Over the years I’ve tried lots of methodologies for getting things done each day. I’ve made lists, I’ve used organizational software, I’ve even tried GTD on a number of occasions. None of them really fit my work style. GTD didn’t work for me because there was too much overhead. To-do lists didn’t work well for me because they lacked context and would grow out of control. But a few weeks ago, I landed on a combination that–so far–has been working pretty good for me. Not too much overhead and not out of control. The idea came to me when I was a guest over at 27GoodThings. If you’ve never seen 27GoodThings, it’s worth checking out. 3 times a week, they feature a guest who provides 3 things to read, 3 things to watch and 3 things to use. (9 x 3 = 27.)
It occurred to me that part of my problem making lists was that they were never ending and not focused. I decided that instead of writing down a list of everything I had to get done, I would narrow the scope: I’d write down a list of the things I wanted to get done tomorrow. Still, that was too broad. Recalling the 27GoodThings site, I decided that if I could get 3 things done at work each day, that would be a victory. Also, since I am a freelance writer, it would be nice to get 3 freelancing tasks done each day. And finally, because I have a life outside of both work and freelancing, it would be nice to get 3 things done at home each day.
I wanted my lists to be informal. I didn’t want to have to type them out. I wanted to be able to scratch them down, as if on a piece of paper. That’s where Penultimate came in. I was already using Penultimate as a commonplace book. Why not use it to capture the 9 things I wanted to get done each day. So I created a new notebook in Penultimate and drew three lines across the page, labeling them “Work”, “Writing”, and “Home.” Under each, I scribbled out the numbers 1, 2, and 3. And then, I thought about what I wanted to get done in each of these areas the next day.
Of course, there was some overhead in that each day, I had to scribble out the “template” in Penultimate and then fill it in. That’s when I discovered that in Penultimate, you can create your own custom “paper.” I did this, and the result looks as follows:
These are my “9 things” for today. What’s nice about this is, each time I add a new page to my notebook, it is automatically added with my custom template. I’ll discuss how I created that template in a moment. First, I want to talk about my process for how I manage my 9 things.
How I manage my 9 things
Step 1. Each night, before bed, I review the page from the previous day. I try to check off completed items as I go along, but at the end of the day, if there is anything on the list that I’ve completed, I scratch it off. If there is anything I haven’t completed, I circle it. I do this only to the numbers, so that the items themselves are still legible, and I do it in red “ink.” Here is an example:
Step 2. Once I’ve completed the review of the previous day, I send that page to Evernote using the Send Page To… feature in Penultimate. In Evernote the page goes into my Diary notebook stack, and my Timeline notebook for the day on which the thing were done. This way, I have a complete record of what I wanted to get done and what I actually got done.
Step 3. I open a new, blank page in Penultimate. I fill in tomorrow’s date at the bottom and then go through each of the sections, considering what it is I want to get done tomorrow. I only look one day ahead. If there are 20 things at work that need to get done, I pick the 3 that I think are the most important and write those down. Ditto for writing and home. If I’ve circled items from the previous day–meaning I didn’t complete them–I may carry them over, but I may not. Priorities change from day-to-day. Also, I don’t always have 3 things in every category, and I’m fine with this. I just leave the line blank. On weekends, I don’t fill in anything for work, but just write WEEKEND! across that section like this:
Step 4. As I move through the day, I review the list frequently and try to cross things off as I complete them.
One thing I don’t do is change the list during the day. My priorities may change, but I want a record of what I was attempting to get done. The exception here is if I didn’t fill out a list completely. If I only filled out 2 items, I’ll feel free to add a third.
So far, this has worked out much better for me than the other systems I have tried. It is focused only on what I want to get done the next day, it narrows the scope to three areas of life that are important to me, and it limits me to 3 things in each of those areas. Now, onto how I created the template:
How I created the custom template for Penultimate
When I started out with this process, I didn’t realize that Penultimate could make use of custom “paper” templates. Apparently, you can buy some, but you can also create your own. Here is how I created the template I used for my 9 things pages:
Step 1. On my iPad, I took a screenshot of a blank page in Penultimate:
Step 2. I pulled the resulting screenshot into Skitch and cropped it so that it was just the “page” portion of the image and none of the other parts of the screen:
Step 3: In the cropped image, I used Skitch to added the text and lines that I wanted on my “page” template:
Step 4: From inside Skitch, save my “9 Things” template to my camera roll. This ensures that the image is available to other applications.
Step 5: I opened Penultimate to the notebook I wanted to use. In this case it was my “9 Things” notebook. I clicked on the Paper icon (see below) and then clicked on the + sign to add a new custom paper:
Step 6. I selected the image from my camera roll that I saved in Step 4 above:
Step 7. The new “paper” template will appear under the “My Paper” option in the paper menu. All I had to do was click “My Paper” and then select the “paper” that I added and a blank page with my template was added to the notebook:
Penultimate uses the last paper template you used for each new page added. Since this is the only one I use in this notebook, whenever I add a page, it always has my template. And since the template is part of the “paper”, erasing stuff you write on the page does not erase the template underneath. You can use a template similar to what I did here, or you can create your own.
For anyone who would like to add my template to Penultimate, the background image can be downloaded here:
One reasonable question to come out of all of this is: why use Penultimate? Why not just make these lists in a note in Evernote and use the checkbox feature? That is a perfectly valid question and I think the answer comes down to personal taste. When I am making these lists, I think them through better when I write them out long-hand. Penultimate gives me the ability to do that, and the ability to save my lists in Evernote for future reference. This method feels more natural to me than typing the lists into a note in Evernote and working off the note. But again, this is personal preference.
And besides, even if you don’t like making your to-do lists in this manner, I think there is still value in seeing just how you can create custom paper templates in Penultimate, and the possible application of such templates.
So there you have it. I like this approach to managing what I need to get done. It is, so far, working better for me than any of my previous efforts in this regard. And it is very, very simple. In next week’s post, I am going to attempt a more detailed answer at one of the most frequently-asked questions I get about going paperless: How do you organize your notes? Stay tuned…