Reader Question: Moleskines and Weekly Goals

Reader Question: Moleskines and Weekly Goals

Trying something new here: reposting a reader’s comment as a question that I thought would be interesting to discuss.

Todd writes (slightly reformatted/reworded by me):

I started using GTD – and found I am too hectic for it – though some of the rules and the tickler do work great for me. I have also started trying out the PCEO, and have a question.
  • I want to try and get everything into Moleskine notebooks. and I am concerned with running out of pages in a particular section.
Conversely I could use some advice from you or your readers on a new system. My issue is that I have weekly goals:
  • Goals have tasks (top level).
  • Top level tasks then have lots of subtasks.
  • I also have random notes, and task related notes.
For example a weekly goal might be to get a design project for a client completed. Tasks would be mockup, send for review, revise sub-tasks, followed by the steps to complete each of those – along with a few pages of notes from the client meeting […] giving direction on the next revision. Thoughts?

Moleskine Expansion

I’m afraid I don’t have any suggestions for hole to expand a Moleskine notebook. Do they need to be Moleskine? What is it about Moleskine that makes it an essential part of your system plan?

A friend of mine used to keep large art journals and he would number them; when one became full, he would just make a new “volume” and move on. Perhaps you could devote an entire moleskine per category, but that would mean you would have to carry around SETS of notebooks. Which might mean you would have to get an AWESOME MOLESKINE CARRYING CASE, but that sort of defeats the purpose of convenience. You could make a Batman-like utility belt and slot moleskines all around them, maybe. Or a Moleskine holster…that would be SWEET.

I used to have the same issues with having sub-catagories in a single notebook. I liked the IDEA of it from a “nice and neat” perspective, but in practice the exact same thing tended to happen: I’d run out of space. I tried using 3-ring binders for a while so I could add/remove paper, but they don’t like flat and frankly I hate the way they feel. I then tried those “clamp-style” binders, but they tended to be fragile in construction. I decided I liked pads of bound paper.

Right now, I tend to carry composition notebooks with me: they’re cheap, relatively small, and–most importantly–they are stiff enough to write on when you don’t have a desk handy. Moleskines also have this advantage, except they’re pretty pricey.

Weekly Tasks with Subtasks

It sounds like you’ve already defined the system, so I’m guessing the issue is that you want resolved is a “good way” to support it. A few additional questions come to mind:

  1. What system are you using now, if any, and what improvements are you hoping to gain?
  2. Is this for yourself, or for assignment to other people?
  3. Is it more important to capture the process trail (for accounting purposes), or to keep on-task and on-target?

For me, I like systems that are self-documenting that can start quickly. Writing down a big but somewhat ambiguous goal like “do project for client A” works well if you know exactly what that means; if the system is for yourself, that’s enough. If you’re communicating this to an employee, it may not be. In these cases, defining the concrete deliverable (i.e. what they’re responsible for delivering) becomes paramount. I emphasize the deliverable, not the task of making the deliverable, in these cases.

A little scaffolding doesn’t hurt either. I did an experiment a while ago where I would sit and THINK THROUGH all the steps that I needed to do to get something complicated done right, and then I made a flowchart that just listed those steps in very simple terms. The test was actually for cleaning the livingroom for the prototype task order up card, the insight being “I know I can clean the livingroom, eventually. But do I really have a process for it?” By writing down all the steps first, I could keep myself on target. It helped that I had a timer going that would BEEP periodically to keep me on task, but I digress.

From a tools perspective, I’ve heard anecdotally that people like using the Task Progress Tracker for project management, because it allows you to list your goals as they come to you under a broad task heading. You could pre-print a few of these out with the steps you need, but the time tracking aspect of it may not be necessary. Likewise, the Emergent Task Timer has a nice bottom-up approach for non-structured workers who nevertheless want to know what they’re getting done.

What you might look into is an index-card based system; I started designing one with the Task Order Up, but it’s not quite what you need. It sounds like you don’t need the time-tracking component, though, instead seeking a system that keeps the task information with support notes in one place. I can kind of see how this would work…it’s an interesting workflow design problem. I will have to try putting one together.

Open Questions

So that’s my off-the-cuff take on this. I know there are tons of other project management solutions out there…what’s worked for the rest of you? What “task management tips” are universal?


  1. MaryC 18 years ago

    For the record, I am a organization junkie.  I’ve used numerous time management systems, not because I am disorganized, just because it’s, well….fun.
    (insert comments about needing a life here)
    Anyway…..most systems utilize some sort of gathering concept as the first phase (ie. all the task/appointments etc. in one location), then some type of sorting must happen, during this phase the decision must be made to either act upon the item immediately or “container” it for later action. It is in the “contained/waiting” phase that subcategories/tasks come into play.  What most people don’t realize, is that the phases then just start over in each subcategory (gather, sort, act or contain).  They treat subcategories as the end of the process.  The real success in time management comes from reveiw.  It is a phase not often stressed in books and seminars, but really does make a difference.  Anything that needs subcategories needs reveiw.  You must go back and reveiw.  The review may need one sentence on an index card/sticky or it may need 300 pages on resource and time expenditures.  Either way review is the only way you ever “finish” a project.
    I am now stepping off the soap box.  Have a great day!


  2. Mark 18 years ago

    I <3 my Moleskine.

    A friend of mine used to carry a notebook around at work that had flexible plastic covers, spiral rings, and the pages that went into it had slits into the punched holes so he could remove pages to file away, or add pages. I think he would buy additional packs of sheets to replenish it when he needed to. I seem to recall him shopping at a specialty office or paper store to find it.

  3. Karl G 18 years ago

    Not an organizational comment, but I tried a whole bunch of notebooks before the moleskine. It’s the only one I can stuff into a pocket and have it come out in good condition. Other notebooks I’ve tried 1) don’t fit 2) fall apart or 3) don’t fold flat so there’s less usable area. In the end, I decided the premium was worth it and bagged a lunch to work to make up for it.

  4. Dave Seah 18 years ago

    MaryC: Wow, thanks for the capsule review of your experiences, and for highlighting that important concept: review! That’s a fantastic practical insight!

    Mark: Very interesting…was it one of the Circa notebooks? I have lusted after them before :-)

    KarlG: Good to know…they DO seem pretty sturdy. I wonder if someone does make a Moleskine holster. I should order that kydex molding kit and make one!

  5. Natalie 18 years ago

    I’m a Moleskine junkie and I wouldn’t trade mine for anything. I don’t categorize anything though because to me the beauty of the “journal” type of notebook is being able to scribble anything anytime anywhere. I’ve done that since junior high, carried around a notebook and scribbled or drew or jot down a shopping list. It’s ONE book, and it’s always with me, and I just move on to another one when I’m done. I mark them by date and I can usually remember about which book I had which thought if I ever need to go back to it. Oh, and I have one with graph pages for design layout ideas, but only when I’m really working. ;)

  6. Todd 18 years ago

    thanks for starting the thread.

    Now to respond to oyur thoughts and questions so far.

    Moleskin?  It does not have to be – but I had abandoned my Palm years ago and gone along.  I have also seen an interesting modification to the Moleskin that would be useful for my weekly goals portion of what I want to achieve.

    I too have used compostion books for notetaking in meetings, they are great and compact.

    Further answers to your questions:

    1) Defined System:
    right now the structure is as you described in your post.  However I am currently managing it on LOTS of sheets of paper and file folders.  It would be nice to have a single – or two – places to go to for any listings of actionable items.  More in depth notes, hard copies of e-mails, etc. would still be filed by the project code.

    This started as an exercise of the IDEA of a single book – I have tried before, and like you have run out room in certian sections.  So this may be a new exercise in futility.

    2) mainly for myself, though occasionally a task/sub-task is assigned to an employee.

    3) on-task and on-target: mainly acting as my “ext actions” list and as a targetable goal of what to accomplish for the day.

    I also agree with you about concrete deliverables.  I leave all the subtasks for those up to the individual employee rather than micromanage.

    I mainly want to schedule out my week with goals, break those goals into tasks/sub-tasks for the weekdays, and figure out a solution for the associated meeting notes that then filter back into the week as tasks/sub-tasks/action items.

  7. problemlöser 18 years ago

    i am a fan of the moleskin pocketbooks, so that’s what i use mostly.

    for my work notes i combined several moleskine hacks to my own system which works perfect – for me at least.

    I tried to keep sections in a single book but that never really worked out. now i have an inverntory in the back of my moleskine and mark related pages with forward-/backward links.

    for appointments and things i need to do i use your compact calendar (adopted it a bit), a “to do” and a “wainting for” template from the d.i.y. planner all held together with a binder clip. last but not least i have a “to do” folder in my email client.

    all my appointments are kept in a moleskine compact calendar. in the back are index cards which contain GTD categories but i am too lazy to actually follow GTD all the way through.

    i don’t really need to keep an hourly record of work items. our clients are usually billed by days. in rare cases i just note the start time and the end and that’s that. that works pretty well since i don’t have to deal with many interruptions.

  8. Jason 18 years ago

    I’ve given up on Moleskine’s hard-bound notebooks; they’re too expensive, and they seem too nice to sully with day-to-day task lists. What I do like, though, are their Cahier series (see here). Same size as the notebooks, but they come in 3-packs, and have saddle-stitched cardboard binding. A 3-pack of the small size usually runs about $6, and I find myself carrying them more than I did the notebook.

  9. CharlesOS 18 years ago

    Another very interesting article and reader comments.
    From personal perspective I am enjoying immensely (productivity aside for a second) using my first Moleskines. The pocket one is very good for collecting and then following review (see Mary C’s comment) transferred wheerever when decision as to action or inaction has been made. This is accompanied by the 18mth planner. I really enjoy using these and am finding it very useful as a workingtool/s but what I would say is that the longer I go into my Moleskine experience the more convinced I am becoming that maybe the easiest system would be a type of Moleskine on ring binders (heavier I know) so if I could find Molskine paper in A5 then ultimately I could revert to my filofax (ringbinder system) which would make moving things forward so much easier.
    The important factor at this early stage is that it appears to be working and reasonably well.
    In all the talk about GTD and the necessity for determining Next Actions we must, I feel, remember that one of the most important decisions that you might make is not your Next Action but rather your Next Inaction……… other words a decision not to do something yet or at all. In my money market days as a trader frequently the decision of the day was not to get involved. Amazing the number of times that a deliberate decision not to do something certainly avoided financial loss if it didn’t produce an actual profit.