Planning meltdowns (and how Rocketbook cured them for me).

My collection of Rocketbooks
My collection of Rocketbook products.

Personal Organisation is Personal!

Personal Organisation is, well, personal. No one method suits everyone and it’s not just about your planning method, we live in an age where you have a choice of technology, ranging from good old paper to paper-like ultra thin tablet devices.

Some people just work with a ToDo list on a notepad, scribbling in the tasks of the day on the corner of their ‘page per day’ diaries and others like multi-level task lists and project managers on a PC, but whichever you choose, it is about what works for you.

There are however a significant number of people (as I have recently discovered) who, like me, suffer from a kind of ‘Organisational Nirvana Hunt’ bouncing from planner to planner, system to system. We sometimes end up in a state of ‘Paralysis by Analysis’, having organised ourselves to a standstill and finding ourselves staring at a plan that isn’t talking to us, we sit head in hands cradling a stress headache, unable to do anything.

Planner Tech – From Paper to Paper like.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a gadget addict. In the 1990’s I was nicknamed ‘Inspector Gadget’ by a colleague (after the cartoon character) because I never did anything the easy way when there was some sexy technology that could really screw things up and by the 00’s I was totally reliant on Microsoft Office and especially Onenote and Outlook.

There is nothing wrong with Outlook and the more recent integration of MS ToDo is great (although the integration is only really achieved if you access Outlook through a browser) but one thing I have always found that it lacked was a really easy to use GUI. It’s familiar, largely due to is global reach (unless you are using an Apple or Linux based product, your company probably has you using Outlook) but it somehow just doesn’t flow visually and I find that it does not help get your life in order!

Another thing that really appealed to the gadget addict in me was taking notes in Onenote on my company touchscreen laptop, oh yes, very high tech. The trouble is that I often found myself also using the laptop for Powerpoint presentations so taking notes at the same time is not possible. I have owned an Amstrad PDA600, assorted Psion devices, Palm Pilots and of course the ubiquitous iPhone, but if I am honest, whilst all of them (yes including the PDA600) were great in some way or other, for me, none of them took me to planning paradise.

On the paper side of things, I was a Filofaxer in the 80’s and in the early 1990’s was issued by my then employer, Telemecanique Ltd, with a very expensive Time Manager System from TMI International. Now, the Time Manager was a beast of an organiser, backed up with training workshops, manuals and lifestyle books and I was completely drawn into that world.

My long serving and well travelled Time Manager, ready for eBay

Time Manager was a good system but for a planning addict it was also an easy way to get trapped into over planning and I can clearly remember having a review with my then marketing manager because he was concerned that unusually for me, my productivity had dropped. Suspecting that he knew why, he took at look at the massively detailed plans in the Time Manager and realised that had literally planned myself to a stop.

Rocketbook – The cure for planning ‘brain fog’

And so it continued, me switching from one system to another looking for that perfect solution, especially making repeated efforts to make Outlook work for me, a situation that just kept stressing me out. Then, about a year or so ago, a colleague showed me a notepad that he had bought. It was from a company called Rocketbook, and this notepad was different for a couple of big reasons. Firstly it was reusable, you could write on it with a Pilot Frixion pen and then erase it with water and a cloth, but also it came with an app that made scanning your notes easy and automatically sent them to tools like Onedrive, Onenote, Google drive etc. so that you had the convenience of paper note taking but then had easy access to the notes within MS Office apps.

I was hooked, this was the best of both worlds and what’s more I found that I really liked the feel of writing on the pages of the Rocketbook, with the ink free flowing onto the pages. You have to give the ink longer to dry than on a traditional piece of paper but after a short while you stop smudging everything that you write!

So how did this help with my organisational problem? Once in the Rocketbook world you find yourself watching youtube tips and tricks videos as there are so many ways to adapt Rocketbooks and whilst doing this I can across the video below

The Rocketbook Panda Planner

Apart from the fact that the Rocketbook guys spacesuits always make me laugh, this video caught my attention as it was a planner based on Rocketbook tech, so I dug deeper. The Panda Planner is all about planning for what you want to get out of life rather than just ‘here are your tasks, do them’ and is set up so that you actually have a plan to achieve your goals. For me, having just taken early retirement and now working self employed as a copywriter, it is perfect. Since most days are my own, the Panda Planner stops one day from blending into another whilst letting your goals drift off into the distance.

What it isn’t is a planner like Time Manager. Yes you plan the steps you need to take to achieve what you want out of life, but it doesn’t have task sections, or multi layered task planning and that’s kind of the point of it. I won’t go into detail here as the video below gives a great introduction to the Rocketbook Panda Planner, so suffice to say that task management sits outside of the planner but you bring your projects and ToDo items into the Year, Month, Week and Day plans along with your goal actions.

In my case I still use Onenote to manage my copywriting projects and keep notes on progress. I also have Amazon Echoes around my home so my ToDo list is on the Alexa iPhone app and the task are added mostly verbally, but however you manage your tasks and projects, the Panda Planner brings them all together. Its pages are clearly laid out and being an physical document it sits in view all day, unlike Outlook, which even with a multiple monitor set up, inevitably gets hidden behind your other apps as you work.

The planner also gets you to spend time on reflection about the day ahead and the week just gone which I find helps me to really make sure that I am spending my time and energy wisely.

A great overview of the Rocketbook Panda Planner

Cure yourself

In summary, if you are someone who really struggles with finding a planning system that helps you feel in control, and keep your mind clear and calm, then I can highly recommend the Rocketbook Panda planner.

Rocketbook – Smart Notebook – Reusable Notepads (getrocketbook.co.uk)

PS: By co-incidence I found this this blog entry that was posted by Rocketbook with ideas about managing your To Do lists, take a look:

The Loneliness of the long-distance worker

5 tips for surviving lockdown homeworking

“…..so with a countrywide lockdown imminent we have decided that all field sales visits will end, the office will close and all team members will be home based until further notice”

Photo by Serpstat on Pexels.com

And breathe! 

For a busy field sales engineer, this announcement is a blessing in disguise.  I have the chance now to make CRM a shining example of self-discipline.  My company car will be restored to showroom glory and I can step up my weekly run to a daily challenge and turn myself into a healthy Adonis.

I don’t know about you, but the announcement of lockdown really felt like a chance to reset my work life balance?

There was something therapeutic about clearing all appointments from my Outlook calendar, removing tasks from the ToDo app which were now irrelevant since I was to work from my home office and no longer feel the pressure of filling my day with meetings.  And so this is how lockdown started, full of determination and self-motivation.

Skip forward a couple of months though, and now that early optimism was fading.  The occasional chat with a colleague on Teams was starting to be reminiscent of the depressed and clueless vultures in Disney’s Jungle Book.

After that initial phase of planning and tidying, the days started to drag out.  The weather was nice but being neither furloughed nor on holiday meant that being away from the mobile phone or laptop was not an option.  Very soon my Laptop and monitor had in fact come to feel like a wall between me and the sunny world outside, a world apparently filled with (socially distanced) happy families, joggers and car washers!

What to do?

I now had a clear choice, wallow in self-pity or find a way to break up the days whilst still achieving what my employer expected of me.  The first step was to ‘Get Out’.  Each day I would either run, walk or both, before work or often in place of the grazing that had become the norm at lunchtime.  I initially used this as a time to catch up on my favourite podcasts but in the end, I realised that the best therapy was to enjoy natures playlist.

With so few cars around, not only could you hear the birdsong and the breeze, but they were made perfect by the sweet-smelling air that had replaced the smell of diesel in the morning.

man in white t shirt and gray denim jeans outfit on green grass field

Photo by Vlad Bagacian on Pexels.com

Next job was to tackle the loneliness of the long days, and Microsoft Teams provided the answer. 

It turned out that we were all feeling this isolation and the singletons amongst us felt this even more acutely.  At least I had my long-suffering wife to grumble to of an evening (she is a key worker so still had a life outside the house) whilst they had no one to share with.

So we setup a scheduled meeting on MS Teams twice a day that the whole team would attend. Work talk was forbidden, this was to be a sanctuary of idle chit chat, quizzes, and the occasional moment of inspiration.  And now it involved the whole team, so the bored silences ended and a real feeling of being in this together developed.

The final action that made the team rediscover its mojo was to stop hiding behind email.  This had become a bad habit that we had all slipped into.  We started calling our customers.  Actually talking to them! MS Teams meetings with these customers became a regular event and these developed into what one of my colleagues describes as ‘Deminars’ a combined webinar and product demonstration.  But the key thing though, was the human contact.

woman using laptop doing a video call

Photo by Matilda Wormwood on Pexels.com

5 Tips for surviving lockdown homeworking.

Here then are my 5 tips:

  1. Exercise – Make it a ‘must do’ and enjoy natures playlist
  2. Talk to colleagues daily – Not about work, about them & how they are
  3. Talk to customers – They are often at home too and glad of the human contact
  4. Don’t hide behind email – This can just make your isolation worse
  5. Routine – Keep a routine, it helps to avoid drifting into slob mode

So, how’s it going for me?

Well, I have stuck to my exercise routine (mostly), running most days, so I am slightly less moon faced than at the start.  I now see my Laptop as a useful tool again and not a barrier to the world, in fact it’s where my friends are to be found.  My car is only slightly less grimy than it was and the less said about CRM the better…..no one’s perfect!