In this day and age, it's easy to be spoiled for choice - if you're a tech junkie, there's always an app for that (or everything!), and the quality and variety of analogue planners, datebooks, calendar systems, journals is limited only by your patience for internet searches.
A person can spend a lot of time and money trying out this and that, and I've done my fair share. But ultimately, it comes down to what helps you keep track of your thoughts and plans effectively - without becoming a time-sink in its own right.
I had to do some soul-searching to figure out not just what worked, and why some things I tried weren't working. In looking at my past (failed) systems for tracking my stuff (to-dos, appointments, ideas, lists), I came face to face with the following quirks about myself:
1) I always want to accomplish WAY more in a day than any middle-aged human could reasonably expect, and yet I still think my lists are reasonable. Boy will sometimes ask me "what's up for your day?", and then chuckle at the litany.
What does this mean? If I let myself write down everything I WANT to accomplish in a day, I'll inevitably be disappointed at the end of the day, looking at the list.
Takeaway: be careful what you write down on paper!
2) If left to my own devices, I'll assume that a project can be completed in one fell swoop - it took a good thorough reading of Getting Things Done to understand that most things we consider 'projects' require more than one step, and one step on a project may be all we can work into a busy day. But a whole series of 'next little steps' is hard to keep track of - and hard to plan sequentially into a planner.
What does this mean? I need a flexible, fluid system for thinking through steps of projects. For me, this meant a digital helper for my larger projects and goals.
Takeaway: be aware of the size of the projects you take on, and don't expect them to get done in a day!
What does all this mean? I'm happiest when I balance digital and analogue. I love my smartphone, love the capacity it has to remind me of things I scheduled or wanted to do at a certain time; and yet if you get me near a stationery store I start to quiver. Fountain pens and little notebooks are in my blood.
In the end, I've come to an arsenal of digital and analogue devices to help me manage my projects and ideas and lists - I'll be talking about all of them here in the coming days. But here's a brief overview of what's working for me on the digital side, given what I've learned about how I need to organize myself.
1) "Things" app for iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
I'll admit - when I first read through Getting Things Done, it didn't click for me. I couldn't figure out the difference between an 'area of responsibility' and a project. It took a couple of years in a full-time job in a dynamic company to help me see the value of his system, and figure out how it can work for just about anyone. I use "Things" on all my devices to get my to-dos, large and small, out of my head and into something that can keep things organized as well as remind me when they need to be done.
2) "Reminders" app for iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
I owe my brother a huge favor for pointing out some features of this app that now make it a lifesaver for me. If I have a small thing that I need to remember to do or get at a particular time or place, I can pop it into Reminders (because I've always got my phone on me) - the feature that Bro pointed out is the little 'i' (information) icon at the right of your new entry - click on it, and you get a list of features like "Remind me at a place (arriving or leaving!)" or "Remind me at a time". Genius! Now, if I need to pick up a book at the library, I can set a reminder for Thursday afternoon, or for 'when I leave home,' headed in the direction of the library!
I also use the Calendar app on my Mac and Google Calendars to keep track of appointments - they have 'remind me the day before' functionalities to ping me ahead of time in case I need to prepare something or be prompted to leave the house.
3) "Strides" app for iPhone
This is a recent addition that helps me with habits. I know that many analogue planners/Bullet Journalists like to incorporate habit trackers into their planners, but I find that I do better if my phone dings at me at a particular time to do something. I like the nudge - it works better for me than a page in a planner, which I might forget to look at until the next day. I'm currently using it to build in a few new healthy habits: taking my vitamins, going for a certain # of runs a week, going for my morning walk. It even has a 'negative habit' tracker, which I might start using to encourage me to lay off the evening glass of wine!
That's the digital arsenal of helpers in my toolbox right now - next time, I'll share what goes in my paper planner, my move from the Passion Planner to the Get to Work Book, and you'll be able to fully appreciate my love of orange! (My analogue life is a serious reflection of this orange tic I have.)