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Organizing a Paper Planner

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  • Organizing a Paper Planner

    Any tips on organizing a paper planner for GTD? I've read David Allen's notes, but am curious how others do it... I am working with a 5.5 x 8.5 daytimer style planner...

  • #2
    As odd as this might sound, before doing anything else, I would create as good an address book as possible. Not just the dozen or so most used addresses, but as many as you can...

    Examples: Family, Friends/Neighbors, Employment (including previous employers), Utility comanies, Churches/Organizations, Financial (including banks and insurance companies), Legal/Medical, Local businesses (including restaurants). Don't limit yourself to name and phone numbers -- include birthdays, directions, hours of business. Try to include some additional information for each entry. It is this information that will make the address book valuable.

    Be excessive here. Include the local donut shop, your barber, your children's schools (and their teacher's names). Be careful of including bank accounts or other information that could lead to identity theft (which is why I keep such information in a PDA protected by encryption).

    Why do this before starting work on GTD? Because this information will be useful later anyway, for one thing. (I would advise using PC software to create the addresses and then print an updated address book whenever needed.) Also, the results of this step are measurable in terms of pages, proof that you are doing something to organize your life. (Don't discount psychology, trying to implement GTD can be frustrating, and an early victory in this might offset later setbacks).


    • #3
      I did this recently

      I am using the same size planner (Day Timer, I think ...).
      At first, I followed the basic setup that David Allen describes on this site (under Tips & Tricks, I believe). Then I made some modifications after using it:

      Instead of an A-Z address book, I printed out my three main categories of contacts from Outlook (these were already in there). I did this because I am used to looking at my contacts in Outlook, and I have views set up for each of my main categories. So I actually have 3 address book sections: customer contacts, people that work for or are affiliated with my organization (this is where I have my FedEx account number, etc.) and then Personal. Because of how my brain thinks, this works for me - it might not for you. I have a few blank spaces at the end of each category for additions on the run. Each section is behind its own tab. I also placed this section in the very back of my planner for easy access -- because of my next modification.

      I added some slash pocket files that are sized for my planner. I have three: one marked 'Errands', one marked 'Reference', and one marked 'Support'. This is to hold documents that I might need to have with me. For instance, in 'Errands' I keep coupons I will use, my dry cleaning pick-up slip, etc. In Support I will place a meeting agenda, or some other physical piece of information to support my next actions. Reference is self explanatory.

      These slash pocket files stick out past the tabbed pages, so by placing the address book directly behind these, I can easily and quickly access my address sections.



      • #4
        There's a thread below about You may get some ideas from that thread.


        • #5

          Thanks, I'm checking out that thread. My problem right now is that with the calendar (1 week on two pages) and contacts, I don't seem to have enough room for all contexts and all projects using tabs for each one-- at any one time I have 30-40 projects going... is that unusually hight? They don't seem to make daytimers big enough. Maybe I need to move to a 3-ring system, but the size is a bit much to deal with!

          The big weakness, of course, is in dealing with so many projects and lists of actions that aren't next actions (yet). It seems like the planner pads give very little room for all of these, but the biggest "problem" with GTD for me so far has been managing transfer of next actions from their home on project lists to the appropriate contexts when the previous action is complete...


          • #6
            I'm just getting into the plannerpad myself - just starting with it............but a couple places I could see putting projects and NAs......using the Notes or Goals/Project pages in the back........then each week, you could put the projects or NAs you need to work on in the top or middle section of the weekly view.


            • #7

              Have you had a look at the DIY planner pages site on ? This has a great set of printable templates created specifically for GTD.



              • #8
                I have worked a couple of years with my paper planner and GTD. I have a daytime desk size and would not go anywhere without it. I have it setup the following way. Each line is a different tab starting from the front.

                My short term goals (30 days)
                My List (next actions, Calls to Make, ect.)
                Daily Tickler List
                Weekly Tickler list
                Monthly tickler list
                My calendar
                My address book
                Open project (each project has it own page for notes or upcoming NA)
                My 1 year goals
                My Somday/Maybe projects
                General Referance for work (budget info, ect.)
                General Referance for home
                Mom's info (My mother is in a nursing home list of her meds, doctors, ect.

                Hope this helps


                • #9
                  I'm trying to start a paper planner at the moment. I went smaller, using a small 3.75" by 6.75" paper size 6-ring binder. It's the same size as a "portable" day runner, but only a few dollars in the notebook section for the binder and lined paper. (So yeah, this is a roll-your-own organizer.)

                  The thing I like about it is that it's small but not tiny: I want to be able to carry it in a coat pocket, but still do serious organizing in it. Maybe I should step up a size, but I want to try to live with the smaller size first. It's tricky to fit all the stuff in the little rings. I have another that has larger rings but it's therefore thicker. Also, it has a zip enclosure which I like but it makes it larger than needed. (My plain binder is only 4.5" by 7" and only 1" thick.)

                  So, to cope with smaller rings I've ordered the sections thus:

                  - reference
                  - someday/maybe
                  - project plans
                  - projects
                  - "inbox"
                  - next actions (including waiting-for)
                  - calendar
                  - contacts

                  The idea here is that it's easier to add/move/remove pages in the center than the beginning/end, so it opens to the inbox. A few bookmarks make the inbox, calendar today, etc. easy to find. From the inbox, active stuff goes right into next actions or calendar, or left into the other folders (incubate etc.). Reference and contacts, which require few page changes, are at the ends.

                  Anyways that's the theory. I keep a couple of lists (shopping, movies to rent, etc.) on a PDA just because it's always in my coat pocket, and I'm going to try using the PDA to do voice record inbox (while driving etc.) in addition to paper inbox. I also have the email inbox and some email folders.


                  • #10
                    The problem with paper calendars/contacts is there's never enough room to expand when you need to. This is something I think is really done better in digital.

                    I've seen something similar to the templates on Douglas Johnston's site before in other planners, and I was never crazy about them. They seem a little too rigid, too specific.

                    For calendars on paper, a binder style blank day-per-page works nicely. You can expand the day as necessary on to a second page simply by inserting another sheet in Days you don't use can be recycled by using a pencil and erasing the date, or just by writing "Wednesday" on it until you use it, and then dating it.

                    For contacts the same. Blank contact sheets, with the A's after an A tab, B's after a B tab, and add sheets as necessary.

                    For to-do, I like to keep it simple. Unlike David Allen, I don't find myself in an airport with just my cell phone and my Next Actions list - 99% of my actions can be done in one place - my desk, so I just have one list.

                    I used to be an obsessive organizer... seperating everything into various categories, but now I like to keep things simple. One contacts list that crosses all the areas of my life, one calendar, and one to do list... Well, one for home, and one for work and one for shopping anyway.

                    I guess my concept is to keep it simple, flexible, and keep it all in one place. If things get too big for one list - you start having 80 or 90 projects & next actions, seperate them into two lists, just as long as you really check both, and they have a logical division, like projects, next actions, and "waiting for someone else."


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by MarkTAW
                      and one to do list... Well, one for home, and one for work and one for shopping anyway.
                      At the begining of your post I was really afraid that you are browsing your single long to-do list in the shop to find out why you are here. But fortunately you are not orthodox but reasonable simplifier of things.

                      So I agree with you and your way of simplifying stuff.



                      • #12
                        Yeah... I realized that I was contradicting myself when I said about the home, shopping, and work lists. When I started writing I was talking strictly about work, but I started to broaden the scope as I went along.


                        • #13
                          I agree about blank pages vs. forms.

                          I have some contacts forms, with space for name, address, phone, fax, and a dozen other things, but most contacts I am interested in just name, phone, email, and sometimes address.

                          It saves space to just use a blank page and write each in manually. Additionally, if I have other notes for that contact, I can write them in taking as much space as necessary.


                          • #14
                            This is a useful article by David Allen that helped me set up my paper system:



                            • #15
                              Just a quick observation about paper planners. What in World do you do when you lose it?? (Mine was stolen) That's the main reason for a PDA. Seems to me. Otherwise I would certainly go with paper.