A Primitive, but Effective Time Management System


I might be stuck in the 80′s but I still can’t find anything that beats a pocket-sized Moleskine to satisfy most of my time and information management needs. Although I am slowly making the transition to digital, I think it will be a long time before anything can replace the expression, ease, and control of a pen on paper when brainstorming.

I developed a handy little system for keeping most of my thoughts together and portable for a fraction of the price and wasted paper of most commercial time management systems.

I start by purchasing a pocket sized, ruled Moleskine for around ten dollars. I love these notebooks because they are durable, soft, easy to write on, and fit well in my back pocket.

Carrying one around for a year tears it up quite a bit but it always seems to hang on without completely falling apart. It’s kind of like my favorite pair of jeans.

Moleskine Back The next thing I buy is a stack of wide, ruled post-it notes like the one you can see stuck to the back of my Moleskine. I break off a thin stack and store them in the pocket right inside the cover for future use and paste a few singles around the notebook for my dynamic information.

I usually keep a fresh Post-it on the outside of the Moleskine for quick notes and to do’s. For example, the notes in the picture are businesses I spoke with the other day inquiring about putting a candy machine in their store. The notes on the outside of my Moleskine tend to loose their stick in a couple of days, but at that point I usually need another one.

The nice thing about a big Post-it on the outside is that it’s hard to miss. If I had a PDA and had to call up my to do list, I might overlook a thing or two. On the downside, however, I can’t back up a Moleskine, so if I loose one (and I have) the info is gone.

MonthJust inside each cover of the Moleskine is a nice, thick piece of paper attached to the cover that provides a great surface to stick a couple more post-its. I make one into a monthly calendar and list my monthly goals on the other.

Each month, I swap out these post-its for new ones. I jot down the major events for the month and use it as a reference when I am out in the world and need to schedule something.

I try not to have more than three goals for any particular month. I believe the more goals you have, the less you can focus on any one. Recently, I have been choosing only to list one goal for the month so I can give it my full attention.

WeekInside the other cover, I place two more post-its used for weekly planning. I list my weekly goals on the left and have a to do list divided into quadrants on the right.

I adopted my time-management style from Stephen R. Covey’s book, “First Things First.” One of the most powerful things I learned from his book is the concept of dividing a to do list into four quadrants.

The horizontal line divides the top half, representing things that are important, from the bottom half, representing things that are unimportant. The vertical line divides the left half, things that are urgent, from the right half, things that are not urgent.

Quadrant IICovey suggests that most people spend most of their time in either quadrant I (urgent things that are important), which means that they are constantly putting out fires, or quadrant III (urgent things that are not important), which means they are just killing time.

He encourages people to put the highest priority on quadrant II activities (things that are important, but not urgent). These activities are easy to put off, because they do not need immediate attention, but they have the largest impact on overall success.

You might have noticed that my “urgent” column is not divided between important and not important. This is because I have essentially “thrown out” quadrant III, because it doesn’t usually include things that I would write down.

MissionCovey also suggests that everyone spend some quality time and energy on a life mission statement and use it to work backwards to the present. I keep my mission statement on the first blank page of my Moleskine. I make a point to look over it whenever I open it up.

On the second page, I write my long-term life goals. I have a few goals I will be working on for many years. I am sure these same goals will appear in many future versions of my Moleskine, but eventually will be replaced as they are accomplished.

On the following page, I write goals for twelve and six months out, which is about when the Moleskine will get swapped out for another. I try to make each of these goals a sub-goal of my life goals.

IdeasI reserve the next half of the book for thought log entries. This is sort the ancestor of my blog. I allow myself to write about anything that I am thinking about at the moment and completely disregard punctuation and grammar.

Sometimes I write in a stream-of-consciousness style, where the words are very fluid and move wherever my subconscious moves; and sometimes I write in terms of how I am feeling about life, an idea, or my situation.

One interesting thing that I do is write from both ends of the Moleskine, as if the book had two front covers. If I am pondering deeper or more global topics, I write in my thought log, but if I am just jotting down a quick thought, I flip it over and the use the other half.

ListsOn the back side (or other front side), I make a lot of lists. I have lists of movies I would like to see, books I want to read, phone numbers, email addresses, directions, pin numbers, etc. In the page in this picture, I have written a list of potential articles for geniustypes.com.

In addition to my portable Moleskine, I also keep an enormous desk planner where I can plan each day in more detail. I am using this system less and less, because I am finding that I can keep a lot of the information that I used to put in here on iCal.

I realized that planner sheet inserts are very expensive, and often didn’t have the features I wanted, so I designed my own weekly planner sheets. You can download my template here: planner sheets

Desktop Planner

I use a double-sided copier to put the Monday – Wednesday template on one side and the Thursday through Sunday template on the other. I make about 20 double-sided copies and sandwich them in between the two single-sided templates. I use a three hole punch on the Wednesday/Thursday side and voila!

I will be interested to look back at this blog in twenty years to see how much has changed. Maybe I will still be using the same system. I hope you have found this information useful, if only to catch a glimpse inside the head of an analog time manager.

Other great time management blogs:
43 Folders
Steve Pavlina
D*I*Y Planner


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9 Responses to “A Primitive, but Effective Time Management System”

  1. Alan A March 11, 2007 at 1:03 pm //

    I found your moleskine time menagement system after searching for time and goal management systems based on Covey’s quadrant system. As I am not a fan of pocket computers, your ideas are of particular interest to me. I will very likely adopt one or more of your ideas, with your permission! Thanks again. If I come up with any new ideas that I think may interest you, I will send them to you. Best wishes, Alan A (England)

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  2. fluencev6616 July 14, 2007 at 4:39 am //

    i have enjoyed my visit.
    Glad to see the methord that you have introductioned.
    it feels like a good idea,but the key of getting some useful ideas of myself is just do it!
    i will do somthing just like you said in this entry.
    thanks alot!

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  3. Shannon April 17, 2008 at 9:31 am //

    I realize this is an old post, but thanks for sharing! I use Moleskine as well, and I use the post-it trick. I thought I came up with it myself, but apparently not ;)

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  4. massage recliner chair July 12, 2009 at 9:57 pm //

    I’m always searching for time management tips, thanks for this!

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  5. O.R. July 24, 2011 at 9:09 am //

    you are the man! brilliant idea of developing this weekly planner, love it. and after read those old image about your hand draw planner, I could tell how the planner did helped you on your career.

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  6. December September 26, 2011 at 9:16 pm //

    Thanks for all the advice and helpful tips. I will put them to use.

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  7. alpinestars jackets January 5, 2012 at 1:19 am //

    I have put on your blog to my stumbleupon page.Aslo I sent this advice posting of your blog to a a number of friends of mine.

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