Follow-up on the Arc Notebook

It’s hard to believe it was only January that I reviewed the Arc Notebook from Staples initially and two things have happened that inspired me to follow-up on this – to share more about how it’s holding up with even more time and usage.

I continue to greatly appreciate this notebook – it really is my go-to place when I need to write things down.  This includes my to-do list for the week (or occasionally, day), notes about any blog ideas, things that inspire me, and other things that it’s easier to hand-write (rather than using the iPad).

First, I need to share that there is something I forgot to talk about in my review – another positive aspect of this style notebook (both sizes) is that the rings allows for the notebook to be flipped over like a standard notebook.  This means that if you have limited space for the notebook to be sitting out, you aren’t limited to it lying there closed until you need to use it.  The poly style will lie flatter since the leather has some bulk and causes it to lie at a slight angle.

It’s been interesting though, the amount of paper that comfortable fit in the notebook seems so little.  My perception (and some of the people I work with also) is first that it’s easy to put too much paper in – I think the rings are deceptive in that it seems like more paper would fit easily.

I’ve also become curious about if we’re simply more comfortable with having lots of pages available to us – so when we see how much we need to cut back on the pages, we feel ill at ease.  I know I do – “uh-oh I only have 8 blank pages” – yet I have yet to use all those pages in a sitting.  And there is still a bit of discomfort about how few blank pages there are – hence my curiosity about how we view the access to blank pages in our notebooks.

And it finally happened – there is a page that is coming loose and does not want to sit back around the rings.  I shared in my initial post how it seems like the pages would not be easily moved around time after time – that there should be a limit before the punched paper will just stop working.  Although I initially had some pages where the punched paper was certainly flexible from moving it around, it still connected solidly with the rings.

The only page that has caught my attention with this issue is the first page I left in the notebook – I left in the cover page – and the bottom punch doesn’t want to stay.  Even though the cover page is beginning to not connect with the rings – it’s still only 1 of the punches.  The page has 7 other punches helping to keep it attached – so even when the paper is getting tired, it happens slowly and there is support so that the page is still part of the notebook.

I’ve been appreciating the Arc Notebook so much that it took me a while to start using the similar notebook from Ampad (blog about that coming fairly soon!) and my intuition tells me that I will still prefer the Arc Notebook.  As I see people making notes for themselves – either on random pieces of paper or just filling a spiral notebook with notes – I think about the Arc Notebook and how easy it is to keep like notes together – at least as long as you don’t fill a single page with notes that relate to different aspects of your life.  It’s probably obvious that I consider this product a great option for a variety of needs that require our writing it down.

3 Common Scheduling Recommendations

What comes to mind for what ‘schedule’ means to you?  There are times that I think of my calendar specifically – those appointments that are concrete and involve other people.  Other times it’s broader than just my calendar – where it’s all the various pieces on my agenda.  And let’s be honest, we all have an agenda – whether or not we write it down or make consistent progress.  When we struggle with our schedules it’s setting us up for crazy-making – we feel guilty, lazy, and head towards being overwhelmed.  And no matter what any expert might claim, what will help you is something for you to discover, so let’s consider some approaches that you can experiment with to find out what will help you.


Put Tasks Into Your Calendar-

Most time management experts say that we need to put tasks into our calendar – you choose a block of time and add it directly, making it into a concrete appointment, with you.  If you’ve never tried doing this, I would suggest you test it out and see if it helps you.  This seems to be one of the most popular and common recommendations – sometimes even part of the foundation of time management approaches.  It’s also a prime example of something that works for some people and falls flat with others.  Although I play with this from time to time, it’s something that fails to benefit me.  Maybe my inner child rebels against that much structure or I’m aware of how negotiable those tasks really are – yet more often than not, any tasks in my calendar end up getting done in other time slot or avoided.  The one exception can be errands – where I choose the errands based on time and location, so it’s really the most convenient to do it then.

Identify Your Roles-

This is another popular piece of the foundation for managing your time – identify your values and the life roles you fill.  Another way to think about these is what are your big picture goals for your life – those important things that you want to spend time on.  I’ll even go a step further and tell you to make sure one of those things on your list needs to be: personal/self-care or some other name that means you’re making yourself a priority in order to have the energy for the other things.  If we identify “relationships/family/friendship” as a role we value, we can then make room in our schedule for attending to that.  I talk about this in Tasks – Big Picture View, and share my own list of 5 roles. The list of your roles will work more effectively if it’s short (again time is limited) and then you make effort to include fulfilling aspects of it in your schedule.  You can use these roles in other experiments – both to help you include them in your schedule and to see if you are living your values the way you’d like to be.

Include Time Estimates with Each Task-

Many experts talk about writing the amount of time you think a task will take right after the item – regardless of what the task is or how time consuming.  As I talked about in Take Control of Your Schedule, we all only have so much time to work with and it only helps us if we can avoid over-scheduling ourselves.  I’ve talked before about how our perceptions of time can be distorted – in either direction – so writing down your estimate about how long each task will take you helps you to be mindful about what you’re trying to accomplish and whether it’s a task for another day or time.  Also by having the time estimate there, you might realize how you need to adjust the allotted time for certain tasks, more or less time – helping you control your schedule in the future.  Although I do not write time estimates each week on my to-do list, I use this as needed – whether to remind myself that this or that task will take more time or to clearly show that just because most tasks are “small” the time still adds up.  I’ve also noticed that when I am feeling overwhelmed that including the time estimates on my to-do list helps lessen my anxiety and stress, which translates to making the most of my time in smart ways.  Of course, if you use a digital calendar and put your tasks directly into your calendar, you are blocking the time – the estimate of the time that task will take you.  Even if you don’t physically record your tasks, you can consider the time required when you’re thinking about what’s on your agenda.


These 3 approaches to handling your schedule more effectively are probably the most well known, although I’ve got several more on my list of options for scheduling experiments for another time.  None of these are the end-all be-all that will solve any schedule challenges.  They can all be used together or not – although knowing these approaches, even if you don’t actively use any of them, can be important as you work with your schedule.  If you haven’t tried any of these, test them out for yourself and your life.  Do they add any benefit for your schedule?  Is there a particular time or context that they could help you?  Remember, it’s all about finding ways to help make your life easier.

My Top Paid App Picks (plus one free app)

Continuing with the theme of technology and productivity, it’s time to talk about apps that might be worth paying for.  Remember the most important aspect to any technology is what your personal needs are – how do you use or want to use your tools.  Using our technology tools, we all vary in what we need and how we use them.

The chances are that there are some free apps that could help you avoid spending money.  Yet even then there are times when it makes more sense to purchase something that will meet your needs.  As I’ve said more than once, I tend to be frugal and especially dislike spending money on something that may or may not meet my needs.  I have more than 100 apps, yet have spent money on only a few.  Apps tend to be significantly less expensive than your traditional computer programs, and I appreciate that.

So, moving on, these are the apps I purchased and why.

1. Todo ($4.99)

This is exactly what it sounds like – a to-do program.  In many ways it functions like many of the other to-do programs available.  It allows you to create projects and checklists as well as a simple to-do item.  You can create multiple categories – like home, work, personal, etc. as well as repeating tasks, start date, priority, alarms, etc.  It also offers you the option of setting tags and contexts – so you can sort by these and see all your tasks that fall under one of these – like all your phone calls or those tasks that require your spouse’s help.  One of the reasons I like it is that my past do items (yes, I do have past due to-do tasks!) are listed yet aren’t quite as annoying as with some other apps.  This program is my brain dump for all tasks, it’s where I collect all those tasks that I need to remember and accomplish.

To Do

One image from Todo app (this view from phone, not tablet)

2. Pages ($9.99)

It’s a word processing app, the equivalent of Word for Mac, and it does allow you to save your files as a Word file (DOC) as well as a PDF.  This is certainly an app that is useful only if you want and have a need for doing a fair amount of typing on your iPad.  Not everyone adjusts to the keyboard or even needs to do much typing; I have written more than one blog on my iPad using this app.  The iPad version is friendlier than the computer version of Pages.  It is very straight forward and easy to use – not much of a learning curve.


One image from Pages app

3. Notability ($1.99 “on sale 60% now”)

A month ago I said I’d only purchased 5 apps, this one was my 6th purchase as I was looking for another program that would allow easier note taking at the NAPO conference.  It offers you the option of audio recording while you take notes, linking the place in the audio to your place in the notes.   You can use the keyboard or writing (finger or stylus) as well as import PDF files to take notes on.  You can export all of these out of the app if you want them elsewhere later.  Since I’ve only just begun using the app, I can only comment on my usage so far, and I really like it and it’s versatility.


One image from Notability app

4. iAnnotate ($9.99)

This is an app for taking notes and annotating PDF files (though they’re now offering Word and PowerPoint annotation with a free account).  It offers a number of options for how to mark-up the PDF’s and how to export them.  I’ve found it a little cumbersome for note taking during conference sessions, though some of that depends on the format of what I’m annotating. When there’s not such a time constraint as being in a session, I prefer this app for annotating for it’s cleanliness and versatility in how I save and export it. Recently I had a PDF I needed to scan and get back to someone, I opened it in iAnnotate, signed and dated it, and emailed it back to her – all within the app.  It was wonderful and saved the hassle (and needless paper) of printing it, signing in, scanning it, and attaching and emailing it back to them.


One image from iAnnotate app

5. Numbers ($9.99)

I use this one the least and primarily for a few business needs – it’s a spreadsheet app.  Like Pages above, it’s the Mac equivalent for Excel, and allows you to open and send files as XLS (Excel) files.  It has many features to offer the user the versatility to do what they need with their spreadsheet.  This is a good example of an app that some will need, while it would be unnecessary for many people.


One image from Numbers app

Last month I said that I’d share the 5 apps I paid for and that 4 of them are indispensable to me.  You might notice that there’s only 5 apps listed and one of them is quite new for me.  The ones I’ve found to be indispensable are ToDo, Pages, and iAnnotate.  There’s an app that I thought I’d paid for, and yet as I look at it now, it’s free!

That’s Penultimate.  This is a great handwriting app. You can create multiple notebooks and sync them with Evernote – an apparently new feature that I’ve not used.  This year I created a notebook for phone calls – a place to take notes on both the messages I collect from voicemail and while talking to someone.  They’re all in one place and there’s a way to view all the pages within a notebook, so when I need to find my notes on a specific phone call it’s easy to do.  It’s also the place I can quickly write something down, even with my finger (though it’s messier than with the stylus) and when I want to “throw” away the note, there’s an option to clear or delete the page.  You can also send a whole notebook or even just a page within a notebook with email.


One image from Penultimate app

One of the things I’m realizing is how this tool – the iPad with associated apps – are moving me naturally toward being more paperless.  This didn’t happen overnight – it’s actually taken me years of using it and adapting to using the technology.  Yet, with my growing comfort and considering things in different lights I’m realizing how to utilize the various features more fully.

Some people believe tablets will replace computers before long, there’s nothing I can think of that you can’t do on a tablet.  I still find my computer to be quite useful and in some ways easier to use – though we all know how fast technology changes.  Now I’m going to feel like a broken record – find and use the tools that will assist you in making your life easier.  🙂

The Pyramid Effect of Getting Organized

You can’t do “a” until you get “b,” “c,” and “d” done.  And sometimes that’s a short version – since there are times you have 10 things to accomplish before you can work on the thing that you most want to work on.  This is one of those common struggles we all face.  It doesn’t necessarily correlate to how much space and stuff you have.  Nevertheless, a series of things need to happen before you can achieve your goals.

First, it’s most helpful to make a plan before you dig into anything.  This can feel counterproductive – you want to use the energy and motivation to jump in and start getting things done, not to be still and think about the process.  It will save you time and energy in the long run since you can avoid making more of a mess in an area that needs to wait until further into the process.

Often this means making a list, which some of us do better than taking action. 🙂  For instance, if you have furniture that needs to be shifted between rooms, it can help to figure out what needs to happen in order for the space to be made available.

  • You know you want the dresser to be moved into the spare bedroom.
    • The spot for the dresser in the spare bedroom has a reading chair and a desk.
      • The reading chair needs to be moved to another space in the spare bedroom.
        • The only other space in the spare bedroom is filled with random, full bins – they need to be moved somewhere.
          • The bins need to be sorted and organized.
    • The desk needs to go to the corner in the dining room.
      • The corner in the dining room has spare chairs for the table; those need to go to the basement.
        • The driest place in the basement for the chairs has boxes that you need to break down to make space for the dining table chairs.

This is a relatively simple example of the pyramid effect just to get the dresser into the spare bedroom.  It’s even easier because it deals with large items that are fairly clear-cut.  And you know that you it will be simplest for you to break down boxes in the basement as the first step, then to move the chairs from the dining room down, and then you will be able to move the desk into the dining room.

Making these types of plans only work when you know what you want to do with each of the items in question.  It can be further simplified when you are getting rid of things – if you were getting rid of the desk – then all that would be left is dealing with moving the reading chair.

Second, when considering the pyramid effect of getting organized, you might need to think about the big picture and avoid small picture thinking.  Thinking about planning for the small details will be important, although you’ll be more effective if you wait until the time is right.  So, like those bins from the example above – it would make the most sense (probably – since there can be variables to change that!) to wait to dig into them until after the furniture has been rearranged.

Initially, think about broad categories (or zones, activities, etc.) that relate to your life and stuff.  These will vary from person to person as well as be different depending on what and how much you’re working on.  You might need to consider the relevance for life right now – are there things that you need to keep quite accessible versus things that can be buried a little deeper (though still with related things)?

Sometimes it makes the most sense to make bins, piles, whatever in a specific, available space related to a broad category and leave it for a while.  If you have all your gift wrapping supplies piled in a corner, bin, etc., even without any further organization – you still know where they are when you need something.  This can apply to any category – office supplies, recipes, financial papers (not needing your attention), tools, exercise equipment (small ones), art supplies, articles of interest and everything else.

The degree that you apply this can vary – a lot will depend on the space available as well as the “homes” you already have set up.  If you already have a place for office supplies, even if it’s full, you’d put all other office supplies as close as possible to the ones you have.

The initial steps are to get everything that’s in the same category together.  It’s challenging to create good organization for things when you don’t have all of it available to you.  Once you have all the like things together, then you can begin to organize it – you can see that you will need more space for tools (or whatever), that you need to make space “here” for this, the subcategories you need for these papers, and then consider what containers and organizing tools will support you.

If we continue with the pyramid analogy, you need to create a strong foundation to build on – which means waiting to make decisions about the small details until you get the big stuff (categories) together.  There’s no arguing that it can make things feel more tedious  – especially if you’re eager to get organized.  Yet in the long run you will find more success that you take things slowly and methodically.

Checking Tasks Off Your To-Do List

One of the questions I ask people when we’re talking about to-do lists is “do you write in tasks so that you can check them off?”  There are a fair number of people who admit with some embarrassment that yes, in fact they do that.  And I smile and say, “yup I’ve been known to do that too.”    I want those check marks – that symbol of having used my day productively.  Yet, it’s simply one-way to have the validation that the day was productive.

We all want to feel like we are accomplishing things – both those that are necessary and those that help us feel like we are moving forward.  The way that we feel about our to-do lists can vary.  It also varies over time – there are times I love my to-do list and times when it simply fills me with dread.  As with everything, there are many variables that affect our behaviors and feelings.

My biggest struggle is to feel productive – how many tasks are reasonable to accomplish?  There’s this nagging feeling like I could have done more, “if only…”  With all the variables of life, what is realistic for a person to do in a given day?

I’ve looked into this, from extensive reading to polling my friends and family.  The answers vary dramatically as well as the response that it’s hard to quantify – “it depends.”  There was a flaw in my polling – often we each view our tasks differently.  Does doing the dishes count as a to-do? Does taking a shower?  You can see how defining a reasonable number of to-dos can be challenging.

Tasks take a different amount of time to complete.  In a to-do list each item takes a line and can appear equal, even when they’re not.  Ideally everything on your active to-do list needs to be able to be completed in one step.  This means that projects are kept somewhat separate – like the brain dump to-do list, and only the next step goes onto the smaller daily or weekly to-do list (see my discussion of this in: Decide on the Next Action).

When it feels like I’ve been struggling with accomplishing my tasks, often I will write an estimate of the time I think each task will take.  This allows me to see how much I have set to do and gives me the chance to move things to another week (I currently make weekly to-do lists from the brain dump list).  Sometimes I will even take a list of tasks completed and note the time spent on each – this provides me with a realistic view of what I accomplished.

Too often I see people discounting the things they did do, as they view those things as minor or mandatory.  Nevertheless, everything we do takes time and energy – it counts.  During the times when I wasn’t really keeping a to-do list, at the end of the day I would sometimes write down everything I had done that day – another way for me to see what was accomplished.

Unfortunately there is no easy answer about how much you can realistically accomplish on a given day.  One thing to consider is how long the things on your to-do list will take – do you have time on this or that day?  Based on Harold Taylor’s planner, I recommend limiting your daily to-do list to no more than 3 tasks, above and beyond all those things you do each day anyway.  Those 3 tasks can be whatever you choose and of any length as long as they are able to be completed within a reasonable amount of time.  Test this and see how it works – when does it work for you and when does it break down?

Cycles of Time

For every time there is a season.  I’ve talked before about how I deeply appreciate the seasons, the symbol of how things change – maybe not a lot, yet change surrounds us.  This doesn’t necessarily make it easy.  It can be challenging to embrace the changes happening.  Yet, adapting and then thriving require us to figure out how to make the most of the changes.  If you think about yourself over the course of a day, your energy and focus shift throughout that day.

How do you handle your own cycles?  There are lots of people who’ve talked about working on your most challenging task during the time of the day when you are most focused.  I think of this as finding and working during your prime time.

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out your prime time.  There are many factors that impact your focus – the biggest being sleep and making sure you are getting enough good rest.  If you are dealing with mental health issues, these too take a tremendous toll on your focus. There are many things that can interfere with your prime time.  It’s important to handle these things and be gentle with yourself if you’re struggling to make the most of your time.

It’s great to make the most of your prime time for getting things accomplished; yet typically we can’t stop working after our best time is over.  We still have things we need to work on, though hopefully we’ll have made the most of our prime time.  This is one the reasons that I think about my tasks in relation to various factors, i.e. time, energy, activity, intellectual, etc.

Do you think about your energy and attention when you’re considering your to-do list?  A few years back I began making sure my to-do list had different types of tasks.  Too many times I was staring at the list dreading it all and simply procrastinating.   By thinking about my energy and attention, I wasn’t making the to-do list that would facilitate making the most of my time.  Now I make sure that there are a variety of types of tasks – so when I am feeling more drained, I can work on more sedentary tasks – either needing more or less concentration depending on my level of focus.

In this day and age it seems there’s always more to do, and this means that we can set up our to-do lists with various criteria.  Figure out when your prime time is and make the most of that.  Then consider what things you can do when you’re more tired – those tasks that require less thought or less activity.  If we always have options for getting things accomplished even when we’re not at our best – we move through the to-do list steadily.

Using Your Planner

With my recent reviews of 2 different planners (PlannerPad & Taylor Planner), this is a great time for me to talk about time management and our planners. This becomes even more critical with all the digital options available. I’m sure there are people out there who will advocate one specific system. You might realize by now, that would never be me. Nevertheless, there are things to consider for a system that will work for you. Our planners are about our time and how we spend it – both our schedule as well as the tasks we need to accomplish.

Most importantly, use what works. If you already have something that works, don’t try to change to keep up with the crowd or for any other reason. Remember how I say, don’t try to fix it if it isn’t broken – this applies to our planners just as much as any other system we have in place. It also doesn’t matter if it’s some “no name” planner. I’ve worked with several people who’ve found some planner and use it successfully – from various non-traditional stores.

Using this idea of thinking about what works for you – one consideration is about scheduling tasks into your calendar which are not time sensitive. We all have tons of things we want to accomplish, those tasks that aren’t critical or time sensitive. Are you more likely to make progress on this if you put it into your calendar? Or if you put it in the calendar, do you end up ignoring it? We’re all unique and there is no one right answer.

  • I tested this out for myself, putting general tasks into “open” slots into my calendar. What I discovered was that unless it was time sensitive, I would more often ignore or procrastinate it. I was more likely to work on those same tasks if I left them on my to-do list and simply had a block of time for tasks in my calendar.

Do you know what will help you more? Play with it and find out – become curious to see how you respond.

With all the electronic gadgets available, exploring them if they’re accessible to you can be great. They do provide some benefits; my husband and I share a calendar and I can see when he’s scheduled an activity for us. Are you working with trying to schedule multiple people for meetings regularly? The electronic calendars are often cloud computing so you can access them from multiple devices with internet access – is this important for you? Of course, the size varies according to the device – so is it big enough on a smart phone to be useful?

  • When my Franklin planner was getting too heavy for my purse, I tried my smart phone for a calendar. I strongly disliked it. I now love the calendar on my iPad – I rely on it, trust it, and it works wonderfully for me. When I recognized this, I got a to-do app for the iPad. I mostly like this. It has all of my tasks contained and I can set priorities, time lines, and categorize the tasks. Then something interesting happened – I was working with paper planners in order to review them and I loved writing the tasks I wanted to accomplish during the week into the to-do areas of those planners.

Using this system provided me with that planning aspect that so many experts talk about – a review of my various tasks and what was most important for the coming week. I think it also helped me because I enjoy the process of writing it down and the color-coding I could do (although I didn’t do much, 2 colors). It also limited me from seeing the huge number of things I have on my general list daily (or more often), making sure I didn’t get overwhelmed each time I had some time to work on one of my to-dos. As I said with both of the planners I reviewed, I appreciated the limited space for to-dos and see too many people thinking they need to do MORE. Anything that can help us limit the amount we try to do is a great thing in my mind.

Do you want a monthly view or is weekly enough? Do you need a daily view? This is something else to consider when choosing a planner system – whether electronic or paper. With electronic you usually can change the view to whatever suits you. For planning to-dos I think monthly is too broad, so you’d likely need something in addition to that. Personally, the daily view is too constricting now and contributes to my losing the bigger picture. What works for you?

Size and weight can often be an issue. Does it need to fit in your purse? I do recommend that if you are using a planner, that it is with you all the time. It will only save you time and energy to be able to make appointments and know you’re available (and not need to reschedule later due to an accidental double booking). It also means you can make appointments on the spot, not after you return home to check your calendar. You can also add tasks immediately and not risk forgetting them.

Consider your personal tastes – do you remember better by handwriting things? Do you try to give yourself too much to do? Does scheduling non-critical tasks into your calendar focus you to actually do them? Do you need to coordinate your schedule with someone else? Remember there is no one right solution. No matter what you choose, it needs to work for you. There are lots of questions here rather than answers – giving you some aspects to think about if you are looking for a new system for the coming year.

Taylor Planner

3.5 out of 5 stars


  • Small, portable size
  • Limited space for tasks
  • Week at a glance view
  • Perforated edges for easy marking of current week


  • Monthly view too compact
  • Limited space for planning outside of scheduled time slots


I discovered Harold Taylor at the NAPO conference last year, and came home with some questionnaires he developed to identify problem areas with organization and time management.  This year, I came home with one of his books and a sample of his planner. After using the PlannerPad, I moved to this Taylor Planner.  What better time of year to consider what you might need for next year?

One of the things that I absolutely love about this planner layout is the extremely limited space allotted for daily tasks.  I have often struggled with trying to do too much in a given day and I see this frequently with the people I work with as well.  We’re never satisfied with our accomplishments, “we should have done more.” With this planner, you choose the top 3 things you want to get done on a given day, which is written above the daily scheduling column.  It can help focus you on the most important tasks, then everything else you get done is a bonus.  You only had three things, you get those done, you’ve succeeded with your plans.

The weekly view of the Taylor Planner

There is an additional space in each column for any follow-up actions you need to attend to for a given day.  I used this more sporadically, as it applied to my life and tasks.  It’s good to have an additional space, yet limited space for something that arises.  He suggests using that to record when assignments are due.

On the left side of the two-page weekly layout is a column for that week’s priority, your weekly action items, and notes. It’s important to focus on your goals, and it’s great that he provides a small box to remind you on a weekly basis as well as cuing you to work toward your long-term goals.

There are different ways to approach your calendar.  As I talked about in the review of Getting Things Done, David Allen proposes that you schedule tasks into your calendar with caution.  Harold Taylor is of a different perspective, where you use your calendar to schedule all activities, providing the commitment as well as time to get them done.  Since this is just talked about in the beginning of the planner, I cannot tell to what extent he promotes this.  I know that for myself, if I schedule things that are not time sensitive or important, it’s too easy to still not work on those tasks and then feel the sense of failure at not accomplishing them!  Other than in the column to the far left for weekly action items, there is not much space for planning.

When I was strictly a paper planner person, I relied on the monthly calendar view.  This planner’s version of that is considerably too small for me.  The monthly view consists of 3 months on a page.  Yet, as I move to scheduling on my iPad, the monthly view no longer holds much value to me.  You need to evaluate what your priorities are in this regard.  This is the same layout for the future years, at the back of the planner.  I find the year at a glance intriguing while at the same time a little odd – each column is a month and the holidays are labeled.

The monthly view, with 3 months to a page

Year-at-a-glance on two pages















From my sensitivity to carrying around planners, I appreciate the compact size of this planner.  It is slightly larger than a standard trade paperback book and fairly thin; it will not contribute much weight to a purse or bag.  The version I have is bound, with some space for the binding to not interfere with entering the information you need to. Since it was a free copy, it’s just the planner itself, though offers a cover, with pockets for business cards and to carry post-it notes around with your planner.  Also, with the perforated lower corner, it’s easy to mark (tear it off) and find the current week.  Included with the planner are contact pages, several assignment record pages, notes, and a section for back burner ideas.

Getting Things Done

It has only been in the last year that I actually picked up and read David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.  As I’ve mentioned before, my father was an avid follower of Franklin Covey – this is what I learned about how to structure time and productivity.  I’ve also seen how often Franklin Covey does not work for people – clients with binders never opened and frustration.  This is just another reason there is such a plethora of systems for people – one way doesn’t work for everyone.  David Allen doesn’t care what tools you use, he outlines his way of organizing your time and productivity.

A major component of David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach is the idea that if something will take you less than 2 minutes to accomplish – you do it now.  If it will take you longer than 2 minutes, you then evaluate where it needs to go: into a specific day/time in your calendar or into your organization system to do later (or to delegate it).  If you can successfully apply this, you cannot procrastinate those fast tasks and will in fact getting things done.  Also intrinsic to this system is the need to review your system at regular intervals from the daily to the Weekly Review.

There are 5 stages to mastering work-flow: collect, process, organize, review, and do.  One of the steps people gloss over is often the collecting – it can be hard to really collect all of your tasks, emptying your mind of everything and getting it down on paper (or electronically).  Our brains can only hold a certain amount of information at a given time – we need to have it collected somewhere concrete.  Processing is about deciding on the next action item, which I wrote about in “Decide on the Next Action.” Organize for him is where you add the action to your calendar or appropriate list.  Review is critical to any time management system; you need to stay aware of what is on the horizon.  Finally, do is for deciding on what you will tackle next.

One of the most intriguing aspects of what David Allen talks about is his “4 Criteria for Choosing Actions in the Moment.”  Many systems focus first and foremost on the priority of the task, not with Getting Things Done.  This applies only to those tasks that aren’t important enough to be in your calendar already.  His criteria are:

  1. Context
  2. Time available
  3. Energy available
  4. Priority

Context is an easy initial criterion since if the task requires a computer, but you are not near one, you cannot do it.  Time and energy available are self-explanatory, and do need to be evaluated before deciding on a task.  No matter how high the priority might be to work on ‘x’, if you do not have the time or energy, it’s better to wait until the initial 3 criteria are in place.  I think choosing your next action based on following these criteria could ease the stress I see people putting on themselves – the rational for why they need to wait.

Most productivity systems promote the importance of thinking beyond the immediate – Stephen Covey wants you to create a mission statement for your life; David Allen is no different, he talks about the six levels for reviewing: the runway or your current actions to 50,000+ feet or life.  David Allen clearly outlines what the six levels are and I find this more accessible than a mission statement.  Too often this is an area we neglect in our planning, yet is a worthwhile task in order to keep us in line with where we want to be.

Although this book was a bit dry, I appreciated many of his ideas.  It has flexibility built into it, with the idea that you don’t put things into your calendar that aren’t time sensitive.  I’ve been know to be one of those people who will put things into the calendar with the best of intentions and then to avoid it.  I’ve learned how important it is to keep the calendar a sacred space and now have another way to approach the other tasks – to consider the 4 criteria.

The key to any system you use to manage your time and productivity is to make time for reviewing.  It’s likely most of us fall off our systems from time to time – I know I do – but we need to be able to get back on the system.  David Allen lays out the steps to hopping back onto it and makes it easier to do so.

Planner Pad Organizers

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Planner Pad organizer



  • money back guarantee (6 month)
  • nice layout – monthly & weekly
  • good division of schedule & to-do lists
  • focuses on a “funnel down” prioritizing


  • size constraints
  • spiral or binder in middle of weekly view; can get in way of writing things



When I was in high school, my father insisted I start using the Franklin Covey organizers.  I continued to use these organizers through college and for many years after.  It wasn’t until my shoulder and back started giving me troubles that I began to reconsider what I wanted to use – I always carried a purse big enough to hold the classic size organizer.  Although this was the breaking point for me, I was struggling with the system – it was no longer as helpful.

From other professional organizers, I heard about Planner Pads and was definitely intrigued with their layout.  I even set up a spreadsheet that replicated their design; I was still too frugal to order one.  This turned out to be a good decision since I won a Planner Pad in a contest – and have had the chance to actively use the executive spiral organizer.  This organizer has a monthly view as well as a weekly view.  I’ve come to value the weekly view – it provides a great way to review your week and track your tasks and appointments.

funnel planning for the week with the Planner Pad

Planner Pad funnel planning

One of the things I like about this particular organizer is the layout – the top section, spanning the two pages of the weekly view – is for you to list your categories of projects or type of activities.  For me these were things like: Business-usual, Business-client, Business-other, Household, Volunteering, Personal.  I could then identify my priorities and tasks according to these categories – not worrying about putting them into specific days.  One of the strengths of this area is the limited amount of space – the thing I see most often, even with myself, is thinking and trying to do more than what is realistic – so this helps to control that inclination. 🙂

Top section of the weekly view of the Planner Pad

The second section, below the first section, has the days of the week for your daily to-dos. This is where you can put in the tasks you absolutely must do on specific days.  I also would record what I did from the above section on the corresponding day.  I appreciate the openness since I sometimes feel limited by trying to decide when I will do certain things.  It’s also easy to see how I am coming with my tasks as the week progresses.

Middle section of daily to-dos of the Planner Pad

The final section is for your appointments – with the executive size, showing time from 7 until 9 with lines for the hour.  Ideally, you want to use this area for the time specific appointments – whether meeting with someone or time chunks for dealing with tasks.

Bottom section of scheduling for the Planner Pad

Along the right side is a column they’ve divided for “Notes/Calls” and “Expenses” as well as 3 small month views for the prior, current, and future month.  There are also pages in the front and back of the organizer for some of the more typical things you’d like to have with you – address book, future year planning, notes, and goals/projects/calendar.  The pages throughout the planner have a dotted line along the upper page corners, which I would cut off to help me get the pages I needed more easily.

If I were to purchase one at this point, I would lean towards the smaller, personal size. I do have concerns that it would be too small to be as useful.  I also would prefer the spiral, as the binder lends itself to the temptation for overfilling.  It then can become heavy and cumbersome.  The spiral occasionally makes writing in things near it more challenging – not enough that I would not use it.

Although my primary calendar is electronic, I find it useful to have a physical list of my current activities, even including calendar events.  An organizer is meant for planning – this is extremely challenging to do with a digital device.  I haven’t yet decided whether I want to carry around a paper organizer, although I’m seriously considering it.  Next month, I will be reviewing another planner system.Continue reading