What’s Your System?

Do you have a “system” for using a notebook? A lot of people talk about using notebooks for GTD– the method of organizing tasks promoted by David Allen’s best-selling productivity book Getting Things Done. I’ve had a few different methods of tracking tasks in notebooks and on a computer and PDA, but here’s my current system, which is somewhat similar to GTD, as I understand it:

The notebook I’m currently using is a pocket-sized Moleskine with plain unlined pages. The first page is an index where I reference pages relating to several key ongoing categories:

  • Books
  • Movies
  • Travel
  • Recipes
  • Ideas for this blog
  • Ideas for another blog
  • Ideas for blog #3

The pages in the notebook are filled with a variety of things– journal entries, lists, drawings, pasted-in clippings. I keep the ribbon marker at the next empty page available.

For the books, movies, and travel lists, I have a red line running around the border of the page, to make them easier to find and flag them as long-term lists that I’d want to move to a new notebook when this one is finished.

For a few key items, I use colored post-it flags to mark active lists. Two of the blog lists are marked with yellow and blue post-its. My active to-do list for general day-to-day tasks is marked with a red post-it. A shopping list is marked with an orange post-it. I sometimes use a green post-it for another key list, such as when I was keeping track of Christmas gifts I’d bought or wanted to buy.
When I fill up a to-do page, I start a new one. If there are lots of not-yet-done items on the page, I leave the post-it flag on it. If most of the items were crossed off as being completed, I’ll just re-write the not-yet-done items on a new page and remove the post-it from the old page.
For the blogging lists, I tend to have several pages with post-its on them indicating still active items. For the to-do and shopping lists, I limit myself to one page of active items, and always find that I complete most of the items before I fill up the page. I re-write the to-do list on a new page fairly frequently, about twice a week.

I keep my work tasks separate, on my computer at work, with new ones jotted on a printout of my Outlook task list. I keep a few other long-term lists on my computer, which is handy– I may experiment with pasting printouts of them into a notebook, but for certain things, I kind of enjoy maintaining them with just pen and paper, and having all those crossed-out completed tasks to go back to.

I like using a Moleskine-type notebook for all this because it has a nice permanence to it, and because the combination of the paper and a nice smooth pen makes writing things down so pleasurable. But using a looseleaf Filofax-type notebook would in some ways be more practical.

Do you have similar systems and habits for how you use notebooks?

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5 Responses to “What’s Your System?”

  1. I use a Franklin compact dayplanner binder for all my business tasks. The two page per day format is perfect for me and I’ve been using the Franklin for almost 15 years. The binder contains several tabbed sections for personal stuff like health/exercise, bicycling notes, house projects, 401k tracking, other things.
    I carry two or three pocket moles in my man bag. My journals are where I (pretend to) sketch and make deeply personal observations. when I am touring on my bike, I take one or two moles.

    david boise ID

  2. My journal is a system and my system is my journal. I keep a flag on the current to-do list, although I recently branched out my “fun things” to do list and have a separate color flag on that.

    Various notes and ideas can be added on subsequent pages but I can still easily find the original to do list.

    If I’m not in a position to carefully write stuff down, I simply text it to my email address and later when I’m at my desk I can align email with to-do list.

  3. Many Thanks for the link!

    I have to admit, I’ve been neglecting my Moleskine of later thanks to my new smart phone but I am starting to realise that it’s a lot easier to keep my life organised if everything’s on paper rather than on a screen.

    I’m still searching for the ultimate paper-based tool – hopefully I’ll find it one day!

  4. Yeah, I have a system. Start on the first page and write stuff until it’s full.

  5. My notebooks correspond to the math books I’m reading and the courses I’m teaching. I have two notebooks for every course: one for scratch paper and the other for lecture notes, written to make it easy for me to teach.

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