Forum Topic: On top of your game

Hey! Does anyone out there feel that they have a near-ideal system that maybe has worked for them for a long (or short) time? This ideal system makes you feel on top of things most of the time and you may even be secretly (or publicly) quite proud of it and yourself? How does it work for you? Details please. OR.....maybe you have one that sucks raw eggs. Let's hear about that also. thanks.

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My "ideal" system --

I feel I have what I consider ideal for me (for the last several months anyway). After starting with a Monarch FC planner several years ago, then going to the classic size, I went away from paper and started in with electronic. With that I started with a Franklin REX, which was super small, but hard to do anything other than look at contacts and appointments. Then I went through various Palm PDA’s and Pocket PC’s, which were good, but still lacked the ability to do what a paper planner can – an easy way to add notes, numbers, appointments, etc. Regular notebooks, post-its, etc. were fine for that, but I had no "system" to keep it all together.

My current job function requires me to be synchronized with the rest of the company for email, contacts, and especially meetings and appointments – all of which our company uses Microsoft Outlook for. But since I need, and like, to take a lot of notes as I go from one thing to another at work (and home), I finally settled on a hybrid system that works very well for me, thanks to a tremendous amount of information I learned from this site. The electronic side of my planning is a Windows mobile phone running Good Mobile Messaging to keep my emails, contacts, and calendar at my side and up to date at all times. The paper side of me is a junior Circa zip folio with various Actions, Potentials, and Project forms for keeping everything organized. With this system, I feel I have everything I need to get through my work day and personal life while having it all organized and current. I love the Circa format, even though it is expensive to get started in – the flexibility I have with it far outweighs the cost. I sometimes want to go back to ALL paper for planning, but it just wouldn’t work for my job.

I feel like I finally have

I feel like I finally have the ideal system for me. I have two Circa junior sized notebooks, each with five sections.

My "personal" one:
1. My Agenda
2. My Task Lists
a. Personal
b. Work - Client Related
c. Work - Admin Related
d. Condo Board
3. Just Random Notes and Lists
4. My Journal - I keep a few blank pages so I always have something to write on. Every week I transfer out the pages I've written to my actual journal that I leave at home and replace them with new blank pages.
5. Any random stuff from my work notebook that I need to take home.

My "work" one:
1. A list of my current projects
2. Empty at the moment
3. Notes. I use the Circa annotated pages. In the unlined portion I write the Client Name, the Project Name and the Date. Then I write my notes in the lined portions. Then I draw a line at the end of the notes to break up the space so I can use the entire page.
4. Random Work Stuff I need to know
5. Client Notes. I also use the Circa annotated pages here as well. I put the client name and the page number in the boxes on the top. In the unlined portion I write the date and in the lined portion I write my notes. It's usually a list of open items, when I submitted a project for review or received information. I also use the section to remind myself of when there was a meeting or conference call, so I can trace the date and find the notes in my Notes section.

I have thought about combining sections 3 and 5, but decided against it. I can often have meetings about more than one client and didn't want to spend my time flipping through to find where I left off on that client's notes. Plus I have meetings about admin type things. And I also have several small one-off projects that don't really require tracking as a separate Client.

I've probably had some version of this type of system for years now. I've had this current set up for about a year now and feel like I've really found what really works for me.

This is what works for me

I'm very happy with my agenda. It's a Word document, Classic size, two pages per week, with the days of the week down the left-hand page with a line between each day, and the facing page blank for notes. Also scattered in are some family photos, travel photos, blank pages for extra notes, a year-on-one-page spreadsheet calendar for planning, recurring tasks spreadsheets, blood sugar log, an envelope for receipts, and a pencil holder.

I print it out and have it spiral-bound at Office Depot.

This it the third year using this design and it seems perfect for my needs. I have the holidays and family birthdays etc in the planner. And I put in clip art and Word art for holidays and birthdays. The photos make it a pleasure to leaf through it, and every year it's fun to consider what new clip art or photos I might include. It takes several hours to update and print every year, but I enjoy using it all through the year.

Instead of printing it in regular black print, I print it with gray print (50% I think) for the dates etc and the lines between the days, since darker print seems to cause my brain to fart--someone else here mentioned that they have the same problem, which they attributed to ADD, which I also have. This also uses less ink.

This notebook fits in my purse, weighs less than a binder or a Circa notebook, keeps the entire year in one permanent book that I can file away with my tax return, and seems ideal for my appointment-keeping needs, since I never have more than two or three appointments per day. It's easy to quickly whip it out and jot down an appointment or note, and it looks sufficiently professional for my needs.

It has been interesting to update the movable holidays (like Easter) every year,and I've learned a little bit about the equinoxes and solstices. I like to have them in my calendar because I like feeling in touch with the seasons and the increasing and decreasing length of the days as the year goes along. And I like being able to include the holidays I like. For example, my husband is Egyptian and I like to have the anticipated dates for Ramadan and a couple of the major Egyptian holidays in my planner. So it seems that the time spent is well worthwhile.

I wouldn't say I'm proud of my system, but I am happy with it. Ideally I would have a huge notebook that would include a page per day food diary and a Fly Lady control journal and a lot of pages of information I've printed out or saved on my hard drive from the internet, and maybe some other features, but I've found that this page per week is what I really need, and other issues can be taken care of separately.

It would be great to have an inexpensive corner perforator. But as the weeks go by I do as jonglass suggested (IIRC) and fold a corner back and forth, moisten the fold, and then tear it off. A simple, natural solution that works fine.


This is the place I want to get to... Where I can have the same planner year to year with the same info and filed in the same place when the year to over. I am so tired of paging through the 6 different planners I used last year (or last month - ha ha ) to try to find a note that I know I wrote. Or, how much money did I spend on my Godson eight years ago at his baptism so that I can spend the same about at my new niece's baptism?? (just trying to keep it all fair!)

So, thank you for inspiring me to work on this even harder. I like your system, I like coil binding, so maybe I just need to dive in and make one of my own!

nay nay

Haven't got it all pulled together...

Calendaring and list-keeping is only part of it.

I want a ten-year journal but don't want to pay $50 for the one on Amazon, tho I'm sure it's worth it. I bought a couple of journals and am tearing them apart and will see if I can get them spiral-bound--haven't found any journals that have 365 pages plus, which would be needed for a ten-year journal. Two together is more than enough, but am not sure I'll manage to get them disassembled and back together as one.

And I have a Fly Lady three-ring binder with lots of house-keeping suggestions and checklists.

And I have a food diary and blood-sugar log and lists of good foods and dietary inspiration--in one binder. Would like to carry it with me all day to keep good records of my food intake and exercise, but along with everything else it's too much.

Also, an accounting system that I need to carry around with me but don't because it's too much to tote around.

And a couple of others. All of these binders overwhelm my mind and look like clutter so I try to keep them put away or under the sofa or something.

This isn't working for me but I don't know how to solve it. I have a couple of desks for different kinds of work but don't want to set up another desk--that would definitely be ridiculous, but I don't have room at the other desks for more stuff. And I can't spend my life at desks. I need another spot to sit and look over my binders etc. Maybe I'll set up a corner with a comfy chair and a lamp for binder-surfing and reflecting--that seems like a good idea.

Does anyone else have this problem, and how do you deal with it? Seems like a house of cards--solve one problem, and then other problems crop up. And the pile of cards comes tumbling down. It might be good to go back to the Palm or maybe an Eee PC but I prefer paper.

I think this is one variation on the problem most of us have--there are so many trade-offs to paper size, portability, preferences, binder type--so many choices, so difficult to settle. And so we continue browsing, changing systems, reading about all the possibilities. It's maddening. Choices are nice, but on the other hand, if we only had one thing, and didn't know about anything else, maybe life would be easier.

Sounds like that common pitfall

So busy organizing your organizers that you never get around to actually getting things done.

Glenda - 10 yr calendar

Here is a 10 year calendar template...

I think you definately need to simplify your system. You have too many binders that it probably takes longer to find the one you need at that moment than it really should - causing stress!

I would look at how to combine some items into smaller versions. For example, "And I have a food diary and blood-sugar log and lists of good foods and dietary inspiration" Could the diary and log be on one side of the paper and the lists of food ideas and inspiration on the back? Then maybe this one page could cover an entire week and you would only have to carry this one page in your planner with your calendar??? Or maybe this info goes on a fobster on your keychain so it is always with you! Just some thoughts. Hope we can help you with this - anyone have other suggestions for Glenda??

Best of luck,
nay nay

Thanks, Nay Nay!

I'd seen the ten-year journal pdf but since I didn't get started on it last year, I thought the 2007 space would be wasted, so was going to do something starting with 2008. Now I'm thinking I'll just go ahead and print the pdf off and use the 2007 space for notes.

I re-thought the food diary -- it definitely requires one page per day, so I think I'll just print it in Classic size. My food lists are pretty short -- just a list of the lowest foods on the glycemic index, and the carb, protein, and fat counts of some standard foods, and I'll put them on a couple of pages I can turn to and use as a reference. The blood sugar log can go in there,too So I'll be carrying my agenda/calendar and my food diary around--not too bad. And I won't need the food diary most of the time--like when I'm at clients' offices.

Thanks for thinking about it--I don't feel so alone in the wilderness now. I'd given up on ever getting it more together and actually using it. Instead of spending time on organizing it all, I got it started about five years ago and then abandoned everything except my calendar, which was a necessity for business.

I like binders for organizing information and keeping it where I can refer back to it. Instead of file folders I tend to start up a new binder whenever something new comes up, or add it to an already-started binder. Maybe because of ADD, I like to keep things out instead of putting them in a file drawer. But then there's the problem of getting them organized somewhere so they're not just stacked up on the living room floor.

Glenda and Binders

I like using binders too instead of file folders. In your biders for accounting and journal, etc. do you carry around the entire year or possibly more than one year? Could you cut this down to the current month and fit it in your calendar binder so it is all together? Try to think how to simplify and archive. I think you will be happier if you can carry exactly what you need and know that everything else is archived somewhere.

Keep sending all of us questions so we can help lighten your load. Don't worry, you are not alone!!

nay nay

Accounting system

Also, an accounting system that I need to carry around with me but don't because it's too much to tote around.

What kind of accounting system do you need? expense reports? or more? I ask, because I put up some templates last year for expense reports. The nice part about the system is that you only need one week at a time, and it carries a running balance. Yes, you do have to keep up with it weekly, but that's a good thing, right? If this is what you need, let me know, and I'll find it here on DIYP.


Accounting system...

I saw the form, and liked it, but expenses and reimbursement aren't an issue for me. I'm self-employed (so no reimbursement, just record-keeping for taxes), and pay all my expenses by debit or credit card and download everything into QuickBooks, so I just keep the point of sale receipts in an envelope. The binder I carry around in the car is my accounts receivable system--I go to my clients' offices a lot and give them an invoice as I leave, so I use a paper invoice book with three parts. I've got it worked out pretty well, but it's just bulky to carry around, and it's another binder. Which I don't combine with my calendar because I need to be able to whip out my calendar whenever someone calls and write down an appointment or whatever they're calling about. The calendar needs to be with me almost 24/7, while the invoices don't, so I carry the calendar in my purse.

I've tried to reduce the bulk by disassembling the invoice books (they come in books of 50, with an original and two copies) and stapling them back together with 25 invoices to a pad, but then they get separated and the numbers get out of order, but maybe I'll go back to that.

I'll probably retire about the time I get it all worked out.

less contrast ink

I'm a new member going back to read old posts, and it's so interesting to see others with similar 'issues'. I learned this past year how reducing visual contrast can lessen my visual stress and overall stress.

I try to not print anything out on white paper anymore, using very soft pastels, and making ink either light grey or even blue grey. so much easier to read.

I can also slip paper into a polyvinyl pocket, and lessen the contrast of black ink on white paper.

yes, I have ADD, inattentive type, but I also rate very high end on the visual sensory scale, so to bring down the contrast has helped me immensily...DH not happy with the 'redecorating' bill at the house (changed out drapes to be much more similar in color to whatever the wall color is).

question about photos

how are your photos in there? are they pulled into the word document? or a separate page inserted? I would love that look to personalize it.

I bought a page of small pastel floral stickers so for my once a month garden club meetings, I just put a floral sticker on the date. times never chnage and it's pretty to look at.

what would really hlep me is to keep a month at a glance photo calendar in the bathroom upstairs, two of my kids wear contacts, and DD changes hers out every three weeks, I don't really think she keeps track of it too well, and I can't know - but to have her face closeup just be on one of the dates every three weeks might be a clue for her?

Photos in my planner

First, if I want to crop the photo I open it in Paint and take care of it there. Then I copy it and paste into Word onto a page set up in Classic (8.5 x 5.5). There I can see how it will actually look, whether I need to crop it more or whatever. And just print the Word page on a color printer.

I've saved the photos I used this year in separate documents so I can print them out for use next year.

Your stickers are great, and in the same vein I'm trying a couple of other things this year---

Take a photo of autumn leaves or spring flowers etc and reduce the color intensity. Then print them out onto a planner page. So there's enough color to cheer you up and be noticeable, but not enough to obscure penciled in notes about appointments, etc. I've reduced the color intensity on my color printer but I think that could also be done in Paint, and probably with more control and less waste of ink.

Also, download clip art to paste onto your calendar pages before you print.

Or you can get some seasonal and holiday stamps from the craft store and after printing the planner you can stamp the appropriate days. Then you'll have something to color. I have so little artistic ability that even doodling is beyond me, but coloring in the stamps would be fun. And you can stamp envelopes and color those in, too.

I'm ADD too, and anything I can do to encourage myself to love my planner and look at it regularly and before I set up an appointment helps. I hate planning and being locked into a schedule, but that doesn't work in my job, so I have to make schedules and appointments more pleasant to deal with, one way or another. On the other hand my ADD mind gets distracted so I don't want to do too much of this. I tried some of the DayTimer pages with the themes one year but they were annoying. And I like a clean, uncluttered look, also, so I don't get too enthusiastic about this.

I've seen some Flickr photos of filofaxes that people have obviously spent lots of time decorating, pasting magazine pictures, lines of type from magazines, etc, and I really marvel at them. They're works of art. And I really admire people who can do that. Maybe I can try something similar. But I'm afraid I'll get obsessed with that and will spend so much time admiring my pages that I won't get anything else done.

Thank you, that helped me

Thank you, that helped me see what you were doing, although I can't figure out how to size Paint, it did give me some three kids use paint rather obsessively, and I keep them on my screen saver slide show. From really young, when they misspelled things (miney van), to current day amazing artwork.

I think after reading your post, I just decided to not use outlook (okay not really) but it helps explain why I hate it...not interesting, I do need to keep the contacts and repeating appts. for syncing with my cell.

I did some landscaping this summer, and took some closeup photos of plants - I need to make some photo id plant stake thingy's so I know how to care for what I have, and I think I'm going to use some of those photos for my calendar also...

each of my three kids are amazing artists, each having their own bent. Usually, since with my ADD, I have the attention span of a gnat, I usually ask one of my kids to complete a project for's so little kiddish I know, but the days my husband is home, I get SO much more done.

One of my sons - who sketches, is making me a large landscape canvase of pussywillow things for my fireplace wall

and my daugher, who does watercolor, is painting one as wide as our bed for a headboard.

ONE more question,

I'm still unclear what you're using for your basic calendar form?

I thought I did

I thought I had the ideal system for me. It's been working since the start of the year - my own customised planner pad with a 2-page week view at the top, the must do's in the middle, and then the span of the bottom of each page for note for that week. Weekly and long-term to-do's travel on punched index cards as I go through each week in my circa notebook.

Seeing all these great ideas has caused me to tweak again. As in many iterations in the past, this isn't *quite* right. I'm revamping as we speak, printing out July's pages - one week per page, weekly to-do's on same page, and have the notes portion travel throughout the month. That way, I'm not wasting paper, and maybe my planner can get thinner. I guess we'll see how this shakes out. July isn't so busy, so I might be able to get it right by the end of the month!

My system

I keep a "hipster PDA" with me at all times. It is one of the things I can't leave the house without. A pen, keys, wallet, and PDA. A stack of 3x5's held together with a binder clip. The first page is my @home list, followed by @out and @work; during the school semester there is an @school tucked in there as well. All my "capturing" is done on the back pages of the PDA. I have a pretty standard, and somewhat slimmed-down GTD system.

I am always struggling with whether I should combine all the contexts to one list with little one-letter markers on the side. Sometimes it's easier to get a quick overview of all my tasks when they are all on one page, but it can also be daunting to see all the tasks I can't do anything about right then.

It's not a terribly innovative system, but just ALWAYS having a pen and paper is usually enough to keep me on top of everything.

My system

My new years resolution this year was to get organised and have been trying a few variations of my ever reliable & trusty Classic size paper planner. I just wanted something simple as I believe if you're too detailed than you won't continue to use it. I have both business and personal together so that everything is in the one place. What I have found to be useful at the moment are the following sections:

1. Monthly Planner - All future events, appointments etc & to do's go straight into my monthly section. Two pages per month.
2. Weekly Planner - I only use my weekly section one week at a time so that I don't feel totally overloaded. Each Friday I use the monthly section to help me plan my next week. Layout is from the DIY lists and is probably on the GTD/Habits side. I have found I like to identify my roles ie: Work, Family, Study, Home & Personal. I like it as it allows me to feel like I balance work and personal life with my family. Two pages per week.
3. Notes - general stuff. Mostly full of blank paper and post it notes. Still have to get into the habit of using this instead of scrap paper on my desk! Also have agenda items in here to jot down when I think of them.
4. Reference - These are my lists. Anything from books to buy, birthdays, routines etc
5. Actions - split between work, personal, study & home
6. Projects - use this more for personal use as we are redecorating the house so all projects are broken down and listed here. Not alot at the moment so need to get a move on!
7. Contacts - work and personal.

I find this works as I just write things down and get it out of my head so that I am not continually thinking of everything I need to do. I also believe that you can't micromanage your life. A planner is a guide and catcher of thoughts and to do's and not something that is set in stone. I think that is why so many people continually change their set ups.


Well, it's been a year...

After mulling it over for a while, I finally joined up on this site a year ago, spurred on by the fact that I was due to buy a replacement refill for my FC planner, and all the accouterments that went along with it. Rather than pay the $40 annual tithe, I decided to roll my own, instead laying out far more money "investing" in a Rollabind/Circa setup (discs from Rolla, punch from Levenger.) Thanks to the recommendations here, I found a copy of "Getting Things Done" and at the risk of sounding cliche, it changed my life! Well, at least it changed my planner's life.

GTD's concepts really hit home with me. The biggest EUREKA moment was that all attempts to the contrary, my life did not fit into daily pages of to-do lists. Following GTD, I set up:

* A tickler file
* A Circa-punched classic size planner with calendar pages in the front, and sections for Next Actions, Projects, Waiting For, and Someday/Maybe

Over the course of the year, I found myself using the planner less and less: more just for the calendar, a stash pocket, and a place to keep long-term shopping lists -- books to read, music to find, etc..

"Next Actions" are pretty clear for me in my professional life, so I have moved projects into a stack of Rolla-punched 3x5 cards. I write or type the project on the front of the card, and scrawl notes on the back. When the project is done, I remove it from the stack and archive it. I meet periodically with the team that gives me projects, which informs the order of the stack: current project on top, projects in priority order underneath. If I'm waiting for someone for a project, I'll drop the card into the tickler file as a reminder to loop back with that person. In the meantime, I start working on the next project in the pile.

I need to go through my planner again now. I think that it can be drastically slimmed down, and revamped with better paper, maybe even 4x6 index card since they are cheap and sturdy. So I guess I'm not done, but I'm much further along.

For implementing GTD you

For implementing GTD you might try out this web-based application:

You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
A mobile version is available too.

As with the last update, now you can add or invite Contacts, and share your Projects and Contexts with them.

Hope you like it.

Yes, but...

My fountain pen won't write on the screen. :-)

I prefer low-tech with physical reminders, I've never liked software-based organizing solutions, since that typically means I can only be organized when I'm sitting down at my desk. That won't help me when I'm standing in the bookstore, trying to remember the name of that author... who was that? ... "G" something... or maybe "H"... arrgh!

fragmented but working

My 'near-ideal system' for me uses a collection of different things. I happily break the "everything in one place" rule as my worklife is full of rules and my life isn't all in one easy to label planning-box.

I have a separate work planner and personal planner.

Work - the office's Outlook calendar, which I must use on pain of nagging from my boss ;) , and a week-to-an-opening A5 (half letter) diary for time dependant tasks (essentially @computer) which lives on my work desk.

Personal - I like to carry as little as possible so my 'planner' is: a small Moleskine week-to-an-opening diary, with an A4 print-out of work's outlook calendar to avoid clashes for personal appointment in work hours; a fobster - business card sized lists of things to do (essentially @housework), contact phone numbers, DVDs & books to buy, etc; a Hipster Journal/Notebook (about 10 3x5 cards and a hair elastic) for scrawling notes.

I also have a Filing device (a ratty old shoebox for the journal and obsolete fobster entries) and a Syncing device (a wall calendar for capturing family birthdays, appointments etc for my husband and I).

It's worked well so far as it reflects how I compartmentalise my life.

Nightmare...what happened?

Actually I know exactly what happened... things changed and I failed to keep up with things.

Work is the better are of my life (organizationally speaking of course ;) )

I need to sit down and re-assess every aspect of my personal life - what I need to track and how I can do that quick and effectively.

I am considering blogging about it on my DIYSara site... but thats another problem - I never have time to get online! lol .. well obviously not 'never' but definitely not as I was used to for so long.

change is not bad... I just need to evolve and adapt, right?

my artwork | my blog

Technology & Paper

I suppose I like overkill, or maybe I'm just paranoid. I use a Palm TX for contacts, diary, todo. It is also good for carrying ebooks. Unfortunately in the past, I have lost data because of batteries going flat then resyncing with my desktop only to find I have stupidly set the PDA to overwrite the desktop. (Yep you then loose the data on the desktop).

I now have a circa PDA & Junior. I print useful pages from DIY for meeting agendas etc for the Junior and print my weekly schedule, contacts and Todo's for the Circa PDA. I seem to be able to get to all of my meetings without hitch. The advantage of the Palm TX is the ability to pre-set alarms (no matter how good your paper system is it will never ring to remind you, you have another meeting in 40 minutes).

What is ideal for me...

I like the complimentary features of my Palm Treo 755P Smartphone (small), my Dayrunner (medium), and my Franklin Planner - Monarch size (large).

The Treo is portable, easy to use, and with a 4 GB miniSD card can store a whole library of eBooks. Favorite programs include Plucker (for converting websites to eBooks), SpaceTime Mathematics (a powerful symbolic algebraic calculator), Agendus, xWeather, etc.

The Dayrunner serves me as a great little note-taking tool when I attend meetings or lectures. It will often be where my raw ideas and discoveries are first recorded - later to be refined, filtered, and formatted more formally for -

The Monarch Franklin Planner - which is where I keep printed PDF files, electronically transcribed research notes, and other important papers that fit the standard eight and a half by eleven inch paper size.

I take the Treo with me everywhere, the Treo and the Dayrunner to meetings and lectures, the Treo and the Franklin Planner to work. (I should clarify that I "took" them to work, because I am now retired.)

What really works is the discipline to use the tools periodically, and every act of note-taking and transcribing passes the ideas through the brain, so the net result of this labor is that you really learn your subject well. No tool can substitute for the self-disciplined habits that lead to success.