Long time no see! Luckily, I’m back just in time to share this new post and introduce a new series on the blog!
“The Planners” serie is a portrait gallery of people using various planning systems to manage work, their family life, personal projects and much more. The goal of this new serie is to give you more inspiration and to introduce you to new planning methods and tools beyond the bullet journal system.
For this first post of the serie, I’m thrilled to welcome Yukiko Sakamura on the blog! I’ve been following her work on Instagram for a while now and she was kind enough to answer all the questions I had about her planning system. In this interview, I’m asking her, among other things, how she manages her projects, what she learned using a planning system and who are her planning role models.
Full Disclosure: Products mentioned in this interview were purchased by Yukiko. She is not affiliated to any company. Links given are for information only, and are not affiliate links.
All the pictures featured have been taken by Yukiko.
Let’s start with introductions: can you tell us a few words about you?
I currently hold two jobs, one as a statistics lecturer and another as a postdoctoral research fellow in a university. I also do a bit of statistical consulting on the side. On top of that, I have a household to run and several personal projects, such as maintaining an Instagram account and a YouTube channel, both pertaining to planning. Because I have many things going on at any one time, planning is absolutely necessary!
When did you buy your first planner and what was it? How did your planning system evolved since then?
I confess that before I became a bullet journalist, I planned rather haphazardly. I used mainly Google Calendar to keep track of my appointments and random notebooks to write down my life plans. But in 2015, I became a full-fledged PhD candidate, got married, and bought an apartment which needed renovating. Feeling overwhelmed, I decided I needed a systematic planning system to manage my multiple work projects and my life.
So I tried my hand at my first bullet journal. Three months later, I stopped using the bullet journal. Then in early 2016, I started my second bullet journal. Again, I did not last beyond three months. Looking back, I realized that I’d failed in both cases because I did not customize the planning system to my needs.
So in June 2016, I started bullet journaling for a third time. This time, I allowed myself to experiment with parts of the system until I found a style that fit. For example, I realized that I preferred the weekly spread instead of the daily spread because it allowed me to see the week at a glance. These tweaks made the system work for me, which in turn encouraged me to continue planning.
Can you describe your planning system in a few words?
Simple, functional, and time-efficient. I aim to spend the minimum amount planning to achieve the maximum effectiveness.
What tools do you use for planning and what functions do these tools serve?
I currently use three planner tools: two paper planners, a NOLTY 6501 and a Hobonichi Cousin, and an online project management tool, Asana. I use the NOLTY 6501 to plan and record my day, the Hobonichi Cousin to take notes, write my thoughts and design my life plans, and Asana to manage both my work and personal projects.
Up until recently, I was using the Hobonichi Cousin to manage my projects. But I felt I needed a platform to coordinate with my research team. One of my favorite podcasters, College Info Geek, had recommended Asana for team-based project management so I decided to give it a try. I have since fallen in love with its many features (e.g., it allows me to assign tasks to team members and automatically reminds them via email when the task is due). So I decided to use Asana for all my project management instead of the Hobonichi Cousin.
My 2018 planner system set up video will give you a sense of what the set up looks like. Note that it doesn’t include Asana, which I only incorporated recently.
What does your planning system look like?
My planning system is broken down into three planning routines: Daily planning routine, weekly planning routine, and quarterly or half-yearly planning routine. For each planning routine, I use different tools.
Daily planning routine (time needed: 10 minutes):
Every weekday morning, I check off the tasks I completed the day before. Then, I identify the tasks that I need to complete for the day. I estimate the amount of time each task will take and schedule my day accordingly. The day never goes the way I plan and I often under-estimate the amount of time I need. But having this daily planning routine gives me a daily roadmap so I don’t end up feeling aimless. I use the NOLTY 6501 for this. Weekends are less consistent; sometimes I plan, sometimes I don’t..
Weekly planning routine (time needed: it depends):
Every week or every couple of weeks, I do a review to make sure I’m on top of my projects. I check off completed tasks, identify upcoming tasks and the deadlines, and schedule the tasks accordingly. The amount of time I take for this review depends on the quantity and complexity of my projects. I use mainly Asana for this.
Quarterly or half-yearly planning routine (it depends):
I do a review of my goals at least every 6 months to make sure I’m on track to meeting them. This is also the time I drop goals that have become non-essential and modify goals that are too easy or too ambitious. I use the Hobonichi Cousin for this type of life planning.
How has your planning system helped you?
I’m generally a highly anxious person. But I find that when I take the time to sit down and plan, my anxiety levels reduce by quite a bit. Admittedly, my planning system is not perfect, and I often let deadlines slip by. But if I didn’t have my planning system to rely on, I’d be in such a state of extreme panic that nothing will get done!
What’s your current favorite planning tool?
My current favorite digital planning tool is Asana, because I can assign tasks to my team members and have Asana send them and myself email reminders when a task is due. This has helped keep my research team on track.
Overview of a research project timeline in Asana – This is the timeline for the research project I am currently working on. In Asana, I can assign the tasks to project members (including myself) and set deadlines. For example, I assigned the budget projection task (under the subheader Administrative Issues) to myself and I set the due date as 16th June. If the task is not completed one day before the due date, Asana will send the assignee a reminder. It will also send the assignee a reminder when a task is overdue.
My current favorite analog planning tool is my daily planner, the NOLTY 6501 (see picture). The weekly spread in this planner is precisely the layout I used when I was bullet journaling in a Rhodia Webnotebook. The time I saved not drawing the weekly spread is now re-directed to actual planning.
Last week in my NOLTY 6501 – I use a Pilot Metropolitan in my NOLTY 6501 but swapped out the nib for the Pilot Kakuno nib, which is finer. I use Noodler’s Heart of Darkness in my fountain pens because I like how intensely dark the ink is. Occasionally, I’d decorate the planner with stickers at the end of the week, just to use up my huge stash of stickers.
But it is not the focus of my planning.
Do you have one (or several) planning role models?
Here are some of the people who have inspired me.
- Stephen Covey’s book: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This book goes beyond productivity into the realm of character building. I greatly admire Stephen Covey’s character and hope that by implementing his principles, I, too, will become like him.
- Leo Babauta’s Minimal Zen to Done system. If you want to set up a simple productivity system, look no further than the minimal ZTD!
- Cal Newport’s Deep Work. I’m easily distracted. What would have taken me an hour to complete sometimes takes me a day! I’m especially impressed by Cal Newport’s focus. (Perhaps it’s really time for me to stop using social media?)
Did you ever experiment a planning slump? How did you get out of it?
Every time I experience a planning slump, it’s because I am overwhelmed. Ironically, the more overwhelmed I am, the less I want to plan. To deal with this type of planning slump, I follow the rule, “Declutter first before you organize”.
First, I write down all my commitments. Next, I identify my top priorities (usually health, family, and teaching). Then, I try to reduce or eliminate commitments that do not serve my top priorities. People will try to get you to keep committing through flattery (“We can’t do without you!”) or threats (“If you stop doing this, it’s the end of our friendship!”).
At this point, it is important to be firm when saying “no” (something I need a lot of work on, admittedly). Once the clutter is gone, it’s much easier to get back into planning.
Do you have a very special planning tip or hack to share?
Keep it simple, keep it simple, keep it simple. Many people fall off their planner systems because they try to implement an overly complex system. They start off excited but over time, they burn out trying to maintain the complex system. I recommend starting off with the simplest system possible (i.e., with a tasklist and a calendar) and then incorporating more features later.
And if you’d like to share your planning system & special hacks and get featured in The Planners serie, feel free to send me an e-mail to claire[at]minimal-plan[dot]com. There’s absolutely no need to run an Instagram or YouTube channel to contribute!