I confess that I lifted the title of this post from Leo Babauta at Zen Habits. Actually, I borrowed the idea from him. You see, Leo is like the master ninja of the internet when it comes to simplicity.
For my part, I continue to discover that simplicity is a huge part of becoming more effective. The less clutter, the better.
One of my goals is to have a planning system that’s both effective and simple to maintain.
I need my planner to work well for me. It also must require only a minimum amount of my time to keep it going.
It’s a tool I use to manage my attention, time and energy, not something that burns up huge chunks of those non-renewable personal resources.
The Four Laws of Simple Planning
I recently re-read Leo’s Four Laws of Simplicity and realized that it can be applied to how I plan and manage my time.
So today, I’m looking at this very simple method for setting up a planning system, based on Leo’s post. These are the basic steps I follow when I’m setting up or revamping my system. I hope it will be useful to you as well.
1. Collect everything in one place.
Think about what you need your binder to hold. Make a list of everything.
Items found in most planners are appointments, to-do lists, project info, contacts, etc.
Are you working on projects that might need a home in your planner? Do you manage the schedules of several family members, in addition to your own? You could list your spouse’s work schedule, volunteer hours, kids’ school events, etc.
In addition to the items that need to be managed, list all the physical objects you find yourself tucking into your binder. A pen is a necessity (maybe even two). Highlighters? Washi tape? Sticky notes? Extra notepads?
Write them all down.
2. Choose the essential.
Now, consider how you use your planner. Is it a daily organizer you carry everywhere with you? Do you need to manage your work, home, or both?
Do you need just a monthly or weekly overview, or the most detailed look at your day, down to half-hour increments?
As you keep these things in mind, go down your list and check off the essential items.
How will you know if an item is essential?
Ask yourself this: Will your system still work without this particular item?
If you use separate planners for work and home, ask these questions for each one.
3. Eliminate the rest.
This is the hard step.
In order to put together a lean, mean planning machine that is worth every inch of paper between its covers, some things must be cut out deliberately.
Contact information, for example, may easily be put somewhere else (eg., on your phone; a Rolodex at home or in the office). They often don’t need to be in your planner all the time.
Take an especially hard look at redundant pages and steps in your system.
If you’re flitting between multiple planners which contain the same info (and that you’re spending hours on just to “sync”), think about whether you absolutely need all of them. Could you function well with just one?
When I moved from a Franklin Planner compact, with its big rings, to my personal-sized Filofax Holborn, I had to take out entire sections.
Those sections now live in another binder that holds my work info, and which I open only occasionally. I work mostly from home anyway, so I don’t need that information when I’m out and about.
I also discovered that I don’t need three months of daily pages in my binder. Now I have just the following:
- the current monthly calendar and its daily pages
- last month’s calendar and index (to reference information from last month)
- next month’s calendar (for planning in the short term)
- the whole year in a fold-out page (for a long-range outlook)
The result is a streamlined binder with the extra blessing of my shoulders being saved from unnecessary muscle strain.
4. Organize the remaining stuff neatly and nicely.
Fewer pages mean that it’s easier to organize what remains.
I currently use 6 sections in addition to my calendar pages: Goals, Work Projects, Work Info, Home Projects, Home Info, and Finances.
Each section has only a few pages, but they are used a lot.
They work for me now, but I continue to look at ways to streamline even more. I’m thinking about how I could combine my to-do lists (and eliminate the Work Projects section). I might also move additional pages to my work binder.
The Benefits of a Simple Planning System
One of the benefits of having a simple planner setup is that I can find things easily. If there are only a few sections and pages to flip through, I can pinpoint whatever I need more quickly. Which leaves me with more time for more important things.
Having fewer sections also makes the whole system more manageable. Fewer items fall through the cracks, because there aren’t a whole lot of lists to check.
The whole point of having a planner is for me to be more effective at achieving my goals. And that means it must be a simple, workable system that removes, instead of adds, clutter to my life.
How simple is your planning system?
image via sxc.hu