The Survival of the Kittest

Monkey with a penWhen visitors or interviewers contact me under the mistaken impression that I'm sort of productivity guru, due to the D*I*Y Planner project, I don't know whether to laugh, sigh, or just continue the charade. You see, I am one of the most chronically disorganized people on the planet. Seriously. I am a project manager during my day job, having to juggle and direct dozens of disparate interactive and marketing projects, and the reason for my success in that role can be summed up in one simple piece of advice: "Write stuff down in a place where you can find it."

Yes, Allen's GTD adherents will recognise the "trusted system" at work here, and the Covey adherents will recognise their daily planners with their big and little rocks, but it's a tough rule to stick to. For example, I've been blessed with a pretty good memory (despite what my wife claims), and I had taken advantage of that for my day-to-day organization. Some readers out there will emphathise: you have three or four towering stacks of papers and magazines and books in the corner threatening to topple and kill the cat at any moment. Someone asks, "Do you have a copy of that?" Why yes, I do, and it's that purplish thing four inches from the bottom of the second stack. Retrieving it in an SPCA-appropriate manner, though, can prove a challenge, were it not for my elite "pull it out real fast while compensating for mass shift" skills.

But the reliance on memory is just the first stage in our organizational evolution.

Sooner or later, no matter how good one's memory is, things will start to slip. Then come the night-sweats when wake up at 3 am, think "argh! How could I have forgotten that!" and proceed to come up with a list of plausible, if somewhat elaborate, excuses to tell the boss/spouse/junior ball hockey league. And you lie there, unable to sleep, staring at the patterns of light streaming through your blinds from the streetlamp outside, and wondering if your reasons for leaving all those helmet- and stick-toting twelve-year-olds in the care of the McDonald's staff are really good enough to pass mustre. (Or is it mustard? you muse, while you drift off into fitful nightmares involving hormonal slapshot-happy teens and condiment wars.)

One eventually migrates to stickies, often the first thing accessible to someone speaking on the phone. The monitor soon sprouts dull yellow leaves around its entire periphery with dates, random names, system logins and year-old grocery lists you forgot to shove in your pocket. Or, if you have a flair for colour, there's always the migraine-inducing mix of bright yellow, fluorescent pink, hide-the-ink blue, and princely purple, flashing you back to the genie pants of nightclubs, circa 1990. (But my, those were better times, weren't they? you ask yourself as you struggle to find the uber-secret password for the accounting server.)

Next phase in our evolution branches off into two different cladograms: the digital approach (or, whatever is on your computer that happens to have a calendar view); or the day planner (you know, the toilet-paper-thin one offered by your company that happens to be sponsored by a printing or oil company). Things start out well, but after a week or so, you start slipping. Soon, people phone you to arrange a meeting, and you scour the stickies once more, wondering if you're free. You throw caution to the wind, and double-book the time you were meant to show up at your daughter's dance recital. (Never mind, she can dance for you at home, once you move the sofa.)

Soon thereafter, gadgets get serious. Palm/WinCE PDAs were once the in-thing, now it's smart phones. All in all, wonderful ways to carry reminders that you have a 65:3o meeting with Mr. 4Fre0 31aUmb4Vmm, not to mention postage-stamp-sized pornography. Of course, it's not the size that counts: it's the cost. And there's nothing like paying $400+ twice a year to prove that you have something stylish that might be able to organise your days, once you figure out how to use it.

And use it, you probably won't.

That's about where I was when I started producing the D*I*Y Planner. Really, the premise was simple. Make forms that forced me to fill them out correctly. If the form wasn't filled, then I was forgetting something. Take a look at the project management ones, with all the bits about resources, budgets, procedures, sign-offs, and the like, and you understand what I mean. Or the personal profile one with the spaces for the numbers of your plumber, landlord, and medical plan. Flexibility is nice, so allow people to keep track of their own information in their own ways. Ultimately, the D*I*Y Planner forms shoot for a unique balance of laissez-faire and supreme dictatorship. The first is inspirational, the second is motivational. It's about creating a model that suits your needs, and giving you the structure within that model to reinforce your behaviour.

Does it work? Well, it does for me, as long as I remember the credo: Write stuff down in a place where you can find it. Stickies are transitory, one-off digital solutions often evaporate in the bit-bucket, and cheap planners lack quality and connection. Whether you choose a customised paper planner or a well-thought-out and consistent digital platform is entirely up to you -- both provide a productive solution that is far more permanent than fleeting memories. Just stick with it, or it's a trip back down the evolutionary ladder, and you're nothing more than pond scum with an urge to assimilate and a nagging suspicion you were supposed to be doing something else right now, like dropping off the dry cleaning.

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A mixture of laissez-faire and supreme dictatorship, eh? So where exactly does the small porn fit into that?

Steve Sharam


I'm a quasi-Project Manager - not in development, but in implementation (hardware, mostly).

I am thinking I want to pick your brain at some ppint, but right now am too tired to really focus on what I want to ask. But you've got my brain churning (think slow taffy pull churn, not a locomotive wheel churn).

I really liked this piece you wrote. Please forgive my wooden delivery here - I really am running on fumes right now.

And since you said the H word, well ... are you, um, a fan of any NHL teams? OHL? QMJHL? AHL? AnyHL? Bueller? (I met Dustin Penner!)


Ay, the secret credo

"write stuff down" easy to say, hard to do all the time.

When I go into a meeting I carry my "inbox" anything that requires ME to do something gets a big box by it (I have learned not to be sutle with myself -- a trick I learned from my wife who has learned I do not take hints well....)

Periodially I have a fit and get rid of all the little pads (whether post-it sticky or non-sticky) so all I have is my "inbox" notebook. Removing temptation....

"write stuff down in a place where you can find it" -- ay, the simplicity of it all. If only I could remember to always do so...

Thanks for a funny reminder.

The Passionate Pilgrim
-- Excellence through Simplicity


Fortunately, my meetings have gotten a bit simpler since the adoption of several shared systems for my office (software development). I take notes on things that my team (Software QA) may need to know, with big asterisks with things I need to do in the near-term.

We use Jira to track bugs/enhancements/tasks for software development, MS Outlook for meetings, an internal Wiki for a shared memory space, and SVN as a code/document repository.

For scheduling we use iCal (me) printed and shared as a pdf, and a larger-scale wall calendar, all of which propogates back into Jira for release planning.

Most of my activity, though, starts in a notebook, written with Lamy Vista fountain pen.


Hurray For Simplicity

Who would have ever thought that the use of some ancient technology with a modern twist would have this much positive effect upon efficiency? I have been using a wrist writer for three years now. Originally I thought that I would get tired of it or would only use it for specific tasks. It’s funny how one thing can lead to another, because originally I only used it to take measurements and shop related notes. Soon I realized that I was using it as a stock list manager and it was only a short jump to attaching my cell phone and now I have a complete office / workshop at my fingertips. We don’t realize how important paper still is in our daily lives especially in lieu of the fact that we need to be even more concerned about efficiency in every phase of our lives. Once I adopted using this wrist mounted writing device several amazing things happened which weren’t obvious to me before. For one thing everything became easier, I mean that simple tasks like trying to remember my schedule or going to pick out my stock list no longer seemed like work and just as soon as I had an idea I started writing them down and before long I was tweaking every phase of my business to the point that now I produce twice the amount of product with the same energy as before.
Part of what makes this device work so well is that it acts like a string around the finger, unlike a clip board that gets misplaced or requires you to use one hand to carry, gently reminding me that I have tasks to complete and an order that I have already taken the time to write down. Since I break my tasks down before I start my work day into simplest form, my short term memory isn’t struggling to try and remember all the things in their specific order to be done. This in reality is an incredible relief and reduces both stress and takes less energy. Not only that but it reduces mistakes and backtracking and with the ever rising cost of fuel the less back ups the better.
The fact that it is linear, non electronic and easy to use and understand is what makes it incredibly useful. The paper is water resistant and that means that it can be used under any condition and lets face it some of your best ideas occur when you are relaxed, doing something other than work.( hiking, biking, kayaking…)
Time is not a renewable resource and original thought is fleeting. If you have a thought and forget it then can’t remember it later many people will say “Well if it is really important you’ll remember it again later”. That’s just a little lie that we tell ourselves and many really good ideas are gone in thirty seconds or less, and that is why it is so important to write down thoughts when they occur and in a place where they are easy to recover and expand upon.
This WONDER product can be purchased at

Unfortunate that....

.... you didn't tell us that you are the creator of the wristwriter. It would have made your story more real, and less like one of those cheesy "infomercials" that plague TV today. As it is, it is an interesting product, but I would have prefered a bit more honest and "up-front" approach.



Franklin calls them unauthorized floating pieces of paper. I always think of that when I am somewhere and my notes are elsewhere and my notebook is with me. I have trained myself to always know where my notebook is. (Franklin rule:3 minutes or 30 feet. My rule:keys on the body and Notebook always near,in purse or on desk.)
GTD concept of inbox and the daily pages have helped reorient me to writing it down. In my Notebook. Easier to find in book than anywhere else.
Indexing helps too. I have an a-z address list and I write all reference stuff in it. Washer and microwave make and model numbers, extra pages for books (reviews, wants,etc), extra pages for web info I want to reference, it's all there. I also organize my address by first name, female. If your a single male it goes under your first name or if you are a married couple with tons of phones and biz addresses it goes under first name female first with hubby or sig other, then under each first name with data relevant to that person. This system developed out of meeting many people whose last name I did not know on first meeting and did not associate it with them quickly. Amazingly when I have all that information with me I can access it and use it quickly.
I am working on coming out of large life upheaval so I am still somewhat prone to not catching everthing the first time but I am getting back into the swing.
I enjoy your the web page and am glad to have found it. Peace, Star.