Organization,  Productivity,  Time management

My Minimalist Daily Planner

I have spent a small fortune on planning and productivity apps over the years. I’ve vacillated between paper and digital so many times that it borders upon the ridiculous.

While I wanted to go completely digital, not one of the apps I purchased could accommodate my needs so I would end up purchasing even more apps, make the process more complicated, and give up as a result. If I found one I liked it would be out of date within six months to a year unless I paid even more for the new version or moved on to something different.

Paper planning methods were just as annoying. While the Bullet Journal method worked to a degree, I found myself having to migrate to new notebooks so often that it felt like I spent more time migrating than I did actually using the thing. The closest thing to paradise I discovered in the paper realm was a hard back planner that made my wallet scream.

Even worse with the paper methods, I quickly built up a large supply of used notebooks, which is far from ideal when you live in a tiny house.

After my last round of experiments I decided that enough was enough. My goal is to simplify my life, not make it more complicated with stacks of notebooks or constant app purchases.

I wanted a planning and record-keeping method that would use a minimum of space, could be easily viewed on different devices, not be locked into some sort of specialized software, and not cost a single penny.

Since that doesn’t really exist out in the world, I made one.

I modified the original idea in David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. I created a series of folders, naming them in a way that would cause them to sort automatically by date. I eliminated the need for monthly folders with my naming procedure and got to work.

Daily Folders sorted by date.

Each day gets its own individual folder that is named by the date and day of the week. Within that folder I created a text file for my work shift, and individual text files for anything I needed to remember upon that day or tasks I wanted to accomplish.

As the day progresses I rename the task files, placing an “x” in the front of the file name to mark the task as completed. I file relevant documents within that folder by naming them accordingly. A quick search on my computer will bring up personal items, photos, or whatever I am searching for without having to dig through the folders individually.

Daily tasks and notes are stored in the daily folders. Note the “x” in front of the completed tasks.

On the days I have time to journal I create a simple text file in the daily folder to log my personal thoughts.

Recurring tasks get copied into each daily folder in advance based upon when I want to take care of them. While I do keep a separate file with a list of tasks that I don’t need to do on a specific date, that is simple enough to maintain. I just borrowed the old plain-text format from the Taskpaper app I purchased ages ago and access the file from any plain text editor now that Taskpaper is no longer supported.

It has been a few months since I started experimenting with this method. To my surprise, it meets my needs perfectly. I am able to not only keep track of my daily life even on the go (provided I sync beforehand or have wifi access), I can even scan in any journal entries I decide to write by hand so it has actually ended up being a bit better than any method I have tried in the past.

While it does take a few minutes to create a new set of files each month I have no doubts that task could be automated if one ever decided to write a script for the process. I find it meditative to create them manually at the moment so I’ve not been motivated to even bother.

Accessing the Planner on the Move

I recommend storing the main folder (named by the current year) in the cloud if you want to access your planner on the go. For simplicity’s sake, create a folder inside the annual folder named “@Upcoming Schedule” to separate your archives from your future plans.

When you want to create a note for a future date, create a folder for that particular date and insert the note inside. You can copy emails, PDFs, or anything in there as a reminder.

This method is extremely simple and quite effective once you develop the habit of checking your daily folder every morning. I move the previous day’s folder up one level into the annual folder before opening up the folder for the new day to get started.

If you are sick and tired of experimenting with planning methods or paying a fortune for apps and paper planners you may want to consider trying this method. It is simple, platform-independent, future-proof, and completely free.

Even better, you can customize the method based upon how you work and keep track of things in a way that you find most comfortable.


What methods have you tried to keep track of your daily life? Please share your stories in the comments below.

4 Comments

  • John Grebe

    As time goes on my planner practice as become simpler. Around 20 years ago I used a Palm Pilot for a paperless organizer based upon the built in apps which actually worked well given its simplicity. Although as time goes on I’ve found that planner apps have gotten more complicated and harder to use. For the past few years I have used a simple hybrid approach combining a paper pocket notebook and my phone. I use my Android phone to set appointments using Google Calendar. On Sunday I set my task list for the week in my pocket notebook (homemade refillable loose leaf). I start by listing any appointments as tasks on the list with their date, time and task and then list the other things that I need to get done in the given week. I also keep a list of miscellaneous tasks/projects that do not have a set date but would “be nice to get in sometime soon” that I turn to when I am not sure what to work on next. Some days if I have more things that need to get done that day I will start a new page for that day. Any quick notes also get their own page to be processed. Personally I find this works best as it is cheap and simple using what I already have.

    • Annie

      Oh, I remember the old Palm Pilot days! I loved my original Palm Pilot and I still miss my old Lifedrive to this day. Those old apps were so simple to use!

      Like you, I keep a small notebook on my person at all times. I just make them using scrap paper since I have a surplus these days. I’ve ended up being the odd duck manager that always seems to be taking notes, but it is the only way I can keep up with everything that needs to be done with the constant distractions.

      I tried using Google Calendar but I wasn’t happy with it for some reason. Aside from my work schedule, my life is fairly fluid so perhaps that is the reason why. I have things I want to accomplish each day but not at any set schedule. Since I’m a huge fan of paper I used the original GTD method for a while, just sticking notes into the individual daily folders but that ended up being rather bulky with my archival tendencies.

      Good on you for working out a solution using what you already had available! I am so happy for you!

      • John Grebe

        My schedule is also very fluid as I work at home and outside of meetings (1 or 2 a month at most) I have complete freedom of when to work. When it comes to Google Calendar I do not use the official app but the one that came with my phone which syncs with Google Calendar by default. The only real reason why I use it is that it lets me set up remainder alarms and is simple so it is not more trouble than it is worth. It is rare for me to have more than one or two appointments a week, so the use is minimal beyond being able to check at a glance that I do not have a conflict. Still I agree with you that using an electronic cullender for a much fuller or active schedule would be a bit crazy and more trouble than it is worth, assuming one is not part of a larger group. If for example an employee has everybody use the same Google/Outlook Calendar to be able to be respectful of other’s time when it comes to scheduling meetings/shifts then that would be a completely different matter. Technically my job does use Outlook Calendar but I only use it at a bare minimum, mainly to mark off when I will be away on vacation and to accept invites to meetings. True I could just use Outlook on my phone but I refuse to on my personal phone as that would subject MY PERSONAL PHONE to the company’s IT Department for security reasons, which I am not willing to do.

        • Annie

          Hi John!
          You make an excellent point about keeping your work and personal lives separate. Many companies don’t understand that employees have lives of their own.