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Tools for the Trade: Paper Planners

There are two major challenges for me as I bring together the various parts of my calling and work.

The first one is finding the creative ideas necessary to develop writings, sermons, and other materials. That is a discussion for another day because it just takes more discussion. The other major challenge is practical: keeping everything organized. This is not a cry session over being too busy—every aspect of my life is related to my choices. This is simply an observation: to make life work, one needs a bit of organization.

That is not really my strong suit. If I can remember it, I do it was my organizational structure for a while. Then I worked off this plan: I showed up for work when I was told to show up for work. I did what I was told. I went home, and if I had any other energy, I did what I could remember needed to be done. Somehow, in the midst of that, I didn’t go entirely crazy. Or at least any crazier than I was before.

Now, I realize something. I’m an adult. I have a full-time career/calling. I have outside work as a non-profit board member. I write. Oh, and I’m going back to school to earn a doctorate. All of this has to fit properly under the Lordship of Christ, which first enables and requires that I serve my family well.

And while relationships are the key to almost all of this (vocabulary is pretty crucial to passing German and French,) relationships thrive when we honor our commitments. Saying “I’ll get that done” or “I’ll be there” are commitments. Keeping my commitments shows others that they are important to me. Keeping work commitments shows that I want to get the work done—and that I like to eat because I want to keep my job.

Into that, then, comes the question: how do you keep with such things? Most people use their minds and random post-it notes. That system does not work for me. It also doesn’t work for me to just put things into my phone and computer for Google Calendar. I don’t type well enough on my phone and the digital world is a bit too engrossing to store everything there, anyway—what happens when the blasted thing glitches out?

I have tried a variety of day planners and organizers over the years. I used to use a mega-Franklin Covey system with two pages per day and so on. I gave that up when they stopped producing the page-a-day with The Far Side comic for each day. Just didn’t see a reason for it anymore. Besides, I needed a lighter system. I drifted through some standard calendars and now have settled into two choices.

The first is the Spark Notebook. I love my Spark Notebook. I backed this on Kickstarter and I’ve gotten another one since then. The layout is good, the modules for goal setting/achieving are excellent. If you are able to block schedule your days, then it’s the best I’ve got. It’s a hardcover book, the Spark Planner version is pre-dated (a BIG plus,) and I’ve never seen more responsive customer service than when I had a little problem with the shipping on mine. You can hit the link above and follow instructions for a free digital version.

If your days are generally pre-scheduled or you do not need to plot out by the hour, then you can stop here.

If you have to have hourly divisions for your planner, then you might want to go bigger. All the way to The Week Dominator. I’ve been using NeuYear’s annual calendars for several years, and I backed this project on Kickstarter as well. The first version wasn’t as awesome as I really wanted, which led to an ongoing search.
The current edition addressed the flaws in the initial design. And now, with the RadFolio addition, it’s about all I need. There are two drawbacks. 1, it’s undated. That’s not as bad as endnotes in a book, but it’s close. 2, it’s huge. This is an in-bag or on-desk planner.

What that has done, though, is forced me to the habit of sitting down weekly and plotting the week. I review calendar dates and events and try to make sure everything is up-to-date for this week. It’s not perfect, and no organization system is better than one’s determination to use it.

That’s what I use. Anybody got better ideas?

(In another post, I’ll run through the tech tools that supplement the paper system.)


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