Monday, 28 January 2013


I always have to have a daily diary which has time slots because I tend to use time-boxing for my to-do. Apart from the day that I ricked my back and couldn’t do anything at all for more than five minutes, I usually do a task to completion then tick it off my to-do list. [See here for a nice article on time-boxing]
At the start of the day, I look at my to-do list and then allocate when I am going to do it. Sometimes it’s as loosely allocated as ‘morning’, ‘afternoon’, ‘evening’, but more often it has a specific time blocked out for the task.

Now I know that there are conflicting schools of thought on this – some think you should time-box and some think it’s the worst thing in the world. I think it depends on how your brain works and that there probably isn’t a one-size fits all in any realm of life, never mind time-management. If it works for you, do it. If it doesn’t, don’t.

And to be honest, although I normally time-box it doesn’t always work for me! Here’s some of the reasons why it does; and why it doesn’t.

Why time-boxing does work for me:
1. It holds me to a timetable and I get things done
I can be prone to procrastinating and getting distracted by almost anything, depending on the day and on my mood. I have a 30 minute sand-timer and when I really, really need to get on with something and can feel the twitchiness in me start up, I time-box something into every half-hour (including breaks) and use my sand-timer. Works (almost) every time.

2. It reminds me how many hours there are in a day
When introducing something new (for example, I’ve been trying to incorporate yoga and some strength training etc. into my daily schedule) it makes me more aware that, since all of my time was allocated to something before I introduced the new thing, some of that something has to go – whether that’s watching TV, reading blogs, whatever. It reminds me that there are only 24 hours in a day, however much there is on my list to do and that unless I decide what I’m not doing, I won’t be able to fit in the things I have decided I am doing.

3. It makes me work out where my day has gone
Some weeks I wonder what on earth I have done and then I can look back through my time-boxed, ticked lists and think, “Oh. That’s what I did.”

4. It stops me from over-loading my day
There are times when I see a blank, unboxed day and I think I am Wonderwoman and write a massive to-do list. Unless I time-box it, there is every possibility that my optimism will hugely outweigh my ability and the laws of physics. Time-boxing makes me actually think how long it will actually take to re-paint the house and that half an hour quite probably isn’t enough!

Why time-boxing doesn’t work for me:
1. I can feel too restricted...
…and then I rebel and go ‘sod it all’ and do nothing. Sad but true! If I feel too much like I’m working to a timetable, all the time, it makes me mutiny.

2. Unless I time-box all day it can all go a bit wrong
This can be a major issue for me as I often only time-box the ‘working’ day (whether this is actually at paid work or my writing days) but then assume I will shoe-horn loads of things into the evening. If I don’t time-box the evening, then I forget that in order to do the ‘extra’ I have to remove something else. I should really have the whole day planned out, including the evening, but if I do that, then I end up rebelling (see no. 1 above!).

3. It can be inflexible
If I’ve time-boxed the whole day and then something pops up unexpectedly, then there isn’t enough fluidity in the system to cope. That’s partly why I only schedule my day on the actual day, so that if that day has already gone awry, I can adapt and if the day before went other than planned, I can incorporate that into the new day.

4. My estimates for how long everything takes can be wrong
For example, I always think it will take me half an hour to stretch and shower after a run. It never does. It always takes nearer to 45 minutes (despite the fact I know this, I’m not very good at remembering it when I’m planning the day!). In the same vein, I can expand a task to fill the time I allocated it. Or feel frustrated when the time I allocated has come and gone and I am nowhere near finishing it. Getting the ‘guesstimate’ right comes with practice though (and is helped by noting how long things actually took).

Overall, I work better with time-boxing than not. What do others do?

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Feeling so small

I apologise in advance: this isn’t about filofaxes, Mulberry, paper, pens or ink. It’s about lives. Feel free to skip this post if you’re here looking for frivolous chatter about inconsequential stuff. Feel free to read on if you’re not.

It’s been one of those weeks. One that leaves me weeping at the inequality in the world and frustrated by my inability to make it all better.

This week, the actor Tom Hiddleston is in Guinea with Unicef – my favourite actor working with my favourite charity. You can follow the diary of his trip here. I have been following with mixed emotions. Although I have not been to Guinea, I have had very similar experiences to his but in Malawi – a country that many of you will already know is a place which stole my heart and broke it in pretty much the same manoeuvre. I have never met Tom Hiddleston, but in interviews he always comes across with great warmth, sincerity and humour. In the videos he posted about preparing to go, he was hugely excited about the trip and I worried that the reality on the ground would hit him hard. The way he has written of his experiences since then would imply he has indeed been deeply affected by what he has seen – starvation, poverty, inequality… and I can understand it entirely. Yes, I had watched all of the TV pictures from Africa during famine after famine, but nothing, nothing prepares you for going to a hospital and seeing children who are so ill they will die before the ward round has finished, from something utterly preventable if only there had been better education and some food. Malawi broke my heart in such a way that I think I will never recover but I suppose if it keeps me fighting for these kids, that’s not such a bad thing. I wonder if Tom Hiddleston will end up feeling the same?

Following on in the same vein, I updated my Rotary Club this week on the progress of Chimwemwe – the charity in Malawi that I helped to found and which I support. Chimwemwe works with homeless children to support them and help them return to education. These are the kids I suppose I fight the hardest for because I know them. I have seen them move from sleeping under a tree on cardboard sheets to having shelter, food and education. We might only help a handful of children – not even a drop in the ocean of poverty and inequality that there is all over the world – but to those children, we have made a difference. I will be in Malawi in a fortnight to see them again. It is always a bittersweet time seeing them – the wound in my heart gets ripped open anew, and then the kids smile at me and hold their new uniforms up with pride, and a giant sticking plaster gets slapped over the hole. Last time I was there, I asked them what they wanted to do in their life. It was so wonderful to hear their dreams because they had started to believe that there was a life beyond the streets and that nothing was closed to them any longer. That’s what I fight for.

But I feel as if however hard I fight, however loudly I shout, I am such a small voice. Which is why I was heartened by the launch of the IF campaign this week.
There’s enough food for everyone IF
  • we help the poor feed themselves
  • taxes are paid in poor countries
  • companies are more transparent
  • we use land for food not fuel
Please, if you haven’t signed up already, do it now? If everyone shouts, surely someone will listen?

Apologies to those of you looking for inconsequential trivia about things that just don’t matter. I really needed to write this.

Friday, 25 January 2013


My diary pages are dull. Functional and glorious quality (being by Mulberry and not Filofax), but nonetheless, when I look at my diary pages, they seem so staid in comparison with others’ diaries.

Gorgeous quality; perfect size; a bit dull...
I’ve never been much of a ‘diary full of stickers’ person, but, after seeing The Wonderful Life of Alice’s post about her masking paper stickers and then browsing rikyandnina on Etsy for two hours a while, I caved in and bought myself some stickers and some (more) washi tape (though that might not get used in the diary).

I’ll post again when they arrive so you can see the mad selection for yourselves!

Meanwhile, on a serious note, please can I urge everyone to sign up for the IF campaign?

Monday, 21 January 2013

Quick, beautiful dividers

Very quick post…
For those of you who use a pocket size binder (filofax or Mulberry) and are looking for quick, beautiful and easy dividers, which will also benefit disadvantaged children around the world…

… can I direct you to the Unicef selection of mini-cards?
They are 8.5cm x 13cm, they come in boxes of 10 for a reasonable price, they just need minor trimming and punching and they are fabulous. And did I mention that all proceeds help disadvantaged children around the world?

See here for these ones (picture from the Unicef site; no copyright infringement intended at all – I’m trying to encourage purchases!)

And see here for these ones…

(again, picture from the Unicef site; still no copyright infringement intended at all; still trying to encourage purchases).

What do you all think?

Friday, 18 January 2013

Five-minute productivity

I hurt my back this morning so doing anything for more than about five minutes has been tricky. After about five minutes I need to move – walk around, stretch, lie on the floor… Anyway, I thought that today would be a write-off as a consequence. I had really wanted to sit and write, but that’s just not going to happen. At least, not write as in ‘disappear down the rabbit-hole and into the world of my book’ kind of writing, which involves total immersion for me, and hence long stretches of sitting. At least, longer than five minutes!

Instead of disappearing down the rabbit-hole, I have been doing a number of five-minute tasks and to my surprise, I have been a lot more productive than I expected to be, just in a different way. 

Things I have done (which I wouldn’t have otherwise) include:
  • Sorting out filofax inserts in the ‘stash box’, putting card between different types of insert and labelling it all (I know I’m not using a filofax at the moment, but if/when I move back, this will be useful!)
  • Sharpening all my pencils. I keep them in an old jar, with the code “sharpened up, blunt (or propelling pencils) down”. All neatly up now!
  • Getting an Ikea six-drawer chest out of a cupboard, tidying it out and sorting sundry stationery out of my desk drawers (where it gets lost) and into the chest, then labelling the drawers with Post-It notes
  • Ordering some blackboard paint so that I can paint the fronts of the drawers with it and then label them with chalk
  • Slicing up paper into the correct size for my Mulberry binder, ready to print inserts
  • Printing next week’s day per page inserts for the Mulberry
  • Planning next week’s meals
  • Going through the kitchen cupboards and writing a shopping list for tonight’s shopping (which DH will be doing on his own…)
  • Cleaning the kitchen (little bit by little bit)
  • Cleaning the bathroom (little bit by little bit)
  • Emptying all the bins (one by one)
  • Writing a blog post (bit by bit)
Etc. etc. etc.

Ready for when the blackboard paint comes...
Sharp, sharp, sharp!

I have been phenomenally more productive than I usually am! I have done each task just for as long as I could, frequently leaving them mid-task to go and do something else that allows my back to move in a different way, whereas normally I would try and tackle a task from start to finish. Of course, I’ve planned or written nary a single word of my book, but at least I’ve done some cleaning!

Maybe that’s the solution, at least to the housework (a task which rates only marginally higher than having root-canal work with no anaesthesia…). Do a task for five minutes, then do something else. I’ll skip the wrecking the back part first though…!


Just a general update on what I’m using at the moment. I’m quite sure that you ALL will have guessed anyway, but the planner du jour is…


I know. I know. I know.

I moved into Loki, I genuinely did. But the tiny rings were too tiny to just ‘duplicate set-up, open rings, insert set-up, close rings, away we go’ – I will need to have a think about the set-up as although the rings did close, it wasn’t pretty. And I’d made new dividers and everything…

So, as everything was all ready to go, I then moved it all into the pocket Baroque, which has 19mm rings and lots of pockets and slots and things. And to be honest, I was all set to go with that.

Oh, but then that siren that is Red called to me, and I moved my cash and my cards back in and I’m still with her.

I know that some of the reason is the diary in the pocket. The Baroque came with an Italian diary, which is generally fine (especially as it is lined!), though it does have ‘festa’ watermarked across all the Italian holidays. Which would be fine and dandy if they were the same as the UK holidays, but they’re not (I realise the one in the picture is...). I could buy another, but I need the lines, and the UK filofax ones don't have them and Paperchase are out of stock with theirs.

Red of course has the fabulous Mulberry diary, which is just gorgeous. As is Red herself. I can’t believe I was so ambivalent about her at the start because I absolutely adore her now!

As for the Moleskine Diary that I loathed…
… well, I still loathe it, but I’m still using it. I’ve stuck a Leuchtturm pen-holder into the back so at least I can attach my pen properly. I’ll not buy another though.

… still amazes me daily with the appalling paper quality, but I am still using it and have settled on the Herbin rollerball with bleu pervenche ink. It still bleeds through like crazy, but the colour is fantastic.

So, there we go, though I’m sure none of you were hugely surprised by any of it…

Monday, 14 January 2013

Homemade diaries for the Mulberry(s)

Central to my planning system (which really hasn’t changed since here), is the combination of a week on two pages diary (for an overview of the week) and a day per page diary (for more detailed planning).

In Red, I have the glorious Mulberry week on two pages diary (thank you again Gerard!) in combination with a week of homemade day per page (DPP) inserts. Why homemade? Well, because Mulberry don’t do a day per page insert and no other size fits a Mulberry, that’s why. Since I was designing my own (using a word document of my own and a mail merge with one of the excel spreadsheets that Steve from Philofaxy and Ray from My Life all in One Place created), I could set them up exactly how I wanted, and print them out at home. The page size in Red is A6. Now, I’m not that smart at making my printer print the correct diary pages back to back if I start with an A4 file and print 4 to a page, so I designed my diary on A6 to start with. Making A6 paper is easy: just cut an A4 piece into quarters.

I had used Filofax DPP last year, in combination with the week on two pages, but as I was working on the design, I realised I could do more than just make a lined DPP with the correct date at the top. I could add things I wanted to log each day too!

Hence, my design has a space across the top to note important things (birthdays etc), timed slots down the left-hand side (for appointments and time-boxing) and then logging and task-list space on the right-hand side. As I have made the word file myself (and as I tend to only print a few weeks of the diary at a time), I can add in other things I want to log if I want, then re-do the mail merge.

The picture below shows the A6 version on the right and a pocket version on the left (with a pocket Today marker to give you an idea of the page size difference).

Pocket size on left; A6 size on right
Why is there also a pocket version??

Ah, because Loki arrived and suddenly, Red feels huge! Gorgeous, but huge. Again, I’m not smart enough to do the print back to back for pocket-size paper on my printer, and anyway, I can cut an A4 sheet into 5 pocket-size pages. So again, using the same excel base file and a new word file, I made my own pocket DPP and printed onto pre-cut paper.

Obviously, there were some changes that needed making as the pocket size is smaller. I changed the time slots from half-hour to hourly, but kept the things I wanted to log. In fact, I have more to-do spaces in the pocket, but I need to write smaller in them!

I am slowly working towards replicating all the pages in Loki that were there in Red (but I may need to sacrifice a few months of week on two pages to fit it all in, since Loki has small rings). Maybe this time next week I will have moved in?

I’ll keep you posted!