Guest post: Planners for the undisciplined

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ministerSpeaking of ministers, guest blogger David Maliniak recently took one for a test drive… here’s his take on the experience.

The concept of planning inherently implies a disciplined approach to an endeavor; that endeavor can range from something as mundane as a trip to the grocery store to the broader concerns of life itself. Some weeks ago, I took up Exaclair’s Karen Doherty on the gracious 2nd Annual Planner Review offer and received a very nice Minister 2010 Agenda Planning Diary for evaluation. Using it got me thinking about my personal history with planning and how I organize my time and life.

I’ve always liked to think of myself as a relatively organized person. I don’t lose things; my desk is pretty neat. My professional life revolves around deadlines and schedules. I’m an editor for a trade magazine/website that serves electronic design engineers and there’s always an interview to conduct, stories to write, meetings to attend. I manage to juggle it all one way or another. Sure, balls drop from time to time but on balance, I stay on track.

But the dirty little secret that I harbor is this: I’m not really as organized as I seem. I don’t even like to admit it to myself, but the truth is that my organizational skills hang on a very slender thread. What I’ve realized is that I’m not so much organized as I am habitual. Using planners has always hinged on habit for me. If I didn’t forget to write in them, I’d forget to look at them later.

Now that I’m in my fifties, I find that I cannot rely on my memory as I did when I was 20 or 30.

Past efforts at using paper planners, and there have been a few, have petered out due to an inability to develop the habit of using them. Over the years I’ve learned to rely on computer-based organization tools provided by my employer, such as Microsoft Outlook. But should I forget to set alarms and reminders for things, Outlook can quickly devolve into “Look out!” I’ve tried using my cell phone’s calendar function, but entering data on it is just too darned hard.

So upon receiving the Quo Vadis planner, I resolved that this time would be different. “Yeah, sure,” you’re thinking. But I’ve already hit upon some things that I believe will be the keys to success for this undisciplined soul.

For one thing, I recently became a fountain-pen user, and I enjoy writing by hand more than I have in years. The Minister planner’s fountain-pen friendliness is itself a great inducement to use it. I’ll seize on almost any excuse to use my newly restored Parker 51. The pen’s fine nib glides beautifully over the Clairefontaine paper, making the planner fun to use.

I do have some minor quibbles with the planner’s layout. For example, I wish Sunday was a column like the other days of the week instead of being squeezed in horizontally. Sunday is sometimes a pretty busy day for me and/or my family. Aside from this, I find the layout highly conducive to its purpose. The thoughtfulness that goes into the planner, from the perforated tear-out page corners to the ability to get it lay more or less flat, makes the minor quibbles easily overlooked.

I’ve decided that the planner can ably serve as a history book/diary for me. There are times when I need to look back a few weeks or months to remember when I had specific conversations or conducted an interview for later reference. It’s going to come in handy for those times.

Lastly, I have been working hard at cultivating the habit of using and referring to the planner. I really want this to work! For me, it’s been as simple as keeping it readily accessible. It lives in my computer backpack, which is with me whenever I’d need the planner. I’m still using Outlook, but now I’m trying to use both in a kind of tag-team approach. I don’t know that I’ll ever be weaned off the computer but it can’t possibly beat the tactile pleasures of using pen and paper.

I guess that last point is a big one for me. Saying this to readers of this blog is probably akin to preaching to the choir, but I love using a good pen on nice paper (I recently became a Rhodia fan as well). Now, that’s a habit I can definitely enjoy.

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