Robin’s Paper-Based Time Management System

When I first caught a glimpse of Robin’s fabulous paper-based time management system, I couldn’t help but ask her about how she used it. The conversation that ensued was the catalyst for this series on how real women manage their time and energy. As we compared our calendars and to-do lists, we marveled at how intricate our systems were and how attached we were to them despite their failings. Robin’s system, however, did tempt me to ditch my digital ways and go back to pen and paper.

By the way, Robin happens to be a talented freelance writer here in New York. She has had essays published in various publications including The New York Times and The Washington Post that I’m sure you will also enjoy.

Here’s her system:

Briefly describe your current time management system: its components, how it works, and how it came to be.

My time management system consists of 2 key components: my filofax and my to-do list.

paper-based time management
Robin’s Filofax

I started using a Filofax after college. I began with a chunky 1980s-style, Working-Girl-worthy kind of planner. I have gradually scaled down to this mini size and it’s the perfect combo–compact, yet somehow roomy enough on the page. When they recently discontinued this size in the US, I went on an obsessive internet journey to locate this red one (as they still make the pages, knock wood, so far). I discovered a lively community of major, die-hard Filofax fans out there.

I revel in the messiness of these pages–the more circles, arrows, and different inks the better. It really makes me feel the scramble for time. I keep all the previous years tucked away on a shelf. Every milestone has been recorded there.

As for the to-do list–I’ve always been a big list maker. It’s on a sheet of paper, usually torn from a hotel pad I have squirreled away, and I keep the same list for 1-2 weeks. If I start a new list but still need info from the old list, I will staple the two together. The photos show a postcard I was particularly fond of because it looked cool and felt thick. I often use both sides. There’s always a general list and several sub-lists that deal with particular topics (e.g. summer camp options for my daughter). There are also mini lists to help me remember what to do on a given day, or during, say, one afternoon.

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Robin’s to-do list

Why does this system work for you given your life now? In other words, what’s good about it?

Mainly the system works because I enjoy it. I love turning to a new blank week. I love settling in on a virgin scrap for my to-do list. And I love the satisfying line dashed through a particular item when it’s been done. The physicality of the writing, recording, and crossing off feels like I’m giving events and accomplishments their proper due. Sometimes, SOMETIMES, after getting something done, if it wasn’t on the list, I will PUT it on the list and immediately cross it off. Just to make sure the cosmos knows. (Note from Stacy: This is Robin’s version of a got-done list!)

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More of Robin’s to-do list

How does your system fall short? What aspects of it could be improved?

There is nothing I would change about the Filofax system. The to-do list, however, well, I have to admit it is a bit dysfunctional. The first few days of a newly created list are great, but then after moving it from pocketbook to pocketbook, or inevitably misplacing it, I often wind up just cursing those bits of paper on which I rely so heavily. At one point I started a little Moleskine book just for lists but it made me feel trapped. I have a total love/hate relationship with this bit of my life.

Read more about the series and how other real women manage their time, by clicking here.