Ricky Spears’ Blog
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07
Jul

Goodbye Planner Pad Organizer, I Hardly Knew Ye

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
On the Sunday that fell between the two week Planner Pad experiment, I did begin to experience an interesting side effect. Because I had subconsciously nearly given up on working from my lists because they repulsed me, I instinctively started working on some creative projects that I just wanted to work on. On Sunday I wrote the Gas Savings Calculator after what started as just some casual time experimenting with some calculations in a spreadsheet. Tuesday evening I upgraded my blog to WordPress 2.2.1–I hadn’t done an upgrade since July of 2005 and I was still running WordPress 1.5. Wednesday morning I started experimenting with a new design for the blog (which I’m not yet ready to reveal). Wednesday evening, I wrote some JavaScript code to add a “Zap Read This!” button to a SharePoint blog site. I have spent most of my time today working on making some new cushions for our wicker furniture on the front porch. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve also written much more for my blog.

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.

18 Responses to “Goodbye Planner Pad Organizer, I Hardly Knew Ye”

  1. 1
    Matthew Cornell Says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. Planner Pad comes up regularly!

  2. 2
    Brad Isaac Says:

    Ricky,

    I appreciate your review. I’ve toyed with the idea of getting a planner pad but never made the leap. Like you, I’ve tried different organizers and software over the years. Sometimes I just lose a day, other times, I’ve lost months!

    Overall, I decided since I’m so digitally connected a paper system would no longer work for me.

  3. 3
    rickyspears Says:

    Brad – Every time that I’ve reverted back to paper in the past, my productivity seemed to increase, at least initially. I guess that with each new try I’m finding out more about how I work and paper systems, or at least this one, is just too far from digital ease that it’s no longer a viable option.

    I was thinking that you had blogged about the Planner Pad at one time. It was almost a year ago, here:
    http://www.persistenceunlimited.com/2006/08/the-planner-pad-organizer/

  4. 4
    An Analysis of a Single System « The 2Time Mgt Blog Says:

    [...] See Goodbye Planner Organizer, I Hardly Knew Ye.  [...]

  5. 5
    Jessi G. Says:

    I’ve had really good luck with Planner Pad and GTD (since 2006), and just got my 3rd one in the mail today (new toy!). But then, I really prefer keeping my system very much on paper, as I have yet to splurge on a PDA and so need something portable. I do use the 7 columns as contexts–Agendas, Office, Computer, Projects (mini-projects or things my employees are working on), Waiting For, Home and Errands, as well as the built-in “Calls” column. I conquered the 1 7/8″ problem by making judicious use of my “Action Support” file folder in my workbag. (I even used the personal size in 2006 which is even narrower!) But if you have lots of next actions, need lots of detail associated with your next actions, and your NA’s don’t divide somewhat evenly into contexts, then the planner pad just isn’t going to work. But I love mine. The pages in the back are terrific for keeping track of my 10,000 and 20,000 ft+ levels and goals, as well as several types of Someday/Maybe lists. I’m headed back to graduate school in the fall–we’ll see if it still works when I’m not chained to a desk all day.

  6. 6
    rickyspears Says:

    Jessi – I’m glad to hear the the Planner Pad is working well for you! I thought about using the desk edition (17″x22″), which probably would have worked well for me, but it just isn’t portable at all. :)

    If you wouldn’t mind, I would love to hear more about how you shortened your next actions to fit in the 1-7/8″ by coordinating them with your “Action Support” file.

  7. 7
    Elisabeth Kuhn Says:

    I used to use the Planner Pad for years, and loved it. Why did I stop (temporarily). It was so BIG, yes, even the personal one weighs quite a bit and requires a rather big purse, and I had some back problems, so I was trying to lighten my load by using a much smaller calendar.

    But I miss it, and I was just thinking of going back to it ;-)

    I tend to like pen and paper planning, and I found it easy to add sticky notes if I did need extra space.

    And the Planner Pad has been the only one that really worked for me — perfectly.

  8. 8
    rickyspears Says:

    Elisabeth – I’m glad it works for you! It might work better for me know since I’m working with much shorter task lists than I used to. I’m currently keeping my task list in a draft mail in Gmail, so I still don’t think the Planner Pad is for me, but it was a great learning experiment.

  9. 9
    Anonymous Says:

    Just had a very poor experience with their customer service – so dont expect too much help there

  10. 10
    Linda Says:

    I have been using Planner Pad for over 7 years now and I have to say that it is the BEST system of organization and scheduling for individuals that have multi-faceted job responsibilities/tasks. I have my assistant using the planner pad system as well and together we are accomplishing more, planning more effectively, and are more aware of timeline expectations in our department. It does take the commitment from the user to dedicate 15 minutes to forward data to the next week…however this allows the user to be more diligent and aware of their scheduled workload, adding new projects, determining the status of items that could potentially fall through the cracks but don’t because you are reminded of them regularly. I feel that with an electronic system it is easy to neglect tasks with the click of a button. With Planner Pad, you can’t…you have to address that task as you move it forward. I believe in the philosophy that if you pick up a task you are more readily to get it done rather than those tasks you can kick out of sight. I truly enjoy using my planner pad.

  11. 11
    Bob Says:

    I used Planner Pad for many many years with great results. My job demanded that I keep track of many many details, jobs, calls, events, etc., as well as the same for my personal life. It was the best for me that I found in all my working years. The only reason I stopped using Planner Pads was that I retired, sold my house, and went RVing full time. I miss my Planner Pad but it is much more than I need in retirement. I guess what I miss most is the 6 months planning calendar, as that is about all the calendar we use now in retirement. But thankfully I did find one on line that I use now.

  12. 12
    Nancy Says:

    Does anyone know of an electronic version of Planner Pad? I feel like that could solve the space and mobility issues but keep the usefulness of the format.

  13. 13
    Crystal Says:

    Nancy- I have a paper version of the planner pad, so they sent me a customer satisfaction/product review email a few months ago, and on that review, they asked about interest in a digital version (which they apparently intend to charge MORE for, for the “convenience”-they asked about price points). So while I don’t believe there is a digital product yet, one is probably on the way. Keep looking on their website!

  14. 14
    Frances Says:

    I am in process of deciding whether to stick with my planner pad (time to renew) or make up my own. I use Things as my capture tool. This allows me to write short notes on the planner pages. My problem is meaningful categories for the (I try something for about a month and then “fix” those, and end up too complicated every time). And where to keep my work diary. When I fill up the bottom schedule with appts and notes, I can barely make myself read it again. Sometimes I use the middle section for billable hour summaries and try to rely on the top list for actions to choose from. I would appreciate any handy dandy ideas others have about this.

  15. 15
    Ken Says:

    I use the personal size–6 3/4″ x 8 1/2″ wirebound–but would love to switch to binder format if I can find a binder to fit the pages–annyone know of such a creature because all I find are binders for 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ pages–PP’s binders seem too thick and heavy for easy portability and except for one leather version have zippers or snaps.

  16. 16
    Bob J Says:

    I’m trying to decide if I am renewing my planner pad and found your blog and comments of your readers most helpful. I’ve been using planner pads for years, but never for a year at once. Like you, I long for more room. I find myself using Daytimers and then back to Planner Pads. I like the electronic idea, but agree with one of your responders, it’s too easy to ignore.

    So I think I’ll re order my Planner Pad and try to make next year the best ever.

  17. 17
    Shea Marie Says:

    Thank you for a blissfully insightful piece that gave me pause re making a purchase that would most likely result in the same fate your PP did… I am a 36-year old driven, productivity, and efficiency seeking woman who happens to have ADD (truly, not trying to be blithe or humorous). I positively cannot find a GTD app or paper and pencil system I can stick with, adhere to, or maintain! A couple of apps I’ve found that I love end up not syncing between the Cloud, the iPad, and the iPhone, thus the data is lost! And, alas, I return to paper and pencil. It becomes a whirling dervish.

    If anyone on here has suggestions…I’m all eyes.

  18. 18
    rickyspears Says:

    Shea – I don’t know if you’ve read any of my other posts here or not, but I also have ADHD. I was diagnosed about a year-and-a-half ago.

    For a while, I’ve been keeping my task list in a single note in Evernote. This could just as easily be an email in Gmail that stays as a draft, or a Google Doc, or a Word Document in Windows SkyDrive. It’s just a list. It does grow out of control thought and I do have to periodically do triage on it. Typically, each morning I’m cherry picking the most important things to do that day and at the beginning of the week a few things I want to do that week. Life and work has been really hectic for me in recent months, so I feel like I’m just keeping my head above water, but with any other tool, I would spend more time working the tool than working.

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