How I Use My Notebooks: Daily Planner Update

I last posted about my planner and to do list setup here. To recap, my planning system includes two large Moleskine hard cover squared notebooks, one in which I plan my week, and one in which I use as a daily to do planner. I started using this setup once Covid hit and I started working from home. It worked very well for a year and a half.

Then I got cancer.

I was hospitalized for a month, in which I discovered that I have zero control over my time or how my day will shape out. When I got out I was already on a Chemo regiment. I had to make adjustments to my life, this time because of my personal health, not a global pandemic.

Score (another) one for self-made planners.

My old system was generic enough that it fit into my new lifestyle with very little adjustment. The weekly notebook stayed mostly the same, as you can see below. The main difference is that I manage less stuff there and more using reminders in Fantastical. It’s not that I don’t like paper planners any more, it’s just that Chemo Brain is a possible side effect of my treatment and I don’t want to risk not getting something important done because I forgot to check my weekly planner at the right moment, or I saw something there but didn’t remember it after I’ve seen it.

So why keep the weekly planner at all? Because it helps me see how the week is shaping up, and because it allows me to do a little long term planning, despite everything. All my plans at the moment are in two week batches (dictated by my chemo regiment), and this layout allows me to manage them.

Another addition to this notebook is a few tracker pages, marked by tabs. Some track purchases that I’m waiting for, some track bureaucracies that I need to take care of, others list things that I want to get done eventually but I haven’t decided yet when or how.

As for my daily planner notebook, I just finished one and started another. Here’s the finished notebook:

Moleskine Large Hardcover squared with a Star Wars The Last Jedi decal on the cover.

Here’s the new notebook. I love using these decals to make these notebooks my own:

Moleskine Large Hardcover squared with a Star Wars Chewbacca decal on the cover.

I used to manage every day on a full spread, with personal to dos on one side of the page and professional ones on a another. Since my life is less busy now than it used to be, I’ve downsized my to do to one page per day, with personal and professional mixed in (I work from home). This is a sample of my least busiest day: it’s a chemo day and I wasn’t planning on working after this treatment since it was a long one. Door to door I was in the hospital from 6:40 to 14:00, and completely wiped out after it. I don’t usually list my meals or naps in my notebook, but chemo days are so crazy (in terms of what my brain does on steroids) that I have to write everything down. Things that I didn’t do get a strike in them and are moved forward to another day.

Everybody has different needs from their planner, and those needs oftentimes change unexpectedly, and out of sync with “planner season”. It’s one of the reasons why I find making your own planner, working just a few days or a week or two ahead is the best and most consistent way for me to manage my time. There are some great planning systems out there, but if you’ve struggled with using them, or if your circumstances make you need a very flexible system, I highly recommend picking up a squared or lined notebook and creating your own.

How I Use My Notebooks: Three Good Things

I’ve been going through a rough time lately, and as many people have been so kind to say, staying optimistic despite all the bad things that I’ve had to deal with lately is key to getting through this terrible time. That is, of course, easier said than done. My mind tends to latch on to the painful and scary parts of the day, to the bad feelings, anxiety and doubt. It doesn’t help that we are all living through difficult times, and it’s hard to see and end in sight.

So I’ve started a new habit during the past month, and it’s helping me end the day on a positive note, with an added bonus of helping me use up some of my many notebooks.

I end each day by writing at least three good things that happened that day. I dedicate a page for each day, in my Dingbats notebook, with “Three Good Things” as the title, the date and day, and then the list of good things. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to find that day’s three good things, and for most days so far I’ve managed to find more than three good things to reflect on. They are usually conversations that I had with friends, or moments where I felt like my old self, or things that I enjoyed reading or watching.

Writing these down has been so helpful in getting me to see the good in each day, and in trying to stay positive when life is pretty tough.

City in Grey

A5 Stillman and Birn sketchbook spread with two watercolour drawings, one on the lower left side and one on the upper right side (with ink), and two text blocks, one in Hebrew on the lower right side and one in English on the upper left side. The palette is grey and muted.

In early January we had a bout of very foggy days and I took photos of various city scenes in the lockdown and the fog thinking that I’d later draw them. I thought that drawing fog in watercolour would be pretty straightforward, because what is easier than just drawing wet on wet and letting the watercolour do its thing? But after looking more closely at the photos I realized that fog isn’t just grey sky melting into the landscape, it’s also a muting of colours, a flattening of the landscape, the lack of shadow. In the end I drew two small landscapes, one urban and one of the park, and although they were challenging I enjoyed drawing them enough to want to have the same experience with the text. The grey writing in Hebrew in the bottom right corner is a line out of a well known rock song that embodies a lot of the spirit of Tel Aviv. It was written using Diamine Silver Fox on a semi-wet background, to facilitate ink spread.

These drawing also showcase a shift I have made in my palette and my mixing over the past few weeks. Once things settle down I’ll probably post about my new palette.

Lego Architecture Trafalgar Square

I created this page as part of Liz Steel‘s excellent Sketchbook Design course. I remember drawing it while listening to a live Q&A with the Mischief Theatre improvisors on Instagram. I got back to building Legos after more than 20 years because I saw how much joy Adam Savage took in building Legos and I decided that I wanted some of that childhood joy back too.

I discovered that legos have become much more sophisticated these days, especially the Ideas and Architecture sets, and that building Legos puts me into a zen like mood that beats anything I’ve been able to achieve with meditation so far. My mind becomes calm and focused on the step that I’m on and I can utterly forget about my problems for a few hours. If I didn’t have budget and space limitations I would be knee-deep in the giant Millennium Falcon set as we speak.

Today I discovered that a local Lego guru is collecting money to buy sets for kids that are going to spend Passover in the Oncology departments of various local children’s hospitals. For years he’s been purchasing sets for kids, teenagers and young adults that are hospitalized for long periods of time, at first entirely from his own pocket, and now with the help of donations as well.

If you can, treat yourself and someone you care for to something like a Lego set, or a nice pen, or a cool notebook or just a half hour of listening to them talk about whatever they want to. I think we could all use a little kindness pick me up right now.

Cat Comfort

Another spread from my sketchbook, also created as part of the Sketchbook Design course. I still need to find a way of drawing my black cat without him turning into a dark blob on the page.

Mexican Feast

This is the first time I’ve used colour blocks to design a page in this way, with vertical drawings and horizontal text. This page was created as a contained composition for Liz Steel’s Sketchbook Design course (highly recommended, especially if you have a basic handle on drawing and sketching already). I normally would have just done an overlapped jumble of all the things that we cooked that evening, to convey a bit of the chaos of cooking so much in just an hour and a half, but I forced myself to think of a way of creating some of that night’s feeling using a contained composition. The vibrant turquoise was what brought this page to life for me: a joyful colour that connects me with what I learned about Mexico during that evening, and the happiness of cooking my way through a small part of the wonderful Mexican cuisine.

BTW – I just noticed that Jenny Mason from The Finer Point also took the Sketchbook Design course. I love the vibrant spreads that she’s created. Go check them out.

Night Visions

I’m still working to clear my backlog, as life is starting to get back to normal. This spread was part of the Sketchbook Design course assignment focusing on contained compositions. I find drawing night scenes in watercolour particularly difficult and so I tend to avoid them. However, I couldn’t pass on the chance to draw the night heron I saw at night, and so this spread emerged.

Dizengoff in Lockdown

I’ve had a rough two weeks, with my mom going through surgery to remove tumours during a Covid lockdown and other stuff crumbling at the same time. Starting to get back to my my routine again, which means posting here, working on a review and working on another short story.

This page shows a deserted Dizengoff street, which I haven’t seen since the first lockdown, last spring.

Hoping for better days ahead.

Build a Plant Holder

Sketchbook spread with two wooden X shaped plant holders, a screwdriver and some tiny paint pots. There's a sticker with the Molet logo on the right.

Tel Aviv Municipality has come up with a great way to support local businesses during the lockdown. Once a day at 11:00 they open the option for around 30-40 people to purchase a box from a local business. The box costs 50 NIS, and comes with a zoom session with the store owner, where you learn about their business and make something together. There was a beer box, a sushi box, a stationery box, a magic shop box, a cocktail box, a pickles box, and more. The boxes proved to be more popular than city hall envisioned, so after a few days they limited it to one box per resident. Luckily I managed to get three boxes before the limit took place, and this was the first one. We learned how to make two plant holders out of reclaimed pallet wood from a lovely design studio in Jaffa called Molet. They create kits and give workshops using wood pallets and the results are charming and fun. My dad had a workshop with them before the pandemic and really enjoyed it, and I’ll try and get the people at work to go to a workshop there once we can.

This sketchbook page was created as part of Liz Steel‘s Sketchbook Design course and explores using collage and colour blocks as design elements.

Morning Run And Grey Heron

Map of my run, ramen bowl, woman in boat rowing over the Yarkon river while a grey heron is in the reeds, and closeup on a grey heron.

I don’t often get to see grey herons during my runs, so I decided to make a hero of this sketchbook page. Drew a map for the first time in my sketchbook and it was hard and took longer than I expected.Drawing the ramen bowl was also challenging, but I really like the results. I like this spread even though at the beginning I thought that I’d have to trash it, because some terrible masking tape that I used tore into the right page quite badly. Glad that I stuck with it.

This page was created as part of Liz Steel‘s Sketchbook Design course and explores using maps in your sketchbook.