Category Archives: organisation

Piling up the planners

Some time last year, after a  bunch of failures, some stress and a lot of stuff I’m not used to, I capitulated and bought a Filofax. It was a beautiful aquamarine Finsbury because I wanted a “good” one (ie, leather rather than faux leather) and also, because I wanted an aquamarine one. I liked the texture of the Finsbury and it had 30mm rings. 

If you aren’t really into planners or Filofaxes, these are boring details. Anyway, I wanted to use it as some sort of a bridge between work and personal life and also because really for someone like me who has a degree in artificial intelligence and has worked in IT for nearly 20 years and who loves gadgets, but who has also been keeping a diary for more than 25 years and who writes most days, it really was the case that trying to keep several different digital tools in sync was a balls. I *think* everything eventually reaches the calendar on my iPad but that is the only place. So the idea was to be able to book flights for the correct weekend when I wanted to go to Ireland as opposed to having to write of a set of flights because I booked them the wrong weekend, for example. This worked like a dream until it was obvious that my personal life and work life together were way bigger than one Filofax so I gritted my teeth and acquired second Filofax. This too was a Finsbury, albeit some deep pink colour. Raspberry, apparently. I’ve checked the blog entry I did at the time. I applied that one to work and the aqua one to personal. It’s a measure of my contrariness that I wanted to keep the aqua one which I love most for my personal life but it’s the pink one I used most often because I use the tool most for work. 

However, that’s irrelevant. The problem is that not long after I got it, it became obvious that one Filofax was not going to be enough for work. I struggled on for a month or two; resolved to buy another one but preferably not another Finsbury because beautiful and all as they are, they aren’t exactly inexpensive. I could have a new iPad for the money I have spent on organiser related stuff in the last 6 months. 

But, frankly, a new iPad isn’t going to solve any of my problems really. If it did, I’d never have needed a Filofax in the first place 

So I was lucky enough to find another leather Filofax, a Holborn, in a sale and it will join my pink Finsbury and together, I will rule supreme over my workload and related paperwork. While I was at it, I also bought an A5 clipbook which is one of Filofax’s various other related products. It has the benefit of being that aqua colour I like, and it’s possible the cover is leather. It should take A5 Filofax refills, but I am intrigued because the ones which came in the Clipbook are really really nice in many ways and may enable me to drop preprinted calendars next year. The plan for it at present is to come to work and enable me not to have to drag around 2 other Filofaxes. 

But deep within me, there is Disappointment in myself. I spend a lot of time on instagram and youtube watching planner related videos and leaving aside the very huge problem with planner related stuff on both sites, one thing I never really got was why anyone would have more than one planner. It’s been easy for me to say this because for years, I never needed one. I was working on one project, I had a notebook with a to do list and I didn’t have to manage more than one project at a time and the stories of work I had to manage over more than a day or two tended to be simple enough to keep track of. Buying the second planner hurt. Buying the third one is just beyond the pale for me. 

When I look at some of the planners on instagram – no, wait, nearly all of the planners – what strikes me more than anything is the sheer amount of time people spend administering their planning system. I need the system to be practically invisible. If I have to have an invisible system across 2 Filofaxes and a clipbook, grand; but I do not want it to take hours of my life administering the system itself. It needs to “just” work. Most of the social media planning gurus put significantly more work into the appearance of their planners than the content. 

And they have loads of them. Libraries full of planners. As I now have three, I can’t actually comment any more. 

The issue is more, I look at a lot of these planning videos, blogs, vlogs, instagram accounts and even though someone might have 30 different planner colours, and planners in different sizes for different occasions, it never seems to me that they have to coordinate a whole lot. My daily to do list can run to 60 items on occasion and yes it spills over. But it’s no use to me someone demonstrating their wonderful system for handling 8 items on a daily to do list (“Collect the kids”, “Clean the bathroom”, “publish my youtube video”) when I could do that in my head. I don’t need a planner for 8 items. No one needs a planner for 8 items. 

So one of the things that really grates on me around the whole planner industry – and it is huge in a cottage industry kind of way – is that it doesn’t reflect reality for me. It clearly reflects it for a bunch of social media influencers but that isn’t my life. I work in IT service management, in a big organisation and currently my life is a mixture of urgent stuff, really urgent stuff, spectacular stuff I need right now, a bunch of projects I shouldn’t be involved in but am because stuff, and a bunch of projects I am planning strategically, a bunch of projects I got pulled into and then there will be, because there always are – a bunch of projects I never saw coming because in theory they are someone else’s wonderful opportunity to shine. I love my job but sometime in September I ran out of the capacity to remember everything I had to do over time. 

It’s at this point I should produce a tastefully well styled picture of my pile of planners. But I’m not a social media guru and I’m not planning the release of my carefully timed posts, carefully planned in my monthly spread. 

I’ve already whinged about the online planning world, so at this point, I want to talk a little bit about why I will use 2 planners to organise my work. 

My work is broadly split between administration and delivery. I used to use a slightly personalised version of Ryan Carroll’s bullet journaling method which has been consistently simplified over and over such that I have three main symbols: Empty box: this is a to do item. Tick in the box means it’s down, X through it means it’s cancelled for some reason and arrow pointing right means I have decided today to postpone it to some other day. I keep two main to do lists: a) the immediate needs of today b) the stuff that I need to do at some point in the future or don’t have time to do today or is interesting strategically. I struggle to keep a lid on that list but at least I’m getting stuff noted which I previously wasn’t always managing to do. 

If managing a couple of to do lists was all I wanted to do, then I wouldn’t need 2 planners. I also keep a work log or journal. It’s a basically a record of things that got done, particularly for other people, of information that comes my way, particularly organisationally, of changes of rumours, and some personal views on them. I don’t often refer to it but it is there for me basically to get stuff out of my head and not distracting me. I also keep an overview of each major project or piece of normal business. I have less control over that (who are these people who do not have customers to serve, I ask myself, in the IT world) and as a result, the categorisation and structuring of that can be a bit fluid. Some things might belong in two places. Fixing that only comes over time. Each overview has meeting notes and actions or progress. 

I use colour to some extent – mainly because Filofax has a pile of useful coloured paper. So the to do lists are generally blue, meeting notes are generally yellow. Mindmapping exercises are generally kept together unless they absolutely belong with a specific project or work piece so I want to add some more effective weekly objective/goal planning. I could do that as part of the journal/worklog. I also know there are fixed periods that I cannot work directly on things because I’m stuck in meetings moving direction forward if not production. I miss personal planning schedules a lot around this so I want to try and get a better picture of why that balance is not working for me. I want to track output and follow up that output where possible. 

When I started thinking of my workload in those terms, it seems obvious to me that the technical deliverables, despite the issues in categorising them sometimes could be stored together, and things like the agenda management, goal setting, journal, management related tasks can be kept together.