I’ve being using a Moleskine notebook in my work daily basis for several years. It started as a simple way to keep track of the tasks I had to do. Just an unordered list of bullet points to strikethrough when they were completed. Although it was useful, soon it became insufficient. Over time I’ve been doing some hacks on my Moleskine, improving my productivity step by step. Here are the main ones.
A couple of years ago, I was working as CTO in a seed stage startup and I combined both roles of technical manager and developer. So, I felt the need to track how much time I spent on management and how much coding. Surfing on the Internet I found an inspiring post that gave me the solution to my time tracking issue. I took my trusty Moleskine notebook and I outlined a rectangle big enough to split it on 8 small squares, one for each work hour. Every hour I put a “P” (programming) or a “G” (gestión, the Spanish word for management) depending on what kind of tasks I did.
After a few weeks, I realised that a relevant amount of the time spent on management was on meetings (and I was wondering if that time could be reduced) so I started using the letter M to track it separately. Every Friday on the afternoon, I reviewed all the “rectangles” and discover how balanced I was during the week and which were the most time-consuming ambits.
Obviously, days were I had a lot of meetings I accomplished fewer tasks. But, when reviewing what I did during the week in my own “retrospective” on Fridays, there wasn’t any track in my Moleskine of the meetings I attended. So, this kind of days seemed very unproductive. To solve that, I added a column on the left side of the page to keep track of meetings and other appointments.
The first thing I do in the morning is to check my Google Calendar and fill that column with the scheduled meetings and appointments for the day. That way, I’m much more conscious of how many tasks (and also which of them) I’ll be able to accomplish on the day taking into account how much time I’ll be busy with meetings.
Even within a single day, tasks usually have different priorities. With a simple todo-list of unsorted items like the one I used at that time, there’s no way to know which priority has each of them. So I decided to switch from bullet points to check boxes, and start drawing tiny icons on the left of the task to give more context and prioritize them better.
I started with just a small set of icons: an exclamation mark “!” for the tasks that must be done, a right arrow “➜” for the delegated tasks and a star “★” for the important ones. Then, I’ve been extending a bit this set with other icons like a little lightbulb “💡”(or something that may look like it) for ideas or the magnifier “🔍” for research tasks.
I also made a little improvement after discovering Mike Rodhe’s task action icons in his book The Sketchnote Workbook. I put a simple dot inside the check box to indicate the task has already been started and an arrow to show tasks that have been deferred. For canceled tasks, I prefer to strikethrough the whole line instead of draw an “X” on the check box as Mike proposes.
Task icons helped me a lot to prioritize tasks, but every now and then I end up with a page full of tasks where almost all had an exclamation mark or a star. There are days where almost everything is important, but you know upfront that it will be impossible to get everything done. So, you have to prioritize.
I asked myself the following questions:
“What if I will only be able to finish three tasks? Which ones I would choose?”.
With that in mind, I took my Moleskine and chose from the long list of important and urgent task, just three of them and wrote it on top of the page as the main goals for the day. The commitment was to not doing anything else until these three tasks were finished. Soon it became a habit and a new section in my daily Moleskine template.
At some point in my career, stressful journeys and work pressure sometimes made me feel bad at the end of the day and it started affecting my personal life. So, I decided to find a solution. First thing I did was search a tool to track my daily mood and I found exactly what I was looking for, the Niko-Niko calendar. It is a fun and easy way to capture your mood throughout the day using emoticons.
That same day when leaving the office, I stopped in the stationary shop on the way home and bought some color dot stickers. Since that day, I paste a sticker on the bottom right corner of the page and draw a happy :-), straight :-| or sad :-( face on it. Now, with a brief look at the last pages I can easily figure out the mood I had during the previous days and offers me an opportunity for reflection.
Putting all together
Now, I want a show you how I put all together on a single page of my Moleskine Professional Notebook. That’s how it looks like:
As you may have already noticed, I’m a big fan of Moleskine journals and I consider them one of the most powerful tools, even in the digital age we’re living on. In this post, I’ve shared with you five hacks I’ve being using every day and helped me to organize, prioritize and focus at work. But, as a strong Kaizen believer, I’m sure my template can (and should!) be improved. So, feel free to copy it, change it until it fits your needs or throw it away and develop your own.
References and related links
- Michael Bolton’s «Where Does All That Time Go», http://www.developsense.com/blog/2012/10/where-does-all-that-time-go/
- The Bullet Journal, http://www.bulletjournal.com/
- Mike Rodhe’s Task Action Icons, http://www.peachpit.com/articles/article.aspx?p=2242055&seqNum=2
- How to Track the Team’s Mood with a Niko-niko Calendar, http://agiletrail.com/2011/09/12/how-to-track-the-teams-mood-with-a-niko-niko-calendar/