Thank you Tina for sharing how she uses her organiser.
I am a Lecturer / Researcher in Cultural Studies/ German Literature at an Irish University (originally I am from Germany) – and I am part of the generation that transitioned from the analogue to the digital age very consciously.
1. When did you start using an organiser?
When I was a student I constantly worked with some sort of binder system, because I might have had different classes on one day and didn’t want to carry multiple notebooks. Also binders made it easy to incorporate hand outs and library receipts directly. These were simple bulky a4 planners though, and they were a pain to carry around.
Right when I finished my Masters and started my PhD project in 2000, emails came up and library computers could suddenly be accessed off campus. More and more content could be saved digitally (since storage systems changed so quickly though, I still have my old notes on paper, but there is a 5 year gap of material from 2000-2005 that I can no longer access. Also in 2008, just when I had started a new job, somebody had hacked into my email account and had deleted all mails (which I had used to send myself work in progress and teaching materials I was intending to use at my new place).
It was then when I decided to go back to some sort of paper system, at least for the most important drafts and reusable elements of teaching units. I struggled for many years with different notebook systems, hating their inflexibility and messiness (despite of all sorts of indexing hacks, it bugged me that I could not differenciate between temporary notes and notes intended to stay – either the notebook filled up too quickly with information that I didn’t need anymore – making the more important information hard to find, or I started to tear out pages, which wasn’t pretty), yet enjoying their low weight and transportability.
It was only at the beginning of last year that I came across Filofaxes, when I was looking for lighter and prettier versions of binders. I knew of course that they existed, but for some reason it had never occurred to me that they could be used for different things than just hosting a diary and contact pages. As soon as I had realised their potential for me, I was hooked.
2. How has your use of an organiser changed over the years?
I had started with the idea of having one binder for “everything” and since I was very pragmatic and budget conscious at the beginning, I just bought an a5 domino. Then I realised that there was information in it, that I should not carry around (in case it got lost), such as marks of students or short notes to their performances in assessments.
I now have a “teaching binder” (still the Domino), and a “current research project and grant applications binder” (an Original in a5) in my office, and a “house/garden project binder” at home (personal Original). I also have an a5 “master” binder open on my desk that contains detailed scheduling, the most recent notes to my research project, health and exercise notes, career planning, renovation/ gardening projects, and my master to do list; even a section for my husband who tends to scribble things important to him on random lose pages that then end up at even more random places – so I secure them there whenever I happen to find one. This binder (an a5 Lockwood) is my brain extension and brain dump in one.
When I am away for more than a few days I can grab it, zip it, and know that in it is all I need. It is, however, very heavy, and therefore I am also using a 2 level satellite system: Level 1 is my senior Van Der Spek which is my everyday companion.
Its format is perfect because I can easily take out the a5 pages that I need in the current week, punch them at the top and fold them in (it’s exactly a6 format then).
In its big backside pocket I can also fit a5 pages or folded a4 pages – of which I get many in meetings or seminars during a normal day. It also perfectly hosts index cards, which I use to learn Irish – so I can take the words and structures that I want to learn in the current week with me and make use of unexpected waiting times.
3. Which diary format works best for you and why?
I find that I work best with the dodo pad for forward planning (because it’s fun and makes the future appear really exciting and promising),
but once the future comes closer I need more structure and less distraction, and I am using the vertical appointments inserts that the planner came with, to plan out my exact weekly schedule one or two weeks in advance.
Practically all of my completed tasks somehow translate into an email that I have sent off or something that I have submitted online somewhere (with an email confirmation in return), or a book or article I have published, so that I have neither desire nor need to keep old diary pages. Hence what I do is I transfer my current week from my Lockwood to my Van der Spek, and once the week is over I tear it out and throw it away.
Oh, and level 2 of my satellite is a terribly unpractical little vintage wallet organiser (a Lincoln from 1989).
It was a very lucky eBay find (sold for almost nothing by someone who didn’t know what it was) and I am only using it when I want to go out without a bag. It just contains a credit card, some cash, my emergency contact, health insurance card, driving licence, some phone numbers, and a bit of note paper. It’s something that slips easy in a jacket pocket without bulking it. And it’s the lightest and most stylish way to carry note paper around!
4. What other information do you keep and maintain in your organiser.
As for other items: I keep bus tickets, stamps, plain envelops, some cash, important receipts, café bonus cards and colour coding stickers in my planner. I don’t “decorate”, other than using pretty post cards as dividers.
5. Do you use a 'system' of organisation, and how does it work in your Filofax?
When it comes to my task list, as soon as a task comes in that requires more than an hour of work, it goes on my master task list, and if it needs an hour or less, I schedule it by putting it on a post it note and stick it in my diary at the first time I believe I will be free to do it at the right time of the day. If it’s a routine task, I will stick it to a free spot in the late afternoon, if it’s a task that requires alertness and focus, I stick it on the next free morning.
Also, when I am planning bigger projects I break them down in steps that I schedule long term, so there normally wouldn’t be many “free” time slots available, however I try to keep at least an hour at each work day schedule unplanned for sudden emergencies. If no emergency occurs, I will look for such post it notes in the following days and will get it out of the way, and I do the same when an appointment is canceled – at least in theory, often enough I end up just enjoying some free time.
I am using a simplified version of GTD to keep my desk and my mind free. Every piece of paper or task-bearing email that comes in, goes into a “month” folder – this can be a bill that has to be paid or a conference call of an event where I want to participate. I don’t use different categories here but go strictly by the time in which something has to be dealt with. Once that month is close, usually at the last weekend of the old month, I grab the folder and schedule the tasks or do small things such as payments straight away.
That way I stay on track of things, without letting every incoming thing interrupt my flow. It is important, however, when dealing with deadlines, to put things in the right folder – not the one in which the deadline expires, but the one in which I need to start working at it, to be done in time.
I am archiving relevant pages of planners that have become too bulky in upcycled vhs tape covers. I found out by accident that they have the perfect size for a6 as well as personal inserts.
6. Do you use one binder or several, and if several, how do you use them?
As mentioned above I am using different binders, but each of those is represented as a section in my master binder with its most current work in progress. My master planner is like the narrowest point of a Japanese fan: very stable, very concentrated, connected with every section of my life – and from there the other planners spread out in their distinct areas.
And whenever a new area becomes very bulky I know that the time is ripe for this area to deserve its own planner. Of course I could just get some cardboard office supply folders for it – but where would be the fun in that? Also I tell myself that since all of my planners but two are kept stationary – well, most of the time anyway – and are therefore in perfect condition, it should be possible to resell them, should I once end up impoverished and be buried underneath the weight of my planning.
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