Saturday, 17 January 2015

Looking back; looking forwards

Janus - the god of beginnings and transformations:
He looks to the future and to the past (hence two-headed)

I have finally started to plan 2015. A bit late and still a bit haphazard, but at least I am able to think about what I’m wanting to do in 2015 (beyond the obvious – not end up with burnout again).

I always do a review of the past year – generally between Christmas and the New Year – where I look back over plans/goals etc. and also review my daily journal and see how the day-to-day went. This year’s review a) only took place a couple of days ago and b) was an eye-opener.

I suppose it wasn’t rocket science but it was striking to me to see just how many days towards the last half of 2014 that I noted that I had slept badly/had had vivid dreams or nightmares/was exhausted/kept waking through the night/that my arrhythmia was bad... Since both my mental and physical health were crumbling, all my other goals became affected too. By late November I had collapsed and could barely even plan on getting up. This utterly floored me as I have always been super-planned.

Anyway, doing the review helped me to think about my goals for 2015, central to which are to protect my mental and physical health. I’ve also read back over a couple of posts I did a while back, specifically this one (on ensuring that your goals are things you yearn to do). Finally, I have managed to get my sh*t together and draw up some sensible goals, from which stem the projects and next actions that are the core of my ‘system’. I’m not going to post on the system –see here (2012  set-up), here (my planning system), here (projects to next actions), or here (getting ready for 2014) for details on it. Essentially, the system that worked for me in 2012, 2013 and 2014 (until I hit burnout) will no doubt work for me in 2015! The only tweak I have made is to stay in the compact de Villiers binder. As a consequence I can only have four months of WO2P in the binder, and the monthly planning sheets and weekly planning sheets for everything other than the current month are kept in a ‘planning binder’ (navy Portland filofax) along with the pages outlining the goals to projects to next actions.

Here's hoping that 2015 ends up better than 2014 finished...

As I should remind myself every day:

If I'm not yearning to do it, or it's not essential... why am I squandering my life on it?

Monday, 15 December 2014


A few weeks ago, I thought I would use one of my (many) Leuchtturm A5 notebooks as a 2015 goal/project planner. There are enough pages in one to have 4 pages for every week, monthly planning pages and a few pages at the back for a year-review too. I would have set up the 249 pages as so:

Page 1: goals for the year
Page 2: Quarter 1 goals
Page 3: Quarter 2 goals
Page 4: Quarter 3 goals
Page 5: Quarter 4 goals
Pages 6-29: Two pages per month for notes/goals/lists/anything and everything
Pages 30-241: Four pages for every week (allowing for an extra week to overlap the end of 2014 and the start of 2016)
[The pages would be split into: notes for the week + Mon; Tue + Wed; Thu + Fri; Sat + Sun]
Pages 242-249: Review of the year

That, of course, was all before I hit burnout. Right now, I can’t even think what I will be doing in January, never mind the rest of 2015. Actually, I can’t even think what I will be doing tomorrow, never mind January!

Maybe I can just start to use a Leuchtturm A5 like this once I’m able to start contemplating planning again.

Does anyone else use a notebook for a home-made planner like this? If so, what do you use and how do you use it?

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Still in a compact?

Answer = yes, but not the Cavendish.

Ah, the colour pop. I knew it would get me in the end! I have moved back into the de Villiers after a brief foray into the teal Baroque! The Baroque looked as skinny as hell, even with the whole of 2015 WO2P in there and two lots of monthly planning pages, but that’s because they are mostly the Tomoe River paper versions and take up almost no space. It was more brick-like than either the compact Cavendish or the de Villiers, but then, I’ve not been out and about so much these days to realise it’s more brick-like. Anyway, after looking back through old posts, I realised I missed the de Villiers and shifted back into it yesterday (using one of the zipped wallets from Paperchase to hold a few random things).

As for planning... that’s just a disaster zone at the moment as some days I get up and feel (half) full of energy and can get on and do stuff and other days I crawl out of bed and can focus on almost nothing. I daren’t plan anything because I’m pretty sure it won’t get done and then I’ll be more stressed, but a wide-open diary with sod-all in it also freaks me out. I’ve been off for over three weeks and I can barely tell you what I have done in that time. I’ve done a bit of writing (book 6 is going to get renamed “Mr Blanding’s House” pretty damn soon!), a bit of reading, been trying to walk each day, been to counselling... but nothing like what was on my ‘plans for end of November to December’ lists. I’ll be doing well if anyone gets anything for Christmas to be honest. Mind you, we generally give Oxfam Present Aid gifts or Good Gifts anyway, so there’s no traipsing around shops to be done.

But, the red de Villiers colour pop is cheerful. Even if it is less of an ‘organiser’ and more of an ornament at the moment, at least it’s a very attractive ornament!

Friday, 12 December 2014

The madness of Paperchase reductions

I popped into Paperchase the other day (as you do...), to have a browse and cheer myself up and found that they have reduced their 18 month diary inserts for organisers. No problem there...! What seems to me a teensy bit bonkers is that the 18 month WO2P personal (which covers all of 2015) is now £3.50 yet the WO2P for Jan-Dec 2015 is £5. Similarly, the WO2P in pocket: 18 months (covering all of 2015) is £2.80 and the Jan-Dec 2015 is £4. Who is buying the 2015 versions at more than the reduced 18 month versions?? I bought one of each of the 18 month versions and saved myself £2.70, and I have some spare scrap paper from the 6 months of ‘useless’ diary... I used some of the savings to buy two zip-lock wallets in personal size (£1.75). I realise that because a third of the product is ‘useless’ they have to reduce them, but still, it seems daft to make them less than the new 2015 versions.

Anyway, I will endeavour to review them soon.

Friday, 28 November 2014


I know I have a zillion things to review but I'm under strict instructions from my doctor to slow down, take things easy, decompress etc. etc. etc. [In fact, his exact phrase was that he would rather be writing me a sick-certificate than a death-certificate]. Burn-out isn't pretty.

Hence the hiatus in posts.

Bear with me, chaps. I will get back to posting properly soon (I hope)!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Guest post from Gerard: Compact Setup, Compact Write-up

Thank you to my very good friend Gerard for this guest post on the set-up he is using! Read, and drool over the lovely stationery and binders!!

"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time".

- T. S. Eliot

L-R Midori date-book, Davinci binder, Smythson notebook
It sometimes seems as though I barely touch down in one binder before moving on to the next. Apart from the simple fun in the exploration, each change offers a fresh look at what I'm carrying about with me, and why. There's often no big change, but the fun remains, and it's a way of staying engaged with my set-up, which currently spans a Personal binder, A5 journal and a pocket notebook.

The binder is a Davinci Compact Personal - which the Japanese call "Bible" size - with the evocative model name DB1703. It's a very well made bridle leather binder, with 15mm rings, a single retractable pen loop and a slip fastening. I chose the dark brown colour, and it's a nice rich chestnut shade. The inside covers are pale tan leather, with two-full height pockets and three credit card slots inside the front cover. The back cover features another full-height pocket and a handy secretarial pocket. The binder also has ring protectors, to prevent the rings showing through to the outside leather. As a bonus, the Davinci refills use the lovely Tomoe River paper, so I can finally use fountain pens for writing in all three books.

The Davinci’s contents are arranged using standard Filofax subject tabs, and the following is a brief outline of what sits behind each tab:
Diary: 10x monthly planner sheets, 16 weeks of standard Filofax WO2P Diary, printed sheets for Birthdays/Anniversaries and Annual Leave.

Monthly planner pages
Close-up of the monthly planner pages

Notes: plenty of lined paper, with a tabbed flyleaf to mark a subdivision.
Projects: GTD Lists at the front (Next Actions, Waiting For, Errands), followed by another tabbed flyleaf to mark Project Plans and Checklists, and a Someday/Maybe List, and finally a supply of blank paper for notes and planning. Each month I create a simple list of 12 goals, two relating to each of my six defined Life Areas. I use these as an overall guide to manage my time and attention, as I’ve found that anything more rigid is likely to go by the board.

Monthly goals sheets

Information: specific printed checklists for Holidays and other purposes, plus more notes.
Financial: a handful of sheets for household bills etc.
Addresses: Three sheets printed double-sided with full details for almost 90 contacts, a sheet for noting new contacts and two sheets for WWW addresses. Closing off the binder is a business card holder for cards and postage stamps, and a top opening envelope that carries paper slips and a lovely guinea fowl card that was a gift from Amanda!

The back of the binder
Essentially, all I'm carrying now is a diary, task and to do lists, some pages for planning and information on the go and plenty of notepaper. The overflow diary leaves, along with high level planning sections stay at home in an old Succes compact binder.

I use a Smythson Panama pocket notebook for book notes, and as a sort of commonplace book. It's just three by five inches and comes along in my pocket for evening outings, as well as travelling in my briefcase by day. It holds quotes and random notes, and the fact that they are permanently bound in chronological order makes for, uhhm, diverting reading, and some surprising changes of direction.

The final component of my setup is an A5 Midori Datebook for journalling, which only occasionally leaves home. It contains a two-page overview for each month, followed by plenty of undated lined pages. These lined pages are each divided by thicker lines into four sections, so that a two-page spread can accommodate six or seven lines of notes for each weekday, with an additional space for memos. Being undated, these pages work equally well for periodic journalling.

Midori - monthly overview pages

Midori - lined pages, and GORGEOUS pens
That’s the Paper side of things covered, but what about the Pens and Ink?  The pen loop carries a Graf von Faber Castell ballpoint, for times when a biro can’t be avoided. For all writing on Filofax paper, I use an Aurora Optima rollerball fitted with a Pilot G2 gel refill. A Sailor Pro Gear fountain pen with Sailor Yama dori ink serves for notes on the lovely Tomoe River, Smythson and Midori papers.

Beautiful trio!!

So, that's it - a simple, compact system in three parts, each perfectly adapted to its purpose, that allows me to carry precisely what I need at any time.

Is anyone else using a range of formats? Please share any thoughts in the comments.

Friday, 24 October 2014


Photograph is by Colin Nicol
See his website here
reproduced with permission

I’ve come to realise that the most important part of my weekly planning session is not so much the planning for the days to come, it’s reflecting on what has passed. Why did I clear my list so easily this week? Why did I get almost nothing done this week? It’s only when I stop and think back about why I did or didn’t do things that I can make better plans for the upcoming week/month.

For example, the last few weeks have been less than productive for me, but I know why. I can look at the plans I made with hope and enthusiasm and then look at and understand the reality that followed. Of course, reflection needs to be honest. Sometimes I know I didn’t do something I thought I would because I wasn’t well. Other times I know I didn’t get things done because I spent ages faffing about online, looking at notebooks or filofaxes or a zillion other things. Sometimes I realise I’m not doing something because I’m scared of failure, or because I don’t believe in it.

At other times I can get on and clear a to-do list before lunch and am powering through the day. Knowing why that day was productive is incredibly valuable. Was it because I was full of enthusiasm or energy? Or was it just because the Wi-Fi was off? Knowing that I will write much more (and much better) if I get my backside in the chair and start before 9 a.m. is also valuable knowledge and helps me plan when to do other things, so that my least productive writing time is when I sort the laundry or do the shopping.

I realise I have a very set ‘clock’ and if I schedule the wrong kind of thing into a time slot, I might as well not bother. Running (when I am well enough to do it – I am craving those days!!) is best in the morning, but that’s also when I’m the most creative, so I now know better than to expect creative juices to be flowing after I’ve spent half the morning running/stretching etc. Much better to run and then do chores. I also have a creative lull after lunch, but this is an excellent time to go for a walk (my current saviour as I’m not able to run) and when I come back, I’m often good at editing or making notes for writing.

It’s only because I’ve spent the time thinking about why things have gone well or not that I’ve really become in tune with my rhythm. It doesn’t work 100% of the time and life will always throw spanners (and I can always waste time browsing stationery!) but it genuinely feels like I’m making better plans as a result of taking the time to assess why things have or haven’t worked.

Does anyone else spend time reflecting? Have you found it helps?

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Kindle v physical book

I love books. I love reading. I wish I had time to read more than I do. I have always loved real, physical books, with covers and pages. I have a brain that seems to remember where I have read something in a book (left page or right page? Halfway down the page? About 40 pages ago... that kind of thing) making it easy to flip back to find something if I need to.
I thought I would hate a Kindle. I resisted getting one for a long time. I thought I would miss the physicality of a book.

Well, I do and I don’t.

Why I prefer a physical book:
  • When I read a Kindle book, I miss the spatial memory – I have no idea how many pages back I might have read something and the left page/right page aspect is of course absent. That’s all crystal clear with a physical book.
  • Unless I am reading a physical version of a book, I frequently have no idea what the proper title of the book I’m reading is, or who the author is, unless it’s a book with which I’m already quite familiar. I assume this is because I don’t see the cover except when choosing to read it, whereas with a physical book, I see it every time I pick it up.
  • ‘Bookshelves’ on the Kindle are just not the same as real bookshelves. I also find it easier to browse real bookshelves with physical books – pick them out, flip to the back cover, read what the blurb says.
  • I can lend/borrow physical books. I can leave them in my will (assuming anyone has the same eclectic taste as me!).

Why/when I prefer the Kindle:
  • I keep a note of what I read and also whether it was on Kindle or physical book. The first year I had a Kindle, I read about twice as many physical books as I did Kindle ones. The next year it was about half and half. Now I would say that I read more Kindle versions than I do physical versions. I also note how long it takes me to read a book and, even comparing books of the same length, I read Kindle versions in less time than I do physical ones. I’ve recently got a Paperwhite and I think I will read even more on that than I did on the older version. I don’t know why I read faster on a Kindle, but I suspect that it’s because I can change the font size and line-spacing and can speed-read more easily.
  • When I’m travelling, I can just take my Kindle and have several books available to read (saving luggage space!!).
  • I have the Kindle app on my phone, which means that if I have a few spare minutes and my phone with me, I can read a few pages of a Kindle book, whereas I may not always take a paperback out and about with me.
  • I have terrible joints in my hands and the Kindle weighs less (even in its cover) than even the smallest paperback. The cover can fold back on itself and has a hand-slot so I don’t even need to hold the thing!

I have been surprised by how much I love my Kindle and how much I read on it in comparison with physical books. I haven’t shifted away from physical books entirely (I’ll keep my pledge to read the printed word!) but my Kindle is fab.

What do others prefer?

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Trial swap into the Cavendish

In my last post, I said I had bought a compact Cavendish as a spare/back-up for the de Villiers. I have now moved over into it and will trial it until the end of October (though I suspect that I may need more colour and will then move back to the de Villiers...).

Everything moved across just fine. The binder is heavier than the de Villiers. Unloaded, the de Villers weighed in at 156g; the Cavendish was 183g. It’s also ‘puffier’ leather than the de Villiers (which has almost a lacquered feel to it). I needed to make a protective plastic sheet for the front, but since I have a box of overhead projector sheets, this was pretty easy! The ring size is the same (I think). Seven cards and two books of stamps went into the front slots; the rest went into the zipped pocket on the back. Paper money went into the back full-height pocket; coins went into the zipped pencil-case at the back (straight transfer from the de Villiers).
I think it’s because the covers are thicker/puffier but it feels bigger than the de Villiers. Not so much that I am thinking brick though, so that’s okay!

I’ll keep you posted. Right now I’m not convinced that the pen-loop and strap benefits outweigh the ‘feels bigger and it’s not colourful’ disadvantages.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Another compact...

Apologies for the silence!! Work has been hell and non-work has been busy (but in a really good way, so can’t complain there!)
Anyway, my news is that I think (think...!) that I have finally solved that personal/pocket conundrum.

Use a compact.

Not so hard, huh?

See, the regular-size personal can feel like a brick and the pocket-size, though lightweight, can’t cope with cards well enough to be planner+wallet. But, the de Villiers with its 10 card slots in the cover and small rings is just grand. So grand, that I have been on the look-out for another compact to have as a spare/back-up. There are a number of compacts out there, but if they don’t have oodles of card slots, they’ll have all the same problems that the pocket-size does – i.e. ring space gets taken up with card-holders.

Enter a Cavendish...

Nope, not the Cavendish with the humongous rings (have one of them... ‘brick’ doesn’t come close). A compact Cavendish. Same internal layout but with oval 15mm rings (11 mm in the smaller diameter).

I’ve seen compact Cavendish binders come up on eBay in the past and thought “Who buys a Cavendish with small rings??? Isn’t the point of them that they have HUGE rings????”

And then it turns out that I buy them. Who’d have guessed.

Anyway, unlike the big-ring version, it seems like few people (other than me) want the compact version so I got it for a pretty good price (about £20 including p+p). The rings are perfect and though it needs a bit of a clean, it’s otherwise in pretty good condition. I don’t think it has been used much and the dings in the leather are from storage I reckon.

It has exactly the same layout as its bigger brother, but with smaller rings. The inside left has eight card slots and a full-height pocket behind. The inside right has a full-height pocket and a ¾ height pocket in front (hmm... maybe nearer ⅞ height). On the outer cover (back) there is a zipped pocket. The pocket is not useful enough to put money in but is pretty good for spare cards that don’t need to go in the front slots and things like stamps and so on.

Back, with the zipped pocket

Unlike the de Villiers (and another reason I bought it) the Cavendish has both a pen-loop (smallish – fits my Zebra diary pen perfectly) and a strap to keep it closed. Also unlike the de Villiers it currently (empty) doesn’t lie flat-as-a-bat but I think when the contents go in, it will. It is also black (and I normally need a good colour-pop but we’ll see how I get on!).

Has anyone else ever had one of these “light-bulb moments” when after faffing about for ages over the different sizes they suddenly have a Goldilocks find that’s just right?