Organization: Moleskine

Istemi and others have expressed interest in my note-taking and to-do system, so I took some photos and put them up on Flickr.com for people to see. I also tagged them with some scroll-over points, to explain how the system works a little bit. I have to admit that I stole big chunks of the to-do system from some guy named Bill Westermann, and Mike Rohde. So far it’s working, as Lovelips can attest: I’ve even started showing up early to stuff. (Ok, well, at least on time, which is an improvement). I’ve also borrowed elements from David Gray’s system, although I really like his people-talking doodles, and I want to try making some of them in my next meeting.

If you click on any of the pictures below, it will take you to the Flickr site, where you will be able to see the pictures more readily, as well as read the various explanatory tags attached to the photos.

The Books

The core of the system is two moleskine notebooks, one a graph paper notebook (black), and a week-at-a-glance book (red). I also use a Levenger fountain pen with the system; although it’s not the best fountain pen I’ve ever owned, it does function.

The Date Book

The Date Book looks like this inside, with a page on the left showing the week at a glance, and the page on the right showing various to-do items that have to be completed by certain days. I’m starting to use color in this system, with Red for various ‘holy day’ events, Orange for profession meetings and issues, Blue for health-and-fitness related stuff, Green for personal stuff, and Black for school scheduling changes. This page doesn’t show that completely, but it’s getting there.

To-Do List Book: Indexing

I color in blocks of the graph paper along the edge of the book to represent various themes. It’s possible for me to multi-file items in my Moleskine by filling in more than one block at a time. These enable me to find specific pages more rapidly and clearly.

At bottom left are a bunch of icons which I use to label specific items on a page, like a website, a book I want to read, a spiritual insight, or whatever. There are more of these on the next page.

To-Do List Book:

The to-do list consists of a box next to each item. Important items get a dot in them, representing a priority. Finished items get a check-mark. Items I decide not to do get an X through them; items I defer to another day get a horizontal line and a new ‘due’ date. If I delegate it to someone else, it gets a D in the box; if I make progress on an item but don’t finish, I put a P in the box. If I need tools I don’t have, I put a T in the box, and add “get X tools” to the to-do list.

You can also see a bunch more of my icons for the note-taking pages. I tend to start writing to-do lists at the front of the book, and notes from the back of the book. The built-in ribbon of the book always goes at the end of the to-do list. I use extra Post-It notes at the front of the notes section, and on any pages that seem particularly critical. I store extra Post-it flags at the back of the book, on the pocket.

That’s pretty much it.

20 comments

  1. Bill Westermann’s take…

    Bill Westermann’s take is to write down professional/work to-do items from the top of the page down, and personal items from the bottom of the page up. I’ve not started doing that yet, but I’m tempted to do so.

    The other thing that I like about his system is that he puts divider tabs on the sides of his pages, rather like my colored-in graph paper blocks, that delineate where his “Master Lists” begin…. his technology To-Do’s, his work projects, his home repairs, and so on.

    Next time I start a new Moleskine, I’m going to do that, too. That way he has separate lists of websites, travel thoughts, books to read, and so on. Seems like a good idea. I like it, anyway.

  2. Hmmm! I’m smitten with the colored box-tabs to denote subjects. I have the same problems with my moleskine as with my work notebook; it’s a long stream of consciousness that is too disorganized to be valuable later.

    I would enjoy being a person who jots down travel ideas, professional ideas, all kinds of ideas. When I pay attention to them, they multiply. But so far I haven’t had a way to make them useful after writing them down.

    Thanks for posting pictures. I ‘spect I’ll revisit them regularly.

  3. Hmmm! I’m smitten with the colored box-tabs to denote subjects. I have the same problems with my moleskine as with my work notebook; it’s a long stream of consciousness that is too disorganized to be valuable later.

    I would enjoy being a person who jots down travel ideas, professional ideas, all kinds of ideas. When I pay attention to them, they multiply. But so far I haven’t had a way to make them useful after writing them down.

    Thanks for posting pictures. I ‘spect I’ll revisit them regularly.

    • Bill Westermann’s take…

      Bill Westermann’s take is to write down professional/work to-do items from the top of the page down, and personal items from the bottom of the page up. I’ve not started doing that yet, but I’m tempted to do so.

      The other thing that I like about his system is that he puts divider tabs on the sides of his pages, rather like my colored-in graph paper blocks, that delineate where his “Master Lists” begin…. his technology To-Do’s, his work projects, his home repairs, and so on.

      Next time I start a new Moleskine, I’m going to do that, too. That way he has separate lists of websites, travel thoughts, books to read, and so on. Seems like a good idea. I like it, anyway.

  4. “the only way to win is not to play…how about a nice game of chess?”

    Same sort of thing…

    The real trick to organizing efforts and things, I’m discovering, is to have less stuff in the first place.

    I think this applies to all areas of life – what a perfect thought for today (as I tackle cleaning and straightening the living room).

    Trying to resist the lure of the iPhone myself. Looking at the iTv and the AirPort wireless unit and wondering if that’s even worth bothering… 🙂

  5. Yeah, I’ve tried a Palm and other electronic gizmos. I’ll probably buy an iPhone when they come out. But this system is working for me, and better, than any of the electronica that I’ve tried.

    The real trick to organizing efforts and things, I’m discovering, is to have less stuff in the first place.

  6. Nice system. It reminds me a bit of when I used the franklin planner (damn, it’s been a long time ago – the Franklin Covey day planer).

    I was also thinking of some of the electronic versions of this sort of thing – there’s some widgets that do a basic version of this (mac, you probably know, non-mac ppl might not), and some programs I’ve seen people write that do more elaborate things.

    Strange. Just this past week I was watching Scott try to get something to work. There were dependencies and such, so I think it was more of a project/task tracking thing.

    We have so many different ways of trying to organize our efforts and the things around us. It makes me appreciate the researcher who said people who are organized spend more time organizing and keeping themselves neat and it ends up not being more productive, but then someone else said time people spend finding things in messy offices is time that would be shorter (and offset the prep time) in an organized space.

    You’re been organizing your life a lot lately. I am making baby steps in that direction – so many changes, so much to do. Glad to see other people showing how they’re doing that to give me ideas.

  7. Nice system. It reminds me a bit of when I used the franklin planner (damn, it’s been a long time ago – the Franklin Covey day planer).

    I was also thinking of some of the electronic versions of this sort of thing – there’s some widgets that do a basic version of this (mac, you probably know, non-mac ppl might not), and some programs I’ve seen people write that do more elaborate things.

    Strange. Just this past week I was watching Scott try to get something to work. There were dependencies and such, so I think it was more of a project/task tracking thing.

    We have so many different ways of trying to organize our efforts and the things around us. It makes me appreciate the researcher who said people who are organized spend more time organizing and keeping themselves neat and it ends up not being more productive, but then someone else said time people spend finding things in messy offices is time that would be shorter (and offset the prep time) in an organized space.

    You’re been organizing your life a lot lately. I am making baby steps in that direction – so many changes, so much to do. Glad to see other people showing how they’re doing that to give me ideas.

    • Yeah, I’ve tried a Palm and other electronic gizmos. I’ll probably buy an iPhone when they come out. But this system is working for me, and better, than any of the electronica that I’ve tried.

      The real trick to organizing efforts and things, I’m discovering, is to have less stuff in the first place.

      • “the only way to win is not to play…how about a nice game of chess?”

        Same sort of thing…

        The real trick to organizing efforts and things, I’m discovering, is to have less stuff in the first place.

        I think this applies to all areas of life – what a perfect thought for today (as I tackle cleaning and straightening the living room).

        Trying to resist the lure of the iPhone myself. Looking at the iTv and the AirPort wireless unit and wondering if that’s even worth bothering… 🙂

  8. Try clicking on the later three photographs, and go to the Flickr website. You’ll see my notes and commentary on the symbols, and maybe that will give you some idea of how the system works. It really does work.

  9. i can’t seem to get the level of flowchart like organization i want in a notebook. it’s much easier for me in a software program like outlook where i can cross-categorize things. it looks like you kind of do that with your notebooks too, but i just can’t seem to get it work on paper! 🙂

  10. Yeah, I still do a bunch of stuff on paper. I do a lot digitally (including my journal, these days), but some things still work best on paper — to do lists and calendar keeping apparently among them.

  11. wow you do everything on paper! i was going to ask you what software you use, then i clicked the link and saw the pictures! i keep notes for myself in notebooks because they’re available, but i really don’t thrive unless i have an electronic organizational tool that i can sync with online stuff. hee..

  12. wow you do everything on paper! i was going to ask you what software you use, then i clicked the link and saw the pictures! i keep notes for myself in notebooks because they’re available, but i really don’t thrive unless i have an electronic organizational tool that i can sync with online stuff. hee..

    • Yeah, I still do a bunch of stuff on paper. I do a lot digitally (including my journal, these days), but some things still work best on paper — to do lists and calendar keeping apparently among them.

      • i can’t seem to get the level of flowchart like organization i want in a notebook. it’s much easier for me in a software program like outlook where i can cross-categorize things. it looks like you kind of do that with your notebooks too, but i just can’t seem to get it work on paper! 🙂

        • Try clicking on the later three photographs, and go to the Flickr website. You’ll see my notes and commentary on the symbols, and maybe that will give you some idea of how the system works. It really does work.

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