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Getting Ready for 2010: My Moleskine Setup

Getting Ready for 2010: My Moleskine Setup

Getting Ready for 2010: My Moleskine Setup

    I’m a few days late, but with the new year upon us, I’ve decided to inaugurate a new Moleskine. The old one is… well, it’s not good. The binding is broken, pages are out, and it’s just about full anyway. Plus, I’ve got a saucy new Moleskine in fire engine red that’s eager to get in the game.

    Since I make a big deal about using a Moleskine (or similar notebook) as an always-with-you productivity tool, I thought I’d share exactly how I set mine up. It’s not super-complicated, but it might give an idea of how a simple pad of paper can hold together all the strains of an insanely complex life.

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    My strategy is simple: Make it as easy as possible to pull the thing out, use it, and put it away. No messing around to find the right section, no page numbers, nothing fancy. A few tabs, judicious use of the bookmark and elastic strap, and a good fine-tipped pen. And that’s it.

    Making Sections

    One of the greatest inventions of the 20th century was – ok, I overstate myself. Still, Post-It Index Tabs go with Moleskine notebooks like biscotti goes with coffee. Usually sold in assortments of three colors, these little plastic tabs are a little under an inch long and are coated on one end with Post-It sticky stuff so you can easily add tabs to any piece of paper or card stock.

    I use two per Moleskine. The first one goes a little past halfway into the book, the second about a dozen or so pages back from the end. That makes three sections:

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    1. Next Actions/Notes

    The first section starts on page 1, so doesn’t need an identifying tab. This is an ever-growing list of next actions. I’ve tried using contexts in my paper to-do list, but it just gets in the way – I never know what to do with the next task after a page marked “@phone” or “@computer” is full. It certainly defeats the point to have to flip back and forth to find the right context to add a new task to.

    I used to have a separate section for notes, but I don’t anymore. What I do instead is this: tasks go on the right-hand page, notes on the left-hand page. And I do a lot of notes – I brainstorm post ideas, outline posts I intend to work on soon, jot addresses and phone numbers, draw maps and write directions, and on and on.

    There is one right-hand page that’s not for notes, usually the first one. This I designate for “Someday/Maybe”. I just don’t run into the same problem that contexts give me – running out of room on the page – because I guess I don’t use Someday/maybe all that much. In any case, I’ve never filled the page before needing a new Moleskine.

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    2. Projects/Goals

    The first tab (which means the second section) is for projects. On the first page of the section, the one with the tab on it, I keep a running list of all the projects I’m working on. The next couple of pages are blank, so I can continue the list when the first page gets full. A few pages in, I start pages for each project, usually just lists of tasks and random ideas I want to remember.

    On the back of the first page, I write short-term goals. I have a simple formula: “By [DATE] I will have [GOAL]”. I typically set goals for 1 month, 3 months, and (maybe) 6 months in the future, so in this notebook, I’ll have something like “By February 15th, I will have…”, “By April 15th, I will have…” and (maybe) “By July 15th, I will have…” Then I revisit this page every so often to gauge my progress and set new goals.

    3. Reference

    The last section is for pieces of information I might need on the go: logins for my utilities, my Google Voice number (I can never remember it!), and other random but occasionally-useful stuff.

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    My Moleskine in use

    My Moleskine lives in my back pocket. As I said, the goal is that when I need to us it, whether to check something, write down a task, or cross something off, it can happen instantly. Both the bookmark and the elastic strap are drafted into service of this primary goal.

    Usually, the sewn-in bookmark marks the first page under “Next actions” that I can write in, and the elastic strap is wrapped around the first blank page under “Projects”. If – and this happens very rarely – if the notes and tasks in the “Next actions” section get too far out-of-whack, whether because I’ve taken a bunch of notes recently and gotten several pages ahead of the last page of tasks, or vice versa, I’ll use the bookmark and strap to mark the last pages of tasks and notes separately.

    Although the Pilot G-2 is the time-honored companion to the Moleskine, my current favorite pen for my Moleskine is the Sharpie Retractable Fine-Point pen, a fat click-pen with a fiber-tip that lets me write super-small (thus maximizing the usefulness of a pocket-sized notebook).

    And that’s the whole system. Like I said, simple, but it works. And because it works with minimal effort, I actually use it. Every. Single. Day.

    Do you have any special tricks that help you get the most out of a pocket notebook? How do you set yours up? Let’s hear it!

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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