We’ve all done it before, purchased a diary for next year in December and promised ourselves “we’ll stick with it this time” and then three weeks in it’s at the bottom of a drawer already coated in a fine layer of dust. I’ve been guilty of this many times over the years and often tried to convince myself that my memory was good enough not to need a planner. We’re kidding if we believe that about ourselves, human memory is fallible and limited; a perfectly photographic memory only exists in the movies. How do we stick to a diary, consistently use it, and refer to it to better ourselves? Below I’ll outline a system that works perfectly for me and while everyone is different, you’ll likely glean some useful tips for your own forward-looking tome.
Obviously, a diary of some description. Some people prefer a less-structured approach than the rigid template of a diary and for those people I’d recommend a dot-grid notebook and taking a gander at the Bullet Journal system. When picking a diary, pay close attention to it’s size; is it going to be comfortable to carry around everywhere while still large enough to the minutiae of your day (we’ll use it for a lot more than just appointments + meetings)? An A4 diary with a page for each day might be good for fending off zombies but could be too cumbersome if you have to carry it everywhere. I’d recommend a page-a-day for A6-A5 size diaries and for A4 use a week to a double-page spread. Try and find a diary that doesn’t give less space to Saturday and Sunday; we all have lives outside the 9-to-5 keeping track of happenings outside of work is important. For me, I settled on this A5 daily diary from Kikki.K for not just the above reasons, but because it was a different colour than the black/tan leather traditional office grimoire.
A selection of brightly coloured pens is also a must. Before you dismiss this idea as too childlike, unprofessional, or feminine for your tastes, there is a really good reason for this explained in the next section. Optionally, and if you feel it adds to your diary, stickers.
Colours And Symbols
Pick colours to represent different major facets of your life and use those colours when adding notes or appointments related to them. As a guide, try the following:
- Dark green - work
- Dark blue - outing
- Pink - self-care
- Purple - later notes/reflections on a time/event
- Orange - habits (finished a book, went for a cycle, etc)
- Black - other events and notes
This reduces the monotony of using one shade throughout the diary and reduces mental effort required when going back or forward to review something. It also adds a level of interactivity when reading and writing. The purple and orange might seem a bit out-of-place right now, but will be explained in the next section.
Create coloured symbol for priorities, markers, etc. Not everything you do in a day is life and death, by marking things with their importance or status you can work out what to drop when the world is in danger and track what you’ve already done. Here’s the current setup I use:
- Green star - primary
- Blue square - secondary
- Pink dot - tertiary
- Purple tick/cross/arrow => completed/not done/tomorrow
All this preparation might seem overkill for tracking a meeting each day and ensuring basketball practice doesn’t clash with the anniversary dinner, but that’s because we’re not stopping at that. If all you do is write down when your next TPS report is due, you’re unlikely to refer to your diary as regularly and be more likely to miss a birthday coming up until it’s too late.
Write down every major thing you have scheduled during a day. Put in each meeting, appointment, and drinks invite as you make plans and it becomes much easier to keep abreast of coming events and avoid double-booking.
During a regular day you might need to pick up drycleaning, review the Johnson account, call the bank, refill the car, reply to Regina’s email, etc. Dedicate one section of each daily spread with a list of everything you need to do, using the appropriate colour from before for each item. Put a symbol based on priority and as you complete each one, tick it off. Feel free to add and cross off things throughout the day as tasks appear and change. It can be good to start the list the night before so you’re prepared when you wake up, or first thing when you get to work.
After scheduled events or when an idea strikes, write notes. Were there action points from that last meeting or did that movie have that actor you remember from that show? This helps cement concepts and information in your mind more than just hearing or reading something.
I want to cycle and complete more video games in 2017 so I note down achievements about these in my diary. I write down every distance (and mark any personal bests) and I put a two-line review of any game I finish. Having physical records of achievements interspersed with your written daily life helps keep one goal-oriented.
Noting down any important and repetitive things you need to do during the day. I keep a tally in the top-left corner of the water I drink each day because I live 10 metres from the sun and dehydration is a real danger. I track my mood in the margins with an emoticon which, along with the notes I write, helps me determine if something is causing undue stress or sadness. If you have daily medication, why not put a mark or draw a small pill when you’ve taken it for the day?
The sky is pretty much the limit when it comes to personalisation and other uses. In addition to the boave, I write down three things I’m grateful for each day (pink pen at the bottom) which forces me to consider the positives in life, even on bad days. I write down silly ideas for Twitter bots, potential things I could cook, and really bad puns. My diary has a calendar at the start of each month in which I write down some small goals for that month (write a blog post, review two books, etc) and then I mark in red each day I complete part of the goal. If you find part of your system doesn’t work out, change it. Start using a different pen for work events or stop tracking something that’s no longer relevant.
I leave you with a mocked up example page from my current diary: