I’m finally getting this post on my analogue organisation systems out. It’s been in draft since the beginning of June and it looked like I was going to get it up earlier this week, but I kept forgetting to take photos of my notebook in the daylight. I finally remembered to do it very early this morning. The light is quite blue, which I didn’t notice til now. Ooops!
Anyway, onto the story.
A while back, I was spruiking the benefits of my approach to managing my time and my to do list with a bunch of friends over dinner. I think they were all a little taken aback by my enthusiasm for my system and the tools I use to make it work, and by the fact my system involved paper and pens.
At that time, I was using a week to a page paper planner with hourly time slots. They wondered how I could manage that without making a mess of my planner, and I introduced them to the wonders of erasable pens (which I then bought them for Christmas to illustrate my point).
I’m no longer running a paper agenda that breaks my day down hour-by-hour, but I am very reliant on my Traveler’s Notebook to keep me organised.
Although I am very much a technology lover, I also have a great #loveforanalogue (check out the hashtag on Instagram). When it comes to to do lists, I feel most organised and centered when I’m working with paper and a pen. I need to see everything in front of me and I need to have it with me wherever I am. The more I’m juggling, the more reliant I am on my paper to do lists. If it’s not on my list, it’s not going to happen.
Last week I blogged about Midori Traveler’s Notebooks, and my MTN is the core of my paper planning. Actually, the one I’m currently using is commonly known as a fauxdori because it’s not made by Midori, but by an artisan who started out selling via Etsy. Inside my leather notebook cover, I have a bunch of different inserts, some I’ve made, some I’ve bought. I don’t go anywhere without it. Sometimes it’s all I take with me (along with my phone, which is of course constantly in my hand), with a bit of cash and a credit card stashed in a card insert I have in there.
It takes up a bit of space in my handbag, but my everyday handbag is monstrous. Even when I have a smaller bag, it’s worth the weight and volume because I have absolutely everything to hand. And I love the feel of it. The texture of the leather, the weight, and the way the width sits in my hand.
So let me tell you a little bit about how I use my MTN (I’ll call it that for shorthand, even though it’s not actually made by Midori).
The first thing I should say is that my system is not fixed. It’s an evolution. I’m constantly tweaking it from week to week. And that’s the really great thing about using a MTN. It’s a flexible system and it can evolve as I need it to.
Inside my MTN
I made myself a folder insert so I can tuck things I need to keep in here. At the moment, I’ve got a receipt for pizza I bought for a class, which I need to claim (I hate the expenses system at work so I store up my claims for ages), a gift voucher for the bookshop at work which I got for participating in research I think, and an Instax pic of the kids. In the back half of the folder I’ve got some receipts for tax and a template I use when I’m ruling up my weekly spreads.
I need this with me for quick reference. I have cut down and laminated a copy, then folded it in half to fit under one of the elastics in my notebook cover. I use it all the time.
Whichever way I set it up, I was going to have a blank spot on one of the four faces of this insert so I made it pretty with some scrapbooking paper (see previous pic).
As you can see in these two photos, my semester calendar sits inside my homemade folder insert, and both of these are wrapped around the first book in my MTN, my monthly planner.
I have a month to an opening Midori insert (refill 017) on which I map various things, including the days I plan to be in the office, major deadlines, leave and so forth. I plot these things using colour coded little dot stickers and block out leave time with washi tape or just by drawing a line through the dates and labeling it.
I’ve decided I don’t go in for planner decorating, but I thought I might back when I set this insert up over the summer. Hence the pineapple washi. Which is adorable, but does raise some eyebrows in Serious Academic Meetings.
The little clouds are sticky notes and were a necessity on this spread because I stuffed up in non-erasable pen. But I actually quite like the size and standout-ness because I can see at a glance when I’ve got something big on. Blue clouds are life things; white clouds are work things.
I use little colour dots to indicate specific things: green dots are work days when I know I’ll be on campus; blue dots are days I’m planning to work when I know I’ll be at home (I use blue dotes to indicate weekend days I’m working at home, not just work days I’m working at home, to help me keep track of my plans).
The washi tape strips on the calendar itself are functional: they block out periods of time to indicate specific things.
This insert is almost finished – July is the last month I can fit in here. Once it is finished, I think I will just draw up the monthly spread in my work notebook instead. I think I can easily draw this layout myself and it will reduce the bulk in my MTN a bit if I cut out one notebook.
My work notebook is up next, on the second piece of elastic in my notebook cover.
I don’t use a daily time-based paper planner. I used to copy my commitments for the week into a weekly planner insert so I could see exactly where I had blocks of time to get work done. For a while this worked okay, until I had probably the most important realisation I’ve ever had about the way I schedule my days and my workflows: I’m kidding myself if I think I’m going to get anything done on meeting days. When I’m on campus, I generally have meetings all day and any in between time gets absorbed in hallway conversations. So there is absolutely no point in having a visual reminder of where I’ve got time to work, because if I’ve got stuff scheduled, I won’t have time to work anyway. In addition to that, I need to see my to dos for the week on a weekly spread, and there wasn’t enough room to put them on my weekly planner page.
I use a Midori grid notebook (refill 002) to make task lists on a weekly layout. I use a two page spread split up into sections:
- one large section where I compile a running to do list for the week, on the right of the spread
- five smaller sections for Monday to Friday
- two even smaller sections for Saturday and Sunday.
Some work gets scheduled for a specific day. For example, this week final grades were due on Monday and I also needed to send back students’ assignments, so that went on Monday’s list. On Tuesday I needed to get a complete draft of a project report out to the project team for review, so was on Tuesday’s list. I also note things that are due on a particular date in that day’s section.
In a perfect world I wouldn’t schedule more than one big task or three smaller ones on any day, but in reality, I blow that out of the water fairly often. To avoid over scheduling my days, I compile a running to do list for the week. I try to get through the whole list in the week but that rarely happens.
On Sunday, I draw up the next week’s spread (although at the moment I’ve been drawing them up a few at a time in advance, to save getting the stamps out every week) and start transferring things over and plotting out what I need to get done for the week ahead.
So far, this hand drawn and stamped layout is working really well for me. I’d rather not have to draw it up, but it’s not hard and a small sacrifice to make to have the perfect spread. I could design a layout and print my own insert pages, but I really like the Midori paper. I’m thinking about buying some Tomoe River paper to print my own notebook pages on. There’s heaps of tutorials online for making your own notebooks.
I’m also going to add some teaching related spreads to this notebook, inspired by a YouTube video I watched last night on bullet journalling for teachers and academics. I want to create a content list for content I need to create, a topic planner, and a page to make notes about things that didn’t work that I want to change for next year.
Bits and pieces
Next up I have a couple of plastic inserts, including a zipper insert and a card holder.
First up, the zipper insert. It has a post it on there with a bullet journalling key, which I don’t actually use because I use modified symbols. They’re just in my head, not written down anywhere. The standard version is pretty intuitive and my version is even simpler, because I don’t mix notes and events in with my planning.
Inside my zipper insert, I have a little glassine envelope with some Midori paperclips inside (four or five of which came free in this envelope with a Scratch and Jotter order, which was a cute touch), some little cloud post its (super cheap on eBay), and a paper bag with some coloured dot stickers inside.
Then I’ve got my card insert with some discount codes for online stores, wifi passwords, and the little ticket for my graduation photos – from my undergrad degree, no less! I still haven’t ordered them, but the digital files for my PhD graduation came yesterday. Not sure if I’ll ever get round to ordering my undergrad pics, although I did order the proofs a couple of years ago.
Lists and stuff notebook
On the last piece of elastic in my MTN I have my lists and stuff notebook, complete with title card decorated by Miss 7.
This is a Midori grid notebook where I make lists and notes to do with life stuff. I use the collections principle from bullet journalling to create lists that I add to over time. I have lists for books I want to buy, TV shows I want to watch, movies Mr 7 wants to watch when he’s older, gift ideas, fabric I love that I might want to rebuy, names and contact details for tradies, lists of things we need to do around the house, lists of things I need to buy… I brain dump all of this stuff into this notebook, which has numbered pages that are indexed at the front of the book (theoretically – I’m crap at maintaining the index).
Some things obviously need to be written down, like my renovation notes. Other things – like lists of books I want to read – might seem like they’re not necessarily a part of a productivity system. But the reality is that while this is not work stuff, getting it out of my head is an important process in reducing cognitive load. I don’t have to think about remembering this stuff because I know it’s been captured, which means less worrying about whether I’m remembering everything I need to remember. So this particular notebook is really important in keeping my head clear.
So that’s my analogue system for keeping my self sorted. I’m sure it will continue to evolve, but that’s the beauty of the MTN system. It’s infinitely flexible and customisable.
And that’s also it for #blogjune! I didn’t quite make it to a post every day this time round, which is a bit slack really, particularly seeing I managed more last year when I was finishing my PhD. But I got to a respectable 22 posts and I’m pretty happy with that. I’m even more happy with the great conversations I’ve had this month. There have been some great posts and I’ve really enjoyed reading them and reconnecting with people I haven’t talked to in a while. In fact, I’ve enjoyed it a little bit too much, using it as an opportunity to procrastinate! But it’s been a lot of fun. Thanks for the conversations and procrastination fodder, everyone!