Tools of the Trade


The new year always means one thing to me: systems. I love them. And I always get mocked for my, erm, color coding and obsessiveness. But having the right tool for the job makes it that much easier. The challenge is figuring out which system fits the situation.

When I was working at a tutoring company (prior to launching TheWritingFaculty), everything was all Levenger all the time. I still love their annotation notepads, and I have one of their project concierges. Here’s how I developed my system:

I received tons of calls and would always write them on scraps of paper and lose them. Solution? Note cards and bleachers. I sorted projects and to do items by color and would physically prioritize my action items by bleacher level and placement (bottom left = most urgent).

The annotation notepads were great for meetings and for project notes. I’d label topics and dates and then file them in color coded folders. This is how NESCBWI conference planning happened, as well.

Now I have a different physical space and no room for bleachers. I tried to do list software like ToodleDo and HitList and even FranklinCovey’s online planning system, but none of them have been quite right, although there are elements I like about each. These systems are linear and task-oriented, not great for trying to block out chunks of time for different projects.

Andrew discovered the Chronodex system and thought he’d try it out, and I decided to give it a go, as well. Every week is on a small, 2-page spread.

Each weekday is a circle, like a clock, from 9 am – 9 pm with a 2-month calendar and weekend calendar on the bottom right. That’s it. And then you can use it as you please.

The person who created this system is way more obsessive than I am and came up with what he calls “The Perfect System.” He prints out his planner, binds it by hand, and then puts it in a leather travel wallet along with various other accessories. He hand tools leather GTD tabs and has a special pouch for his pens. I love poking around his site — so much fun stuff that isn’t right for me but is completely awesome and gorgeous.

And of course I was inspired and made my own little system. First, I printed out the Chronodex, and Andrew bound it very simply (punch 3 holes with an awl and stitch with dental floss — it’s cheap, durable, and minty!). A blob of glue holds the knot in place.

I mentioned that colors are important — I block out chunks of time on my Chronodex and use colors that match my Google Calendars, so I have separate colors for work, personal, home, etc. and can tell at a glance what kind of block is coming up.

The Chronodex site has these great GTD index cards that I printed out and clip onto each week with magnetic owl bookmarks. I love owls, so I also decorated the planner with some stickers (hey — planners need some sparkle & whimsy!). Book Darts and Clip-Tabs help track which week I’m on and clip previous weeks together.

I purchased a great little travel document organizer on Etsy, and my bound planner slides right in. There are pockets in the front and back for my extra GTD and plain note cards, as well as additional magnetic bookmarks for reading.

As for those pens and pencils — I love Uniballs for regular note-taking, erasable colored pencils for planning, and my fountain pen for journaling. All of them fit into a roll-up pencil case that I also found on Etsy.

So: inexpensive, DIY, and entertaining. This works for now — and I like the small form factor. And note cards? Still use those:

2 Responses to "Tools of the Trade"
    • Obsessive isn’t meant as an insult — we all have something we care about, right? Your system’s done really well — great attention to detail. Thanks so much for sharing it, and I hope your dad’s doing better!

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