My Moleskine – Remember the Milk System. Old vs New.

I have been thinking about my information workflow recently, and more specifically have started to examine what works best to control the flow of data that comes my way throughout my work day, and make sure I record it.


Remember the Milk
Image by Johan Larsson via Flickr

I have two parallel information systems running in my life. The first is my Remember the Milk GTDish system where I document all the important stuff I need to recall later on. Birthdays, appointments, grocery lists, multi-step projects like mortgage applications. Anything that isn’t done on the fly or during the day, gets dated, context added, etc…I use RTM for pretty much everything I need to do or remember in my personal life. I also flag future reminders(tickler list) and my Waiting-For list for both work and pleasure. But not everything seems to go in there…


I have slowly been fleshing out my Moleskine “feet on the ground” system. What system is that? Well, I have missed using my Moleskine since doing my Moleskine GTD experiment, and have found I enjoy writing stuff down all the time. I have a really nice fountain pen that writes nicely in my Moleskine, and it is so much more enjoyable to write with it that type all the time…Ever try to doodle in a digital task manager? No.

I only use this system during my work day though. Lugging around a Moleskine notebook along with a wallet and iPhone seems to me like a slow and steady movement towards carrying a Man-purse. A Murse.

My Moleskine workflow is not GTD at all! It is a running list where I write down important things like phone numbers, messages I need to record, calculations I need to recall later on, and whatever other notes I need to take through out my day.

At the start of every day I document the date (“2011-09-08” for instance) at the spot I left off from the previous day, and then highlight it.  I start each new input of data with a “-” and start to write. If the information takes multiple lines, I only have the one “-” to represent that chunk of data. If the information becomes a task, and I can complete it that day, once done I turn it into a “+”. If the information becomes a delegated task or a message I pass to someone, I use “<-” and note who it went to. If the information is no longer needed I use “*”. At the end of the day, if I have any remaining items that need to be carried over, I move them to my RTM system with either a due date or context, then I cross it off the list.

I’ve found that I am wanting to merge two very different systems into one ‘uber-system’. That is, one that flows with my day but is there to remind me of things in the future.

My Inbox at work seems to be always on paper. I write everything in my Moleskine that I need to refer to. Much like a reference book. But at the same time, part of the problem with switching between systems is that many times I start talking to a client, and start taking notes. Then, I commit to either finding them some answers to questions or some other task needs to be done for them. Right in front of me is all the information I need to start my task.

Why move that information to RTM if I know it will be done today(that is if I have committed to completing the request that day)? A simple paper based to-do list seems like the best way to visually see what is done or not, and see what you wrote down to flesh out the task. I wouldn’t write out a 3 or 4 line reminder in RTM. But that’s fine to do in my Moleskine. I don’t need to paraphrase to make the task look cleaner.

What I’m learning about my workflow is that one uber-system doesn’t work for me. Getting Things Done is great, but it is only one small aspect of all the information that I need to sort through in a day. I like technology and RTM, and enjoy using it to stay organized in my personal life. I also love to use my Moleskine. It is far more practical to write stuff down, do calculations, mindmap, take notes in it, than try to flesh all that out in a digital inbox.

What I’ve found with this new system for me is that my Moleskine is my immediate to-do list, and reference guide, and RTM is my reminder system.

So far I haven’t seen any big issues popping up with using both RTM and my Moleskine together to manage my tasks and information. In fact, I have referenced my Moleskine on numerous occasions by looking back at the dates and finding valuable information in my paper-based archive. Old phone numbers I thought I’d never need again, calculations that I needed again, and conversations that I’d had on the phone with people.

I’m curious as to whether any of you use a blended together system of “old and new”, or “paper and PDA“?




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