Sunday, March 4, 2007

abridged history of a planner geek

I feel I should give a brief history of my experience with planners so anyone who reads about my current system (when I post about it) will know how I got where I am.

For a while, all I used were pocket calendars - back before I was busy. Then I started doing things and decided I needed a planner. My first planner was a Monarch sized Franklin Covey. There were a couple reasons I decided on Monarch size. I could take any page, use the Franklin Covey hole punch, and toss the page in. It was so big I couldn't lose it, and expensive enough I would feel awful if I did. Yes, I remember actually thinking that.

I believe it was the cheapest they had in that size at the time - it was nylon. It was blue. It had TWO pen loops inside. It was huge. I bought it as some kind of bundle. It came with 5 numbered tabs, a "goals" tab, "finances" tab, "key information" tab, 26 address book pages with tabs, 2 pages per month calendar with tabs for the month, and 2 pages per day planning pages. I kept the current week and the next four weeks in there along with the whole year's monthly pages. It didn't take long for me to realize I was not THAT busy. On really busy days I had 6 - 8 lines of writing. 2 - 4 was more normal. I switched to two pages per week planning pages. Also as part of the bundle, I got the archival binder. That was great for keeping extra blank pages in the front, and old used calendar pages in the back.

I like to think my use of the planner was not anything overly complicated. I used the calendar pages to write upcoming events, meetings, and things that absolutely had to be done by a certain date. I had goals written in the goals section, important info in the other sections where they belonged. In the 5 numbered tabs, I had: ideas, notes, directions, favorite quotes, and an "Information Record" section. I used these Franklin Covey forms to keep track of ongoing contact with different people, such as any issues I was in contact with M/I Homes during the construction of my house. This was invaluable for tracking who I talked to, when, and what they said.

After a while (a year and a half or so) I found I wasn't carrying the planner with me as much because it was so big, bulky and heavy. I decided to downgrade to a Classic size planner. At the time, I thought it would be a great idea to keep my address book electronically (since email is my primary form of contact) and keep it synced up with a Palm Pilot. So I got a planner with a PDA clip.

I used the same basic system with the Classic planner. The only difference was anything that I needed to take with my was folded in half and put in the pocket in the front of the planner. One day, I dropped my Palm Pilot 3 feet onto carpet. It just happened to land just right (or just wrong) on the edge. It broke the input area of the screen, rendering it useless for data entry! I decided then and there that until there is a PDA I can drop without it breaking, I probably shouldn't mess with them. Plus, I was mostly just using it for games. I removed the PDA clip from my planner to make room for more pages.

Fast forward a few more months. I once more started getting the "I'm not carrying this because it is too heavy" feeling. I decided to try out Franklin Covey's Compass system in pocket size. It looks a little like a checkbook cover with a pen loop, an address book insert on one side, a wire-bound calendar on the other. There is a pocket behind the calendar for a notebook (sold separately). The problem with this thing is it was the worst of both worlds: too big to comfortably fit in my pocket, too small to really give you much room for writing. Also, you can't really add pages except for adding a new notebook, address book, or calendar.

Once I got a little more money, I went out and bought the thinnest Franklin Covey Classic size zipper binder I could find. It turned out to be at Target.

I used that for a couple months. Then I got a new job and started having much more stuff to keep track of. I'd also read the book "Getting Things Done" by David Allen and decided the best way to keep track of stuff for work would be to have my projects listed one project per page and each page listed the details of all that project.

I paid a visit to to see if there was a solution to my problem of wanting to keep all my stuff in one notebook AND tracking everything I need to track without getting a super size Franklin planner. Then, it happened. The review of the Circa notebook system showed up on that site. Why had I not heard of this or thought of this before? A notebook with rings that are all equal distant apart, so you could take a page from a smaller notebook and put it in a bigger notebook. Infinite customizability, expandability, and they look really, really cool!

The clincher here... The article mentioned a man who had used the same planner for 50 years. I want that. I'm tired of getting sick of one size of planner and having to buy new stuff every time I want to try something different. This solves that problem. I can use the same system and the only time I'll have to buy new stuff is if I go to a smaller size. And then the new stuff will still work with my old stuff.

I want to be able to use the same gear for at least a few years and not have to buy anything besides refills such as calendar and address book pages. I can't imagine doing that unless I have a planner that is expandable, customizable, and well made. The Circa notebooks seem to cover that.

More on my current system, coming soon.