- September 08, 2017
- Matt Marquart
Since SO many people have asked for it, here’s my super system on prioritizing my week, managing a commitments list (read: todo list) and notetaking.
tl;dr this is a systematic way to take notes and manage todos.
(And it’s probably the nerdiest thing you’ll ever read. You’ve been warned. For some of you, it’ll be like a tire fire. You want to stop looking at it but you can’t.)
First, I may say “todos” to be colloquial, but I try to refer to todos as “commitments.” It’s anything that you say that you’ll do. A commitment is something you make to yourself or to others. It’s harder to break and might ensure that you actually do it.
A DESCRIPTION OF THE COMMITMENT SUPER SYSTEM
You may have heard of The Bullet Journal technique – I’ve adapted a lot of the Bullet Journal technique to my own system, which I’ll describe here.
This is affectionately coined, Commitment Super System (CSS).
My system is a mix of Bullet Journal and the Eisenhower Matrix. And as digital as I am, I mostly use a physical notebook to prioritize my day/week and take notes in appointments.
I use each 2-page spread as a week.
Starting in the top left, each day’s date is listed with my most important task of the day listed at the top (written the day before), the next day’s appointments are written with the time, a large circle, a space and then description. And then any other tasks that have to be done.
On the right side near the gutter, I’ll write the time needed for them in 10, 30, 60 for time increments.
There’s no double spacing because that’s just crazy talk.
Important tasks are listed cleanly in the top right on the right-hand page.
“Non-important, non-urgent” tasks get listed from the bottom up in the bottom right quadrant.
A really handy part of it is to have a key of marks or “icons” by each task.
COMMITMENT SUPER SYSTEM – KEY ELEMENTS – ICONS
- Big circle: event
- Square: Priority
- Check: I’ve done what I needed to
- Crossed off: Totally Doneski
- Small up arrow/carrot: sent to a decision maker
- Small down carrot: delegated
- Right carrot and line crossed through with a “curl tail”: moved to different list
If things get really hairy or when the lists get overloaded, I switch to a true Eisenhower Matrix (see below) and categorize by important/urgent. Then, when I’ve tackled the bear, I go back to the weekly CSS.
Customer conversations and meeting notes get their own new spreads with the date, purpose of the meeting and people attending. Action items are noted with a Square on their own and then moved to the appropriate list, if necessary.
Then, I scan all my notes to Evernote for digital safe keeping or quick reference.
TACKLE THE BEAR “EISENHOWER MATRIX”
Sometimes, it’s all very overwhelming. And you are just not sure what to do next. First, before putting it into an Eisenhower Matrix or Priority Matrix, I need to get it all out of my head. For this, I use a BFL.
What is a BFL?
A BFL is a Big Effing List. It’s a brain dump. It’s everything in my head that needs to be out of head. It’s the only way I know to clear my head. I’ll usually use the Apple Notes App for this with the checkmark feature. If I know something’s a priority I’ll bold it in the Notes App.
This is usually a weekend activity. I’m not luggin around my Lechtturm on the weekends. And I usually have my phone or computer close by. This way, it allows me to stop thinking about it and know that it’ll get into the right list when it’s time.
From the Notes App, I write them into the Matrix (described below) and check them off as they go into the new list.
It helps me stay organized.
Now onto the matrix and what that’s all about.
This is what I call the “tackle the bear” situation. And here’s my approach: Try writing it all down of what you need to do (in a BFL like described above) and then, what you think you should be doing into an Eisenhower matrix.
2×2 Tackle the Bear “Eisenhower Matrix”
- Top left: important/urgent
- Bottom left: urgent / not really “important” though
- Top right: the important stuff but / not necessarily urgent or time sensitive
- Bottom right: not really “important” and / not really urgent — just stuff that’s on your mind, a commitment or sumthin
For me, to get it out of my head is half the battle.
Then exercise or go for a run, shower and get going on relaxin.
The matrix helps me organize and prioritize for when I know I am going to work. Because I’m going to have a prioritized game plan of how I’m going to crush it when I’m back working. And it’ll all get done.
(Also, try turning off your phone’s cellular data on the weekend. So emails/slacks/-all the digital world except phone calls and an sms doesn’t come through when you’re out and about.)
We need margin in our life, a Sabbath if you will, giving your subconscious brain routines time to passively crunch through stuff.
THE KEY TOOLS TO EXECUTE CSS
Lechtturm 1917 Notepad, Dotted (Medium) – For one, this is an extremely well-made notebook. German precision. I’ll write its features from front to back.
At the very front is a Name, Phone and if found section. I always recommend writing this in. The reward I offer if someone finds my missing notebook is One Unit of Pride if returned. And I’ll happily pay it.
A Table of Contents pre-printed. In fact, there’s several pages of TOC, so the first page is a general table of contents like by month, and the next few pages are index pages to be able to go back to old notebooks and find items quickly. I’ll typically index at the end of a month or quarter.
Then, I reserve 3 spreads or six pages for company-growth priorities and notes/ideas on them. The pages have page numbers already printed on them which is great. Because I mean, who would write their own page numbers on 238 pages of a Moleskine. Certainly not anyone who I get to see in the mirror each day, not anymore at least. There’s also two loose bookmarks and an elastic bookmark.
The only thing I wish it had was perforated tear out pages throughout the whole book. There’s one pad that I’ve found like that which is the Rhodia line. But Rhodia, for me, was missing the heft and permanence of a notebook. I recognize that those are ironic, mutually exclusive qualities.
WHAT IF I MAKE A MISTAKE?
Frixion pen – It’s a pen that’s erasable, which is also really handy in keeping one’s icons clean.
STILL NOT CONVINCED – READ THIS:
The One Thing – This is an appropriate read. Focus on one thing at a time. What’s the one thing that will make everything thing else easier or unimportant. A good mantra. Multi tasking is so 2000s.