Thursday, March 14, 2013

Stepwise Scheduling, Divide and Conquer, or Write It Once?

I am a big fan of the Write It Once idea. I would love the streamlined simplicity of only writing each task, appointment and event once in my planner. For many people, this works really well.

I gave a friend of mine a Plannerisms planner for her birthday and she loves it. She said she used to have things scheduled in different places: in her Filofax, on her wall calendar, written on random pieces of paper. She said now she puts everything into her planner, and it goes everywhere with her, so she doesn't have to worry about anything slipping through the cracks.

Anyone who has been reading my blog for awhile has seen my reviews of WeekDate planners. Their Only Write It Once format means that even recurring events get written in your planner only once, and you can see everything in one view. What a great feeling!

But for many people, myself included, we like to see different views: month, week and day. This is what I call Stepwise Scheduling.

For example, I use my Monthly calendars in my Plannerisms planner for an overview of appointments, birthdays, events, travel, and visitors. I write the specifics into my weekly pages, where I can see the layout of my week along with my task lists so I can see what I need to do and when I have time to do it. Then every day (usually the evening before) I write that day's schedule and must-do tasks in my day per page planner, which I also use to capture information throughout the day.

This requires me to use two different planners, and to rewrite scheduled events, but for me the benefit of seeing different views is worth it. Back when I tried to use just a weekly planner, I had so much written on the weekly pages that by halfway through the week I couldn't even see what I was supposed to be doing. By separating my planning (weekly planner) from my daily details (daily planner) I get to have a clear view of my week's schedule and still get to record lots of details every day.

Of course the danger of Stepwise Scheduling is that you will schedule something on one planner and not transfer it to the other planner. This is what I call things slipping through the cracks. Josh had an excellent video recently where this is the exact reason why he switched from monthly and daily Franklin Covey pages to using only Filofax weekly pages. Now he writes his appointments and events only into the weekly pages, and he doesn't have to worry about missing any appointments.

Another planning system is what I call Divide and Conquer, which is writing different things in different planners: work appointments in a work planner, home stuff in a home planner or binder, etc. In my last post Planners At Work people posted several very interesting comments about separating work planning from home planning. I can see how it would be distracting at work to see all the things you need to do at home but can't do anything about at that moment. Or in other situations, people's work planners may be used as public records so you don't want your personal things in there.

Do you do stepwise planning, writing events in more than one planner format? Do you divide and conquer, writing work and home events in separate planners? Or do you write everything just once into only one planner format?


  1. Did you see that they do a Downloadable version? Same price, saves on shipping, and you could (presumably) print off more than one copy so it could be used for homework planning and Boy Scout arrangements and birthday reminders etc by small people?
    You could have one each!

    1. I hadn't thought of that, great idea! It would be a great way to make sure everyone is synchronized.

    2. How old are the children?

      Everyone brings their own planner to the dinner table once a week and notes down what they need to know. The kids tell you "I need a green tee shirt for school on Wednesday". You tell them "I will be out on Saturday morning and I need the car, so the family taxi will be unavailable!"

      Of course if they are smaller then they need to grow into it.

      Could you do a post on using Planners with smaller children? I don't mean doing their scheduling, I mean getting them to do it themselves and use it to help them plan stuff.

  2. I certainly find the write-it-once method to be the most foolproof. It doesn't work very well in daily view (no perspective) and monthly views don't usually give enough space. Week to view is ok and the benefit of not needing to copy (and not having scheduling disasters from failing to copy) is worth the sacrifice in day planning space. I have enough trouble keeping up with copying everything into the Lotus Notes calendar at work (just work meetings and appointments). I find nothing quite so annoying as copying stuff over, and over, and over again. Maddening!

    I also have considered the divided planner method. However, I see my days organically and don't easily compartmentalize my energy or focus into "work" and "non-work" categories. I like to open my planner at the breakfast table and see my *complete* day, see that I have a 4pm meeting, a training at noon, an appointment with a prospective tenant at 10am. I like to see my complete task list so I can have it in mind as I go through my day. When I try to divide, I get to work and feel completely caught off-guard by any events that I had forgotten about. I feel like I spend half the work day spinning my wheels as I didn't mentally prepare myself going in.

    I suppose that in many ways my planner is more of a tool to help my brain focus. I don't use it as a big to-do list that I just check things off from as I go. I use it to visualize my days and time and see what needs to happen and when. Honestly, if I didn't need to add things to it throughout the day I probably wouldn't need to refer to it more than two or three times a day just to refresh myself. I think that this usage shapes my need for simplicity and everything-in-one-book.

  3. I couldn't cope with more than one planner (in terms of a diary). Like Josh I need to see my entire day whether it's a meeting at midday or a school play at 7pm. I would fall apart if I had to juggle two diaries. On the other hand as I essentially work for myself I don't have to share my diary with anyone else.

    However I don't write any lists of tasks in my diary. That and EVERYTHING else (like Patty's notebooks) goes in my uncalendar (prior to that an A4 lined hardback notebook. Daily to do lists, reminders, meeting notes, telephone notes etc are all there going years back. The UC lives in an A4 Filofax folder and any relevant paperwork, bills to be paid etc are just slipped in the folder. I also have a print out of my weekly and monthly goals derived from Best Year Yet pinned on the inside cover with a little binder clip.

  4. Just watched the week date video, and OMG would that confuse the hell out of me! I'd be lost immediately!

    I see the advantage of not needing to write out recurring things but effectively needing to look at three different calendars in different formats at once to see what is going on on a particular day would make me mental!

  5. Josh that's why the Weekdate calendar I bought for our family wall calendar is still unused. I couldn't even work out how to fill it in! Back to the dodo and we all know where everyone is and when!

  6. Josh and skybluepinkish, I feel the same way about scheduling. I have to see my entire day so I can mentally prepare myself for whatever comes up all day.

    What I can't quite figure out is where to write tasks so they don't get ignored. I don't want to have absolutely everything I have to do in the world staring at me all the time, yet I'm afraid if I don't refer to them often they will get ignored. Maybe I need to come up with a system where I review home and work tasks on a regular basis but don't mix them on the same list.


    1. The only to do list in my filofax (the diary I referred to above) is the rolling to do list. Because I have my filo with me 24/7 I can add something to the list the moment I think of it. Then when I am planning my day and writing the daily list in the UC I refer back to the rolling list so that I don't forget something I thought of yesterday during a long dull meeting when my mind wandered. But I don't distinguish between work and home.

      I'm self employed and have several non paid responsibilities too, as far as I am concerned recovering the sofa is just as valid as chasing up a sponsor or making myself do 60 minutes of edits. They all go on the same list

      Good luck :)

    2. Very interesting! Can I ask, what size Filofax are you using? And what diary format in it?

      I'm also curious about how you use your Filofax and Uncalendar together. Do you transfer only that day's tasks into the Un each day?

    3. The Filofax is a personal osterley. It has my diary (Week to 2 pages)including a year planner so I can see at a glance where holidays etc are. A section each for Home, two charities I chair, celebrations (18th & 50th birthdays this year). These are not planners just a space to jot down ideas so I don't forget them. Ideas that become actual tasks get moved to the 27 hrs in a day list. This is the rolling list of everything I need to do. It's colour coded so I can see at a glance how many emails, housework, letters etc I have outstanding. Finally I have phone numbers (not addresses) I don't use it as a purse so the only thing in the pockets are some postcards and stamps and a couple of business cards for people I contact regularly.

      I transfer jobs to the UC each day by looking at what was outstanding from the previous day and then looking at the 27hr list. If I'm going to be working at home all day I'll transfer over all the emails/letters/phone calls etc. If I'm out and about I'll transfer the errands.

      The UC is also where I write EVERYTHING. Telephone messages, meeting notes, mini lists, whatever. I keep all my notebooks and often refer back to them. They have proved very useful when I've needed to prove when somebody called me for example.

      I have a separate house book (an A4 ring binder) divided up into sections for each month and each person in the family. At the front of the file is a list of useful and emergency numbers. At the front of each month is a list of things that happen/need to be done that month every year. Things like birthdays, car tax, pruning, planting etc. Behind that I put any paperwork for anything that is happening that month (school trip information, tickets for flights etc) The family member section has a blank sheet for ideas for presents/events related to them and any paperwork specific to them, not important stuff like birth certificates but things like school calendars, choir schedules etc.

      I'm a writer and I have an A5 Finsbury which I use for my writing file. Some journalling, but mainly notes on my current book, agent details, competition information etc.

      The Filo goes with me everywhere. The UC comes with me if I am going to a meeting but both are open on my desk all day when I am working. The housefile never leaves the kitchen and the Finsbury usually stays at home but depending on where I am going and what I am doing it sometimes comes too.

    4. Thanks so much for these details! I need to implement something like your home binder so that my husband can reference that information too.

    5. That was one of the reasons I set it up. I was so fed up of telling him where everything was!

  7. When I worked as a university professor, there weren't a lot of boundaries between my personal/work life, so I did the Write It Once method - I had a page per day planner (usually the Quo Vadis AP1? I think that's what it's called) that let me write appointments, track my time, and have a daily to-do list. Somehow it worked really well even though I didn't see more than 2 days at a time, I think because my planning issues were more micro (how to plan each day) than macro (what's coming up in 3 weeks?), and because I only saw a couple of days at once, I sort of knew I had to look ahead to stay current.

    Now, I have a 9-5 office job, so I Divide and Conquer. I have a 2 pp. per month 8 1/2 x 11 planner that I use only for work stuff, and a Rhodia 8x6, 2 pp. per week (week divided by days on the left, lined page for notes on the right) for personal stuff. The monthly planner works for work now because I don't usually have a lot of appointments in a given work day - I usually sit at my computer most of the day, and when I do have stuff, it's usually one thing a day - but I want to have that overview to keep track of what's coming up in the next couple of weeks. There are also "to do" and "notes" spaces around the month, and I use those to keep a prioritized list of projects/pieces of projects and track time spent on projects (roughly; thankfully I don't have to bill formally, it's just so I can keep track of how efficient I'm being).

    The Rhodia works for my personal stuff because I can keep a running to-do list on the right hand page; a week is a good unit of time for my personal to-do list, because usually there's stuff I know I want to get done sometime that week but it doesn't have to get done on a specific day. But my personal calendar isn't that complicated - it's just me, no kids to keep track of - so I have enough space to list my various appointments and keep general track of what I did that day. And I really don't have to plan anything very far ahead in my personal life at all, so if I can't see the next week, it's not an issue.

    Because one of the things I like about my career change is that it's now possible to keep my work and personal lives truly *separate,* I like keeping the planners separate, too. I don't take work home, so the work planner lives at work, and I know when I look at it I won't get distracted by my personal stuff. And I like not putting work stuff in my personal planner so I can keep a sense of separation and balance.

    Also, as someone mentioned in the work planner thread, my work planner could in theory get included in a public record request, so it's easier to keep the personal stuff out of it.

    My job is likely to get more complicated in the fall, so I may well end up shifting my work planner to something more fine-grained (I have some ideas: maybe I'd go back to page-per-day, probably in addition to a master monthly calendar hanging on the wall or as a desk blotter; or I would go for a big monthly wall/desk calendar and then have a more task-based non-dated notebook, probably Moleskine or the like, which I did once for a more fast-paced student job and it worked really well). But as long as I have an actual office where I work during regular office hours, I can't see ever going back to Write It Once - I love Divide and Conquer.

  8. I use an A5 Filofax (Aston) with a weekly vertical format for work and home, and then a separate teacher's planner for homeschooling. Sections in my A5 are: the calendar with the "today" marker showing the week, then Faith (subdivided with Norms, Petitions, and Notes), School (subdivided with curriculum overview and book list), Home (subdivided with Meals), Health (subdivided with Me, Mary-my special needs child, and Dad-who lives with us due to a stroke), Notes, and then Money (subdivided into Wants and Balance). I use small stickers to decorate weekly pages, and on the very top of my calendar week, there is a small strip where I write my personals ("love without condition", "persevere", etc). On the bottom strip where it is blank, I write my dailies ("morning offering", Bible, Mental prayer, vitamins, stretches, etc). This is on the weekly vertical format. On my workdays I block out with a pink highlighter when I see patients (three mornings per week), and then block out schooling time in the afternoons with a green highlighter marker. Blue highlighter marks out doctor appointments. Holy days have the purple highlighter. I use post it notes for things that need to be done that day, and I put it on the weekly page, and then it gets throw away if done, or rewritten out for the next day. It is a very simple system for me, and it works. As for my other planner, I use a teacher's spiral planner (8-1/2 x 11 inches), which has the headings of the days of the week at the top, and the subjects running down the side. I do not use the days of the week, as our schedule and needs change daily for school, so I divide the first half of the planner page for my high schooler, and on the right side of the spiral, I split that page in two for my jr high daughter, and elementary school daughter. I can see their school plan for the week, and then I highlight with yellow when they show me the work they have done. When I correct their papers, I go through the planner and check mark with a red pen when I see the paper and have graded it...that way there is accountability for no "missing papers". We do not need a chore chart, because we know what needs to be done. Saturdays are for the bigger chores, and we know we need to vacuum and sweep daily. All the girls' activities (we keep things simple, just piano, friends, and volunteering) are blocked out. With no television, our lives have opened up with more time for reading and conversing together in the evenings.

    As for my office, I will bring one or two of the girls, and we do schooling there, and we arrive a little early to do some housekeeping and organizing. I only see patients for two hours, so that also frees up more time for family responsibilities, and gives me some pocket money. We have chosen to embrace a very simplistic and minimalist lifestyle, which has helped our schedules, stress levels, and relationships.

    So for me, the Divide and Conquer works, but I combine home and office in my Filofax, and schooling is contained in a second planner. My planner stays home on my days off, and I have a small pad of paper in case I need to write down something if I am in a store, etc, but this rarely happens. Bridget