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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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    Last Updated on April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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