Up In Smoke - Disaster Recovery for Paper-Based Planners

One of the temptations of the paper-based planning fraternity is the almost irresistible desire to be smug when faced with the technical difficulties of others' electronic organisation systems.

After all, paper planners don't crash. They don't have PC connectivity problems. Appointment entries and notes don't just vanish inexplicably, just when you need to access them. Paper doesn't take an age to boot up, and never seems to run out of batteries. We proudly extol the virtues of paper to our collegues fuming faces, and brandish our little loose-leaf planners at them, parading them as evidence of the future of productivity.

However, things go very, very, wrong, when the next day, we leave our planner in the coffee shop and it's gone when we rush back....

Suddenly we remember the inherent advantage of electronic organisation: sync'ing your PDA is a built-in backup mechanism. We curse the day we first printed out those little cards, and secretly long for a return to our abandoned electronic apparatus.

But wait... it doesn't have to be that way. There are ways to ensure that our planners aren't impossible to reconstruct. I'm not denying that losing your planner won't be painful. However, there are a number of simple steps that you can follow which make it that little less soul-destroying.

Keep a seperate list of important numbers you cannot easily rediscover.

One easy way of doing this is to maintain your numbers on a list on your PC, and then print them out to carry around. My guess is that they don't change that often, and they'll look much neater in print. Also, my printer can write smaller than I can, allowing me to keep a lot of numbers on my tiny (67mm x 105mm) planner pages.

If a calendar appointment or date is more than four months away, keep a note somewhere else as well.

This is for three reasons: a) The longer an event is in your calendar, the more likely you are to lose your planner in the meantime; b) Events entered that far away are likely to be important ones you can't afford to forget about; and c) On losing your planner, you are much less likely to remember that calendar event if you entered it months before.

Ruthlessly purge your planning project support materials. When you don't need to carry around something constantly any more, file it.

I don't use my planner for permanent project support note storage. It's far too small, for one thing, but it would be truly awful to discover that you've lost not only your entire organisational system, but also your entire filing cabinet, too.

GTD-specific one here: Your project list is more important than your next action list.

It's much easier to derive your next actions from your list of projects, than it is to extrapolate your projects from your next actions. Consider keeping your project list on PC also, printing out a weekly list, writing extra projects at the bottom and copying them back to the PC list during your weekly review.

Armed with these tips, hopefully the next time leave your planner in the coffee shop, or your three year old throws your planner on the bonfire, or your wife bins your Hipster ("But darling, it just looked like scrap paper"), re-creating your precious information won't be impossible, and you'll be able to look your collegues in the face again....

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digital camera

I don't remember who blogged this idea first but if you have a camera phone, or even a digital camera (and you know how to use the focus) you can backup your HPDA very easily.
You can even mail the picture to Gmail and you get a time/date stamp in the process!

don't forget you can use keywords in gmail like
and them label it automatically...

among other tips.

digital camera

That is a very creative idea - using your digital to create a backup of an important note. Is that an off-label use? It reminds me of how practical it is to use a camera to take pictures of books or other items for insurance purposes (rather than write everything down.

And for a low-tech method:

And for a low-tech method: xerox!

You probably wouldn't bother to do the whole thing, but your more or less permanent reference pages and such. (While you're doing it, you might want to do your credit cards and other important wallet fodder.)

Then if you lose the original, you can cut up the xerox pages and use them, or copy the info onto pristing forms or whatever.


That is also very practical and one I have used on occasion - to keep important information in two locations.

And a very basic thought...

Make sure you have your name, a mailing address, a phone number, and an e-mail address in a conspicuous place in your planner. I recently found someone's lost planner...with absolutely no identifying info in it to help me return it to the rightful owner. Luckily it was in a building on a univerity campus, and one of the student services staff sent out a broadcast e-mail to all of the students enrolled at that particular grad school, so hopefully she got her book back. But it amazed me that someone would have a nice leather planner with all of their personal, school and business appointments and such in it, and not have their NAME in it, too!

I thought it would be useful

Ignore this post: it was a browser error that I corrected by re-posting

An ounce of prevention

I thought it would be useful to make a few remarks regarding preventive measures, though these will sound like common sense to those who already know them. I'll start by making a case for the bigger planners. If you're remaking your organizing system now, consider a reasonable-sized binder if you can see carrying it around. An inherent advantage had by all big things over little things is that they're harder to lose. (If you're like most people, you've probably lost your wallet or pocket-book around the house at some time. But I'm willing to bet that you've never lost a toaster or a bicycle, or any other large thing, unless it was stolen.)

In saying this, I want to emphasize that I'm not arguing for a letter (or "Monarch" (TM)) sized binder and half a ream of paper to lug around everywhere. If you find that such a binder fits your needs, more power to you; you'll even find hybrid briefcases that incorporate letter-sized binders, and it's very hard to forget a briefcase. But for most purposes, something as small as the common "compact" size does a superb job while conserving size and weight and relieving the user's burden of paper.

If you're of the small-planner school, try attaching something to your planner that you literally can't leave. If you use a small system, carry some sort of clip that will allow you to attach your car keys or anything else that you're bound to remember as a matter of necessity. If it's cold out, clip your planner to a glove. I guarantee that the moment your bare hand touches the door - if not before then - you're going to remember that glove. And with it will be the planner. I have a habit of forgetting my wallet now and then, but I've found that a similar trick works in those cases: I put my wallet in my shoe before going to bed, and I transfer it to my pocket when dressing in the morning. A lot of simple tricks made into habits can protect one from forgetfulness and distraction - two things that we are all subject to in this increasingly complex world.