces of paper circa/rolla-bound (homemade) in a book that also contains future months, contact lists, and my password hints. This is small enough to take with me, just dump it in my purse. My book wouldn't fit in a back pocket, but if you skip the web passwords and use a weekly schedule it would.

On my cards, I list a small project with the list of tasks, or a single task if it's an orphan, or notes from a single meeting.. I have tabs in my box for my major projects, the handwritten meeting notes go in there. Anything upcoming goes in the tickler section. Any completed tasks are stored at the back of the box for a month before being bound with a rubber band and filed in my file drawer.

I also keep a jotter in my back pocket for capture and to keep a couple of specific lists--To Buy, Christmas ideas, House Projects, and a couple of others. This way I have the 'context' list when an idea occurs or when I'm out and about.

So, in essence, all the to-dos are in the box or the back pocket jotter, and the agenda is completely separate in a disc-bound book. The agenda holds only appointments and meetings, generally, though I do print some recurring stuff directly on the daily pages (prescription refills, recurring work tasks, birthdays, holidays, etc.).


3x5 and future calendaring

Shris, the mod you describe reminds me of one of the things I tried, gave up on, but keep considering:

3x5 cards for each day that has something planned, coupled with a monthly calendar so that I'll know which days of the week match the dates.

If I were doing this, I'd be carrying:
month view for this month and the next two (3 cards)
This weekend
Dec 19
Dec 20
Dec 21
Jan 8
Jan 9
Jan 31
Few cards for capture, adding days, etc.

It fell apart because I was trying to use the month cards to "wrap" that months cards -- it was a DIY print that I didn't cut apart. I also didn't have a punch then, so there were binder clips and stuff involved.

Even if I added the rest of the months and some addresses, it might not be too bulky...



On my box, on the inside of the lid, I have two one-year calendars printed--they're modified from an excel sheet I downloaded from the net in 2006 sometime. They're 3x5 also, so two of them fit into my lid once the margins have been trimmed. These show the days of the week, and I've highlighted significant days (paydays, holidays, etc.).

I also set up my tickler with 7-up tabs for the day numbers. In this way, when I want to move a card one week out (a frequent thing for my chore cards, recurring meetings, etc.), I just move it to the tab immediately behind today's tab--the one in the same position in the next row. That saves me a lot of counting.

When I was using quarter-letter agendas, I would cut tabs in the daily pages corresponding to the days of the week. That is, each day would get printed with M-T-W-Th-F-Sa-Su tab markings running down the right side. Then I'd cut out all the tabs not needed. I use mail merge to print my days out, so each day has the DOW listed at the top of the page with the date, so it's easy to tell what tabs to remove. My quarter letter templates are posted in the template section so you can see what I mean there. Sizing down from quarter-letter to 3x5 is not much of a stretch, but I removed the tabs because it has less relevance for appointments than for recurring tasks. That and the extra half inch is important in such a small size.

If you decide you want to make a 'book' of the stuff you carry, use paper rather than cards. It's thinner, lighter, and if you put a plastic cover on your book, you won't have trouble with dogearing and other damage. The 3x5 manila tabs work great as dividers (or covers, I suppose). I use my label-maker to make the labels for the tabs. The plastic tabs are good for covers but are too thick for dividers. I have cover-weight plastic lying around from earlier days, so I cut that up whenever I need some. But it's also available in the presentation section of the office supply store or if you cannibalize other products.


Do this on day X

My problem with this system would be that some tasks simply don't have to get done on certain days, so I'd have to-do lists that moved from day to day. Decoupling my ongoing work from hard-landscape stuff was key for me. Even the hard landscape stuff gets filed in the tickler -- paying the mortgage, sending birthday cards, etc. all get chucked in there, but I put a star on those cards so I know that they get top priority for the day. My planner calendar is just a place to note those items and block off things like vacations and staff meetings.

I have very few star cards, though -- once I broke myself of the page-a-day habit, I found that I really didn't have much planned on any given day, which is actually a relief!


I dummied up a 3x5 like I described above. Nice idea, but it's missing something in the execution. I need something in between no-form and structure.

For now, I decided to open up and use the 2008 Circa Agenda. It mostly works, when I get it out of my bag/bring it in from the truck/etc. I need to tweak it--of course--but I'm not ready to go totally DIY.

I'm going to make some dividers out of card stock to start with. Right now the plastic dividers are big and clunky.