The Movable Office

Too Much Stuff to Carry

Until now I've gotten by without needing a daily planner or daytimer type of organizer. But I've just added on two big projects that I'm doing as a volunteer and staying on top of things is getting out of control. I regularly cart two canvas shoulder bags around with me to and from work with about a half dozen file folders filled with all types of papers and phone numbers and notes from phone calls.

I looked at the planners at an office supply store last night but was hoping not to spend the prices they wanted. I am wondering if people have found creative solutions to manage their papers for busy projects they're involved with from multiple locations without springing for the expensive planners.

Do-it-yourself advice is welcome although my time is already so tightly scheduled. So my dilemma is that I'm not sure if the "cost" of my time to create some system from scratch will outweigh the cost of buying the organizer/planner.

Carry Along Office

Abandon the canvas totes and invest in one or two (as needed) portable files. I don' think that is what they are called, but they have a handle on top, lock and will hold file folders. Some of them may even hold hanging folders to help you separate file folders. The nice thing is if you drop them, your stuff stays in them. They hold about 8 to 10 inches of files. Pack such things as pens, pencils, a small calculator and whatever else you need in an old fashioned pencil bag (stores are full of them right now for back to school).

Buy yourself a 1" notebook and create your own planner. On your computer, print out months and days. Put the current month on top, and mark priority items for each day (your weeks to do carpool pick up of kids, standing medical or dental appointments for yourself or other family members, meetings unrelated to your work).

Do a daily sheet with half-hour blocks from the time you start until the time you quit - some people's will be 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and others will be from 9: a.m. to 8 p.m. Mine runs from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Stick red dividers marked with names of months and blue dividers with Week 1, Week 2, etc. in front of the appropriate sheets. Do a year's worth of months at a time, but only a couple of month's worth of day sheets at a time.

Put in a whole year's calendar sheet and X out any days you are absolutely unavailable - your anniversary, your children & husband's birthdays, any annual family days or activities. Be sure to mark those days off on your monthly calendar and on your daily sheets as well. When you add October's daily sheets, remove August's, staple the corner and store them. Keep them for 5 years since you never know when you might want or need to go back and refer to what you did on a particular date.

From Paper to Palm Pilot

If you are just looking for a calendar you can find an inexpensive one at any department or stationery store without the expense of a large 3 ringed planner. Personally when I first got my planner (which my job required me to have) I liked the fact that I could keep my appointment calendar, address book/rolodex, and notes in one area. It was well worth every penny I paid because the calendar insert for the following year was only a few dollars.

I personally liked the set up of the Day Runner. It wasn't as expensive as a Franklin Planner but had most of the same features. I have also used the Mead planner. It was cheaper than the Day Runner because I found it at Kroger with the school supplies rather than buying it at Staples.

I recently switched to a Palm Pilot and it is worth every penny. I can back up all of my data on my computer in case my batteries die. I can get a lot of free programs off of the Internet including e-books. I have a few business shareware e-books on my Palm for killing time waiting for an appointment, etc. I find that I carry my Palm Pilot more places and use it more often since it's smaller than any planner and holds more "stuff". The price was right because I was able to convince my office to buy it for me instead of sending me to a seminar on how to be more productive. The plan worked so well that my boss bought Palm Pilots for the rest of the office!

A Book With Lots Of Advice

I found a great book at the library that might help Becky with her day planner decision. The book is Manage Your Time by Ronald W. Fry. It is not too big (about 125 pages) and offers some excellent time management advice and systems you make yourself inexpensively and quickly. These systems work alone or in conjunction with a calendar, planner, etc.

These systems can work as ongoing management or as a crisis management system for short duration. The book is well written, easy to understand, and quick to read. It is geared toward high school and college students but the principles work in real life, too! I have used a day-planner for many years but find the information in this book very helpful and sometimes superior to the day-planner system.

Outlook Has It All

I have found Microsoft Office 2000 Outlook works for me. I have all my Contacts listed by category; I use the Tasks to list my projects and time-lines; the Journal keeps up with amount of time spent on the project, listed by category; I use the Calendar with its reminder for 2 days or 1 hour, etc; and finally, the main pop-up page has my to-do lists and list of appointments for the week.

I had used this for my professor-boss and when I retired this summer, I set it up for my volunteer work and quilting projects. I divide my tasks into 10 steps, which makes it easier to determine the percentages finished for a work-in-progress. I also organize my paper copies into files and easy-to-carry folders in my filing cabinet, but if I have the information on a disk, I just grab that and pop it in the computer where I'm going if I need it.

I write grants for a non-profit, and have to keep up with many suspense dates. Therefore, I set up a separate Contact, Journal, and Tasks for that, using the same process.

Homemade Forms

I made a wonderful planner for myself with a three-hole binder, regular size paper, and a printer. I used a software application called "Calendar Creator" which I bought at Staples for $9.95.

For instance, in my planner is one page that contains the whole month at the beginning of each section. Tab dividers separate sections. I buy them because they're fairly cheap, but they're not that difficult to make. Then I've got a page for each week containing timeslots that I fill in as needed. You can also create individual task lists, and daily schedules if needed. The Better-Organized web-site has forms like "To-Do List", "Monthly Bill-Paying Form", and "Task and Follow-up List", and many others.

Pocket Files Work Well

When I worked as a home health nurse I had to remember scads of information for multiple clients. I tried several different systems, but the easiest, least expensive method I found was to purchase an accordion-type file set up with 31 pockets and one with 12 pockets.

If something needed done by the 15th of the month I put it in pocket number 10 of the 31-day file with the due date on the top to ensure I got it done by the 15th. For projects due in three or four months I used the 12 pocket file (1=January, etc.). At the end of each month I would file the next month's work into the 31-day file.

Every day the first thing I would do was check the pocket for that day and work on those projects. This really worked for me, and the files are not expensive. The best thing is that the files can be used until they fall apart, and do not need replaced every month like so many of the organizers. I would also keep a cheap address book in the front pocket for quick reference to phone numbers and addresses.

Electronic Organizers to the Rescue

I'd like to suggest an electronic organizer. I ditched my paper about two years ago and have never been happier. It was becoming difficult to lug that cumbersome thing around every day!

The organizer I use is Starfish's Sidekick. I think the software cost $60.00, but the best thing is you don't have to buy refills come Jan.1, and it installs directly on your PC. It consists of the daily/weekly/monthly calendar, a database or telephone directory for names, and a memo deal where you can keep notes on things.

I use the calendar daily (can't live without it!), and the database, which I customized to help me keep track of business associates, clients, and prospective clients, plus my database of media contacts.

You can print out the calendar page every day in case you need to cart it to and from different places. Sidekick will also synchronize with PDA's, in case you go that route.

As far as organization goes, I file all my jobs separately in file folders. I use my calendar to help me keep track of things to do for each project. I list deadlines, tasks, telephone calls, etc. It is easy to move items to later dates in case projects stall or are delayed. If you use the calendar diligently, you should be able to cut down the amount you are carrying around to only those items, which are essential for each day's tasks.

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