Love and Hate my ‘Book of all Things’ [GTD]

My Messy Moleskine
Image by Alexandre Dulaunoy via Flickr

A few weeks ago I decided to try something new. I set up my handy dandy Moleskine notebook as my GTD capture tool. I was inspired by reading about how great writing down my tasks would be. After reading Stever Robbins’ book ‘9 Steps to Work Less and Do More‘, and specifically his chapter on technology, I thought I would give paper based ToDo lists a shot. I understand David Allen uses paper as his capture system as well. Both these organizational leaders are far smarter than me.

How did I fair? What were my impressions?


I found when writing everything down in the book, I could visually remember what I wrote better than anything I type on the computer. This made it easier to remember the task. I have read that writing down your ToDo list makes it easier to memorize than using a computer, and now I believe it! I could recall how many tasks I had on a page and then picture each task better. Maybe a different way to recall things I need to do, but I liked it.

One thing David Allen says about memory though is that you don’t want to stress about trying to remember stuff. Just put it into your trusted system and know where to find it. So, though I remembered my tasks better, I don’t think it translated to getting more done. I trust my system with Remember the Milk, so I don’t stress about trying to remember things. Make any sense?


I use GTD exclusively to keep track of my work related projects. It is one of the best lessons I have taken from GTD. Of course I use it for my personal life, but I find the majority of my personal tasks don’t necessarily need to be made into a project. My fiancée has the keen ability to give me a project in full and remind me until it is done. lol. I have plenty of honey-do projects, but regarding Getting Things Done, project management at work has been huge.

I found that putting my projects in my Moleskine was a pain in the ass to be honest. Once I listed all the tasks in the project, I didn’t really want to re-write each task into my Next Actions Contexts, and label where they were going. Having used multiple tags in Remember the Milk, I realize that having a single entered task in various lists is a good thing for me. Once I complete a task, from wherever I am in the system it is applied on all the other lists. This obviously doesn’t happen on a paper based system. Whether this adheres to GTD, I don’t know, but I don’t like Project management in notebook format. Maybe I should have just listed each project on a single line and just spread out my tasks onto lists base on context or if they have a due date, then put them into Google Calendar.

One thing that I realized about moving a project along was how many side notes I actually take. As an example, if I call a client, and leave a message, I move the task to @waiting-for, and in Remember the Milk, I add to the existing notes about what I was calling about or the progress in the project. Things like, ‘client approved’ or ‘tax returns needed’ or ‘need to discuss the terms and conditions’. I wasn’t able to create a place to keep my project and non-task related notes together based on the set up I had. I wanted to keep the actionable tasks in the project list and move them from there to a Context List, but lost a bit of focus from there. Where to go to review and update? The task or the project? Or somewhere else? Having one place to go back to later on is a big thing for me too. Archiving a project and all it’s related tasks and notes isn’t something I’d be able to do in my Moleskine.


I couldn’t figure a good way to keep a calendar in the Moleskine. I think it’s because I have quite a few due dates and time lines that I need to keep up with in my job. Throwing a task into a Next Action when I have a client expecting a call on a certain day won’t work, so in it goes to Google Calendar. My experience with using Google Calendar and Moleskine GTD together is a mixed bag.

Working on a computer to look at items with a due date in Google Calendar and then moving to my Moleskine for jotting notes into my inbox or checking a project or Next Action is not  a smooth workflow for me. I like to have my Calender and Tasks in one place. I am sure there are some of you that have found a way to make this work in a pocket notebook. Please share. Using Google Calendar for repetitive tasks wasn’t good either. Not my Moleskine’s fault, but I like to complete the task and check it off. Having a repetitive task related system on paper seems cumbersome. Put a repeating task in RTM, and all you need to do is check it once it’s done, and it will come back at some point in the future when it is due next.

Security & Confidentiality

Here is something that I had never thought about. Using GTD on paper is a problem where confidentiality is concerned. I work in the financial services industry, where our reputation hinges on being trusted with very sensitive information. Though most of my tasks were coded in a way to keep people anonymous, I didn’t like having to think about what I was able to write down and take with me all the time. When I leave work at the end of the day, all my client files stay under lock and key. But, my GTD system is a merger of personal and work. If I drop my notebook, what kind of problem would this cause? I use my Someday/Maybe list to document prospects, their contact information, and some notes around our conversations. I can’t do that in my Moleskine.

I know that storing my lists and contact information online has risks too, but I lock down my passwords using Lastpass, and if I have information in RTM that I don’t need anymore, I CAN ERASE IT! Kind of hard to do in a notebook. Rip out the page? Get a big sharpie? What the hell to do?

This really stressed me out, and it was completely unexpected.


I don’t have much of a life apparently, because I use my computer all the time. At work, at home, and really, my iPhone is a computer in my pocket. I use Twitter, Google Reader, and have recently been using Insta-paper. I have friends and family all the time sending me links to things. I put many different @computer tasks in RTM. Even more in Someday/Maybe. Using the Moleskine to jot down a URL, or remember to check out a bit-torrent file seems very odd.

The majority of reminders I have relating to technology are best suited to be in a system that is on that technology. If I remember I need to search for something it will more than likely be on a computer or on my iPhone. The other day I was reading an article about Christopher Hitchens and his praise for aspects of Buddhism. I thought, I want to read up on Buddhism. Where do you think I would look it up? On my computer of course. Start with Wikipedia and branch out from there. Doesn’t it make more sense to have the task at the computer? If I want to remember to check out a website some other time because I’m too busy right now, adding a link to my task that I can click later, is far more efficient.

Final Thoughts

I loved writing things down. I felt like I was writing in a secret little black book, like a spy or famous writer. But, living a fantasy is not what I was trying to accomplish here. All in all, I just don’t like having all my contacts, calendars, contexts, notes, and archives all over the place. I want an all in one solution, and unless I am willing to sit down with David Allen to get it all put together, I feel disorganized using my Moleskine as my GTD solution. I felt uncomfortable merging my personal and business tasks into my notebook for security reasons. I didn’t like having to hop between a notebook and computer all the time when I wanted some tidbit of information.

I really liked trying out this system. If someday I am without the internet or my job demands me to be off the grid for lengths of time, then at least I know what works and what doesn’t with my Moleskine GTD system.

I recommend you try out a few different ways of staying organized. You will learn something new about the way you recall information, or the things you enjoy using. I learned that I loved writing things down in my Moleskine. I also learned that I have gone far too long without a label maker! lol.

In the end, the experiment is over. Back to Remember the Milk I go!


2 Replies to “Love and Hate my ‘Book of all Things’ [GTD]”

  1. Interesting comments. I have a small comment regarding security of your notebook. I personally think that paper-based notebook is better for security than usual electronic logbooks (even if encrypted). As the security of physical object is bound to time and space unlike electronic logbooks where any malware can get access to it (where the potentiality of attacker is higher). Just consider your notebook to be your second wallet. Enjoy your Moleskine !

    1. Good point. I don’t know the stats, but you are probably right. The only time I’ve ever had my personal information compromised though, was getting my wallet pinched twice.
      Thanks for giving your point of view!

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