Around this time last year, I wrote a piece about how I was intending to keep on top of my planning with a new diary I had kindly been sent a copy of. At the time I was unsure about how it would work for me, but I was certainly prepared to give it a go. Now if the title of this article hasn’t already given the game away, the answer is that it sadly didn’t work out for me.
To be fair that is more a comment on me than on the diary (sounds like an awful break-up story – it’s me, not you). I just found it was too prescriptive, and unless that is exactly in tune with your needs then a highly formatted diary is always going to clash with your own personal wishes for the format.
However I did like some elements of the diary, which I didn’t want to lose. The chances of me finding a new diary with 2020 already started seemed highly unlikely, so I did the next best thing. I made my own diary. Yes, I made a DIY diary and I thought I should share how this came about with you.
What I like in a diary
More than a notebook, a diary is so personal. Some people like a day-to-page desk format whilst others like a pocket weekly layout. My Dad always liked a slimline monthly planner that Biella kindly sent him all the way from Switzerland each year, but it would never have worked for me. So my DIY diary is very much that – my diary. That said, here is what I wanted from it.
Above all else, I wanted it to be based around tasks, almost like a glorified to-do list. My time is not overly taken up with appointments, and anyway I use an online calendar for that as I find it easier to manage my time that way. My diary was all about getting me to focus on what tasks needed to be done by when.
Long term/Short term goals
The diary also needed to be able to schedule in tasks over time, not just for that day or week. It needed to put jobs in against a longer-term plan so that I was sure I was working to a goal, and could prioritise around that.
I am restless and so are my diary needs. What I might have started the year thinking I needed might soon be a bad fit. A DIY diary would give me the option to change it as my needs changed.
I really did only need a Monday to Friday diary. With zero need for weekends I decided not to give over any valuable real-estate to Saturday or Sunday.
For obvious reasons it would need to be easily printable, and so it ended up as an A4 diary format.
The DIY diary result
Armed with my requirements I set about making my ultimate diary. So what did I end up with? Well it was divided into three basic sections –
Yearly – This was a list of repeating tasks that I needed to remind myself to do each month, or quarter. A nice and simple checklist.
Monthly – This is where it really made sense for me. I would set out a longer-term aim (a quarterly goal), as well as a monthly aim. I worked on the basis that if I could achieve one big aim well that was better than several incomplete ones. These aims would be big sky plans, something that really made a difference in the end.
Below that I then set out tasks for the month which would be graded as essential, important or low-priority. Unsurprisingly the aim was to always get the essential tasks done by the end of the month, try and get the important ones done, and see what happened with the rest.
Any tasks not done at month-end would simply migrate over to the next month. The quarterly aim might also morph into a completely new aim as time progressed.
Weekly – And so the theme continues. Tasks would trickle down to the week ahead which would be planned out by Monday morning. Each week had a single aim, each day a focus around a particular area, and then tasks would be assigned. I would allow myself three must-do tasks and the rest would be on a take-it-as-it-comes basis. Each week any incomplete tasks would be rolled over to the next.
Back Burner – There is a further sheet which I have as a collect-all receptacle for those tasks that I just know have no immediate place in the diary. Not yet ready to be binned but not good enough to be a priority. Put them here and maybe one or two will ever see the light of day. The rest can be gracefully put out to pasture.
Isn’t this just a Bullet Journal, I hear some people ask? Well, yes and no. I like to think of it as a To-Do Diary, and I failed with bullet journals because they were too complicated a system. Mine was pared down to the basics of keeping a list of what to get done that month, week and day, but always by looking ahead at where I was heading. So it was similar but not the same. Oh, and I just used one symbol – job done gets a tick.
So, did it work?
Well…(deep breath). I’d love to say yes, and I’d be lying if I said no. The truth lay somewhere in between. It was working quite well at first, and then something happened around March… Yes, Covid really did knock my routine for some months. Suddenly having a to-do based DIY diary didn’t work when I a) had almost no work, and b) was attempting to home-school a reluctant 7-year-old. So the diary gathered dust for a while.
But the silver lining to this story is that it has come back to life. I have resurrected it just recently in line with work (slowly) coming back and the now 8-year old going back to school. And after several months apart I think we are still a good fit for each other.
When might this not work?
Well, if you want something pre-packaged and ready to go then a DIY diary is probably more work than you are looking for. It requires time adjusting it to get the right format.
Also, it isn’t very portable, it needs a folder or clipboard to keep it even vaguely ordered and tidy, and it certainly doesn’t look very professional if you need to project the right image. It also needs to be printed out.
But making your own diary is really about fitting a diary precisely around your own needs. Which is surely a good thing? If you have struggled to find the right diary format then why not have a go and make your own?
Please note that is for Nanosphere newsletter subscribers only. If you are not already a subscriber then click here to sign-up and you will be sent the access password for this members area.