GTD Series: Moleskine GTD Retail Solution


I thought that I would begin GTD Retail with a four-part series specifically on Getting Things Done (GTD), and more specifically my own journey with David Allen’s GTD. I will travel through what my life was like prior to GTD, my first crude take on GTD, my second more “hipster” approach to David Allen’s methodology, and my final GTD approach that has seen the most success in getting things done.

My search for the perfect GTD: Retail system led me back to some familiar internet stomping grounds. I again found myself browsing Moleskine GTD systems. Now, in the past, I had strayed away from Moleskine notebooks as a means to a GTD system because I had used a similar notebook to log my beer brewing notes, and while I liked the little moleskine-style notebook for that purpose, the crease in the middle wasn’t to my liking for everyday use. However, everything I was reading online was from Moleskine users that were proclaiming their love for that notebook in particular. At $12+ per notebook, Moleskine had never really been something I was willing to try out only to find that it lived up to half of the hype. But then I found this webpage with the PigPog GTD system, and this page with the GTD reference pages, and this page with the tabbed Moleskine pages, and this page with the calendar included. Finally, I had been won over, the claimed versatility of the notebook was worth the upfront $12 cost. I bought my first Moleskine from a Borders near my store.

To begin with, I essentially carried my Hipster PDA habits over to my new Moleskine PDA. I had an @Action Items tab, an @Projects tab and an @Waiting on tab. This first iteration was great for increasing the durability and general portability of my system, but it didn’t do a whole lot for the functionality, so I initially found myself rewriting action items fairly often and I was still flipping through pages more often than I would have liked. The problem was, I had bought this beautiful Moleskine notebook,  and now I found myself shying away from misusing the Moleskine in any way. As a result, I used the Moleskine front cover to back cover and gave myself plenty of space for each section so that I wouldn’t have to reorganize.

After I had used the Moleskine notebook for a while, the newness and sparkles wore off of it. The Moleskine’s pages had become dirtied from my pockets (and general line of work – no one ever tells you that trash control is in a retail executive’s job description), the Moleskine’s tabs had become bent, the notebook’s cover had folds and bend marks from being sat on, the Moleskine’s place marker had become frayed, the back pocket had become torn and useless for carrying anything of value, and the Moleskine was warped in multiple directions despite my attempts to rotate it in my pocket with each use. I finally came to the conclusion that the notebook would last about 12 weeks in my pocket, no matter what the content was or how it was organized, so if I wasn’t making use of every page in that time, then I was being more wasteful than if I had treated the Moleskine like, well, a notebook.

Thus began version 1.5 of the Moleskine notebook. I stopped creating a massive list and on the next available page I created an @computer, @office, @salesfloor, and @home tab. I counted out 5 pages for each section and following those, I created a tab for each of my seven direct reports. In the back, I created a projects tab (which I rarely used). This system was a huge functionality improvement. It was faster and easier to use. I would use the system in conjunction with my calendar at work, copying down the day’s tasks from my calendar into the appropriate action item list. This worked very well for me, but when it came time for a new notebook, I again felt that the whole system left something to be desired, and that there had to be a solution somewhere out there for my Moleskine GTD Retail system.

I found it. I now have what I believe to be the ultimate non-electronic, calendared Moleskine GTD Retail solution. Here is what you need to set it up:

Number your Moleskine. The first thing to do is to get your pages numbered. The first 5 pages should be with roman numerals (I, ii, iii, iv, v) and after that you should number each odd page starting with the number 1.

Create your calendar. On page 1 and 2, create a calendar to track your appointments for the week. If you are working a retail schedule, you probably work every other weekend with one day off consistently during the week. If this is true, then you create half-page vertical columns for each day you work a full day and a smaller quarter-page column for the mid-week day off. For example, the left side of my Moleskine has two columns, I draw a line in the center fold of the notebook, then I have a slightly larger column for Wednesday a quarter-size column for Thursday and a slightly smaller column for Friday. I do not track Saturday and Sunday other than to date an entry or two below the Monday and Friday calendar columns.  Reference picture included.

Create @Location tabs. In the pages immediately following the calendar, count out a full page spread for each of your location categories (this does not include your direct reports). For me this is an @Computer, @ Salesfloor, @Office, and @Home tab. These can include as many locations as you wish, but the more you include, the more often you will have to buy a new book, so being strategic may be advised.

Calculate how many weeks the Moleskine will last. It is important to note that I only plan on my Moleskine lasting me 12 weeks (3 months). This tends to match the durability of the book as well. If you want to be on a longer or shorter schedule, then you can alter the numbers. This is important information that is used in the next step.

Create tabs for your direct reports. I had 7 direct reports when I started my current Moleskine, so I began the tabs for them starting on page 122. This gave each of them 5 pages before my projects page started on page 166 (giving me about 20 projects pages before my Someday/Maybe tab on page 186). If you are more active in using your projects pages, then you may want to decrease your direct reports tab down to 3 or 4 pages each. With email, the usefulness of these pages decreases.

Create Projects pages. I dedicate my Moleskine projects pages to project planning. I don’t find these pages as useful in my job as David Allen probably would have them be. I give each project one page and I use them more or less depending on the week and my workload and the time I was able to spend on my weekly review.

Create a Someday/Maybe list. This is pretty straightforward. Starting on page 186 of your Moleskine, go ahead and keep a list of things you would someday like to do.

Using the GTD Retail Moleskine. To use this, I follow a lot of what this Moleskine solution online suggests. Generally though, in your weekly review each week, you start by creating the next week’s calendar (2 weeks ahead) and copying your outlook (or whatever online calendar invite system you use) calendar into your Moleskine. You copy over all of your lists into the pages following the calendar just as you did before, and you move the sticky tabs to follow the current week’s calendar. Keep your Moleskine bookmark on the current week’s calendar so that you can always open to what your daily landscape looks like. Your direct report, Projects, and Someday/Maybe tabs stay put until you change notebooks. I use the back pocket of the Moleskine for my cards and money, and I always keep a couple of notecards in there as well. When that pocket wears out, use a strip of masking tape to keep it in line. Your smaller notebook can be neatly kept under the elastic band on the cover of your Moleskine, and this is to allow for notes and thoughts and calculations without getting in the way of your Moleskine GTD Retail system. Should you want to have this all in one book, a couple of pages a week would probably be sufficient, which would keep you on a 10 or 11 week Moleskine notebook rotation.

I have been using this system now for about 5 weeks and I have no intention to change the system. I hope you enjoy this hybrid solution as much as I have.

UPDATE:  So as I often do, I have been re-evaluating my use of GTD for efficiency. During my last trip to Borders to pick up a new Moleskine, I came across the Piccadilly notebook for less than $4. I also found Moleskine planners hidden in the back. The problem is this, with my current setup, I don’t feel that I have any space for random notes or ramblings except in my smaller notebook that I keep bundled on top of my Moleskine. In retail, years are repetitive, and your job performance is largely based on your ability to improve year over year. I struggle to have a good place to make notes about the year or to find time to sit down for this activity. Thus, I have made the following changes to my system outlined above:

  1. Cheaper notebook. I can find no difference between the Piccadilly notebook and the Moleskine outside of price. This makes me feel that I can more freely notate without ruining a $12 notebook.
  2. I moved my calendar into the front half of the smaller Moleskine notebook I keep bundled with my Piccadilly notebook.
  3. I moved to a week at a glance calendar with notes pages following each week to make notes about what worked or didn’t work during the week as well as personal documentation and follow-up notes around my employees. This was the biggest change, it saves me time re-writing calendars, so instead my calendars are drawn in advance which gives me more review time in my weekly review and it gives me more space for a Waiting on section as well as more pages in my Projects section to scratch ideas together more freely.
  4. Finally, I moved to the soft cover notebook. I was really afraid that it would be more difficult to write in with the cover bending, but it’s almost no change outside of the more comfortable feel in my back pocket.

Update #2:  After weeks of use with the changes and additions, this setup is working very well. Because I have 3 months of calendar with me at all times, including space for notes on each week’s outcomes, I can take down dates immediately at meetings which saves the extra step of creating an action item titled “calendar June 5th transition.” Going forward, I will continue to buy the smaller Moleskine unlined notebooks for my calendar and notes. The only real downside is that my action item lists become very long when they are not re-written weekly, so I have taken to highlighting anything incomplete when I fill a page with action items, this way I can easily see what is still to be done on previous pages.

Additional Resources:






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  3. Marcus says:

    I really like the idea of implementing the diary into the GTD system. But, I would not like to draw up my own calendar. I wonder what options are out there. I thought of printing the outlook calendar but as my appointments use to change very often during the week, the online version is still the best option without updating a paper version as well. In fact, I only use a paper version for my non-work related appointments and as I like long term planning, I use a 18 months Moleskine diary. The method by Peter (http://gtde.blogspot.com/2006/09/yet-another-gtd-moleskine-hack.html) is working fine for me for now. I have made only minor changes and using different amount of pages for various sections.

    I think the ideal option for me would be a Moleskine diary where with only a thrid to half the notebook is filled with the diary and the rest blank with ruled pages. I am thinking of using the MSK templates for the diary part and insert them into the notebook; the only concern is that the notebook might become too thick with the added paper. Any thoughts?

    Best wishes

    • dragonlor20 says:

      The hold-up I have with the method by Peter is that it isn’t really structured enough for me. My Moleskine notebooks are also my documentation of what is going on in a particular week. The following year I will use the notebooks to see what will come up in a particular week.

      For some people, they need more creative freedom from their GTD system with room for notes or mind maps, etc. which I also understand. That is just not the industry I am in – for me things are very structured and attached to timelines, hence the insertion of a calendar every week. I rewrite things more as a memory technique than a necessity.

      A post will run at Work.Life.Creativity on Tuesday that goes a little more in depth into how I use my system including the second notebook you see in the pictures above.

      Thanks for the comment, great input!

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  5. Nice blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere? A design like yours with a few simple tweeks would really make my blog stand out. Please let me know where you got your theme. Bless you

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