Dual-wielding planners

I have multiple organisational systems, and they work in complementary ways. There is a digital setup which is centred on org-mode, and an analogue planner or two which I bought commercially. I'll describe how I ended up with this setup here, and also comment on the setup itself and why I continue to use it despite whatever flaws it might have.


I've discussed org-mode on several occasions and it is as deserving as it is expansive. Its function as a scheduler however is entirely orthogonal to its planning abilities however, and in some sense it is actually inferior to the paper component.

I use the agenda to set up tasks and handle detailed steps in a setup, which may or may not be in a time-sensitive context. This is particularly the case if the task is based on a computer, such as programming projects. In that scenario, it is also used as a task or bug tracker, which is JIRA (for those that have to suffer through enterprise programming) but essentially "better" for a one-user experience.

I also use it as a time-tracker and a reminder system for repeating tasks, which it is also fairly good at. The time tracking system makes use of the clocking facility, and I have special markers for things that don't otherwise need a heading (including recording things like toilet breaks, eating and sleeping). The primary limitation of this is that this is only done when I'm physically near my computer. This is solved with some other solutions.

I added a few small elisp scripts to keep the clock entries from overwhelming the system.


org-mode can be brought on the mobile platform with Orgzly, which I use to bring my agenda with me in a situation where I need to reference it.

Orgzly is adequate but it is not ideal; the primary issue is that I cannot clock in and out with it. This would be helpful to keep all the clocks in one format that I can then reference later. Currently time tracking on mobile is done on a separate app and I have not integrated its clocks to the main clock database (which is a flat text file, as with all org files).

All of this is synced using git on a remote server run by a friend that I trust. This also means nothing is ever truly gone, which is perhaps helpful if I ever want to reference something I deleted. It's also helpful in dealing with merges.


Everything ultimately filters down to doing a "life in statistics" kind of deal, which I find immensely satisfying because it's all numbers. Numbers are intrinsically interesting to me and while I don't have any insights on the advice, over time I notice myself shifting habits slightly to nudge the numbers around just to have a look at the effects. It's actually quite fun.

The data from org-mode is combined together with a number of other sources, such as bandwidth usage and spending data, and the whole lot is then crunched together using Pandas (Python) to form the final chart.

I want to improve the chart but I don't have enough programming action points to do it now.


The reason why I wrote this in the first place is because I have come close to one year with my paper planner, which I have enjoyed immensely. As of time of writing I'm a few days short of a year using the planner, so it is a great time for me to think about how it has changed my life, and I think it certainly did.

I'm very familiar with writing using pen and paper already; in fact it is my primary creative output (conlang and conlang-adjacent activities are strongly dependent on paper for the fact that inventing scripts is much more spontaneous on paper – though of course it is not impossible to do so, and has specific advantages, though that would be for another time).

Actually, it's been /two/ years since I had a paper planner, as I decided to pick up one when I started work at the time, but it was originally meant to remain separate from the home system so that I can keep the two lives apart from each other. As working conditions changed however I realised how limiting this can be and I decided that actually the two can be combined together after all.

Quick aside: In one of my previous assignments I was allowed access to a copy of Emacs which means I can reuse my org-mode setup there as well. I have relied on this a little bit to transfer clocks over, but that was all conditional on having it in the first place and when that assignment ended I didn't get to keep using Emacs for the next one.

I then also spotted a new schedule book on sale that has a lot of well-thought-out spaces to put a lot of things in. At risk of sounding like a shill, I will not name the scheduler here, but I may post some scans of it later that would make it easy to identify at a later date. So I bought it and then I decided to put some effort into writing stuff about it.

One of the reasons why a paper planner turns out to be useful is that I can be caught using it at work without much incident, as opposed to a mobile which would look too much like slacking off. Additionally, committing things to writing is somehow more concrete than just an entry in a file, because the display of that task is indirect and the only way it would show up is through the agenda feature. Finally, since I actually record work things on it, it is in fact work and not slacking off after all.

As the months rolled on I dedicated a few more features into the paper agenda too. It now contains logs as well, duplicating some of the things in org-mode. Categories are given pen colours, which are then transferred into org-mode. And a few more things are added to fill in empty spaces, such as a to-do list for one week (it is a weekly vertical layout), a reflection for the day, some weather logging and all else.

Some details are exclusive to paper however. Things like appointments, where time is more of the key point, as well as other events that I might want to record, are written in the paper journal. Ultimately, the effect is to create a record very much similar to the clock summary I have in digital form but spontaneously and overlaid with planned features. It also records my motions and movements, such as which buses I take and where I went to. These are also technically redundant but they are useful when looking back.

Ultimately the goal of using a paper journal is to keep a persistent log that is easy and pleasant to look back to later. It is persistent, unlike the org-mode journal, and it is also partially for memory-keeping.

Some thoughts on the arrangement

It's actually fairly time-consuming to juggle everything, all things considered. Fortunately, I seem to have the ability to realise when things are too hard and then just not do them. That makes the system self-regulating to some extent, though I do miss out on logging if it's paper-based.

The digital one in particular is so low effort because I have already written all the automation components and they work well enough that I don't have to worry about anything. It is easily sustainable minus the actual act of version control, which can be rushed if needed.

The paper one is significantly trickier to finish and sometimes I do put in a bit too much effort over it, though this is more of a case of having my mind wander instead of it actually being too hard. That scatter-brained thinking is a recent thing though and I don't think it had much of an effect on me as before.