In the past few years, I've started to gravitate towards a work scheduling / external memory system to keep my projects rolling smoothly. What I've got going now is a three notebook system, which, as you might guess, revolves around three notebooks. Let me give you a brief overview of the system.
I use the three notebooks to record what I plan to do, what I should be doing next and what I have done. The notebooks operate on different timescales. The planning notebook is concerned about quarterly plans. It moves along at a very leisurely pace. The daily notebook sets goals for the day and the week. It's got roughly a week's worth of goals on one spread. The third notebook is the work log. It records what I've been doing, how long it took to do it, and what I learned in the process.
When I start my day, I take a quick look at the planning notebook to remind myself of my medium-to-long-term goals. Then I write the first few tidbits to the work log: simple stuff like "6:30 Woke up, breakfast, shower. 7:30 Start of day. 7:45 Made Opus SA icons in Photoshop. 8:00 -> Write daily goals [x] ...". At the start of the day, I write my goals for the day into the daily notebook. At the start of the week, I also set some higher-level goals for the week.
The level of detail in each of the notebooks is quite different. The planning notebook deals in high-level plans and their measurable results. In it, I write strategic goals with planned quarterly-level tactics on achieving those. The daily notebook has weekly goals that support the quarterly tactics and daily goals that deal with the minutiae of scheduling and achieving the weekly goals. The work log acts more as a short-term memory extension. I use it to plan my next action during the day, keep myself focused and maintain a sense of progress.
With the three notebooks I've got guidance on where I'm headed in the future, what I'm planning to do this week, what I'm going to do today and how that's working out so far. The big idea here is to try and align my short-term actions to my long-term objectives.
As I progress through time, I tweak the goals as the situation changes. Tweaking the goals in turn tweaks the daily goal planning. The goals for the previous days are not the goals for today. This flexibility gives me the ability to respond to changes rapidly without losing sight of the long-term goals.
In conclusion, the three notebooks keep me focused on what I'm doing now and how that's going to help me in the future. The notebooks act as goal-oriented external memories at different timescales. By keeping track of my use of time, they also give me a better sense for how long it takes to do things.
I'll take a closer look at each of the notebooks in part 2 and go through the practical experience in part 3. Thanks for reading! What kind of planning systems do you use to get your work done?