Tag Archives: notebook

GTD: Getting Started – Quickly

This post is part of my series about mastering productivity from the perspective of a full time working mom of a toddler with a side business. That’s me with the side business, not the toddler. 

There is something of a cult around Getting Things Done and that cult is desperate to set the methodology in stone. This ignores that David Allen admits straight away that there is all out or casual implementation. Which is good, given that his ‘Getting Started’ chapter suggests giving yourself two full consecutive days to start the process. Two full days.

In my dim and distant memory, I gave myself most of day when I first decided to give this whole getting organised thing a go. Now, I re-read the recommendation and part of me finds it hysterical to think that I could have anything more than a solid two hours without an interruption. So the first of the so-called golden rules I’m going to outright say you can ignore is that you need two days free in your calendar to even bother trying.

The key isn’t the amount of time, it’s the quality. If you have two hours of focused time, then you can move the needle more than if you have a luxurious day of unfocused, leisurely busywork. So if you have a single room, project or problem that needs dealing with, choose that and give it the attention it deserves. If you haven’t cleaned out your attic for the last ten years and you could go another ten before you actually care enough for it to bother you, then there is nothing to be gained by climbing up there and losing a day to sorting when there are more important things you could be working through.

Another pro-tip: if that attic seems super appealing to you, despite there being no obvious gain in wading through dust and old boxes, then stop and work out what other, genuinely important thing it is you’re procrastinating on that needs to be addressed.

If for some enviable reason you actually have the ability to go through your entire life in one sitting, then there is something very Marie Kondo in this approach. Where she deals with primarily physical things, David Allen associates those physical things with actions and tasks. Both are drains on the psyche when left unmanaged, but having recently read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying, the two books seemed to echo off each other in an unexpected way.

So, the ‘Getting Started’ chapter is all about setting yourself up to begin. Time is clearly one facet and I would argue that it is a factor we feel we have increasingly less of. Space is another – you obviously need to be in a location conducive to collecting and managing things. A dedicated space to sit, think and make decisions doesn’t need to be fancy, but it does need to exist. Even the most technology-savvy people cannot put their entire life in the cloud.

Much of the stress and input we deal with in daily life doesn’t come from our own processes and delivery mechanisms, but those of others. So until the entire world is virtual, then a physical inbox is a lifesaver. Never make the mistake of thinking this is a ‘paperwork tray’. Anything that serves as a physical reminder of something you need to do can get thrown in there. The majority might be cards and papers, but batteries, broken watch straps and cables, they can all go in there until you’ve captured the associated task into your system.

The final piece of the puzzle is the tools you need to begin the process. Here is where another of the golden rules can be broken – you do not need to have all of these items in place to begin.

The original book was clearly written in the days prior to ubiquitous technology. With less paper in our lives, the requirement for a labeller and a filing cabinet with the correct type of hanging files seems quaintly retro. But don’t dismiss analogue altogether. Still keep a small notebook with tear off pages to hand – the act of writing down a quick thought is much easier to manage in the beginning than trying to digitally capture it.

I’ve also managed to do a successful large-scale implementation without the need for rubber bands, binder clips, scotch tape or the required minimum of three paper holding trays. The later version of the book retains all the previously listed tools, but includes any other tools already being used for data capture – a nod to the fact that anyone reading the book most likely has a phone with built-in task management and email – the ‘PDA’ is no longer the preserve of a handful of senior executives as it was in the original.

This overly prescriptive list can act as a barrier to getting started, regardless of whether you’re going for a work, home, or all-out implementation. Don’t let it.

In both editions, the question of an organiser also comes up here. Yes, the question – do you actually need one if all you’re doing is list management? I’m going to go ahead and say yes you do. It doesn’t have to be high-tech, but you definitely need one. If you’re doing this, you already know if you have a digital or analogue preference, or if your workplace is locked down to a certain system. But make the decision now. It’s not necessarily the tool that you’ll stick with forever. You can change it once you’ve played around with it for a few weeks, but don’t gather all your ‘stuff’ into one place, panic when you realise how much there is and then realise you’ve got nowhere to put it.

GTD Golden Rule to break – you don’t need to have a single system that covers work and personal. I use Microsoft Outlook Tasks for work but Toodledo for personal and it has worked fine for years. I don’t want the constraints of either set of circumstances to force themselves on the other. I’ve got a slightly workaholic personality, so if I always have access to work, I’d never stop thinking about it. Having a clean break can actually be better for your mental health than the psychological effort of maintaining two systems.

After a brief argument for the start up items he’s listed, in the 2011 edition there is an extensive argument for the importance of good filing. This is all around the physical mechanics of storing paper where it is easily accessible. A few of the principles apply to the world we live in now, but in most businesses and households, this level of attention to paper storage is simply no longer required.

One thing I would take away from this is that physical paper forces something that digital seldom does: the requirement to purge before you simply run out of space. You can upgrade your virtual storage space at the click of a button, leaving most people with an amorphous blob of badly tagged ‘stuff’ with multiple providers. A yearly purge of data can be invaluable. What we do now is the digital equivalent of storing things in the shed in case it comes in handy later, then repeatedly buying bigger sheds until the tin of paint you want is buried so deep inside that when the time finally comes for it to be useful, you just buy a new one anyway.

In summary, getting started with something as complex as GTD should be as simple as possible.

  1. Assess the amount of time you can realistically give your total focus to and find the problem that fits. 
  2. Get yourself a place to physically sort things, preferably where you can repeatedly do a smaller version of this (the weekly or daily review). If you live a mobile lifestyle, then this can be achieved simply by the consistency of your bag set up and storage. It doesn’t need to be complicated. 
  3. Finally, get the basics of pen, paper, post it notes, a physical inbox and your list management tool of choice.

That’s it. You’re good to go.

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Rhodia notepad – my best analogue capture device

Sometimes the best things come to us in life entirely by mistake. That’s exactly what happened to me with the Rhodia no 12 pad and it has turned out to be one of the most useful analogue tools I use.

Unlike my digital task management systems (which are separate for work and personal), this can be used for everything. A story or character idea? Check. A task I need to complete for a client? Check. Topping up the coolant levels in my car? Check. I just write the thought down, tear off the sheet and throw it in my inbox to be processed at a more convenient time.

A frequent thought right now

I didn’t realise how small this was when I brought it. I’d heard people talk about how fountain pen friendly the paper used by Rhodia was and saw it at a reasonable price. Thanks to the one click simplicity of the internet, I’d paid for it and it was being delivered before I really looked any further. Initially I was disappointed, but at 85 by 120mm, it sat unobtrusively on my desk and was always at hand when a rogue thought popped into my head.

As part of the Getting Things Done methodology, David Allen talks about the benefits of writing down a single thought on a full size sheet of paper. Despite the recycling options now available, that feels wasteful to me. Post it notes don’t work out either, because although they are a similar, more convenient size, they stick to everything else in your inbox and inevitably get lost on the back of a letter that you filed.

The tear off perforations on the pad are sturdy but easy to rip. I’ve never had a sheet come loose, but nor have I ever had a ragged half-piece of paper where it got stuck and wouldn’t cleanly come free.

I never have to worry about what writing implement is already in my hand when the bolt of lightning strikes either. I’ve had a felt tip, a gel pen, a pencil and a nice juicy stub-nibbed fountain pen and none of them have bled through to the sheet below or smeared. When it comes to getting ideas out of your head so you can get back to what you’re meant to be doing, silly frictions like having to swap to a ballpoint will stop you from writing it down at all. I’m super lazy like that and, if you’re being honest, I bet you are too.

It’s even small enough to hide behind a Field Notes

So, for the perfect little desk or pocket notepad, it ticks all the boxes. I usually try to do a pros and cons list when I write about physical tools, but for this little buddy I can’t think of any cons. And with such high quality for such a low cost, it’s worth giving a go, no matter how high or low tech your system is.

Evolution of the bullet journal

Evolution is, perhaps, the wrong way to describe it. The phenomenon that is the bullet journal method is slowly coming full circle, leading us all right back to where it started.

As I’ve discussed before, I was a relatively early adopter of the system. I know I was using it at a job that ended in December 2013. Given that Ryder Carrol launched the Bullet Journal website in August 2013, I must’ve been one of the first people climbing aboard that waggon. Plus, it led me to the Pen Addict podcast, which allowed me to rekindle my love affair with all things analogue.

Above all, I found it because it was a productivity tool. A system to better manage my To Do list. Although I’d been using a digital task manager for my personal life and a GTD style spreadsheet for my work tasks, when the proverbial hit the fan, I always grabbed a pen and made a paper list. Five years later, things are still the same. A handwritten list allows me to focus on what is truly important, rather than scrolling through lists of next actions throughout the day and wearing myself down with decision fatigue.

Then, at some point, bullet journaling and Instagram collided. The emphasis on actual productivity became muddied. Yes, there were things to do on people’s lists, but no growth once things got under control. People who had come to the system because they needed to manage their overwhelm had everything in one place at last, but the twins of effectiveness and efficiency were nowhere to be seen. This is, of course, a gross simplification and uses broad brush strokes, but when your productivity system becomes an art portfolio with token tasks, then it’s missing the point (unless you’re an actual artist). Underneath the bujo hashtag is a mind-blowing array of beautiful images.

No one’s bujo looked like mine. Four things to do each day and space for a beautiful sketch? You’re living the dream then. A day with only four things for me to do is a lazy weekend day. And with it the bitter, mostly envious thought of well if you spent less time drawing perfect layouts, you’d actually get more done. This is not necessarily true, but the images of weekly spreads across the various social media sites made it difficult for anyone new who didn’t want that element to feel like they could do it. It can be demoralising as much as it can be inspiring.

Not to mention that all those pretty accounts led to a wrongly perceived gendering of ‘how’ to bullet journal. I couldn’t imagine someone going into a boardroom meeting with all those pastel shades and flowers and being taken seriously. The culture we live in would, sadly, make one of two assumptions. Firstly, if it was a man, he would be mocked endlessly for his girliness. If it was a women, then she clearly isn’t as focused and capable as a man. I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s the world we live in until we make progress in making it better.

Yet the system is perfect for that environment. Writing by hand removes the perception that you’re secretly checking your email, which happens when you take notes on a laptop. A well-organised and maintained system allows you to easily flip through to previous meetings and related collections. Your actions and waiting fors are captured quickly so nothing gets lost. The act of capturing the notes themselves stops you from zoning out when that powerpoint presentation hits slide twenty.

So the bullet journal is at a point of reckoning. Ryder is an astute businessman and creative, so was prepared for this moment already. His book, The Bullet Journal Method, takes it gently back to where it began – a productivity tool. The emphasis is what made it attractive in the first place: it’s not about getting more in your system, it’s about focus on what matters.

So, the bullet journal breaks down to this:

  • As long as your notebook is something you want to engage with, it doesn’t need to be a work of art
  • A notebook that comes with an Index and numbered pages does half the work for you
  • You don’t need to do everything – keep the parts of the system that work for you
  • You can use a bullet journal in conjunction with digital tools – it’s not sacrilege to use an online calendar
  • The bullet journal is a methodology that plays well with others – you don’t have to abandon GTD or personal Kanban to use it
  • You don’t need an expensive notebook and pen (although I prefer them)
  • It doesn’t have to be a specific, larger size format that you see most often depicted – I apply the same principles to my pocket notebooks

MD Diary Notebook pros and cons

2018 was a busy, complex year. In 2019 I’m going simple.  As simple as possible whilst still being effective. So when searching for a paper planner, that was my main focus. After a wide range of searches, I settled on the MD Diary Notebook and now we’re a few weeks in, it’s serving me well.

Why simple?

In 2018, my morning routine was too much to handle. Becoming a new mom meant I needed less if I wanted to get any real work done, but instead I somehow started to hold onto the morning routine as being work in itself. In short, I used it for procrastination, whilst still checking boxes and feeling good about myself. When doing my yearly review it was abundantly clear how little work actually got done. This year, my goal is to simplify everything in order to focus on what matters.

To give you an idea of how much I need to simplify things, here is a list of all the paper based products I used last year as part of my ‘routine’.

  • A one line a day memory book
  • A Leuchturrm weekly planner
  • Trigg Life Mapper
  • Midori Travelers Notebook and inserts (x3)
  • Pocket notebooks, e.g. Field Notes (x5)
  • A5 notebooks for journaling (x8)
  • A5 notebooks for creative projects (x1)

It’s no great surprise that traveling this year was nothing short of impossible unless I only wanted paper in my hand luggage. For this year, my goal is to stick with the following:

  • A one line a day memory book
  • MD Diary Notebook
  • Pocket notebooks for ideas on the go
  • A5 notebooks for creative ideas

That’s a serious cut and I still want to keep the elements that work. Journaling has kept me sane after countless sleepless nights and full time work days, so I don’t want to let it go completely.

So why choose the MD Diary Notebook?

Firstly, the majority of the book is lined pages, with slightly darker lines splitting the page into quarters. It allows me the free form elements to control the pieces of my practice, but the structure allows me to limit it to a single page per day. That in itself reduces the procrastination time. I’m not artistic enough for a fancy BuJo, but as Ryder Carroll himself pointed out in his recent post, it’s not about prettiness and social media likes, it’s about serving a purpose.

This gives me the pages I need without requiring me to brush up on my calligraphy, or having to draw out calendar pages. If you do like artistic and pretty, then the lined format is much less likely to work for you.

I use the first quarter to write down three things I’m grateful for, a positive affirmation and my main goal for the day. That then leaves me the remainder of a page to do a brain dump and get any nagging thoughts or events I want to remember in the future off my mind.

Monthly Calendar View

The MD diary allows me to combine my planning and routine together so that when I travel, everything is in one place. Each month has a square for each day, with a wide right-hand margin and further space at the bottom of the page.

Admittedly I have to keep my writing small and neat to make this work. Many would argue that it doesn’t leave much space for a whole month’s worth of planning, but again this forces constraint. Is it really going to get done this month or is it more of a wish-list item? I use a digital app as my actual task management system because I’m very granular (a typical GTD-er) so don’t need that space for long lists.

The Year View

The year view is also compact. Perhaps a little too compact for most people.

Again there is space down the side for important notes, but I’m guessing this section will work with different coloured highlighters and a key to what they actually mean in the margin.

Of course, form factor isn’t everything. There still needs to be sufficient quality and that is something I’ve always found to be the case with any Midori product. The paper works well with every fountain pen I’ve thrown at it, including a 1.5 stub nib with reasonably wet ink. Due to the space restrictions, the majority of users are likely to be writing with a medium nib at most, so I don’t see this being a problem.

General planner-procrastination observations

Last year I spent far less time on creative ideas. There were probably fewer A5 notebooks in comparison to previous years, but the ones I did fill were packed with naval gazing more than actual work. Similarly I used a LOT less pocket notebooks. Looking back, that was because I was firefighting for much of the time and my old GTD habit of capturing thoughts and ideas to put into my system began to slide.

So far I can completely recommend my new setup as a way to control the start of your day, but as is the case with these things, the true test is if it is still working for me by the time that second quarter of 2019 rolls around.

Field Notes Still Hanging Around: Black Ice

Just to be clear, this edition has now sold out on the Field Notes website. Where it’s hanging around is on my desk, never getting used as part of my creative writing or planning routine. So I thought it was time to do a Field Notes Black Ice review and work out why.

I was really excited when I first saw the Field Notes Black Ice edition. One of my favourite things about Field Notes is their constant push towards innovation. Not only was this a beautiful looking edition with its shiny cover, it was also a brand-new way of binding the Field Notes.

This edition was found more like the Write notepads. Having tried Write notepads before this edition I was slightly dubious from the start about how this functionality would fit within my life. One of my favourite things about a Field Notes notebook is its ability to lie relatively flat on the desk. This is only a small thing for some people, but I find it very easy when the book is close to ignore the tasks inside. Having the book open on my desk means I am more likely to achieve what I need to do during that day as part of my creative/productive workflows. This, in the end, was one of the biggest downsides for me, along with the line drooling inside. However I did love the orange colour of the lines and thought them a beautiful compliment to the binding.

I know for many people these two features combined won’t really be a problem. But for me this turns a beautiful looking edition into something I really struggle to use in daily life. Normally I can get through a fieldnotes notebook in approximately three weeks. Sometimes, if it is particularly busy I can complete one in two weeks. if things are less busy it can take four to five weeks. However on my first run I used the Black Ice edition for over six weeks now and it was only half full. I simply did not find myself reaching for this edition like I normally do with the Field Notes in my pocket. Instead I began to scribble my notes on pieces of paper and dream about the next release. I also started using other notebooks to record my ideas and small tasks began to get recorded in my paper planner. Eventually it got put into my Dudek Modern Goods pen and paper stand and it has been there ever since.

So why would anyone like this edition? The one thing I can’t deny is that Black Ice looks beautiful. The cover somehow remains shiny metallic looking even after the six weeks of use. The cover also crinkles nicely in the pockets. One of the many reasons people enjoy using Field Notes is how they look once used and have a slightly distressed finish. The use of new binding as opposed to the traditional three staples means that this edition is slightly thicker than usual. This makes it harder to bend and tear when in the bag or in the pocket so along with fewer signs of wear and tear, the pages stay very much intact. Some of the editions of Field Notes immediately prior to this (I’m looking at you Two Rivers) had definite issues when it came to keeping the paper inside the cover. Given how much I enjoyed holding the book open and cracking the spine, I expected this to also be in edition where the pages fell out easily, so was pleasantly surprised when they didn’t.

I often see Black Ice for resale, so it seems I wasn’t the only one that couldn’t make it work for them. Given that I’m in the process of re-shaking up my routine and productivity system again, it was time to clear the desk. Sadly, the half-finished Black Ice will be consigned to the drawer with the completed notebooks.

Maybe one day I’ll want to pull it out again.

The Blackwing 54 – A Writer’s Pencil

Whether you’re more of a fan of digital or analogue, I’m a firm believer that the more attractive a tool is, the more likely you are to use it. When it comes to getting things done, that also means more gets done.

Palomino are known to make beautiful, unique looking pencils that make people willing to step up to the relatively expensive price point. If people are prepared to do that for the standard issue, then they are more than willing to buy into the limited edition concept.

Which leads me to…. the Blackwing Volumes Edition 54: The Exquisite Corpse. A pencil unlike anything they’ve released before and possibly the fastest selling quarterly release ever.

Look

I’ve yet to see any photograph that really does justice to the colour of the 54. That goes for the rose-coloured body and the teal stamping. Truly gorgeous. I’m in two minds about the colour of the eraser ( a fairly standard blue), but as they’re interchangeable then I know that if another colour comes along in the future then it will be easy enough to swap.

Feel

For me – and many others – the real selling point is the core. The Blackwing 54 has the extra firm core that has so far only been made available in limited edition releases. As the Blackwing 24 has been my favourite edition of all time, I’m happy to see a release that has the same innards.

As you would expect from a premium pencil, the graphite just slides over the page regardless of how hard it is, making it an absolute joy to write with.

Point Retention

It is the point retention of the Blackwing 54 that makes it a writer’s pencil. When writing longform pieces, there is nothing worse than having to stop and sharpen your pencil every three minutes. It’s possible to write with the Blackwing 54 for longer than a standard Blackwing 602 (and certainly longer than the affectionately named MMX), but without sacrificing a nice dark line in the process.

Comparison

Although there are three volumes editions with the extra firm core, in my experience they are not actually identical. The 530 was lighter than the 24 (something other people noticed too), which was a bit of a disappointment. In my test below, you can see how they all line up – with the majority standard favourite, the Blackwing 602 – included for comparison.

The overall verdict? I love this pencil. It makes me want to get out my notebook and write for hours. The 24 is still my favourite, but from a writing perspective, the 54 has to come in a close second.

The 5 best bullet journal health tracker spreads

With all the apps out there focused on health and habits, analogue still remains a fantastic way to set goals and easily monitor your progress. I’ve been using a modified bullet journal for years now and its best feature is that the system does whatever you want. When it comes to tracking your health, a simple one or two page spread is all you need.

I have limited artistic skills to say the least. My bullet journal set up needs to be simple or I spend more time doodling than doing. So the following examples don’t all focus on exquisite calligraphy or time-intensive set up. Of course, they could all be made simpler or more elaborate depending on your personal preferences.

Remember, your healthy habits will be personal to you, so don’t worry about tracking things you don’t care about because someone has included them here. Alternatively, you might see something you’d never considered before.

1 – Minimal

Image: marianeofcysn

This is the kind of tracker I use. I can just about manage to draw small squares without going too far wrong. With the habits listed down the left hand side and the dates across the top, it gives a quick and easy visual of missed days and progress.

2 – Data driven

Image: oak.tree.journaling

These simplified graphs allow you to see much more than a yes / no response to your habits. This is particularly useful if you are setting yourself sleep, calorie or water consumption targets, for example. The space for notes is helpful for noting any external factors that impacted progress to add more context to the images.

3 – Funky

Image: Boho Berry

There is literally no one who bullet journals who hasn’t heard of Boho Berry. With good reason too – she’s always tweaking and experimenting so you don’t have to. With this tracker, I love the sense of full circle you get for the month. It is also a fantastic way of quickly assessing if there is any correlation between your habits. If you eat badly after a poor night’s sleep, then chances are you’ll be able to spot the pattern quickly with this one.

4 – Wordy

Image: b.izzi

Like the minimalist tracker above, this is the kind of spread I can get behind because it uses more words than images! This is great if you want to track at a greater depth on a weekly, rather than monthly, level. Instead of simply recording whether you hit (or missed) your goal that day, you get space to think about and record the reason why. This is especially useful for those who like to review for strengths and weaknesses so they can course correct as necessary.

5 – Visual

Image: mybulletjournal18

Although this one is also simple in terms of its components, visually it packs quite a punch. The bright colours and easy to read progress bars are great for those who like to take in their information in a visual way. Colour co-ordination really comes into its own with a spread like this and allows you to see where you need to focus your attention as the month progresses. It’s less useful if you’re trying to establish a successful streaking process.

Don’t forget to check out the creators of these spreads (click on the images) to get other ideas that might work for you and see their work in more depth. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of options when you scroll through instagram, so if you’re new to it, start out simple and focus on what you need. There’s plenty of time to tweak it later.

For more information on building habits and healthy eating, check out The Realist’s Guide to Sugar Free and The Realist’s Guide To Resolutions.