I’m continually experimenting with new productivity methods and tools. About a month ago, I ordered a Spiral Bound Planner Pad Organizer in the 8-1/2″ x 11″ size. It came with a nice instructional CD and printed instructions explaining how the Planner Pad system was designed to be used. The dated pages for the one I ordered started with June 25th, and I could hardly wait the two weeks between the time it arrive and June 25th so that I could get started using it.
Notes on My Existing System
Before I continue with my Planner Pad Organizer review, it’s probably important for readers to know that the core of my productivity system comes from the teachings of David Allen in Getting Things Done. It is mixed well with generous amounts of Franklin Covey, Mark Forster, Julie Morganstern, and a few others as well. My core system consists of a couple of pages in NoteStudio (a desktop based wiki that I can synchronize with my Palm TX).
Although I’ve worked primarily in electronic productivity systems for years, I do like to occasionally return to paper because it gives me a different view of the system. Then I take what I learn and apply it to the electronic system.
If you are not already familiar with the Planner Pad Organizer, you may want to read about how the Planner Pad Organizer works, before you continue reading my opinions on it.
Getting Started with the Planner Pad
When I was doing my weekly review on Sunday, June 24th, I listed all my current next actions in the area at the top of the planner pages for the first week. Before I listed them, I needed to come up with some roles, or groups, for them. In my wiki, I had them all mixed up in one long list. The roles that I decided on were Personal/Home, Errands, Church/Ministry, Business1, Business2, Day Job. I ended up with about 60 next actions in this area, and most of the roles had about 10 items each in them.
The pages of the Planner Pad Organizer are thick and a good quality that makes it easy and inviting to write on them. The Planner Pad packs a full week view onto 2 pages, which means that the columns are only 1-7/8″ wide. Although I write tiny, this was difficult for me to work with because I usually get rather wordy when writing my next actions–I try to include as many details as possible so there is nothing to think about when I see it. For example, I wouldn’t have a next action that says “Call Woody re: dinner”. It would be more like, “Call Woody (555-1111) re: dinner meeting on 7/14 to discuss new site.” I trimmed all my next actions down to 3 to 4 words though and made them fit.
After I listed all my next actions at the top of the Planner Pad pages, I entered day specific next actions in the middle section. I also added my hard landscape items (i.e. those things that need to be done at a certain time, like a meeting or appointment) in the hourly calendar section at the bottom of the page.
The Planner Pad works well with Mark Forster’s system for deciding a few things that you will definitely get done in a particular day (i.e. closed lists). I picked a few of my next actions that I wanted to accomplish on Monday and wrote them in for Monday in the middle section. I was excited about starting to work from my Planner Pad the next day.
The First Few Days
Monday morning came, and I started knocking out the next actions I had written down for that day. This isn’t really very different from the way that I normally work–I usually have a few things that I have previously decided I will do, come hail or high water. During the day new work came in through email, mail, and other sources; as I processed those items I added new next actions to the categories as needed.
The System Quickly Stops Working as I Quit Working the System
The system only worked well for me for a couple days. After that, I really didn’t want to process email, or my desktop inbox. I think the primary reason for this was that I just had such a hard time coming up with next actions that would fit in 1-7/8″. I also didn’t want to review my lists because they were difficult to read and somewhat ambiguous since they didn’t have the detail I preferred. The week drug on, and I didn’t feel like I was nearly as productive as I usually am.
I began the second week with a new resolve and expected that things would go much better. I turned the page over and was faced with two new blank pages. On Monday morning I made my 1-7/8″ wide list of things I would work on that day, and I did well working from the list. There was nothing in the next actions section at the top of the pages though. I really didn’t want to copy everything over to the new week, since there was so much that I hadn’t gotten done from the previous week’s pages. According to the instructions, that’s OK–you just flip back until you’ve marked everything off your previous lists, which also allows you to see how old something is. I like this idea and I may need to start adding dates to next actions when I add them on my lists. I had a bigger problem though in that now I had two sets of similar things that I didn’t really want to look at. I felt that my productivity during the second week was even worse than the first week.
There is one other thing worth noting at this point. All day long I had my planner pad sitting on my desk where I could see it. I think this was another de-motivator because I’m used to having a totally clear desktop working area. I needed to keep the Planner Pad open and close to me so that I could see the next items on my list and so that I could add new next actions as I processed new incoming items–if I felt like doing so.
An Exciting but Unexpected Secondary Response
Although some of these projects were on my Someday/Maybe list, most of them weren’t on my current next actions lists. It wasn’t until near the end of the week that I realized that this second week had been rather productive overall, but not productive on the next actions and projects I had previously determined were most important. As I’ve pondered this, I believe that this is essentially an application of Google’s “20 percent time”, where Google employees are encouraged to spend 20% of their work time working on their own pet projects. This week has revealed to me that I need to add more of this kind of time in my life–time spent not goofing off, but working on projects that: have value; I want to do them just because I want to do them; and I don’t feel that I have to do them, or even should do them. I’ll probably blog more about this later as I find ways to add more of that kind of time and activity to my life.
The Move Back to NoteStudio
This morning I moved all my next actions back into NoteStudio and put the Planner Pad on the book shelf. One of the things that I incorporated into my wiki system was to list all my next actions by roles–the same roles that I listed at the top of my Planner Pad. I haven’t used GTD type contexts for several years now because I can do just about anything from anywhere and I’m usually in one of two places. Viewing all my next actions by role allows me to see how much balance, or lack of balance, I have in my life. It also makes it easier to see if I’m completely ignoring one of my roles.
Summary and Conclusion
Overall, I think the Planner Pad Organizer is a good option for people that aren’t happy with their current planner or that want to see what using a different system can bring to their productivity. It works much the way that I was working already, and the roles at the top could just as easily be contexts for GTD purists. My problem with the system stemmed from trying to squeeze my detailed next actions into a 1-7/8″ space. Maybe I would do better with the Planner Pad Organizer Desk Edition (17″x22″), but that doesn’t seem very portable and I’m mobile quite often. What I learned about viewing my life balance by listing my next actions by role was very valuable. Perhaps the most valuable thing I learned was that I need to allow myself time to work on personal projects that aren’t necessarily tied directly to my goals and roles, but are just things that I want to do.
If you would like to try The Planner Pad system, be sure to check out the Planner Pad Introductory Offers page so you can also get the free audio CD that helps explain the system.