Ditching my paper planner: Lessons in online organization

Somewhere around 1994 or 1995, a friend introduced me to the Franklin planner. From that time, I was rarely without one. Over the years, I got bigger and smaller versions of the annual planner, depending on the size of the bag I liked to carry and how much stuff I was trying to organize, but until this spring, I haven’t been without it. I’d go so far as to take it to church on Sunday mornings [they make announcements you need to remember!] and to dinner with friends on the weekends. I learned long ago that my brain is an unreliable short-term storage device, so if I thought there was a possibility I’d hear something I needed to know later, I took my planner with me.

I have purposefully avoided most business travel the last 2 1/2 years, while I was pregnant with and nursing my youngest child. I made a day trip here and there, but I avoided being gone overnight. [When I went to South by Southwest last year, I took my mother and both my daughters....exhausting and lots of fun, but not sustainable for your average trip.] But now my youngest has turned 2, and she does just fine when I’m on the road for a few days. So this spring, I booked several conferences I’d been wanting to attend to better network within the content strategy/IA/UX industry.

For quite some time, I’ve been lugging around a 15-inch MacBook Pro, an 8″ x 10.5″ x 2″ Franklin planner, and many days, a 14-inch [but damn heavy] Dell. After one trip this spring, I realized what I’d known in the back of my head for a long time, even as I carried all this stuff around in my car every day:

This is stupid.

I tend to be an early adopter on technology and I’m really comfortable with it, so I can’t give you a rational explanation why I was still carrying all that stuff around, especially the paper part. I’ve just always been in the habit of writing down what I have to do, so it was easier to continue to use the task system that has served me well for more than 15 years.

So after having to take way too much Advil to soothe my screaming neck and shoulders this spring, I decided it was time to go cold turkey on the paper planner. I’m also planning a computer change later this year, so I’ll have a much lighter, more portable machine when I’m on the go, but I knew the paper planner was a big part of my “stuff” problem.

The technology I’m using so far:

  • Google Calendar: I use Google Calendar for both my home and work life organization. My husband and I started using it several years ago, before we got married, to keep track of all the schedules for the family. It is great, but offline access was a problem when I was traveling.
  • BusyCal: I bought BusyCal for the Mac. With BusyCal, I can sync back and forth seamlessly with my Google Calendar, so my husband, my employees and everyone else [through my Tungle.me account] can stay up-to-date on my whereabouts. BusyCal gives me offline access and a few more task features than Google does. I use BusyCal for my personal task lists. [Why not iCal? This program is free on my Mac, but I've never liked it. My initial problem with it, several years ago, was that it only supported 6 or so colors for your calendars. At last count, I'm following or managing 20 calendars, so 6 colors didn't cut it. Now, iCal does seem to have support for plenty of colors, but there's still something about it I don't like. It was worth it to me to pay for BusyCal, but your mileage may vary.]
  • Basecamp: My company uses Basecamp to track projects, tasks and to-do lists. I love it and use it daily, but I feel like I’m shoehorning things in when I put personal items here, or try to track appointments, so I’m still using other tools for these purposes.
  • Moleskine notebook: Not only did I use my planner to keep track of appointments and to-dos, but I also depended on it for meeting notes. I got a large Moleskine notebook to have for this purpose, but I’ve noticed the same problems that Michael Hyatt details here. You’ve got to get those handwritten notes into your online system if you want to be able to track and manage the information. So I’ll likely look for the EcoSystems notebook he recommends [all pages are perfed for easier removal/scanning] when I finish this Moleskine.
  • Evernote: Here’s where I’m starting to feel like I don’t fully have a handle on my new system. I’m using Basecamp, BusyCal and Evernote to manage different kinds of information. I feel like it should be easier to consolidate, but no one of them seems to be exactly perfect for my needs. I am currently using Evernote for meeting notes, but I feel like I could use it better. I’m eagerly reading posts like Michael Hyatt’s helpful ones on using Evernote to get organized to continue to inspire me here. [If you're thinking that Michael Hyatt has become my personal productivity guru, you're not far off. He has great insights on this topic.]

The upshot? I’m online, but I don’t feel settled yet in my new task system. The one thing I HAVE been largely successful at over the past few months [preceding my paper exodus by a bit] is getting my task list out of my email inbox. So I’m making progress, but I’m not done yet.

What are your best tips for managing calendars, tasks and information?

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2 Responses to Ditching my paper planner: Lessons in online organization

  1. Gtdagenda May 10, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    If you’d like a tool for managing your time and projects, you can use this web-application inspired by David Allen’s GTD:http://www.Gtdagenda.comYou can use it to manage and prioritize your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.Syncs with Evernote, and also comes with mobile-web, Android and iPhone apps.

  2. Richard Topolewski January 9, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    Anybody have an opinion about the Franklin Covey online tool-set?  I use the Franklin Covey Plan Plus for windows but it is kind of slow and the on-line version would be convenient, and I would not have to worry about backups an moving to new hardware when I get a new PC; but it is pricy like $180/year ($15/month), I never tried it because I can not image it is good enough to justify that re-occurring expense.

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