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How I Organize My Time, Tasks, and Creative Ideas

How I Organize My Time, Tasks, and Creative Ideas

A week in my Passion Planner

My mind is rich and creative.  It tends to be scattered and chaotic as well.  I need to systematically pour its contents into an organized planning system so my life doesn’t go into chaos too – due to a lack of focus,  an absence of structure, or lost information.

I’ve tried innumerable planning systems over the years – physical planners, electronic devices, and online programs.  I dropped most of them after a week or two and went back to my haphazard ways.

I finally found a simple planning and task management approach that works for me.  Since we all have different personalities and different dimensions of activity, there’s no single appointment book or list manager that will work for everyone.

So as a first step, it’s important to discover what makes a good fit for you when it comes to staying on track with your goals, tasks, appointments, and ideas. These are some of the qualities I require from an organizational system to be effective and enjoyable for me.

  1. Simple.  I’ll drop anything too complex or overly technical.
  2. Physical.  I don’t know why, but I’ve never been able to get used to electronic devices or online list and task managers like Todoist.  Neither have I taken to note-taking systems like Evernote, no matter how much people sing their praises.  I don’t want to spend unnecessary time online either.  I don’t think excess online time is healthy for the body, mind, or soul.  I’d rather cozy up in a corner with my physical planner and reflect on the week or month ahead or the one that just ended.
  3. One place. I need to keep everything in one place to avoid feeling and being scattered.  That being said, I have one place for planning and tasks and a second place for my writing and creative ideas.

If your organizational system isn’t working well for you right now, take a moment to understand what your fundamental needs truly are.  You might need to collaborate with others or to sync your system across devices, in which case my approach would not work for you at all.  I’m not trying to sell you on my organizational system, but to inspire you to find one that works for you or to fine-tune the one you already have so it fits even better.

In addition, no system works if I don’t abide by these mottos:

  • Write everything down.
  • Carry my planner with me all the time.

Now here are my three main organizing tools for keeping track of my time, tasks, and creative ideas in a relatively simple way.

The Passion Planner

I use the Passion Planner as my primary planning and task organizing tool.  I like the Passion Planner because it includes space for tasks and goals in addition to appointments. I’m light on appointments and heavy on tasks and goals, one reason many day-timer style agendas don’t work for me.

These are the features I treasure and use assiduously in the Passion Planner:

The weekly spread, which includes – in addition to the daily appointment columns – a separate area for personal and  work to-dos and another blank section for notes, doodling, or brainstorming.  I jot blog posts ideas, important codes, access numbers for conference calls, and the like in this spot.

I schedule my daily to-dos in each day’s column around my appointments, and check them off as I complete them.  If I don’t complete a to-do on a particular day, I highlight it so I know to address it the next day.  At the end of the week, I move unfinished tasks to the next week, and I move unused blog ideas to my Scrivener folder (explained below).

Being able to see a whole week of appointments, tasks, notes, and accomplishments in one glance works better for me than the isolation of a day at a time.

The monthly calendar, which includes – in addition to the calendar – a section to list personal projects and goals and another for work projects and goals as well as a blank space for notes or a mind map of goals and action steps.

I like being able to see all my appointments or events for a month in one glance as well as the ability to mark off extended periods for a specific focus or time away.  Yes, that means I write them down twice, once in the monthly view and once in the weekly view, but it works for me.

You’ll probably notice a continuing theme:  I need space for goals and tasks as well as blank space for notes and creative ideas.  That’s why I like this particular planner.

The 2-pages allotted for month-end reflections, which includes 7 questions to help you capture memories and lessons, highlight achievements, and identify areas in need of improvement.

If I wait until the end of the year, I often find I don’t remember what happened in the last 12 months without some prodding and poking.  So I like to record my most important lessons and memories as I go along during the year.  Plus, I’m keen on pausing monthly to evaluate what’s working, what’s not.

The generous supply of lined and grid pages at the end of the planner, which I use for notes, idea lists, and mind maps, but just the most important ones.  My important lists include ideas for my Joyful Wisdom Guide, Wild Arisings letter, blog post topics, and course themes.  I also have a list of favorite colors for Facebook images.  A calendar of the 2016 moon phases sits between two of these pages as well.

These pages can be customized for yearly goals, quarterly goals, action steps, and accomplishments, habit trackers, inspirational quotes, and really anything you like, need, or want.  You can number the pages and start with an index so you can easily access any particular list.

The Passion Planner was created by Angelia Trinidad.  I love supporting a woman/minority owned small business that started in a garage just a few years ago.  In addition, the planners use environmentally friendly recycled paper, and they give away one planner for each one sold.  Isn’t that the best!

You can download a free PDF version of the Passion Planner here if you want to try it out.

Mind Maps

Notes on left, Mind Map on right

Notes on left, Mind Map on right

I write from inspiration, which thankfully is plentiful.  Mind-mapping turns out to be one of the best ways to capture my creative inspiration.

For example, when an idea for a Joyful Wisdom Guide pops up, I open my planner to a blank page, and draw a circle for the main theme in the center.  Then I add lines to circles with supporting ideas and can elaborate on any one of them further by drawing additional lines and circles.  As more ideas emerge over the next few days, I just add them to the map.  You can see the one I did for the theme of “identity” in the image above.

I also plot out daily lessons for a course this way, creating a mind map for each week. I use a pencil so I can move the daily topics around until I find the perfect fit.

I draw my mind maps on the grid or lined pages in the back of my Passion Planner.  That way, I have everything important in one place.

Scrivener

Scrivener

My collection of blog post drafts in Scrivener.

Scrivener is an amazing writing software.  I use only a fraction of its capabilities, but it keeps my writing well organized in one place.  I create a separate Project for each endeavor:  my blog, a course, or an e-book. The image you see above is the repository for all my blog posts drafts and blog post ideas dating back to 2011, as well as the draft of this current post to the left.

Within each project, you can create file folders as I did for the months in the above image.  Then you can create a text document for each blog post, chapter, lesson, note or another form.

I draft all my blog posts, newsletters, courses, and e-books in Scrivener.  Again, everything lives in one place.  The only exception is my monthly Joyful Wisdom Guide which I draft directly in Pages.  There’s only one drawback to having everything in one place:  You could lose it in a flash.  So backups are important.

There’s so much more you can do with Scrivener.  You can try a free 30-day trial of Scrivener here.

When I use these tools, I stay on track, life is less chaotic, and I feel more at ease. I haven’t entirely overcome my tendency to float on a cloud, address whatever happens to appear in my mind, and forget the rest.  I sometimes don’t use my planner for weeks at a time.  But I always feel better when I do.  So I’m a work-in-progress, but at least I’m one with a good working system in place, always read to go.

Do you have a good task management system in place?  What works for you?

Something Extra for You

I’m in the process of realigning my goals for the remainder of 2016.  If you would like to do the same or set new goals for the rest of 2016, you can download my free Goal Setting Worksheet here.

Thank you for your presence!  If you enjoyed this post, please share it on your favorite social media sites. Thank you!  May you be well, happy, and safe – always!  With love, Sandra

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29 Comments

  1. Hahaha! Sandra, if you could see my kitchen counter top and wall calendar which are my only planners —- they ARE co-ordinated very well—-you would think I am from the Stone Age! I had to use planners (of the business -only variety) when I was in MLM for about 7 painful but very growth-provoking years and find myself resisting anything that reminds me of those things. I tend to write things down on paper that is lying around and seem to do pretty well with that. One thing I have discovered is that if I am going to remember something, it needs to be out where I can see it in a glance which is the reason my ” system” works so well for me most of the time. I wonder if I had actually REALLY planned my days, what my life would be like now! I guess my routine of doing my morning things and then going to the studio and working till I either teach a class or come home and make dinner is working for me. There are the appointments and other things that are not really routine and THOSE are the little notes on the calendar and the countertops and sometimes on the car seat—as in ” time to get gas NOW!”

    • You have given me a good laugh, Jean! Your “system” is so totally working for you. I wouldn’t change a thing. I think this shows us so beautifully that we are all so very different. We have to be with whatever works for us. In my case, I lose the notes so that wouldn’t work for me. But I so relate to your note about getting gas “now” as I tend to put off those mundane activities until they’re almost at a crisis point. Much love to you, Jean!

  2. I love this Sandra. I’m rotten at organizing…get lots of ideas in odd places and even if I use my phone to make notes I tend not to go back and check them. Some weird mind glitch methinks!

    I’ve tried all sorts of devices to keep myself straight, but like you tend to drop off after a while. So your planner could be the ideal answer for me. It certainly resonates…I shall be checking it out…and not the online version…as you say it’s just more time in front of a screen. No I’m going the old fashioned route…your planner speaks to me. 🙂

    As for Scrivener, I couldn’t manage without it, although my screen shot probably wouldn’t be as organized looking as yours. I need to tighten it up!

    • I would never have guessed that organizing is challenging for you too, Elle. The not going back to check is me in a phrase. I understand that challenge.

      The cool thing is that you can down load a pdf of the planner for free to see if you actually like it. You can also get an undated version so you can start anytime or an academic version, which starts around now as well as the usual yearly dated version.

      My Scrivener isn’t perfect either, like no files for some month’s! But overall it’s pretty good.

      Good luck with all this!

  3. I have heard of Scrivener and this makes me want to try it. Thanks for the great tips!

    • The cool thing about Scrivener is that you can try it out for free for 30 days, Barb. There is a bit of a learning curve to it, but they have a great tutorial that comes with it. It’s pretty simple if you keep it simple, but there’s also so many different things you can do with it. I would definitely be using it if I were writing a “real” book. Wishing you the best!

  4. I *love* hearing about people’s productivity systems! Such a fun post Sandra. I took like to keep things simple, and I use Scrivener for ALL my lists. I basically have a project full of lists. That way I can have a daily list, and then all the other project lists underneath it. I’m also a huge fan of mind maps.

    • I do too, Ellen! It’s always such a fun sneak peak. I haven’t used Scrivener for lists yet. I love the idea! Thanks so much for that idea. I’m sure you know all the tips and tricks.

  5. Such helpful info I could stand to utilize. I especially like the Passion Planner. Never heard of that or Scrivner. I might give them a try – if I ever get organized enough to do it.

    I tend to find structure limiting – or at least that’s what I tell myself. 🙂

    • I understand about finding structure limiting, Debbie. I’m that way too! You accomplish an amazing amount though so perhaps you need less structure than others. Good luck, whatever you decide.

  6. I enjoyed this post Sandra. I too enjoy reading about other productivity systems. As I was reflecting on my own system, I would call mine the divine inspiration system. haha It’s whatever I feel like writing and working on each day as I am moved by spirit. I doubt this is effective or productive and wondering how to move closer to having some kind of organization. Thank you for sharing your tips for a dose of inspiration.

    • I totally relate to the “divine inspiration system!” Maybe it is effective. That’s much more my temperament, but I forget things. Thanks for this reminder, let’s not get so organized that we leave this piece out.

  7. Hi Sandra,

    This is my first time visiting your blog and I’m glad I found it. I always love to see what other types of tools and systems people use because that’s how I’ve always discovered the ones I currently use. Mostly, I use an app (Any.DO, which I think is similar to Todoist) as a to-do list and I have a huge 2016 wall calendar that puts all 365 days out there so I can see the whole year at a glance.

    Scrivener is something I’ve really wanted to try too — I’m a freelance writer so I don’t know why I haven’t made the jump to use it yet. I guess it’s because I often just write in WordPress for many of my clients, but thanks for the heads up about the 30-day trial. Definitely going to give it a whirl!

    ~ Elise

    • So nice to connect with your, Elise! Your big wall calendar sounds appeal to me. I’ve often wonder how to capture the big picture and this seems to be the perfect way. I’m glad Any.DO works so well for you.

      Scrivener doesn’t work for everyone, but I love that they offer a free trial so you can see first before putting out the money.

      Wishing you the very best and hope to see you again.

  8. Hi Sandra,

    The Passion Planner looks amazing! I have to have a physical planning system that I can hold and carry around with me. I just can’t bring myself to trust my phone or laptop with that stuff. I generally buy a pretty standard planner and make a mess of it adapting them to my own needs. The Passion Planner looks ideal for me without having to do all that work. Enjoyed this post, thanks!

    • Hi Dave,

      What I’ve discovered is that these are called “productivity planners.” It seems like they’re more adapted to our particular needs than the usual ones you find in stores. There are a couple of different types out there. I’m glad you enjoyed this post. That’s how I found out about the Passion Planner too, but reading someone’s blog post.

  9. I would love to try the day planner and Scrivener.

  10. Suzie Cheel

    Sandra Scrivener sits on my computer waiting for me to use, seems like a big learning curve- i need to put time into the planner- i use google cal and have Leonie’s diary which looks not dissimilar to The passion planner/ I admire you simple organisation, thanks for sharing

    • I understand, Suzie. There is a learning curve and it might look like too much at first. But you can use Scrivener in a simple way to start with and that’s not complicated. There’s a good tutorial that comes along with the program. Good luck!

  11. This looks like a wonderful system. I think finding a workable planning system is such a personal thing because we are each different. I’ve never been able to get into Evernote either, but for me, it’s that I’ve stubbornly resisted the idea of having to go online every time I needed to access some of my most important ideas, goals, and planning content. I do have a system that works well for me, but I’m always open to learning so thank you for sharing your ideas and especially the PDF of the Passion Planner!

    • I feel the same way, Marquita. I don’t want to go online to access this important information. I’m glad you have a system that works well for you. You’re so right, it’s very individual.

  12. I too like my somewhat haphazard ways and use a calendar similar to the passion planner you mention. The mind map is one of my fav too and find myself doing t his process often. Organization is not to be taken lightly and it is crucial to find the right process …techie things have caused me frustration on accessing and perhaps a learning curve on some….not sure. But I do like my big notebook with lots of space to write ideas and also schedule. Great ideas you shared, I enjoyed gleaning some ideas.

    • Sounds like you’re in a good flow with your organizing system, Teresa. I’m happy for you as it does bring more ease into our lives. I’m glad you got some ideas from my article. Be well!

  13. The only electronic system I’ve stuck to for more than a year is Todoist, simply because it sits in my gmail and I am able to add reminders directly by linking the email for the item. But I am with you in the physical system – I have a grid ruled book where I’ve drawn a format quite similar to the pages you’ve shown – and yes, I too like my master list. I carry my spirally bound notebook everywhere with a happy set of pens. Somehow I’ve not been able to try Evernote. Sigh.

    The Passion Planner looks good, Sandra. Thank you for sharing. I have been hearing about it everywhere.

  14. And oh, I forgot to say I use OneNote for my writing. Autosaves and easy sync via OneDrive so I can access on any device.

  15. Hi, Sandra

    Totally agree with you that without planning system, our daily life will be in chaotic. I have been in this blogger sphere for about a year. There are so many information and so many areas need to be handle. I felt so overwhelmed because I did not have the strategy for time management. Now I am less overwhelmed and the level of productivity is higher.

    Thanks for sharing your secrets,

    Stella Chiu

  16. I really like your blog, keep bloging like this.

  17. Nice way of keeping myself organized at times too, great post.

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