Using a Personal Analog Device
I use a bit of a hybrid between paper-based planning systems and their digital equivalents. One strong component of this system, however, is my personal analog device (my PAD). I learned long ago that a computer-based PDA was too restrictive, too clunky, and generally not as useful to me as a simple 85 cent pad of paper and a smooth flowing pen. You might recall the post about The Notebook. Consider this a follow-on.
Let me quickly sketch for you the infromation model that I'm working from, and then we can drill into the details. My personal model for accomplishing things in a given day requires the following: upstream planning and mechanisms, downstream execution and management, and ground-level data capture and transfer. This post will focus on capturing data in a useful way, but I'll spend another quick moment on the concepts I mentioned in my system.
Before I can use my pad to its best effect, I have to know my overall plans, my goals, what I need to accomplish. How do you know WHAT to do? First, you must answer your own version of the question WHY. Why do I do my projects at work? Because they add value to the organization, and because I like being paid to support my lifestyle. Why do I do my external projects? I do them to build on a body of work, focusing on self-improvement and creativity. Upstream planning is the system for making sure you keep a focus on doing what matters most to you. Think of it as the big picture versus what you're doing in the day-to-day.
Downstream Execution and Management
The downstream of understanding what matters most to me is ensuring that the things I want to get done GET done. For this, I use a modified version of David Allen's GETTING THINGS DONE. I don't so much relentlessly pursue next actions, and I don't do one thing until it's done. I'm a little bit too multitask oriented to follow GTD to the letter of the law. Other tools that I use in the downstream execution and management of my projects and priorities are online calendars with reminders (like this or this or this), an online storage "hub," as mentioned in That Sync'ing Feeling a while back. So, what goes into the pad?
Whatever your system for getting things done, you'll need a means by which to capture information for further use. What kinds of things might you need to capture? A phone number, driving directions, a list of things to pick up at the store, or some of the ground-level details of your current project lists -- whatever the material, it's important to have a fast, available system to collect new information, to record its current state, and to mark off changes.
I use a cheap, pocket-sized notepad to do my dirty work. Why? Because it's inexpensive so I don't mind if I lose it. (Have you ever suffered from not wanting to "waste" a "virgin" Moleskine with something as silly as: go get milk?) I like it because it fits in most pockets. I also like that it gives me physical limitations, so I don't waste space writing something that would be better captured in another format.
Context and other Tricks
Because the pad is tiny, I have to be very attentive to space. I have a bunch of little tricks to make this work well. First, context.
David Allen mentions that it's easier to get things done when you group the actions required to complete your projects as they relate to context. It doesn't matter if you've written into your GTD planner "mow the lawn" if you're sitting at your desk at work. It doesn't matter that you've written "answer emails" if you're at the beach with the kids. What matters is understanding that you can only get certain things done in certain localities.
More than anything, I use the following contexts for myself:
@comp - at the computer with internet
@create- make content of some kind (articles, art, whatever)
@work- usually connotes meetings or a firewall-related reason to be in my office
@car- often denotes errands to run
Beyond this, I then use the following symbols:
! - an action
e - email someone
u - look up this URL
m - movie (people often give me movie suggestions)
l - library (big library user)
g - google. Look something up
$ - money. Used for when I owe someone something.
 - boxes are just notes. Bright ideas, or just facts to remember.
Use the Pad, Luke
I use my pad all the time. I never rely on my memory any longer. But it's really of limited use, right? It's for data capture, not for processing. As I mentioned earlier, the pad is good for:
- quick facts/notes
Going back to older pages, I see where I cooked up a new project (this was a note). I see where I had to give my daughter $2 for milk money. I see where I had to call back two different hardware vendors for questions about their programs. These are the "foot soldiers" of the efforts of getting things done.
However, it's not where I store things like time-bound items. I think your D*I*Y Planner is a better device for this (or your online calendar of choice), because scheduling is by its nature a fluid experience. With just a few scratches and edits, you risk missing an appointment.
Other Times to Go Off-Pad
If you come up with a great project idea, move that into something a bit more static. Try using a storyboard from the Classic packs to get the project details clear in your head, and then transfer this into a project planning form. Then, when you've got this new project baked into something you want to pursue and execute against, you can use the pad to keep track of the smaller details, the tasks to complete, etc.
To me, the pad isn't somewhere to store long term data. Why? Because part of the beauty is that it's small, portable, disposable. If you are storing your list of movies to watch over the next few years, you won't want to throw away (or even store in an archive) your physical pad. Move your data into another form when you're ready to store it. I use online systems (or hubs), like Backpack for things like that, or a wiki.
I try to keep "copying" to a bare minimum, but if you collect little snips of data in your pad, like a phone number or a URL, it's best to move it into your primary planner tool of choice.
Hack The PAD Idea
I'm a big fan of taking an idea like this (my version of it) and getting people's add-ons or more interesting ideas. It's clear how this blends into the D*I*Y Planner system. It would be neat to hear what other D*I*Y Planner tools marry well into this.
--Chris Brogan writes about self-improvement and creativity at [chrisbrogan.com]