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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Avrum's self-made planner

Here is a guest post from Avrum, a family therapist specializing in helping teens and young adults, detailing his fantastic self-made planner layout.

I really like this layout!  Please read below as Avrum explains the hows and whys of his planner:

After trying (and dropping): GTD, AF, DWM, ZTD, 7 Habits, GSD and god knows how many other systems, I came to the conclusion that I needed to create my own system. To do this, I borrowed the best (for me) of the aforementioned systems, as well as my own motivating principles: 

* nostalgia - the joy of being transported back to a certain date as I read my planner
* meaning - a list aligned to my principles & major projects
* creativity - a place to park my ideas, sketches etc

The end result looks something like this (click to enlarge):

Nostalgia, accountability and creativity are the motivating principles behind my planners. The daily sheet is a hybrid of a few systems/ideas:

1. Gratitude: Mostly taken from Dr. Ben Tal-Shahar's work. While I don't subscribe to the hyped claims of positive psychology, I find some of the tools helpful, both for my clients and me. The gratitude section gets filled out before I go to bed.

2. If I... I will: Choosing 1 significant (read: scary or something i'm resisting) task per day. Inspired by many: Leo Babauta, Stephen Covey, Tim Ferris and others. Influenced by David Seah's work (design and process), I use prompts i.e. I will... to increase mindfulness vis-a-vis benefit/cost ratio for a significant task. Without the prompts (and general design aesthetic) all tasks look the same and, in my opinion, reduce motivation.

3. Numbered list: I've tried every time management system you can think of, but I find Bill Westerman's Getting Sh-t Done - http://www.utilware.com/gsd3.html - to be the best for my needs.

4. Dotted section: General note taking

This allows me to punch (yes, I splurged) sketching paper, and place my sketches besides my daily sheets. This provides an excellent snapshot of my business/creative interests and how they played out on each day. The idea of combining everything (to-do's, journal, sketches, etc) was taken from Danny Gregory's wonderful book: The Creative License. http://www.amazon.com/Creative-License-Giving-Yourself-Permission/dp/1401307922

I track my habits, exercise data and other metrics via Joe's Goals. I use stickk.com to establish new habits via Leo Babauta's 6changes method: http://6changes.com/post/284548235/method

It may seem odd that a family therapist would spend so much time on a daily planner. A little context - I run a private practice:

Produce a podcast:

Record music:

As well, my wife (a child and adolescent psychiatrist) and I are co-authoring a book. We also have a 5 mo old baby boy.

As you can see, a trusted system allows me to stay on top of all these projects.

Avrum thank you so much for sharing your system and methodology with us!  I love how you've combined professional, personal, organizational and creative all in one!

Avrum, congratulations on reaching your own Planner Nirvana!!!


  1. Laurie - thanks for featuring my planner!

  2. Avrum thank YOU for sharing it with us! I find it extremely inspiring and I think a lot of other people will too. :)

  3. Wow, this is amazing. I particularly like the gratitude list. I've kept one for alsmost a year, but it was in a separate notebook. Overall, it tought me to be more content with my life. I don't write the gratitudes down anymore, but I'm very conscious of the "good" things in my life throughout the day. And "making the rounds" at night (meaning: checking on my four sleeping kids) never fails to make me feel I'm the luckiest and richest person in the whole wide world!
    I also like your "commitment" line, although my first reaction was: I could never do with so much psychological pressure! I guess that reaction is really a tell-tale, isn't it ... ;-)

    Thank you for sharing!!

  4. This is incredible!!! I love your layout, organization and creativity!
    Thank you also for providing all those sources, I will check them out!

  5. "I could never do with so much psychological pressure"

    The exact pressure I'm hoping for to avoid this reaction:

    "Argh, how did I manage to avoid doing THIS thing again"

  6. Avrum68, this is amazing! You have created something so much more than a planner/organizer... It is self-improvement and self discovery! For 2011 I am going to try doing this on a monthly basis to start tackling some unpleasant tasks I have been avoiding, i.e. not even putting it on my todo list. Thank you!

  7. "You have created something so much more than a planner/organizer... It is self-improvement and self discovery!"

    Nicely put! Most planners/journals fall into three categories:
    a. art/creativity
    b. self-reflection
    c. business

    With a Circa, puncher and some rudimentary knowledge of Illustrator, I'm trying to create a one-stop-shop.

    Thanks for the kind words.

  8. @Avrum: Okay, I'm busted .... ;-)

    This setup is so intriguing that I'm trying to hack it for my current Filofax setup.
    I love this community, we never stop learning from each other!!!

  9. The idea of using a planner as a self-development tool is the reason I started using one in the first place. I think that's part of the reason I've found it hard (like other people here) to find the right one. We all have different "areas" we are working on, and respond to different techniques & layouts.

    I'm a notorious procrastinator & have a terrible memory. Using a planner has helped organize my "thinking" and habits more than my appointments (which are minimal).

    The gratitude list is a good idea. It channels the mind in the right direction. I used to make one up daily, now I do one 2 or 3 times a week. Sometimes I start with the title "Good things that happened today: "

    Also... QUESTIONS are good prompts, such as:

    What is THE most important thing I have to do today?

    What can I get done in the next 10 minutes/hour?


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