Thursday, November 20, 2014

Guest post: My Life In A Pocket

Many thanks to Helen for this excellent guest post on how she (very effectively) runs her life from her pocket Moleskine planner!

My Life in a Pocket

Firstly thank you to Laurie for letting me post about my new set-up. When I was researching new ways of planning, I found very little about using pocket sized bound planners, so thought it would be useful to share this in case it helps anyone else.

Back in August life changed significantly for me. I left my corporate job and became self employed. At the time I didn’t realize how much this would change the way I planned.  Before I go on, I must thank David (who know who you are!) for helping me in those first few weeks to settle into the self employed world and supporting me in trying to work out what my new planning system should look like.  Your advice was wonderful and much appreciated!

So, my life before August… I was an engineer working in a large company. I had many people reporting to me, and had many deadlines and hundreds of very small tasks to get through each week. On top of this, I had all of my personal appointment and tasks and lists. This is how I organized my life:

Work – I had an A5 note book which I used as a day book. All my meeting notes went into this. Because I had so many tasks to keep track of, some of which came through an electronic system, I used that system to keep a track of everything. Each day, tasks to be done on that day would be transferred to my day book and ticked off as they were done.  My work diary was online in the office.

Home -  I used a personal Filofax which housed my diary, task lists, general lists eg. Present ideas, books to read etc.  My diary was basically personal appointments only. Work appointments changed so quickly I couldn’t keep up on paper and really didn’t need to. Tasks were put into the week on two pages diary for ticking off as and when they were done. My blog planning was also done in my Filofax.

When I left, suddenly there was a gaping hole. The tools that I organized my working life with were no longer there. Also my working life had changed, and those types of tools were not really necessary anymore. So, I started on a voyage of trial and error to see what would work. What I came up with surprised me somewhat.

Here is what I wanted:
  1. Something as small as I could get away with. When I see clients I have to carry a lot of stuff, so a bulging Filofax wasn’t going to work anymore.
  2. A diary I could easily archive. This headed me towards a bound diary. 
  3. I wanted to keep notes in my diary about important things that I wanted to keep for posterity. 
  4. I needed a way to keep track of my to-dos both work and personal
For two weeks I kept a note of the parts of my current set-up that I used when I was out of the house. This told me what I needed to carry with me and what I didn’t. Not wanting to waste money on diaries and stationary which wouldn’t work out, I started to experiment with what I had.  I downloaded various templates from the Moleskine website, and started to work out how I might use the different sizes and layouts.

I quickly homed in on the pocket size, but it seemed so small, but after some trial and error, I realized it could work… and here it is:
Pocket Moleskine Weekly notebook, Peanuts

I picked a pocket moleskine week on one page with notes diary. I chose the Peanuts version, because who doesn’t like Snoopy?

In the front I keep some sticky notes and flags for making notes and jotting things down when I am out and about. 
Sticky notes

The monthly spread looks small, but it is useable. I use this for planning when I am free to take on work and when I am booked. Everything is written in pencil as plans change often. Once the appointment has happened I write it in pen. I carry a Lamy 4-Pen with me everywhere. It has red, blue and black ink plus a pencil and eraser.  I only write in black, and I like very plain pages. Very occasionally I will put a red star next to something if it is urgent or very important. I enjoy looking at people’s decorated pages, but I can’t make it work for me. I can’t see through the decoration to the important stuff!
Monthly spread

It also has a page for holidays and events, which is where I list birthdays, remembrance days etc. This is a page I have in my Filofax, and I like to have it with me to remind me to buy cards.
Special events pages

Flicking to the back, the Moleskine has 5 notes pages. I have used these to carry important information that I need when I am out and about. I printed them out and glued them in. In my Filofax I have pages and pages of addresses, phone numbers, logins etc. I don’t need them all when I am out, just key information, the rest stays in my Filo at home.  At the very back I have some list sticky notes for use as I need.
Page for important home info

Pages for contacts

Sticky note pad at back for lists

Now, to the main part of the book. The diary.

The photos show mocked up pages in an old diary as I couldn’t find one which didn’t have personal or confidential business items on it.

On the left hand side go appointments. I don’t have that many, and when I do they tend to be half day or all day affairs. Sometimes I may be booked for a whole week by a client, and then I write it in at the very top of the page so it is obvious that week is full.

You will see letters in brackets on some days eg. (G). This means the gardeners are coming and I need to pay them. It is a regular appointment and it saves space. The blue circle on Thursday tells me it is recycling week for bin collection.
Weekly pages: individual day appointments and notes/ tasks
On the right hand side are the notes pages. I extend the lines between each day across, so each day has about 4 lines each. The very top of this page is used for general notes or reminders which are for the week, and not a specific day. You can see that I note down all sorts of things, hours to bill a client. Phone calls, blog entries which are scheduled to publish.

I use a bullet journaling approach for my notes:

A round bullet is for a note, and a box is for a task. I’ll come to tasks in a minute. Now I am a bit of a neat freak, and I like my boxes to be square… so I use an eraser guard made by Derwent as a stencil.  It fits perfectly in the pocket at the back of the book, so I can pull it out, stencil in the shape I want as a bullet, and make the note.  I also have a Pocket sized Filofax ruler in the pocket at the back in case I need to draw any straight lines or measure anything.
Derwent stencils and Filofax ruler

So, back to tasks. The number of tasks I have has dropped dramatically, which frankly is a relief. I used to have 70 – 80 per day to get through at work (I never managed to clear the list each day). I used to write every task in my diary in my Filofax. I came to realize that my diary now is for recording significant things related to my personal and business life.  I won’t need to know in ten years time that I put the rubbish out every Thursday!  I have the master list in my Filo. Each week I review what needs to be done the following week, normally on a Friday afternoon. Any task which is unusual, or I would like to record that I have done eg. Submit tax return gets written in the diary with a little box.  Everything else which has to be done, but is part of the detritus of life I write on a sticky note and put in the diary. The sticky is binned once it is no longer relevant.
Tasks list sticky note
All those other lists of books to read, present ideas, blog planning etc are still in my Filofax, which now stays at home. Every now and then I will grab my Filo and take it with me, but it is less than once per month and I have never needed it and not had it.  I keep a separate journal inspired by Millie’s Moleskine diary, so this keeps my more private musings and observations away from the administrative running of my life.

I have been using this system for a couple of months now and really pleased with it. I thought the limited space would be a problem, but what it has done is make me really think about what I need all of the time, and what I don’t.  Recording absolutely everything in one place is a nice idea, but it doesn’t work for me. It feels overwhelming and makes me stray away from what is important. I have bought another Moleskine, Peanuts edition again, for next year. I feel really settled with this. I enjoy using it, and enjoy how quickly I can see the important parts of my current week, and past weeks without going through pages and pages of detail.  I now carry a really portable system which works for me 99% of the time. If I need anything more, my Filofax comes with me too.
What I carry with me

I’d love to know if anyone else has made a pocket sized bound book work for them.

Wow thanks again so much to Helen for sharing her super-efficient portable system! Please comment below.


  1. Thanks for hosting my post Laurie!

  2. Wow. I mean double triple zoom wow. I'm impressed with how you do this. Do you have a supplemental notebook for project details? Would love to see what you keep in your filofax at home.

  3. Thanks Christine! It seems impossible doesn't it, but it really isn't as bad as I thought. In my Filo I have a section for lists of ideas for the house, books to read, present ideas, those sorts of things. Then I have a section for blog planning, another section for password hints, and then finally some note paper.

    For work projects I still have my A5 notebook which I use when I am with clients. When I am out and about, the sticky notes I have in my diary are enough for the notes I need to make. If I think I may need to make "proper notes" rather than jotting down phone numbers, then I grab my filo and take it with me, but that is very rare. I use a compact calypso in Teal.

  4. Am I the only one who wants to know where I can get the Derwent stencils?

  5. I got mine from here:

    But you can get them on Amazon, Ebay and in art shops. :)

  6. Such an awesome system. Thank you for sharing; I'm inspired!

  7. That is such a great set up - glad you have found something that works so well for you :-)

  8. That was very interesting! I love how efficient you are and the way that you have taken advantage of all the space. Thank you so much for sharing.

  9. Great post. Thank you for sharing your setup. :)