Systems that Work for Writers: The Ninja Writer Dockets


You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a while.

To be honest, I’ve been holding on by my fingernails for months. For good reasons. I’m in the last semester of my MFA and I sold a book in July (!!) But the result, regardless, was a heavy course load and the edits of my book all coming at the same time.

Plus, I have a kid who plays soccer and basketball, a family that needs at least basic meals and clean laundry, parents-in-law in my basement apartment who both have dementia. A dog who wants to be walked fairly regularly. You get the idea.

In the last couple of months I’ve been fairly obsessed with figuring out some systems that will help me get all my stuff done. Really help me. Not just look pretty.

I’ve learned a few things thanks to that obsession:

  1. I’m great at filling out planners–in the beginning.
  2. I won’t actually open a planner during the day to refer to it.
  3. Eventually, I won’t even fill it out at all.
  4. I have zero time for an artistic planner, no matter how much my maker’s heart yearns to BuJo.
  5. I need to see, in my face, what I have on my list to do everyday. In. My. Face.

I’ve actually come up with a few things that have come together into a whole-life system that helped me get my edits AND my MFA packets all in on time over the last six months. Go me!

I’m going to share all of them with you in the next few weeks. Today, I just want to share ONE. (Well, two. But really two halves of one, so who’s counting?) Read all the way down to see how you can get your own Dockets!

The Dockets

I was a paralegal for a long time. To me, a docket is a list of all the things that have to be addressed TODAY. I’m taking some liberty with that and saying that while docket one is for TODAY, docket two is for THIS WEEK.

The Daily Docket

The Daily Docket is a single page, printed just in two columns on one side. It gives me an at-a-glance overview of my entire day all at once.


Left Side:

The date.

Today’s Focus is a box that lets me choose ONE non-negotiable for the day. The one thing I’ll do, even if the whole day derails. (It happens.) If I have some kind of deadline, that goes in the focus box.

Today’s Priorities is a space to prioritize three goals for the day.

Today’s Scene is a space to write down what I plan to write for the day.

Finally I have a little checklist that I lightly revised from James Altucher’s (amazing) book Choose Yourself. It’s just a list of 8 things that make my life run better if I manage to do them. Everything from sleeping enough to managing anxiety.

Right Side:

The right side is almost entirely taken up with a TaDa List. A TaDa List is a magical thing. Just list everything you need to do today. I have a list of a few things that I try to do everyday that I just pre-print on my docket. Then there’s room for more. I look at my planner the night before and just transfer any appointments, practices, etc. over. I also transfer anything that I didn’t get finished the day before. Trust me, if you make yourself write ‘put away the laundry’ enough days in the row you’ll do it just to stop having to write it.

And at the very bottom, a space to write down what’s for dinner that night.

The Weekly Docket

The weekly docket is laid out the same as the daily: a single side of one piece of paper, divided into two columns.  ninja-writerweekly-docket

Left Side:

The date.

A section to write the next steps for my Big 6  Goals for 2018. I don’t write the goals–just the steps I want to finish in the upcoming week.

A checklist for the WRITER framework. I try to Write for 10 minutes, Read for 10 minutes, Ideate (write down 10 ideas, another James Altucher idea. Really, read Choose Yourself), Talk to someone I don’t live with, Exercise for 10 minutes, and Review my day before I go to bed. There’s space for marking off when I’ve done each thing, each day.

And lastly, a space to write down a meal plan for the whole week.

Right Side: 

The right side of the page is a week-at-a-glance calendar. I don’t write EVERYTHING on the docket. Usually just things that I know are on the schedule–like sports practices and games, school breaks, doctor’s appointments, etc. I’m mostly looking at the shape of my week here. On Sunday nights I look at my planner and transfer the pertinent stuff over.

There you have it.

I keep my Weekly Dockets on a clipboard hanging on the wall near where I work. And the daily dockets on padfolio that has a clipboard on the front. (I’m able to keep a whole month’s worth clipped to the front of the padfolio with no problem.) Everyday I just take off the current day’s docket and fill out the next day’s.

I linked to the right kind of padfolio on Amazon. I bought mine at Target for about $8 and I just today saw one at Wal-Mart for less than $5. You want one with the clipboard on the inside and a pad of paper and a pocket on the inside. You can take notes and keep things that you need for the day inside the padfolio.

I make a Pocket Mod booklet out of each day’s docket when I’m done with it and use it the next day to take down notes or doodle on whatever. Just make sure to fold it so that the printing is on the inside.

You might be asking yourself how writing down my stuff three times (in my planner, on the Weekly Docket, and on the Daily Docket) is an efficient use of my time. The truth is that I WISH I could use a planner efficiently. That I could write everything down and actually look at my planner throughout the day. Or that I could use a digital planner. (For me, digital is even worse. Out of sight is definitely out of mind. Ask my kids some time how I do with text messages.)

But I can’t.

And, hand writing things cements them in my brain. Even though it’s a little bit of repetition of work, it saves me a lot of time because I’m NEVER scrambling. And I actually get things done. It’s kind of like a budget–for my time.

Want your own Dockets?

I’m super excited to let you know that I’ll be offering Daily and Weekly Docket printables to Ninja Writer Patreon Patrons at the $10 and above level every month. (Your weekly docket will have a completely blank TaDa list, so you can totally customize it to your schedule.) Since February is month one, I’m releasinging the February dockets out on January 31.

Starting in February, I’ll send the next months dockets out on the 20th of each month. (So, on February 20th, patrons will get March’s dockets.) Patrons will also get a printable February FRED.

My goal is to add to the printable packet that goes out to $10 and above Patrons over the next year. I’m pretty excited with the ideas we’re noodling around with. In March I’ll be adding a monthly calendar just for writers.

This a organizational tool especially designed for writers. I hope you love it as much as I do.

Head on over to Patreon and get signed up if you’d like your printable packet. You’ll have access to it no matter when you sign up.

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