Posts Tagged “notebooks”

Benefiting from the Constraints of Pen and Paper to Tame Tasks

In the last 18 months, I’ve moved from using a task manager application to using pen and notebook and a technique called bullet journaling. The transition to this method hasn’t been without its challenges, but there’s one thing that it provides that I don’t get with any task manager application that I’ve used. And that is constraints.

Task management applications like to sell lots of benefits like being able to go with me wherever I go, work wherever I am and manage anything I throw at it. That last advantage is quite interesting because it’s here that I find that task management applications work quite well for me for a while, but I usually end up over-committing with a crazy list of tasks sometimes running into hundreds.

Thanks to improvements in technology, we have these little portable devices in our pockets that can potentially hold thousands (perhaps even millions) of tasks. These same devices also make it simple to add more tasks with the ability to type, speak or automate the process of creating new tasks. There are very few constraints in creating new tasks other than perhaps losing the wi-fi signal or running out of battery. These are not big constraints given that the world is more connected than ever and we have portable chargers to keep our devices topped up.

I keep all my tasks together at the back of my notebook. Written by hand and double-spaced. Sounds labourious right? Bear with me.

With each new task added, I often find myself questioning the value of the task and whether it is even worth writing down. I also look at the number of tasks I have decided if I need to focus on those first before adding anything else.

When it comes to moving tasks from one page to another, again I question the value of the task and whether it is worth moving.

My master list of tasks is usually about three pages long. Take into account that the notebook is smaller than A4 and my writing is double-spaced, that’s not a lot of tasks to do. The constraints of time to write a task and the effort in maintaining it when using paper mean that my complete list of tasks is manageable.

You can enforce these constraints on your favourite task management application, but I’ve often found that this is difficult to do given how easy to use these types of applications are.

Now, I’m not saying that bullet journaling is the silver bullet solution to all productivity hacks; it isn’t. However, the constraints of notebooks are why I find that bullet journaling works so well. It allows me to manage a smaller and more focused list of tasks and that in turns stops me from over-committing.

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Why Notebooks Work For Me

This week I’ve highlighted the three notebooks I am using to replace my task manager app.

The reason that I find that notebooks work so well is because while notebooks are more versatile, they also need input and I don’t mean of the mouse and keyboard kind.

Digital task managers have a number of features that allow you to take shortcuts. I took these shortcuts as a way of avoiding planning and reviewing my next block of work. I simply let my task manager do it for me using features like lists and tags.

I can’t take shortcuts with a notebook. I can’t quickly filter out a subset of tasks. I can’t move a group of tasks in a few seconds. Given time I could do these but just not quickly. And that’s the reason I find that notebooks work so well.

Managing your tasks using notebooks means that you need to spend more time planning, reviewing and making decisions about what’s important.

They need that little bit of extra work. Work that I think is worth putting in.

So far, everything is going well. The only significant change was the introduction of the bullet journal, but I’ve already have plenty of use through my other notebooks to make the switch to the bullet journal easy.

To find out more follow Patrick Rhone and Belle Beth Cooper who are real notebook aficionados. Both update their blogs on a regular basis and feature posts around notebooks and how to use them. Patrick also has a website called The Cramped that you might revolves around analog writing.

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The Logging Notebook

When it comes to getting things done the focus is always on what needs done and when you can do it. Without these two you would end up with the wrong task getting done at the wrong time. You’ll eventually find yourself just getting nowhere fast.

These two task variables are important but just as important is the time you spend looking at the progress you have made. In order to do that you need look past more than just the tasks you done.

I look to the tasks that fall into two categories:

  1. The difficult tasks that presented problems but were eventually done.
  2. The tasks that I enjoyed doing and that made a significant impact.

It’s these groups of tasks that make up the bulk of my final notebook in the process, the logging notebook. When it comes to looking back what you’ve done, you need to filter out the important tasks so that you know you are making progress. This is what I use the logging notebook for.

I’m using a Hobonichi Techo planner as my logging notebook. Persuaded by Patrick Rhone and Mike Rohde I bought one at the end of last year.

The notebook itself is fairly small and the paper although thin, is of superb quality. This makes it ideal for a broad range of writing instruments. I mostly use a Lamy Safari for this notebook, although I have done a few sketches with other pens.

Rather than using it as a planner, I record the big wins for the day and the tasks that I finished that made a real difference. Those “Yay me!” moments when it’s more than just another task done, it’s a significant amount of progress made.

The year is drawing to a close and I’m glad to say that the Hobonichi Techno planner has been a great investment as I use it daily. Next year’s is already sitting on my desk waiting to log the next set of wins .

You can use any notebook as your logging book. The most important thing is to log the wins. It adds a much clearer view of the progress you’ve made and also has the benefit of providing a much needed boost when you feel you have been slacking.

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The Bullet Journal

Bullet journalling has been around for a few years now, but it’s only now that I’ve decided to start a bullet journal of my own. The bullet journal is the idea of Ryder Carroll. He wanted something easy to use and over a period of time, he tweaked what we now know as the bullet journal.

The bullet journal isn’t the notebook itself, it’s the conventions used in the notebook that make it a bullet journal. There are a number of different pages to a bullet journal:

  • Future log - A two-page spread listing what you need to do over the next six months.
  • Monthly log - A single page listing the month ahead and what you planned for each day.
  • Daily log - A page with tasks and notes listed for each day.
  • Collection - A single page comprising of a number of related tasks.
  • Index - A number of pages with references to any future logs, monthly logs, collections and any other page you need to remember.

I’m using it in much the same way as the method on the website with the exception of the bullets. I’ve been using Patrick Rhone’s DashPlus system for few years now for my notebooks for capturing and so I’m sticking with that.

I keep a list of recurring tasks that I must do each week and month. Every week I have admin work to do, invoices to review and marketing tasks to get done. I keep these tasks under two pages. The first is weekly and the second is monthly. Any recurring tasks get listed here and then migrated to the month log or daily log when I need too.

It’s fairly easy to pick up and that’s one of the reasons why I like it so much. Even the simplest task manager apps on the market have a degree of complexity about them. With the bullet journal everything is there to see. Nothing to hide.

The immediate benefit is that you’re away from the screen for periods at a time through the day. Modern technology is great and makes us more productive, but there comes a point where even modern technology becomes counterproductive and we end up needing something to reinforce what’s important to do next.

For me the big benefit is the need to spend more time reviewing and planning my tasks in the journal rather than simply seeing what my to do list has scheduled in place for me to do that day. Now that I spend more time planning my day and week I’m more aware of what I’m doing and the time I’m spending on each task.

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The Pocket Notebook

I’ve been carrying a pocket notebook with me everywhere I go for the last few years but it hasn’t been until this year that I really started to use it on a daily basis.

The idea is simple. You keep a pocket notebook on you to capture ideas, thoughts and anything else that you’ll need to remember at a later date.

No matter what profession you find yourself in, the most essential function of the pocket notebook is to provide a place to capture the ideas that spring to mind throughout the day.

The Manly Tradition of the Pocket Notebook by The Art of Manliness

You might think it’s a little over the top but how many times have you tried to remember something that came to you a few hours before but you couldn’t? Unless you already have a place for these then I imagine that for most of you it’s quite a lot.

It used to happen to me all the time. I started using email to capture moments like this in Todoist, but that was the wrong place to capture them.

Instead I took the advice of Patrick Rhone and started using a notebook to capture all these little loose ends that come to me through the day.

It’s been a decision I haven’t regretted and become such an engrained habit in my day that my notebook goes with me everywhere.

At the moment I’m still working through a couple of pocket Moleskine notebooks, but I’ll be using the Field Notes notebooks when my first subscription arrives in a few weeks.

I keep my notebook in a Nock Hightower with a few index cards if I need to hand some information out. It also has space for a couple of pens and I also keep my headphones in here as well. Seems as good a place as any and it means all I need to lift if I’m going out is my keys, wallet, phone and Nock. I rarely go anywhere without all four.

A pocket notebook might get you stares and a few questions about it, but for capturing those bits of info you might need to remember later on, it can’t be beat.

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Blank Pages

Blank pages are great. They are empty to begin with. Devoid of markings, letters, pictures, symbols or any written mark that represents something. They are empty for a reason. They need to be filled. But what with?

With a blank page you can start writing. A sentence, a paragraph, a poem, a short story, a long story, a film, a trilogy of films. It all begins on a blank page with a few words.

With a blank page you can start drawing, sketching or even doodle. Whatever it is you want to call it. Your thoughts visualised could be an idea that will change the world or act as a window for future generations to see through. It all begins on a blank page with a few lines.

With a blank page you can start making. Take an idea. Iterate over it with different approaches. Draw variations of it, list the pros and cons for each different variation. Finalize it before moving forward. It all begins on a blank page with an idea.

With a blank page you are recording a thought or idea that could outlive you and even the end of this century. With a blank page you are freeing yourself from the confines of technology. With a blank page you have decided that it is better to have a reliable means of recording that doesn’t require wi-fi, the Internet or even a battery.

Did I mention that blank pages are great?

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