Tag Archives: DIY planner

The To-Do List Conundrum

I’ve always been fascinated by planners and productivity blogs and things like that. I’ve even given GTD (Getting Things Done) a try. And nothing’s ever "worked" for me before.

Now I know why.

Last year, I went the DIY way and made my own planner, which I used to a certain extent before my excitement about being productive fizzled away. The reason, I’ve realized, is this:

I never really had a whole lot of different things to do.

Not that I wasn’t busy, because I was, especially with all the indexing I was doing. But back in the day, my to-do list tended to be the same every single day: Index. Write. Exercise. That was it.

No wonder I got bored with my planner.

But now, here we are, and boy, has my life changed. In other words, I am busy, really busy, but unlike the busy-ness of before, when I’d be swamped by a deluge of indexing deadlines, I’m busy doing a lot of different things. There’s still the indexing, but now also the freelance writing and blogging, plus the marketing required for this new branch of my business. And the personal side of life, which has been really heating up, since both Ward and Dylan are in upcoming Canadian Opera Company performances. Not to mention the fiction writing, which still obsesses me but now that I’ve gotten back into a daily writing habit, it’s not an obsession that’s frustrating any more, thank goodness.

Last week, I took a look at all the things I had to do each day – big things, little things, important things, not so important things – and I knew I had to get a handle on it all.

But the big conundrum: electronic or paper?


I’d been using the Carrot To-Do app for a few weeks. It’s a fun app to use (there’s nothing like being called a "lazy human" by your productivity app) and after a while, you realize you really don’t want to make Carrot upset at you. But I was finding I needed more than an app that lets you list and prioritize your to-do’s, no matter how much fun the app was to use.

I downloaded a couple of other to-do list apps, but they just didn’t feel right to me. A planner/to-do list system is just so personal to each user, I think, and no amount of tweaking worked for me.

So why not print? Well, the thing I’ve discovered is this: I almost always have my phone with me, even when I’m at home (which I usually am during the day, although at night i can often be found shepherding Dylan to and from his many different activities.) To make a to-do list function well for me, I absolutely have to have what I’m using close by at all times.

But I really like paper-based systems. I like the feel of my pen writing things down on the paper, and if that paper happens to be gridded, I’m even happier. But unlike my phone, if I use a paper planner I won’t always have it on me.

Or would I?

I decided, finally (last night, actually) that it’s just a matter of developing a new habit. I can have my written to-d0 list right in front of me when I need it, as long as I make it a habit to always having it nearby. Right?

Photo 2013-09-23 12 52 54 PM

So I found that DIY planner I’d created last year, and I opened it to the first blank page (I’d used up about a third of the book last year). I stamped a date on each open spread, starting with today’s date (I stamped about two weeks’ worth of spreads) and then I put a "must get done today" list on the right hand side of the first spread, and a running to-do list of things I’d like to get done but which aren’t urgent, on the left hand side.

There’s room for doodles, and I plan to draw a box and brainstorm ideas every night, too. The book is a sturdy Moleskine with gridded pages (yay!) and although it’s hardbound, it’s not so heavy that I’ll feel like I’m carrying an elephant on my shoulder when I stick it into my handbag.

It’s here in front of me as I write this blog post (on the list for today: "write blog post" – hah! You see? It’s working already!).

We’ll have to see how it goes.

What about you? What kind of planner/to-do system do you use? I’d love to hear about your methods, since I’m still tweaking the one I’m using!

DIY Planner Update: The Everything Book = Planner UN-FAIL?

I was doing so well with my DIY planner. I really, really was.

And then the flu hit our household.

I suddenly found myself three weeks behind. And since my planner is a DIY one, this meant totally blank pages in my Moleskine. Because, you see, the planner-plan-of-attack requires me to create a new weekly page every Sunday.

It’s that weekly page that I fill in every week. Only, I can’t fill it in if I haven’t taken the time to draw in the actual weekly slots.

Some things I’m realizing:

1. I’m not a monthly calendar type of person.

When I first began planning out my planner, I decided I’d start with twelve two-page spreads, each spread displaying a monthly calendar. Here’s my calendar for March:


Do you see the problem here?

Yes, I hand-drew twelve calendar spreads. Yes, this is the one for March. The problem is, today is February 29 (happy leap day, by the way!). Which means tomorrow it will be March.

And my March calendar page is BLANK.

That’s not because I don’t have stuff going on. I’ve got deadlines, appointments, activities and even a couple of days away in Niagara Falls scheduled for March. They’re just not mentioned on my calendar, that’s all.

2. I may/may not be a weekly agenda kind of person.

The jury’s still out on this one. First, I need to actually draw out my weekly calendar page. Which I haven’t done for the past three weeks.

But when I do draw out my weekly calendar spread, I don’t do too badly with it – as long as I remember to take a moment each day to record something in the day’s designated space. Anything will do.

Here’s my first week of the year:


I didn’t do such a great job of recording a bit of something about each day, but I did remember to circle any daily goals that I’d met. This first week, I had five daily goals listed at the top of each day’s box:  write, create, meditate, exercise and read. In the lower right-hand box, I listed my weekly goals. I circled each day in which I met a goal.

Three weeks into the whole “I’m using a planner!” thing, I’d gotten better at remembering to jot something down each week:


I also realized I was going to be recording a big FAIL when it came to daily exercise as a goal, so I stuck exercise into the weekly goal area instead. My daily goals were now: write, create, read and meditate. Much, much better.

3. But when I hit a glitch, the whole planning thing falls apart.

So things were going pretty well. And then the inevitable happened. One Sunday night (February 3, actually), I forgot to draw out the next week’s spread.

Later that week, my oldest came home from university, sick with the flu. That weekend, I forgot to draw out the next week’s spread again.

And then I got sick with the flu. Followed by Dylan. Then Ward. Then I got sick again. By then we were into my older son’s Reading Week at university. He came back home, and was sick again.

So here we were. On Monday, I opened up my planner, after three weeks of non-use, and thought: “This is not working …”

But the blank, gridded page looked SO enticing.

Everything Page

And I found myself madly jotting things down. Ideas, connections between ideas, more ideas, quotes, little doodles. It was like a mini-explosion.

4. The Everything Book: in which I do a little bit of everything

I think this will work.

I’m going to try to remember to draw in my weekly spread on the weekend – mainly because I do like being able to look back and see a little note about what I did on any given day. It’s a bit like capturing a daily memory, and I like that.

But mostly I’m going to jot down ideas, doodle, write in reminders, and just fill all the other blank pages with all the stuff in my life.

Not quite a smashbook, but almost. But with a planner element to it all.

5. The whole goals thing.

I was doing well. And then I wasn’t. So it’s time to get back on the saddle again. Now I’m thinking about trying Seinfeld’s productivity secret (Don’t Break the Chain).

I figure, it should be easy enough to give each daily goal a spread in my planner – a spread that will cover the entire year. And I’ll set my intention: Don’t break the chain.

That way, even if I get lazy and decide not to do a weekly spread one week, I can still track my goals.

Mind you, it’s usually when I get lazy that my goals fall to the wayside …

Do you use a planner? What type of planner do you use? Do you write in it every day? Do you take it everywhere with you, or does it sometimes sit around gathering dust? And how are you doing with your 2012 goals?