Thursday, January 15, 2015

Uncalendar Review

Posted by: Kate

I have a type of dyslexia that affects my perception of time (because if my husband gets to chalk everything up to ADHD, then I get to have time dyslexia).  So me giving advice on time management is like a blind man giving advice on interior decorating.  But this planner is the closest I've ever gotten to fitting in with normal grown ups who effortlessly serve dinner at the same time each day.

The "Uncalendar" is a flexible, all-in-one planner for people like me who have a schedule that is all over the place and a huge variety of tasks to complete.  I think it was designed for students and business owners, but it's ideal for artists (in spite of the less than beautiful colour palette).  As you will see, each page has an assortment of blank fields for you to enter your information into, allowing you to make sense of the chaos in whatever way suits you best.  And, since you fill in the dates yourself, you can start one at any time, even half-way through January.

I start off my Uncalendar by writing up a list of goals for the next three years.  I have many more goals written for 2015 than for 2016 and 2017, as can be expected.  These goals have to be measurable and specific.  "Teach more workshops" is unachievable.  "Teach three workshops in the US and four out of my home studio" is.

The Uncalendar has all sorts of advice on how to use the different fields in the planner.  Some of it is kind of useful, but after a year of use I've developed my own system.

1.  My To Do List.  This is the backbone of my day.  I usually write this out the night before or the first thing in the morning.  As I complete each task, I get to cross it out and, if it's something that I might want to remember after the fact that I did on a certain day, I enter it in area 2, which is the weekly schedule.
2. Weekly Schedule.  I enter appointments and other upcoming commitments here, but as I said above, I might want to keep track of when I made that phone call to my gallery, or when I mailed out that parcel.  I LOVE that there are no hours printed out for you.  Not everyone's day starts at 8am and runs until 6pm.  Mine doesn't.  You can see that there are five bands of colour going across the weekdays of the daily log.  I can use these to enter specific information.  The yellow across the top is where deadlines go.  The blue near the bottom is planned meals for the week.  You can use them however you want.
3. My Weekly To Do List.  These are tasks that need to be completed this week.  I take items from here to put into my daily to do list.  I will often put items in this box several weeks or months in advance.  If I know that a competition deadline is coming up, I might write "Enter competition" a week before the deadline.  I would put "Photograph work for competition" two weeks before the deadline.  At the end of every week, I sit an brainstorm what to put into next week's to do list.
4. Goal Action.  Every weekend I think about what I can do in the coming week to act upon my list of the year's goals (the one I glued in).  My goals are numbered, so I place my action for the week next to the corresponding number in this box.  This is where I break down my goals into baby steps and make small but steady progress.  I don't work on all my goals in the same week, but I usually make progress on about a third of them.
5. Daily Habit Graph.  I use this graph to remind myself to perform small tasks daily.  Ideally I would like these tasks to become habits, and I don't want to have to waste time and space rewriting them every day.  These habits include: taking my vitamins, practicing my French, and exercising everyday.  Last year my list of habits was longer but I successfully ingrained some and now they are being left off.
6. Main Focuses.  I use these three fields to list my three main focuses of the week: my main studio project, my main office project, and my next blog post.

There are some unused fields in this picture.  I do come up with other uses from time to time.  And yeah, I colour code everything.  Green ink for financial stuff, pink for personal, turquoise for studio, purple for office...

Above is a week from last year's book.  I think the most useful thing I do with my Uncalendar is I use little pagemarker post it notes (like the pink ones above) to write out the next ten or so steps of any given painting project I'm working on.  These steps will say something like "Mass in background," "First pass left hand," "Fix hair."  After I write them out, I place them on the days of the week in a realistic fashion, making my plan of attack for the week.  If I'm working with a tight deadline, I will make post it notes for every single step of the painting and figure out a way to fit them all in before the deadline (it's taken a lot of self-awareness to get to a point where I can reasonably predict how long a step is going to take, and how many different steps the painting can be broken down into).  Once the task has been completed I tape it in place (FIST PUMP!), but if I come into the studio one morning and realize that I can't complete the day's task for unforeseen reasons (the paint is still tacky, my house is on fire) then I can reshuffle my post it notes, still keeping my eye on the deadline.  If you take anything away from this long navel-gazing planner-porn post, it's the post it note trick.  It.  Works.  Take it from someone who was never able to meet a painting deadline in her life.

Towards the back of the planner is a regular grid calendar so that I can see my month in a glance.  This is the repository of birthdays, vacation dates, and deadlines.  I also like to use the blank column on the left to jot down my big projects.  I use post it notes to notate anything coming up that as of yet does not have a specific date.

One of my favorite aspects of the Uncalendar is the list/graph section in the back.  There are pages and pages that you can turn into just about anything.  I kept a reading list and a new recipe list.  Above in the top left box is my list of paintings that had to be completed for The Uncanny.  As I completed each one, I entered all the relevant information (pricing, dimensions) so that it would all be in one place for the fifty times I need to drag it out.  Below that is a progress bar in which I kept track of my online sales, comparing them against a goal I had set for myself (I reached it, although I stopped filling out the graph.  I ended up getting one big sale that took me over the finish line.).  I found using the progress bar to chart my progress so helpful that this year I'm using progress bars to help me with six of my yearly goals.  On the right I was supposed to be keeping a master list of all artwork I created in 2014, but then I got bogged down with existential questions about what actually counted as a finished piece of artwork.

And yes, Time Dyslexia makes me like that guy from Memento, except instead of trying to piece together my past with photos, I'm trying to piece together my future with post-it notes.
I don't know if I'd say the Uncalendar has helped with time management, per se (that is, I will never be able to stick to a schedule to accomplish anything, hours and minutes are still meaningless units of measurement to me, and supper is still being served sometime between 4pm and midnight),  but it has enabled me to have a clear outlook at all times on what is happening in my life and in this way it has allowed be to be far more productive and effective.  It has given me a huge sense of control over my days and, by acting as a measuring stick, a profound sense of accomplishment.  Because at the end of the year, a good planner is really just a tabulation of every kick ass thing you did that year.

(Because people have asked: as far as I know, the only place to get an Uncalendar is directly from the website.  If you are in Canada there will be an absurd shipping charge automatically calculated in checkout, so call them up on the phone to get a more reasonable rate.)


  1. Where do you buy one?

  2. That actually looks pretty cool. I'm fairly organized but still procrastinate way too much. I might give this thing a go and see if it helps me get a little more done. Thanks.

  3. Thanks for posting this! I've been looking forever for a way to track lots of various things at once, from long term projects to short term goals, along with diet and exercise and so forth - all within a very variable schedule. This looks tremendous and I've already gone and ordered one!

  4. After reading this post, I decided to try the Uncalendar. I have had mine for a few days, and already I can see how much more organized I am with my time. One thing I like a lot is keeping track of habits. I'm more motivated to do those daily things so I can color in the little boxes.

    I'm also using the page-marker Post-It Notes to schedule painting tasks. That's a great trick. Today's Post-It was "color studies." I only completed one study, but -- dang -- it looks great, and I've made another Post-It for tomorrow that also says "color studies." Even if I only make one more study, I'll tape the Post-It down, and in allegiance with you, Kate, do a fist pump.

    I appreciate how much "blog sense" you have about the topics you write about, and how enjoyable and informative your posts are.

  5. I don't mean to be weird, but you may want to further blur out the 2015 goals. Some of those are quite legible.

    1. You are being kind of weird. Weird on, bro.

    2. I'll be sure to have fun doing it.

    3. Oh, come on. Now I'm all curious and it's blurred. :)

  6. Thanks for the sticky note tip! I've been using Uncalendars since my student days a billion years ago, and can't imagine trying to function without them. I use mine in similar ways to the way you do yours. You can sometimes find them in large university bookstores, as well as through the company website.

  7. So wondering if you also use a phone calendar and just transfer things to the Uncalendar from your phone? I would think carrying the Uncalendar along with you as you run errands go to appointments etc., would be awkward because its so big?

    1. I don't use my phone as a calendar. Tres 20th century, but I just enjoy the tactile and visual quality of a physical planner. I do haul it around with me to run my errands and it probably looks weird to people, but it's my lifeline and everything I need is in it.

  8. thanks Kate! I have been forcing myself to use my tiny phone as my calendar for too long. Ordered and received my Uncalendar and I think this will be a huge help in organizing myself. I don't mind being weird, who cares about that, just interested in what works!

  9. This is year 6 of using the Uncalendar. I was a former dedicated Daytimer user. This is better. I have one rubber stamp that I use to "dress up" the blank left hand page section. It's where I put calls and emails to return. I don't see myself using anything other than the Uncalendar in the future. It keeps me doing what I'm supposed to be doing.