Those who have attended my workshops know of my preference for planning digitally. Since 2001, my calendar and to-do list have been housed on my computer and synced to a mobile device. A large part of my reason for going digital had to do with how much information arrives digitally:

  • An email contains information I want to discuss with a co-worker. I can highlight and copy that portion of the email, create a new task, and paste the information into the note section. I write a name for the task (such as “Call Joe“), assign a date, and save.
  • I am shopping for a new car. As I read a helpful review online, I can copy the URL and paste it into the note section of a task related to shopping for a car. After reading other reviews, I may wind up with a dozen URLs pasted into the note section of that same task.
  • When I perform a particular task, I need to have a certain document at hand. In the note section of that task, I can paste the path name to that document. 
  • When I perform a particular task, I need to reference a document stored Dropbox or a note in Evernote. By right-clicking on the item in Dropbox or Evernote and sharing the link, I now have a link I can paste into the note section of the task.

Apply the same scenarios to someone using a paper planner, and you begin to see the problem. “Copy and paste” doesn’t work with a paper planner. Writing out a long URL by hand in a planner is tedious and opens all sorts of room for error. Keying that URL later while referencing the hand-writing URL is equally tedious, and it further increases the likelihood of error.

While I favor a digital system, I also favor people using tools which they like. Ultimately, the tool that is going to be used is the tool which is comfortable. For the person who likes a paper planner, the objective becomes structuring a system that will make it work even into today’s digital world.

What I propose is one simple spreadsheet. The spreadsheet will house links to the digital items. In the planner, we will reference lines on that spreadsheet. Create a new spreadsheet. Name it something like “Planner Digital Assistant.” You will continue to use this same spreadsheet for as long as you use a paper planner, along the side of the spreadsheet, you already line numbers. Those numbers will become to key to linking your planner to the digital info.

Let’s work through the examples listed above.

An email contains information I want to discuss to a co-worker.
In Gmail, every email has its own unique URL. If you were to copy and paste that link somewhere and later click on that link, you would be taken to the email. Let’s copy that URL and go to our “Planner Digital Assistant” spreadsheet. Paste the URL into cell A1.

In the paper planner, write the task to call the co-worker. Let’s call him “Joe.” Beside the task, put a “1” inside a set of parentheses. The task looks like this:

Call Joe (601) 555-1234 (1) 

For those who have been to my workshops, you know parentheses mean “Look here for more information.” A date inside those parentheses means look at that date in the paper journal, for example. In this case, the number indicates the line number to reference on the spreadsheet.

When you look at the planner and see the task to call Joe along with the phone number, open the spreadsheet, go to line 1, and click the link. You will now be looking at the email you want to reference while talking to Joe.

Internet sites with reviews of cars 
Buying this new car is a project, and therefore a page in the back of the planner will list all of the steps necessary to purchase that car and all information relevant to the purchase.

As you come across each helpful online review, copy its URL and paste it into the next blank line of the spreadsheet (still in Column A). Your research may have uncovered 6 reviews, and you have pasted those URLs into lines 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

In the planner, go to the page for that project. Somewhere on that page, write the following information:

Read online reviews of car (2,3,4,5,6,7)

Later, as you look at all of the research you have done and want to re-visit those URLs, you will go to the appropriate lines on your spreadsheet and click one URL after another.

A document from your hard drive is needed when you are working on a task.
Every document has its own path name. To copy the file name for a document, right-click on it, and choose “Copy as path” from the menu. On the spreadsheet, right-click on the cell in Column A on the next blank line. From the menu, choose “Hyperlink.” Paste the path name into the address box. (This process works with Excel. For Mac users, I do not know of a way to do the same thing with Numbers.)

In the planner, list the to-do. Beside it, reference the line on the spreadsheet which links to the document. Below is an example:

Write post on the “Planner Digital Assistant.” (8)

In the next post, we will examine the final scenario: An item from Dropbox or Evernote needs to be referenced while you are working on a task.

If you are using a paper planning, you can create your spreadsheet. One point is essential to make this system work. You must not insert lines into the spreadsheet or delete lines. Doing either would alter the numbering of all entries below it. When a link on the spreadsheet is no longer needed, the link can be deleted. That line is now empty, and the next task you need to enter can take its place.

This post is one person’s attempt at a solution which could help many. What do you think? Do you have another suggestion for how to approach this problem?