Analogue Planning and Task Management in Covid Times

When Covid-19 hit last year and I started working from home my old task management system completely disintegrated. It was a combination of trying to find a new work/life/health balance, coupled with starting a new job that really made me aware that my old running daily work checklist and home checklist were no longer going to work. I was also keenly aware that I could no longer do any long term planning, and yet that I had to find a way to plan ahead somehow, or I’d accomplish none of my long term goals. After trying several systems with little to no success, it took until January 2021 for me to find a system that worked for me. In the hopes that this may help someone build out their own system, here is a glimpse into mine.

The system is built into two separate Moleskine Large Hardcover Squared notebooks. This was my notebook of choice for my previous system, and it has served me well. I don’t use fountain pens for my planning, just fine gel pens, and I don’t mind the ghosting, as I find that it’s more pronounced in photos than it is when I actually use the page. One notebook is my weekly planner, and I reference it about once or twice a day. The other notebook is my daily task list, and I reference and update it all the time. Why two notebooks and not one notebook with both a weekly plan and daily pages? I tried that and the need to constantly flip between pages with no ability to see my weekly plan before me as I create my daily task lists was too much for me to deal with. I don’t have a dearth of notebooks and I do have dearth of time and attention, so two notebooks it is.

Here’s a weekly notebook spread:

Weekly notebook spread, before filling.

Each spread in my weekly notebook is divided between my weekly schedule/plan on the the left hand side of the spread, and a weekly goal list on the right hand side. This is a sample of the following week’s spread before I start really filling it. On the left hand side I fill in the days of the week and the dates. I put in appointments and things that I need to take into account while doing my planning, but this page isn’t a replacement for my Fantastical calendar. I still want and heavily use a digital calendar with reminders, but this notebook page is crucial for my ability to see and plan ahead. I plan and think better on paper, and so if I have a D&D game on a certain day, I know that I need to schedule time to prep for it. This is also where I plan my weekly training: when I run, when I go to the gym and when I rest. I also use it to plan ahead things that I need to be aware of for my mother’s various doctor’s appointments, from reminders, to various forms that need to be filled, blood tests scheduled etc.

The right side of the page is the most important part of each spread, as it is where I plan out what I want to get done each week. My yearly goals are broken down and mapped out week by week here. I break the goals down by title, and then write down 2-3 related goals under each one (except the fitness goal which gets more). Some goal groups are consistent – fitness, reading, writing, blog, cleaning. Other goal groups change depending on the week and my focus. The “Also” goal group is for miscellany, such as watching a weekly episode of a show that I don’t want spoiled, or renewing/cancelling subscriptions.

The daily notebook is much simpler, and is merely an evolution of my old task system, adapted to working from home:

Daily task list, in the afternoon of the day it was created.

On the left side of every work day there is a professional task list, with work related things that I want to do that day. On the right side of the page is the personal task list, with stuff that I want to do before and after work. On weekends the two sides of the page simply both list out personal tasks. This system is clear, simple to use, flexible and doesn’t require a lot of “meta” effort to set up or maintain.

If you’re struggling with time management lately, take some time to create a system that works for you and doesn’t overwhelm you. I highly recommend not using a planner but rather creating your own schedule, since it saves you from the disappointment and stress of empty planner pages. It also allows you to add specific pages to your setup as the need arises. For instance, as global shipping and our local post office have gone haywire since Covid, I dedicated a spread in my weekly notebook to tracking various shipments. When I need to go to the post office to collect a package I note it down in my schedule, and so it was easy for me to use a different page on the same notebook to track the status of each package.

Let me know if this was helpful, and if you’ve also been forced to revamp your planning over the past year.

Moleskine Star Wars Pocket Weekly 2020 Planner Review

Every year Moleskine comes up with new designs for its planners, and 2020 was no different. On the one hand, it’s great that every year there’s something fresh, on the other  hand, if you happened to really love one of their previous designs you are going to be disappointed.

I was planning on being disappointed.

For the past three years I’ve been using the Moleskine pocket weekly notebook to get an idea of how my week looks like (I also use Fantastical as my digital calendar/reminders app), and every year I’ve bought the latest limited edition. Last year’s denim edition was so beautiful and popular I had some hope that it would return in some version or other this year.

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Battered but beautiful.

So when Moleskine came out with Star Wars themed limited edition planners, I was slightly disappointed, I admit. That disappointment faded away when the new planner arrived.

The design of the cover of this planner is phenomenal. The colour choice, the overlay, the way that it looks like someone stamped or screen printed the design – very ’70s retro, and really well done.

Moleskine’s choice of elastic band colour and the quote on the cover are also great. A red band would have been too much, I think, and the quote is inspirational and makes me smile.

The branding on the back is subtle. It’s a Star Wars planner before it’s a Moleskine planner.

Continuing the retro vibe, the front and back endpapers are excellent (although the stickers do stick out, somewhat ruining the effect.

Sticker page sticks out of the back pocket, because it’s too large.

The sticker page itself is cool, but not really planner themed.

The planner itself is in the usual pocket weekly format, with a ton of pages for your information, monthly and yearly planning calendars, and general information (maps, international holidays, etc). Then the actual planner, which is a week on one page, with a notes page opposite it. The paper is thin, which makes the planner thin and light, but there’s going to be show through with everything, and it’s not fountain pen or rollerball friendly. Gel ink, ballpoint and pencil are what works best with it.

Look at that pretty ribbon bookmark!

There’s not a lot of writing space for each day, but after trying several other formats over the years, this is the one that works for me. It’s just enough to give me a feel for what the week is like, without tempting me to dump everything from my calendar and to-do list on the thing. Only what must go in the planner (appointments, running meets, races, trips, meetings with friends and other events that don’t generally move) gets written down, and so I have a way of seeing exactly how much time I have for various projects during the week. It’s a way for me to make fluid time more concrete and managed.

As usual, there’s a cool B-side to the paper slip around the cover, and this one shows how to make an origami X-Wing.

From previous years’ experience these little notebooks can take a beating, and even though the cover on this planner is white, I expect nothing less from it. If you’re looking for a weekly planner that is lightweight, durable, and well designed, the Moleskine Star Wars 2020 Weekly Planner is worth checking out.

Moleskine Denim 12 Months 2019 Pocket Weekly Planner review

The Moleskine Denim 12 Months 2019 Pocket Weekly Planner arrived today, and it is a beauty.

I’m not a big planner user, but over the past year I’ve used a weekly planner just to get a better idea of how my week looks like and how to plan ahead accordingly. The slim, minimalist setup of the Moleskine Pocket Weekly planners is perfect for this.

Beyond the regular planner editions, Moleskine offers a wide variety of planners in their various limited edition designs (Harry Potter, Star Wars, Peanuts, Le Petit Prince and more), among them in their Denim collection, which is one of my favourites.

The covers are covered in Denim fabric, with jeans-like labels on them. The craft sleeve around the planner turns with a few minutes of work into bookmarks perfectly sized for the planner:

The endpapers are really nicely designed to evoke various denim labels, and the red elastic closure is echoed in the small back pocket:

As usual with Moleskine limited editions, it comes with a little something extra in the back pocket, this time stickers:

As for the internals, it’s the same as other Moleskine weekly planners, with a weekly schedule on the left side of the spread and a ruler page on the right, monthly calendars and information pages at the beginning of the planner, and a few general planning pages.

If you’re looking for a pocket weekly planner that’s beautiful, lightweight and not overly structured, I highly recommend this planner.

This week

Writing: Working on the outline of my next novel, and planning the second draft of my first one. Tough work, but there is progress, and progress is what I’m looking for.

Reading: Finished the delightful second Vinyl Detective instalment, “The Vinyl Detective — The Run-Out Groove“, by Andrew Cartmel. Enjoyed it very much, and can recommend it if you’re looking for an intelligent pick-me-up. On the verge of finishing “The Night Watch,” by Sergei Lukyanenko. A very Russian, darker but not dark-for-dark’s sake urban fantasy that is well written and sophisticated. Nothing like the childish dark urban fantasy novels that I’ve read lately.

Running: Got back on track this week. Getting myself used to progressively longer runs, and finding out that they aren’t so bad after all.

Drawing: except for a few quick doodles, nothing this week. I’ll try to get a quick watercolour in this weekend.

Also, if you are even a slight fan of Jane Austen, or like improv comedy, you will love this 30min comedy special by BBC Radio4: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08tvyw0

Latest flea market finds: two tins, one a WWII US Army First Aid Packet copper tin, and the other a British made Dunlop “Midget Repair Outfit” bicycle repair tin.

When things don’t go entirely as planned

Several things didn’t go as planned this week, as I had a few unforeseen schedule changes, a bit of bad luck with my running, and a pretty bad day at work near the end of the week. As a result, both my running and my writing suffered (I missed a writing day and my long run is going to be 6k instead of 10K).

So what do you do when things don’t go entirely as planned?

Get back on the horse — so you missed a day, or didn’t make your daily word count, so what? Projects that are worth doing don’t live and die on a day (looking at you NaNoWriMo), but on accumulated body of work done over several weeks, months and years. Do you know what is entirely unhelpful to achieving that work? Getting so caught up in you missing a day that you decide to give up entirely. Get back on the horse, get back to fulfilling your daily goal today instead of fixating on what happened yesterday. .

Don’t go into a spiral of trying to make up for the lost work — that’s a great way to set yourself up to fail. If you set 500 words or a 5K run for today, you probably aren’t going to be able to do that and make up for the 500 words and 6K that you missed yesterday. So then you beat yourself up again, feel crummy, and set yourself up to fail by dragging more and more work with you from day to day until you give up. If you missed a day, then you missed a day. Move on.

Focus on what did happen — in my case, my reading this week sky-rocketted, and I spent more time with my family. That doesn’t make up for everything else, but it is something positive that I’m glad happened.

Partial work is better than no work — I ran a 0.5k this week, which sucked, but was better than nothing. There were also days when I wrote only 20 or 30 words. That’s not great, but its better than nothing, and every little thing can keep the habit going.

Check what went wrong and when, and see if you can learn from it for the future — were you too ambitious? Do you need to rework your plan to account for something that you couldn’t foresee when you first built it? Don’t make excuses, but do be honest and make some changes if necessary.

Leave enough ‘breathing room’ in your schedule for these kind of off days — this was my biggest mistake, and the one is going to be hardest to fix, long term. My running schedule can (still) suffer a few delays, but I’m prepping for a race in the fall, and I can’t really afford to leave things like my long run for the evening of the last day in the week. Earlier is better, and making sure that your goals are achievable even if you aren’t at peak performance is important — especially for endurance sports like running and novel writing.

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Some beautiful dahlias to make up for the slightly depressing topic.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going out for a run.