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7 Ideas for Your Personal Planner System


This fourth and final post on an annual planner is just for ideas. Please contexualize this series properly—I’m certainly not the expert on this stuff. Like you, I just enjoy comparing notes with others and gleaning helpful ideas. Thank you for the positive feedback. If you’re coming in late to the series, previous articles are as follows:

You might also find these articles helpful to this topic:

Throughout this series, I’ve referred to a personal system—the tools you will use to manage information and remind yourself daily of the plans you have made. There are many helpful tools, especially for computer users, but here are the ones I find most helpful and how they are used. Perhaps you’ll find an idea you can use:

1. A Leather Binder—it’s portable, convenient, and never needs recharging. It contains as little as possible (I hate clutter).

  • First section—personal ministry: information on those I’m reaching, ministering to, following up on, etc.
  • Second Section—teaching or preaching: notes for any upcoming speaking times.
  • Third section—my work day: this is the very center of my binder and always has a bookmark so it is easily opened. On the left is a page for today’s notes, on the right is always the most current project list for easy reference and constant perusal (and prayer!). Just behind the project list is a page that lists every priority for that month.
  • Fourth Section—information by ministry: a tab for each ministry, a flow chart, and any information needed. This section also has a tab for major events like Leadership Conference.
  • Fifth Section—calendar: printed two months per page, two years worth, primarily for quick reference.

Anything that doesn’t have to be in this binder isn’t. If I can get to it through the phone or some other way, I try to leave it out of the binder. The binder is for things that must be referenced quickly or physically (like teaching notes), and it’s a landing place for items throughout the day—a place to jot notes, store things, and generally process information to other places.

2. iCal Calendar—there are plenty of good calendar solutions. I use iCal which syncs with my iPhone and also is available online from any computer through MobileMe. It’s very ubiquitous, which makes it very functional. If you are not familiar with “cloud computing” and getting your calendar into a subscribable, ubiquitous format, it’s well worth learning about.

3. Things—there are many good solutions for managing projects, tasks, and details, but this one is just awesome. Every task and project ultimately finds its way into this part of my system. This is the heart of point 2 in the last post—where  tasks and details are placed on specific dates to be remembered at the right time. Things handles tasks, projects, people, areas of responsibility in a way that’s very fluid and simple. It also syncs with iPhone.

4. iDisk—this is only one of many useful solutions for online document storage and accessibility. All key documents are stored on iDisk, synced to all computers that I use, as well as accessible from iPhone. Many things that used to be in my binder were removed because they can be accessed from iDisk through the phone. Having files on iDisk keeps them backed up, sycned across multiple locations, and accessible from basically anywhere.

On iDisk is a simple folder structure (four to be exact). They are as follows: Ministries (wherein resides a folder for each ministry, more for long-term storage), Current Projects (where anything related to a present project or event rests), Key Docs (a folder containing the documents used most frequently), and Teaching Notes (a folder with all outlines). All other files are archived elsewhere.

5. Evernote—worthy of its own post! Evernote is a free service that allows you to store almost anything: text, files, webclippings, audio, photos, etc. It’s simply incredible! The Evernote team is amazing—having developed a web client, a desktop (Mac or Windows) client, and mobile clients for all the popular platforms. Presently I’m using Evernote for all dictation (which means dictation can be done from anywhere and my secretary has access to it immediately over the web), phone calls (by simply creating a note of all calls that need to be made or returned), trips/itineraries (a place for all information related to any travel), receipts (stored snapshots of any receipt I need to keep), and writing research (notebooks for saved research related to upcoming projects).

To be honest, Evernote is so awesome, I’m barely scratching the surface. It’s like having another memory. I’m still in the mode of trying to retrain my brain to think of new and better ways to use this tool. It’s an incredible resource, and it’s free!

6. Project List—this is a simple, less-than-interesting excel spreadsheet of all open projects. It’s updated and printed for the binder every couple of days and serves as a constant, ever-present course corrector. It also resides on iDisk and can be accessed easily there as well.

7. Current Items Folder—this is a plain manila folder where I throw every material thing that matters. If I can’t get to it online, then it goes in here for later reference or access.

These things, along with a contact program and a cell phone basically comprise my current system. It changes regularly as life demands. These all boil down to information management—putting information where it is safe, retrievable, reliable, and accessible. In the information age, this is a moving target because we have so much stuff flowing toward us constantly. The more sensibly you can manage information, the more clutter-free and manageable your life will be. I hope these thoughts and this series of articles have encouraged you!

Your turn! What’s in your system that others can benefit from? What questions has this post raised? Add a comment below…

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  • Ok, this is where I officially got lost and overwhelmed. 🙂 My brain and technology are just not “there” yet. But maybe someday. Of course, by then, it’ll be scary to see what you’re doing. 🙂

  • Honestly, don’t sweat the technology—many times, nothing can replace a good old fashioned pen and paper! If you have specific questions about something mentioned, I’d be happy to help. The sync-able calendars, etc. are not all as complicated as they sound, but there certainly is a small growth curve if this stuff is new.

  • Love your 4 articles on ministry and personal year planning. I am a very active laymen in my church and would love to be twice as productive in my personal life, family life and ministry. So I am biting the bullet going to become organized. My only question right now is about how do you set up a ministry flow chart. Thanx again for the pratical teaching.

    • My ministry flow charts are done in InDesign, but there are other programs designed for creating flow charts. These charts are just simple layouts showing names of people how responsibilities fall under those people.

  • A free flowchart application online is called Gliffy:

    Thanks for the article!

  • Thanks for some great information. I have additional item if you are looking for a good online task/todo list I think I found one recently that is proving really useful for me. I use Android platform phone instead of iPhone but states that it has a iphone tool as well. It syncs with my igoogle and my google calander, stores notes, links and can even stores files (not free version). I have recently studied some usage/interaction with GTD and while not perfect it is as close as I have been able to get across multiple platforms. It has transformed quickly into a single todo list for me.

  • Hey Bro Schmidt-one question: how do you categorize “waiting on” items in Things? I use Things on my iPhone and my Mac…but I’ve been having trouble incorporating a “waiting on” list in the program. Any suggestions?

  • Great info, Cary! It’s not the big things we do, it is the little things that pile up into the big things. So many “little” things that will help. One question: Where do you get two years worth of calendars? Franklin/Covey just stays a year ahead.
    Praying for you in this learning time.


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