Note Taking Paper Planner

This post is the fourth in a series on note taking. To this point, we have examined the plight of the high school or college student looking for a system that results in great study material. Going a step further, we looked at how to organize academic notes in a digital age. Finally, we moved into the adult world and faced the realization that the system many of us have is “I don’t have one.” For the person who uses a paper calendar and paper to-do list, this post will be one of the two most significant post in the series.

A Life-Changing Gift

After 12 years as a band director, I moved into the world of school administration, taking a job as a middle school assistant principal. For my birthday, my uncle gave me a Day-Timer. It consisted of a loose-leaf book with a two-page spread for each day. The left-hand page gave me a place for appointments and to-dos. Over the years, I had used a variety of systems, all of which used tools I constructed myself. What they all had in common was that they kept up with my appointments and to-dos. As a high school senior, I had adopted the practice of writing things down. Therefore, to this point, the Day-Timer was not any different from what I had used previously.

Frankly, the right-hand page was a mystery. With where I needed to be and what I needed to do tucked away on the left-hand page, what more was there?

A Life-Changing BookTime Management

The mystery of the right-hand page became crystal clear when I read a book called Time Power by Dr. Charles R. Hobbs. Dr. Hobbs conducted time management workshops using the Day-Timer as his recommended tool. In the book, he explained how he used the right-hand page.

That page became the place to record anything that came up during the day. It became the one place to record notes from telephone conversations, notes from meetings, notes from one-on-one conferences, good ideas which would occur to the user, or anything else that needed to be written down somewhere. Instead of writing notes on an assortment of memo pads, sticky notes, or back of the nearest scrap envelope, the right-hand page provided one place to record it all.

One of my posts from many years ago…2004, provides some specific examples. You can read it here.

How to Use It

The right-hand page becomes the one place to trap all of your information. Sometimes, the information will come quickly. Meetings are packed back-to-back. As soon as you end one phone call, the phone rings again. Because you are trapping the information in your planner, you can shift your focus to the new interaction.

The magic happens later in the day. When the dust settles, review what you wrote. Ask the question, “What do I need to do about what I wrote?” The answers to those questions become the to-dos you put on your task list for the appropriate day. To give yourself a helping hand, when you write something on the right-hand page that you know is going to be a “to-do,” put a check box in front of it. As the day unfolds, your “to-dos” become everything on the task list (left-hand page) plus anything with a check box on the right-hand page.

How to Get Started

You will find no shortage of paper planners on the market. The best for the purposes of implementing what you are reading in this post are as follows:

What if you have another loose-leaf planner? The two-page spread for each day is the exception rather than the rule. Many planners feature one page for each day. If the planner is loose leaf, adding a page in between each one of the pages provided with your planner gives you a place for your documentation.

You can make your own paper planner. A spiral notebook would suffice. Label each left-hand page with the date. Record appointments and tasks there. Use the right-hand page for documentation.

This one idea moved my documentation system from “I don’t have one” to “I have a great one,” and the same thing can happen for you.

What’s Next

If your calendar and/or tasks are digital, the next several posts are for you. We will look at how to operate with a system of documentation that is paper-based even though you rely on your digital devices to stay organized in other ways. We will move from there to ways that you can take notes digitally.

For those who organize with paper, stayed tuned. We will conclude the series with a post that allows you to function in a world of mile-long URLs and flood of emails while you still enjoy the look and feel of paper.