May 19, 2020

My all-in-one notebook (planner, journal, tracker)

I love planners and diaries so much. I love making lists. I had been a diligent list maker on Evernote for years. I had also tried a few to-do apps for managing my tasks, Google Keep to add random notes, Evernote for journaling etc. Sometime last year, after reading Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism, I felt I didn't want to be tracking everything online across a variety of apps and tools. There wasn't any consistency, my thoughts were dumped randomly without a proper system in place and most importantly, I had to use my phone/laptop often to track every little thing. I also realized a planner or a diary is too rigid and is meant only for handling one use case. I don't want to use 3-4 different notebooks - one for planning, one for tracking, one for journaling, one for note-taking etc. 
Since June last year, I had been maintaining this system and I'm quite happy with it so far. I call this my "all-in-one notebook". I got this 5-subject ruled notebook at a price of Rs.240 from a stationery store. No templates, no dates, no time blocks, plain simple ruled notebook with 5 partitions that I have customized it according to my needs. When I shift to the next notebook, I plan to get an unruled one. Ah, the pleasure of writing on a plain, white sheet of paper! Even if it sounds narcissistic, let me admit - I love my handwriting 🙂

The 5 sections of my notebook are allocated for the following areas:
  1. Reflection
  2. Journal
  3. Notes
  4. Goals and Lists
  5. ToDos
I use this section for two reasons:
  1. Habit Tracker - I had elaborated on how I track my habits in this post. Every month, I list down the habits I want to track. The number of habits could be anywhere between 8-10. At the end of each day, I put a checkmark against the items I had managed to complete. I find that I stick to daily habits when I put that checkmark using a pen. I have tried habit tracking apps earlier but I wasn't being consistent with my habits.
  2. Happiness journal - I had elaborated on this journal in an earlier post, which includes a video as well. At the end of each day, I think about 3-4 events/moments that made me happy and jot them down. Though I haven't been consistently writing on all days, it is such a warm feeling to read the journal entries from the past. Since I'm using an undated notebook, it is perfectly okay if we are not doing this on a daily basis. Even if I jumped off the bandwagon, I can easily get back without any feeling of guilt. With a dated diary, I used to feel so guilty when I had to leave blank pages on days I didn't feel like writing anything. A plain, simple notebook solves the problem 🙂

This section is a collection of thoughts/Ramblings from self. I don't write on a daily basis, though I wish to. Whenever an inspiration strikes/some issue is bothering me/someone made me terribly angry or upset, I pick up my notebook and pour out all my thoughts. At the end of the writing session, I feel so relieved. Sometimes, the solution unravels itself as I journal out the problem. I also use this journal section as a brain dump when I feel too overwhelmed or I find too many random ideas surfacing up.

This section is a collection of thoughts/quotes/writings from others. I consume quite a lot of content - from books, blogs, podcasts, videos etc. Not all of them are useful or relevant. But there will be some pointers/take-aways that resonate with me and I jot them down here. Currently, I have notes from varied topics - nutrition, health, wellness, growth, philosophy etc. I also note down inspirational quotes that I come across.

Goals and Lists:
I keep track of many lists here
  • My bucket list
  • Annual focus areas/themes
  • Monthly goals
  • Monthly calendar with important dates
  • Books to read
  • Recipes to try
  • Movies to watch
  • Places to visit
  • Blogposts to write
  • Courses to do
  • Topics to research/explore
I prepare the monthly calendar on the 1st of every month and track the important dates. Again, there are months I haven't done this - for instance, over the last 2 months, I was feeling overwhelmed with all that's happening around and I decided to take it one day at a time. I feel content to manage my daily responsibilities without planning too much ahead in the future.

Weekly Tasks - I used to track this in Evernote earlier. The approach is the same as outlined in this blog post. Every Sun evening / Mon morning, I make a list of tasks for the week - important as well as mundane tasks that I plan to do across various aspects of my life - blogging, professional work, cooking, reading etc. I refer to the "Goals and Lists" section to set my weekly tasks.
Daily ToDos - Anything and everything I need to get done for the day is tracked here -from "Make idli batter" to "Publish post on all-in-one notebook". I refer to this section multiple times in a day and add a checkmark once completed.
Timeboxing/Scheduling a day - I do this on a need basis, especially on days when I have too many things to do or when I feel like I need to allocate time for different activities. When I used to write in a daily planner, I didn't use this section very effectively. I was repeating the same task on every single page or I would end up not planning for days at a stretch which would result in empty, wasted pages.

There is no right/wrong approach to setting up your planning and tracking system. Pick the one that works for you. Customize it according to your needs. Love the whole process. Don't go on a guilt trip if you don't plan a given day or a week or even a month. Allow yourself the flexibility to get back whenever you can. Don't be too harsh on yourself when things don't go as planned.

If you love planning but not interested to spend a lot on planners/journals, I hope this post gave you a few ideas to get started with a simple notebook. Let's not wait for Jan 1st or even the 1st of any month. Today is all we have, let's make the best use of it.

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