I first started by reading the excellent O'reilly book Time Management for System Administrators. The author has his own "Cycle System" that he uses to keep track of his daily tasks, appointments, and long term projects. While the system itself is easy and fleshed-out I found that it wasn't exactly tailored to my needs. I did take a lot of his ideas and work them into my use of Moleskine notebooks that are relatively simple yet have some nice features (durable covers, elastic binding band, cloth bookmark, and back pocket). Below is what I did to customize and tailor them to my needs professionally and personally.
In the book there are three areas the author focuses on; To-do Lists, Appointments, and Goals. Now because the specific notebooks I like to use (either lined or graph paper) do not have a calendar built-in I skipped the appointment portion, and instead rely on Google Calendar for personal and Outlook Calendar for professional date keeping. I also didn't like the idea of keeping both personal and professional in the same notebook and therefore split them up into two different notebooks. My personal notebook is a squared soft-cover, which is smaller than a regular size and fits perfectly into my back pocket. My professional notebook is larger hard-cover lined variant that travels well in my laptop bag and works well for larger notes. The two follow the same criteria for my needs however.
I wanted to keep the setup simple and similar for both of them and generally stuck to the same format for both. I've read about many Moleskine Hacks and took some ideas, but most of them were too complex and involved for me to use, I just want something simple. Here's how I've set mine up:
- Three Sections: To-do, Notes, Ideas (only in personal) and Goals marked with sticky labels
- Initial date written inside front cover and on side with black marker
- Every odd page numbered
- Table of contents on inside cover with the odd page and short description
My professional one however does have a specific format for the to-do pages which I semi-copied from the time management book. I first date the top of the page, then split the first third of te page into a general todo and project list. Every morning when I first get into work I lay down my todo list, adding new items from our ticket system or email. Each todo item is then assigned a value (A, B, C) depending on it's priority and I get to work, crossing them off as they are done. The ones that aren't done at the end of the day are then moved to the next days list and marked with a - to show they were moved. The projects side is more just to keep in mind what I'd like to accomplish in a more long term sense. The second third of the page is for general notes, small scribblings on something I'm working on, random commands, etc. The final third is a ad-hoc schedule that I just fill in with times for meetings and other appointments that I have during the day. I don't fill any out ahead of time since I let my Outlook calendar keep track of recurring meetings and appointments.
Here are some pics:
Personal notebook on top of professional one
Sticky labels denoting sections
To-do page layout in professional notebook