Career Tips: How I stay organized

How I stay organized

Above Image: I use the Large Ruled Notebook by Moleskine.

I’ve got a pretty intense schedule, in the past I’ve written about the many tasks of an analyst in the day job, and I also spend time being in the conversation by maintaining this blog, being active on twitter, maintaining communities in Facebook, and attend many events. I’ve got a personal life, spend time at the gym, am a husband, and have a social circle that’s not even connected to the tech world.

Technology isn’t always the answer to everything, in fact I actually don’t use a digital device as they take too long to input, aren’t always available, are fragile, and there are risks of battery life limitations and data loss, so I use paper.

Here’s how I stay organized:

I use a Moleskine, the medium size in fact, but any book will do.

I use two pages each week (or more often) to organize my tasks.

For every task, I create a small checkbox, for items that are urgent, Ill mark with an “!” mark. As I complete tasks, I’ll check them off. Just about every week I’ll recreate the list, reprioritize, and consolidate. I find that writing the tasks down actually helps with me subconsciously brainstorming, and reviewing you go to bed at night is a great way to put your internal employee (your unconscious mind) to work. This is why you’ll often notice my blog posts come in the early morning, I sort my problems at night.

On the top left column, I list out all of my personal tasks to take care of, house, car, bills, important dates, medical issues that need to be dealt with.

On the lower left I list out blog ideas, (you never know when you’ll get them) it’s important I write these down, as sometimes I’ll forget, and that’s very frustrating. Both of these rarely exceed the whole page.

Now on the right hand column, this is dedicated to my work requirements, and it quickly fills up the half of the page in no time.

When I see more than 10 tasks, I know it’s time to start to really focus by prioritizing, turning off distractions, and hunkering down to get my work down.

This process has been working well for me, although I’m not a star analyst, I’m meeting the requirements of a new analyst, and so far, I’ve not dropped too many personal tasks.


  • Pay yourself first, one thing leads to another
  • Manage your time as you do money
  • I’d love to hear from you, how do you keep organized?

    Update: Ran across this related video

    63 Replies to “Career Tips: How I stay organized”

    1. I use something similar for work. I like the one page a day calendars. If I don’t finish something, I just carry it over to the next day.

    2. Jeremiah – I also use a medium Moleskine and list action items with check boxes. I haven’t found a good way to integrate personal action items and ideas for blog posts, so I think I’ll give your format a go. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

      Jim | @jstorerj

    3. “How do you keep organized?”

      I don’t, so this is like gold to me. It’s my biggest weakness and needs to get fixed quick. I’ve been hoping some sort of paradigm shifting widget would have solved it for me, but apparently an analog notebook should suffice.

      Again, thanks for sharing.


    4. I think Day-Timer makes a great product. Somehow, they have a page layout that fits anyone. I agree about disliking digital organizers. I do set alarms on my Blackberry, but I try not to count on it. Though, I still use wikis to take notes whenever possible. Easier to add reflections to the notes later and share with others.

    5. paper! I too use a notebook (not a Moleskin) and actually store them as reference.

      guess the new gig is working out well if “tune up a Ferrari” is on the to-do list.

      and, there is no way I’m going to comment on the “kiss the wife” task, and how sad it is you actually have to write it down. or, how you even did it yesterday when you were traveling.

    6. Nice, there are so many things to do but #goingsolo Going-Solo (conference held today in Lausanne – Switzerland – for freelancers in the social media space) has a whole bunch of material regarding this just click on this

      I am sure that we all have our own methods and what works for you may fail for me.

    7. I use a combination of things to make a system for myself.

      I use Gmail to keep track of things need to be added to my to do list. I add them to both Things (with a link to the email they originated from) and to a sheet of paper. These go on my wall. My clients use a variety of ways to manage their projects with me, from Basecamp to wikis to email to Google spreadsheets. I update those.

      I use I Want Sandy and GCal for notification of events or tasks that need to get done at specific times.

      And most important to me, I have a routine. I wake up in the morning, know what repetitive things need to be handled first, go through those, then business email and then client projects.

      And though this goes beyond organization, I’ve been studying The Artist Way this week on the recommendation of a friend and one of the things Cameron talks about is doing The Morning Pages, where you write 3 pages of thoughts, freestyle every morning first thing. This has been remarkable in clearing my head to prepare for the day plus giving me great new ideas. I highly recommend the course and I’ve just started.

    8. I use a Moleskine too. I’ve tried a lot of technology options, but keeping the book gives me quick access to notes, lists and calendar. Plus I can’t take notes in my mobile phone as fast as I can in my notebook.

      I do keep a lot of documents in my mobile phone that I may need to email, but you’re right, technology isn’t the answer for everything.

    9. I don’t. I just pretend to. I use flags in Entourage to remind me of the emails that have tasks with deadlines … until the flagged emails start to get buried. I try the latest organizers online and on my computer Anxiety, Ta-Da, Zenbe pages, iwantsandy, etc. — all of which kinda-sorta work as long as I keep up with them. I’ve purchased Getting Things Done (but haven’t found time to read it). Somehow, though, the most important things scream their way to the top and I deal with them. Still, I feel like I am just half a step ahead of the reaper. Perhaps when Apple releases the iPhone SDK a hundred to-do apps will tumble out of iTunes and I’ll discover one that syncronizes with everything, helps rank tasks based on some analytical or semantic understanding of my inbox and social media accounts, and I’ll happily be compelled to get my life in practical, stress-reducing order.

    10. I just need to get back on the GTD/ZTD(Zen to done) bandwagon. I use Omnifocus for the GTD part (next actions and so forth), and a notebook as my capture device. I’m pretty good with graffiti on my Palm Tungsten E2 but use it mostly to clock in appointments and meetings, which are also recorded on Google calendar so I get reminded by SMS as a back up. I’m not very good about keeping my devices charged :-). I’ve been playing with PocketMod as well as a capture device.

    11. How can you live with two pages each weak? 🙂 I have one big page for each day (I use David Seah’s printableCEO), plus big diary for metings, plus notebook for thoughts and citations, plus stickers “things to remember” and “things to do”, plus pocketMod, and this is only the non-computer part of my getting things organized process…

    12. When I worked at the laboratory bench and started having kids I began using a 15-minute sheet. It had the entire day broken down into 15-minute segments. That way, I could complete 3 or 4 experiments over the course of the “work day” and not be there for 12 hours and then coming back in that night.

      I still make checklists and to-do lists almost every day. When I don’t, I don’t get things done. BUT, I am a big believer in Google Calendars for my personal items, like school meetings, because it will email me a reminder.

    13. I will go against the flow here, and say that I love my PDA. I found it hard to keep track of paper notes and I mixed up several notebooks which made it hard to keep track of what I had to do when. My Palm PDA simplifies the process and keeps all I need in one place, and it syncs with my computers at work and home. I also find it great for keeping a note of expenses, when previously I just relied on a receipt that could end up being mislaid.

    14. Thanks for giving props to using paper. After years of trying to manage it all in outlook, I switched to using outlook for appointments and recycling the backside of paper for daily and general to-dos. My brain became much less stressed , organized and effective after making the switch.

    15. I’m so 1997 – I use Outlook’s alerts / reminders. It works fine for me, but alas, when it gets mega busy, it’s all too easy to ‘snooze’ that ‘Write up second article on new UK blogging laws’ reminder.

    16. Ah, I think I talked about something along these lines before here:

      I also use a Moleskine, but I use it more to write summaries of conversations, so I can refer back to them later if I have to send someone an email or otherwise.

      Also I don’t focus on tasks as much as goals. I write down my goals and what I want to accomplish first, then break those up into tasks. To address chelpixie’s point, I would agree that routine can be a good way to stay disciplined, but it’s often disrupted by other things, too.

    17. My method is similar to yours, only I have categories on the two pages. What I also do is use the other side of the notebooks for meetings. That is, open the front of my notebook and you’ll see my checklists. Close it, flip it upside down, and go from back to front and you’ll have meeting notes. When I get to the center of the book, new book.

      For email, I try to process immediately and file as necessary. That is, I try really hard to not use my inbox as a to do list. It just ends up too cluttered.

    18. I tried Remember the Milk, but found it took a lot of planning and tweaking to get it “just right”, and even then, it wasn’t. It wasn’t “fiddle-resistant” enough for me. Even paper systems I tend to fiddle with too much, and I hate rewriting tasks a zillion times (because I tend to put things off .. a lot).

      I ended up going with Toodledo, which helped me actually figure out what things were most important on my list — there’s a “sort by Importance” option that is remarkably useful, and takes into account priority, date created, date due, and possibly some other stuff. Lots of great sorting and filtering options, too. The free level is incredible, and the pro option is a respectably cheap $15/year. AND it’s fairly easy to import tasks from other places in order to check it out!

      (I give the reference number mostly so I can track my efforts of sharing the good news, but if you happen to love it enough to go pro with it, I do get a bonus of three months added to my pro membership — which I’d buy anyways, so no big deal! I just wanted to do the whole “full disclosure” thing in case people were curious about the link.)


    19. I’ve gone virtual, I use a Wetpaint wiki.

      I’ve been using a Notebook for years (Blueline personally), but they always fall on the same problem. Some pages are worth keeping (App configuration settings, others were just good for long term reference. (What did I do last week? Oh yeah!)

      Paper is bad for organizing these things.

      I also had the problem of multiple notebooks. One for work, one for home, one for exercise, one for blog thoughts… etc. I could keep it all in one, but then the noise starts clouding out the signal.

      Now it’s all in the Wiki. And it’s easy, this is exactly what a Wiki does best. I can group relevant data, search for data that I need and I can regroup at will. New link, new page, copy-paste. In 5 seconds I’m reorganized.

      It’s easy to split out my personal and my office life; it’s easy to split out information by project or task; it’s easy to move information. It’s even easy to share: my wife has access to mine for workout logs and “personal to-do lists”.

      Wetpaint has a particularly slick UI and they have templates for stuff like Calendars and To-do lists. It also has a backup features that zips up your HTML pages for download.

      I said this a week ago, but you really need a Personal Productivity Wiki.

    20. When I saw this photo in your flickr stream yesterday I printed it out to show my colleagues, because until then, *I* was the only person they had ever known who kept a book that looked like that.

      I make a new list for each day, though, and keep the ToDos on the right, while I use the left side as a scratch pad for phone messages, notes, etc. That way, when I want to find somebody’s number that I might have only scrawled down, I can usually remember on about what day they called, and flip through to locate it again.

      At the end of every day, if anything didn’t get done, I move it to tomorrow’s list. It makes for an interesting document, showing how things get moved up and down the priority scale as the days move on.

      The most important part is: always make tomorrow’s list before leaving work today. Then I don’t have to worry about remembering tasks or priorities overnight. I can come in the next day and find out what my self-imposed assignments are when I arrive in the morning.

      We have some new young staff here these days — it’s their first professional job in most cases — and I’ve been teaching this technique as something effective people use. Your post could NOT have been better timed. 🙂


    21. Thanks for sharing. I’m a maniac about staying organized and still have not found the perfect system.

      Right now I have a combination of a moleskine similar to you, a big white board next to my desk and slowly trying out the new program Things.

      It is a never ending battle I’m finding, but I keep trying. I always appreciate when people share their methodologies, and I like the separation of work, personal and ideas you have going on. I might have to try that.

    22. Simple, low-tech to-do lists are still the best way to stay organized, I find, especially because some tasks require you being away from the computer, so no point in putting them on there (unless they’re online, then I guess you could check from a cell phone).

      As for why you had to write down a note to kiss your wife…I know you’re busy, but you wrote that down?

      And…punch the monkey? What does that mean?

      Oh well…this isn’t really a post about your personal activities, but rather how to stay organized, and it’s a good post for that. 🙂

    23. Great post. Moleskine is a great product because you are set it up your way. I like this system a lot. I find it fascinating that more and more tech people prefer low tech moleskine for time management, and notes. It just works.

    24. I use the same thing. I have a notebook where I keep a running journal of activities as well as to do lists.

      For appointments, I use my Blackberry and Outlook calendar and synch the two.

    25. I used to use a Palm & relied on it heavily for scheduling. I used half sheets of paper for daily/weekly lists.

      But my Palm died & I’ve shifted to Evernote since I’m near my computer all the time (I was on the road with my other job). And I use a stenopad now (no idea how to do shorthand but I like the dividing line). Evernote is THE best – I can click & drag in links & images then catalog them. Searching & finding what I need is as quick as how carefully I’ve cataloged my entries (rolls like a receipt tape). I put my blog ideas in there too.

    26. I like this discussion. Keeping organized. Such an art form!

      I keep all of my work, personal and family appointments in iCal. Each person has their own color-coded calendar, so it’s to see what we’re supposed to be doing and where we’re supposed to be going. I have a color for personal stuff and another for work & appointments.

      I keep my shopping list on the fridge [obvious place for it], but I almost never take it to the store. Once I’ve written down the items there I usually remember what they are.

      Almost no small items go on my calendar. I make paper lists for those things and keep them handy, in a pocket or the bag I’m using that day. I take project folders and other paperwork and put them on my desk because the clutter bugs me and the irritation prods me to get those items dealt with, without delay.

    27. I employ very much the same technique though my day requires a lot of phone time with various parties to manage my transactions properly. To make sure I take care of calling everyone, I refer to my handy-dandy organizer. It’s a big 8.5×11 notebook split into 15 minute intervals from 7:00am to 8:00pm, M-F.

      Sometimes the checklist doesn’t work well in giving me a visual of the time that certain things need to be taken care of.

      I’ve tried using outlook and those pop-up reminders but they don’t seem to work well for me…

    28. I use a notebook to pen down notes as well, even though spend so much time doing work on my laptop. To manage the things I have to do for the day, I break them down into smaller tasks, be it personal or work related. Instead of saying doing up a presentation deck. I’ll break it down into: gathering content, organizing content, displaying content (well some information is better presented graphically than in bullet points), editing the deck and run through. Sometimes, I’ll indicate the amount of time I want to spend on each task by the side. I’ll strike them off one by one once i’m done with each task. It helps me visualise progression.

    29. For my purpose I much prefer it not in digital format. I think that my mind prefers it when I write it.

      I use old fashioned lined paper, 1 for the to-do and 1 for to call. Take note that at times both pages are full of things, sometimes 2-3 pages.

      I cross the stuff of the list as I do them, which starts to look messy, so I then depending on how much I had to do, redo all the entries on new pages, basically starting the process again.

      All the old pages then get stored in my drawer for when I need to go back and check dates etc.

      My best time for calls is in the car so I need it always with me.

      The Moleskin, however, is smart.

    30. Thank goodness someone else uses paper in this technological world (and don’t get me wrong–I love technology)–perhaps it was the influence of school pre-computers, but to this day I can’t remember anything unless I actually engage in the physical act of writing it down on paper. There must be some synaptic connection which has been so deeply ingrained, I can’t use an online schedule, PDA, etc., or else completely forget everything I’m supposed to be doing.

      Pen and paper, paper month-to-month or day-to-day calendars (I still see time visually in my head), and paper to-do lists are the only thing which work–that is, if I can read my handwriting. 😉

      Warmest regards,

    31. I use a plain old notepad and a weekly planner sheet that I designed. I’m able to pretty much get all my commitments and tasks down on that one sheet (I fortunately don’t have that many things to track). I print one out every Sunday and plan out the week ahead with it. I like how I can fold it up and stuff it in my pocket if needed. All in all, It really serves me well (you can check it out over at my blog).

      I use my notepad for scribbling everything else down, whether it be an idea, a doodle, a brainstorm… whatever. I’m all for a pen and paper approach, in fact I recently wrote a post covering seven reasons why you should choose it over a digital approach.

    32. Interesting — good to see some people choose to organize their lives OFFLINE. Relying too much on these tech tools can be the wrong choice! We rely on Gmail and Gmail’s calendar so we are a sucker for the technologica way of organization.

    33. I was always a notebook and list ticker, yet got some challenges earlier this year when I dropped the ball (because something from one list didn’t make it onto the new pages)

      Our team moved to after an exhaustive elimination of open-source and proprietary solutions which I have found indispensable. In essence I have clients, and projects within them, and tasks within projects, within which are my to-do’s. Great thing is I still tick boxes, but I am also logging time… even with stuff that doesn’t have a client: like Paul’s research, general admin, travel time etc. It really helps me to see where my week goes, how I can be more effective etc.

      We are using a corporate Google apps account for work mail, talk, calendars & meetings (sharing all colleagues for planning), document collaboration etc, and we have a clocking widget which feeds in tasks to our customised Google apps page.

      Then I use the mobile to sync everything from Google which keeps me organised on the road.

      I separate out my private life by using to-dos and notes in Mac Mail along with personal email on the laptop. This is where I put ideas, thoughts for articles, etc.

      Anyway, it works pretty well. The great thing is being able to reorder and prioritise tasks as they come up without using paper.

      Oh, but I do have a small notebook which I use for client meetings so that I can capture important bits of the conversation or action items without bringing out the laptop.

      In my home office I have a wall Year planner with all the personal events and important dates for my personal life, and a good-old fashioned corkboard for newspaper clippings etc.

    34. I use one moleskin for daily tasks, 1 for working tasks and iPhone for repeatable weekly appointments (as lessons, meetings, etc..etc..)

      I cannot say that this job work fine for me, there’s loss of info sometime as i forget to write/update. But what i’ve to change is head, not method.

    35. Trying Remember the Milk. I love the ability to share tasks with coworkers, get stuff on Google Calendar or email. All with a variety of ways to start inputting. If you just had a cell phone and were in a hurry, you can even Jott to Remember the Milk. Love the speed, reminders and the fact that you can just input once and get the task recorded in multiple places. What I don’t like is having something come along that is better and requires another change in work flow. Maybe this is why I like Apple so much- they have thought a lot through. Make it easy to learn and I don’t mind the initial buy in.

    36. I keep organised by having a whiteboard hanging on top of my desk and having several coloured markers handy. It’s great! There has been more than a few times where a great idea would come to my head when I’m about to sleep and I would just go up, turn on the light and record this idea on the whiteboard. I’m a fairly visual person so this whiteboard is great.

      Another great tool is Microsoft OneNote to organise notes. I used to just save it all in a bunch of a .doc’s but it’s not effective.

    37. I am a fan of the Franklin Planning system (learned utilizing the paper version) and have the software version loaded on a PDA, Sony Clie (no longer being made).

      Subsequently I break-down the categories to (A)Personal, (B) Personal Business and (C) Career Orientated. Within each category and can priortize by number, i.e. 1, 2, 3 etc. The PDA allows me to easily move the tasks from one day to another, likewise I do the same with calendared events.

    38. I like to use a Moleskine as well, and use some of these sticky index tabs to divide between task areas and writing / brainstorm areas of my Moleskine notebook.

    39. I’m so glad you posted this, Jeremiah. I was developing a little complex thinking, “Am I the only one falling behind and always carrying around my paper journal and to-do list??” I’m glad others have similar offline methods of handling tasks and note-taking as well. Sometimes, I just feel more “nimble” with paper and pen…

    40. Moleskins are good – my issue with them is that they have no alerts! I need to orchestrate tasks and appointments in one interface. Separating calendar from to-do list really makes me forget.

      So now I’m using Life Balance ( It uses a built-in algorithm to balance projects and tasks with no given deadline. It’s quite flexible that way. In it’s newest incarnation it even syncs with iCal, so I have my appointments integrated with my todo-list. The syncing is not too elegant, though, and only oneway???

    41. I actually use both digital and paper. I learned my lesson on relying on digital.

      I too use a Moleskine, and I use it for everything. I’ve already gone through a few but I keep them and archive them. They have all kinds of tags and markings in them for me to find information easy.

      I record all of my phone messages on it, daily tasks, websites of interests, ideas, and the mighty to-do list.

      I also carry with me a reporter pad and flat pen in my back pocket to record information. I’ve also become an intense user of Evernote so that I can take pictures with my cell phone and file away for later digestion.

      No matter what, at the end of the day I input all data into my electronics, but I always print out a hard copy and place it inside my planner.

      It may sound like a lot of work, but I’ve streamlined it to move pretty effetively!

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