Analogue Planning and Task Management in Covid Times

When Covid-19 hit last year and I started working from home my old task management system completely disintegrated. It was a combination of trying to find a new work/life/health balance, coupled with starting a new job that really made me aware that my old running daily work checklist and home checklist were no longer going to work. I was also keenly aware that I could no longer do any long term planning, and yet that I had to find a way to plan ahead somehow, or I’d accomplish none of my long term goals. After trying several systems with little to no success, it took until January 2021 for me to find a system that worked for me. In the hopes that this may help someone build out their own system, here is a glimpse into mine.

The system is built into two separate Moleskine Large Hardcover Squared notebooks. This was my notebook of choice for my previous system, and it has served me well. I don’t use fountain pens for my planning, just fine gel pens, and I don’t mind the ghosting, as I find that it’s more pronounced in photos than it is when I actually use the page. One notebook is my weekly planner, and I reference it about once or twice a day. The other notebook is my daily task list, and I reference and update it all the time. Why two notebooks and not one notebook with both a weekly plan and daily pages? I tried that and the need to constantly flip between pages with no ability to see my weekly plan before me as I create my daily task lists was too much for me to deal with. I don’t have a dearth of notebooks and I do have dearth of time and attention, so two notebooks it is.

Here’s a weekly notebook spread:

Weekly notebook spread, before filling.

Each spread in my weekly notebook is divided between my weekly schedule/plan on the the left hand side of the spread, and a weekly goal list on the right hand side. This is a sample of the following week’s spread before I start really filling it. On the left hand side I fill in the days of the week and the dates. I put in appointments and things that I need to take into account while doing my planning, but this page isn’t a replacement for my Fantastical calendar. I still want and heavily use a digital calendar with reminders, but this notebook page is crucial for my ability to see and plan ahead. I plan and think better on paper, and so if I have a D&D game on a certain day, I know that I need to schedule time to prep for it. This is also where I plan my weekly training: when I run, when I go to the gym and when I rest. I also use it to plan ahead things that I need to be aware of for my mother’s various doctor’s appointments, from reminders, to various forms that need to be filled, blood tests scheduled etc.

The right side of the page is the most important part of each spread, as it is where I plan out what I want to get done each week. My yearly goals are broken down and mapped out week by week here. I break the goals down by title, and then write down 2-3 related goals under each one (except the fitness goal which gets more). Some goal groups are consistent – fitness, reading, writing, blog, cleaning. Other goal groups change depending on the week and my focus. The “Also” goal group is for miscellany, such as watching a weekly episode of a show that I don’t want spoiled, or renewing/cancelling subscriptions.

The daily notebook is much simpler, and is merely an evolution of my old task system, adapted to working from home:

Daily task list, in the afternoon of the day it was created.

On the left side of every work day there is a professional task list, with work related things that I want to do that day. On the right side of the page is the personal task list, with stuff that I want to do before and after work. On weekends the two sides of the page simply both list out personal tasks. This system is clear, simple to use, flexible and doesn’t require a lot of “meta” effort to set up or maintain.

If you’re struggling with time management lately, take some time to create a system that works for you and doesn’t overwhelm you. I highly recommend not using a planner but rather creating your own schedule, since it saves you from the disappointment and stress of empty planner pages. It also allows you to add specific pages to your setup as the need arises. For instance, as global shipping and our local post office have gone haywire since Covid, I dedicated a spread in my weekly notebook to tracking various shipments. When I need to go to the post office to collect a package I note it down in my schedule, and so it was easy for me to use a different page on the same notebook to track the status of each package.

Let me know if this was helpful, and if you’ve also been forced to revamp your planning over the past year.

New Reading Journal

Yesterday I finished my fifth reading journal, and so I thought that it would be a good opportunity to write a post about how I set up my reading journal.

I use my reading journal to keep track of what I read and to encourage me to read more. This is the journal that I’ve just finished, a Moleskine Two-Go:

Moleskine Two-Go. The perfect size and format for my needs.

I used to use a Field Notes Arts and Sciences notebook for my reading journal, but once I got back to reading more it made sense to move to a larger journal. For the past three years I’ve used the Moleskine Two-Go, and I fill one book journal a year (70 books are logged in each notebook).

Start and end date for this reading journal.

This is the setup in my old reading journal. Three pages of index:

First index page. Red checkmarks for books that I’ve read.

The Moleskine Two-Go comes with pages that are blank on one side and lined on another, which is perfect for my use case, except for the second index page, which I need to rule myself:

Ruled second index page.

I missed a line on the second index page, so the index numbering came out a little wonky. It’s only for me, so I don’t mind.

Off by one error in my index.

Here’s a sample of a complete page. I talked more about my thoughts behind the design in a previous post, but you can get the gist by looking at this sample. I like drawing something that captures the book for me on the opposite page, which is why I love the Moleskine Two-Go format.

I remember really not liking this book, and this is a reminder of why.

At the very last page of the journal I keep a log of how many books I read that month. It’s ten books so far for December, but the month isn’t done yet so that line isn’t filled.

Number of books per month tracker.

Here is my new reading journal, a Moleskine Two-Go, this time in green (my previous ones were in light grey, dark grey and navy):

Front cover.

I love the texture of the fabric colours on this, and the shade of green is interesting. The two contrasting bookmarks and the endpapers are grey.

Back cover

The first page, marking when I started the notebook and which journal number it is. This notebook doesn’t leave my desk yet I still write my name and email in case I misplace it somehow.

Front page

Next comes the index page. Since this is my third Two-Go reading journal I already know to number the pages until 139 (I number odd pages only, since my reviews are on odd pages), which comes out to 70 books.

Index page.

I rule the second page, because I tried just winging it on the first year and it didn’t come out great.

Spoke pen for the win.

On the last page I create my books per month tracker:

Zebra mildliner highligher smears gel ink, but I still like it.

I number all the pages of the index, but only the first 25 pages of the actual book journal. I will continue numbering pages in batches as I add books to the journal. The great advantage of using a completely unstructured book here is that I can do whatever I want with it, including starting the numbering after the index pages and not on the first notebook page.

These are the pen and pencils that I’ll be using in this journal. The Rotring 600 is a ballpoint, and the only ballpoint that I regularly use. The Caran d’Ache Bicolor has been my companion in these notebooks for several years. I use it to highlight things, and sometimes in my book scene sketches. I used the Blackwing 611 in my previous reading journal, and this time I’ll be using the Blackwing 4.

Caran d’Ache Bicolor, Blackwing 4, Rotring 600 ballpoint.

The first non fiction book in this journal:

The Good War

The first fiction book in this journal:

Cloud Atlas. ToB means Tournament of Books.

That’s my new reading journal all set up and ready to go. I hope that this inspires you to keep a reading journal of your own, one that will encourage you to read more and help evoke the memories of reading a specific book.

Moleskine Sakura Peanuts Pink Limited Edition

This is the second of the two Moleskine Sakura Peanuts limited edition notebooks, the pink version. To read about the white version click here.

The first three photos of this edition came out wonky, particularly the first one. I’m still waiting on a better light so that I can take better photos, but for now just look at the photo of the cover without the band to see this notebook’s true colour.

You can see how well Moleskine can design things when it tries, as the bellyband Sakura leaves align exactly with the print on the cover. This too is a fabric covered notebook with no 3D effect and a shiny, silky texture to the fabric. Moleskine seems to be letting the vibrant (ignore the colour in the photo below) pink of the cover to do the heavy lifting here, and I don’t think that’s warranted.

Front cover with band.

The back cover is a repeat of the white version back cover. The paper is 70gsm, but that’s not listed on the bellyband. It does state that it is acid-free and 240 pages, so I have no idea why the paper weight isn’t listed here but is listed on Moleskine’s site.

Back cover with band.

The spine is also plain, which is a shame. A nice Snoopy print on it would have made it much more appealing.

Spine with band.

So here we have the front cover, minus the bellyband, and in its true colour. I find this cover aggravating. Unlike the white version of this notebook there is no unifying colour scheme between Snoopy and the falling Sakura petals. Snoopy’s white fur doesn’t count here when he’s hugging a bright red heart, and not a pink one. Here there is no excuse for Woodstock not being on the cover (Snoopy’s heart already breaks the pink and white colour scheme). There’s also no real design here: there’s a bunch of falling petals and a Snoopy stuck on top.

Front Cover.

Incidentally you can see how well the fabric is attached to the covers by taking a look at this back cover. The notebook got dinged in shipping, which caused the cover to crinkle (bottom right corner of the photo). The fabric is still firmly attached, with no air bubbles or separation between it and the boards below. Impressive.

Back cover.

If the front and back endpapers of the pink edition would have been different from the white edition then this would have redeemed this notebook in my eyes. As it is they are exactly the same as their white counterpart, and as in the front cover the disconnect between the Sakura petals and the Peanuts characters is jarring.

Front endpaper.

That white page on the left of the back endpapers is just tragic.

Back endpaper.

I like the choice of pink in the ribbon and elastic, as it’s more vibrant and pops off the page.

Page layout and ribbon bookmark.

The B-side is a repeat of the white version. Again the theme of Sakura and Peanuts is side by side, with no real connection between them.

B-side of bellyband.

And the same rather depressing sticker selection as an added bonus to this edition. Rarely ahve stickers made me sad, but here they have.

Stickers.

The Moleskine Sakura Peanuts pink limited edition notebook makes me angry. This edition is a clear, phoned in, money grab. People pay a premium for Moleskine’s design, and this notebook wasn’t designed. It was cobbled together from a bunch of unrelated images, with no effort made to meld the two themes, to do something creative with them, or to even give the notebook user the feeling that someone put time and attention into this edition. Its highlight is the fabric on the cover, which is something that Moleskine nailed a few years ago. This edition will sell out, and I will use these notebooks, but I hope that this is not going to be the direction Moleskine chooses for its limited editions in the future.

Moleskine Peanuts Sakura White Limited Edition

I haven’t been able to find the fall/winter Moleskine 2020 catalog, so the Moleskine Peanuts Sakura edition caught me by surprise. The edition includes two cloth covered large lined notebooks, one in pink and one in white, each with the Sakura theme and the Peanuts theme combined.

I’ll start by reviewing the white cover edition of this notebook. First thing is first: Moleskine always nail the design details. The falling Sakura petals on the cover and on the band match:

Front cover with band and elastic.

The back cover is plain white with just the edges of the pale pink elastic in view, plus the Moleskine brand in a medium pink. Moleskine still don’t reveal their paper weight on the cover which is not cool, Moleskine, not cool. The catalog at least used to list that, but it was never made publicly available by Moleskine themselves (I got it through a Chronicle Books upload to scribd). Moleskine’s site does do a better job, listing the paper as 70 gsm so I have no idea why it’s still not listed on the back of the notebook’s bellyband.

Back cover with band and elastic and Moleskine branding.

There’s even a little Snoopy character on the bellyband spine, but not on the notebook itself, which is a shame. You can also see where the cover got dinged in shipping. I don’t mind, but if you do then you’ll probably do best to avoid the white covered notebook anyway. Unless you plan to write with gloves in a clean room this cover is not going to stay pristine. I personally believe that notebooks should show that they’ve been “lived in,” so that’s not going to be a problem for me.

Spine with band.

Here is the front cover without the bellyband. I like the clever colour combination of the Sakura petals, on the white background, Snoopy’s white fur and the pink heart on the card he’s holding. I wish Woodstock would have been on the cover and not just the bellyband, but that would have ruined the lovely black, white and pinks colour scheme.

Front cover.

The cover is cloth covered, with a synthetic shiny fabric that has a silky finish to it. Unlike the original Moleskine Sakura limited edition notebook the print is not raised above the notebook fabric so there’s no depth to the print at all. It would have been nice to get that here, but I have a feeling that the money that would have gone to create that effect went to the licensing part of the notebook.

Closeup of front cover texture.

The front endpaper has the falling Sakura petals and all the Peanuts gang together. It made me smile to see it, and will likely be a hit with the fans.

Front endpaper.

The back endpaper contains more falling Sakura petals and the classic Woodstock sitting on Snoopy lying on the roof of his doghouse setup. I’m a little disappointed that the design appears only on the notebook’s back pocket and isn’t spread across the actual notebook back endpaper. Also while both designs tick all the right fandom boxes, they are far from imaginative. Moleskine have done more interesting things with other franchises in the past.

Back endpaper. Can you see the Sakura petals falling on Snoopy’s doghouse?

There’s a set of stickers that come with this edition, and I find them underwhelming. The Sakura stickers are nice, but it looks like someone stuck three vaguely Peanuts themed stickers on the page. Again, not their best design work, and in this case it really looks like someone phoned it in.

Stickers.

Both Moleskine Sakura Peanuts limited edition notebooks come with lined pages, like most Moleskine limited editions. The ribbon bookmark here is a very pale pink that matches the elastic. It’s not my favourite colour and I wish they would have gone with a punchier pink for both.

Ribbon and ruling.

As usual in recent years the B-side of the bellyband comes with a little something extra, and this time it’s with an illustration of the Peanuts characters running with Sakura leaves on both sides. This is something nice to stick in your notebook, but I wish it was at least in bookmark shape. I still intend to make a bookmark out of it, but the characters will be running up the page in a weird way.

Bellyband B-side.

The Moleskine Sakura Peanuts limited edition notebooks will sell out in no time (they are already out of stock in some places), and the white edition of this notebook is an attractive notebook with a beautiful cover. Yet I have a feeling that the design itself was a bit of an afterthought, a money grab designed to mash together two of their most popular designs in the most obvious way possible. So while I am going to enjoy using this notebook, I can’t help but wonder what its design would look like if the Moleskine designers had been let a little more loose here.

How I Journal: A Sample

I decided to upload the pages from my journal entry today, as a sample and perhaps an inspiration for anyone wondering what to journal about. There’s nothing big or grand here, no deep felt angst, just small observations about my day that will bring it back to life later on. I made an effort to make my handwriting neater than it usually is, and I cut out a page of what happened later in the afternoon as it involved a family member suffering an injury and getting hospitalized, and I want to protect their privacy. Otherwise it’s a fairly standard entry. What’s missing is a title (added after the entry is completed and in this case not something I want to share) that summarizes the day. Oftentimes I glue things in instead of drawing something, and sometimes I just write in a rush and the page is just dense, messy handwriting.

I use a Moleskine Large hardcover, in some limited edition or another (in this case Pokemon Charmander), and a gel pen of some kind or another. Today it was the Karas Kustoms Ink v2 rollerball with Uniball UMR-85, my favourite refill. I don’t mind the show through, it helps me get through the fear of the blank page, and there’s no other notebook that has the Moleskine cover and internal design, so after years of futilely trying to replace it with something else, I just shut out the voices of the detractors and allowed myself to enjoy what I love and what works for me. Please do the same.

Journal Comic: Cheap Art Supplies

Used a Bic Crystal ballpoint pen, a set of Stabilo Pastel highlighters and a pocket Moleskine sketchbook to create this journal comic. Was inspired to use things that I already had laying around, not in use, to fill in a page in a long abandoned sketchbook. I was actually surprised at how relatively well the highlighters worked here.

Urban Sketchers Tel Aviv: Dubnov Garden

We haven’t had an Urban Sketchers sketchwalk in Tel Aviv since June due to Covid-19. We met today and drew, socially distanced and with masks, for three hours in Dubnov garden, which is not far from Rabin Square and is just behind the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

The first drawing, focusing on the strange rock sunken sculpture in the middle of the garden, was drawn on a Stillman and Birn Pocket Alpha, with a TWSBI ECO 1.1 stub filled with Rohrer and Klingner Emma SketchINK and Schminke watercolours.

The second drawing is a panorama of the architecture near the park, and it was drawn on a Moleskine Large Watercolour notebook, with the same materials and the drawing above.

My drawing challenge has allowed me to streamline my process and bring in much fewer art supplies to the sketchwalk without feeling that I’m missing out. It was also the first time I brought my Walkit sketchbag to a sketchcrawl and it worked very well. I’ll write a review of it later on, once I’ve finalized the kit I put in it.

Journalling in Difficult Times

I finished my Moleskine Sakura journal and started a Moleskine Pokemon Charizard journal a few days ago. It’s always fun to finish a journal, to have a beautiful physical object to hold in your hands, one that is heavy with words and memories.

Sakura on the left, Charizard on the right

I started the Sakura journal when we were already quarantined, and the world and my life were getting really strange and pretty stressful. I managed to journal every day until the end of June, which is when I broke my streak and my journaling habit started unravelling.

I love how chonky my finished journals are.

I usually finish a journal every 3 months or so. This one lasted for double that, because I barely journaled in July and August, and I didn’t journal at all in September. Every day I wanted to sit down and write, but I couldn’t face the added stress of the backlog that I felt the constant urge to make up for.

I stopped writing because of some serious family health issues, and I was so stressed out and tired during it all that I couldn’t pick up a pen at the end of the day and relive everything again. I knew that getting things out on paper would help, but I was overwhelmed.

In October I decided to give myself a break. Forget about the backlog. Leave those months empty, and move on. I went back to journalling, writing twice a day, every day for the past two weeks (once at the tail end of my morning routine, and once before I go to sleep). I also don’t care if I filled two pages (as was my usual standard), a page and a half, or half a page. I write about the little things in my life, and really try to keep it positive, to make journalling a joy again, a point of escape, and not another “let’s enumerate the ways in which the world is terrible these days” exercise. I have enough of that on social media. So far it’s working and I’m having fun. Will it last? I hope so. If not, I’ll take a break and get back to it later. The point is that I’m no longer willing to let journalling become a stressor in my life. It’s either something I enjoy, or something that I don’t do.

Broken Lamps and New Pens

My little cat (I have two, a little black and white cat, and big black cat) managed to drop a desktop table sharpener on my banker’s lamp and it cracked the glass lampshade clear in half. So I had an interesting but unexpected project today: I bought a replacement lamp shade and took the lamp apart to get rid of the broken glass pieces. A youtube video and a Philips screwdriver took care of the taking apart bit; let’s just hope that I can put it back together again.

Broken shade halfway through dismantling.

I got my Battleworn INK 2.0 Karas Kustoms grab bag rollerballs today. This was my first Karas Kustoms grab bag and my first ink rollerball and I’m very pleased with both the colours that I got and the way the INK 2.0s look and feel. These are chunky but relatively light pens, and I look forward to using them and maybe reviewing them in the future.

Karas Kustoms Battleworn INK 2.0 purple and cyan.

The INK 2.0 uses the Pilot G2 LG2RF refills, which are larger than the usual G2 refills, and built a little different. I haven’t yet tried to swap them out for a different refill, but I suspect that they won’t accept my beloved Uni-ball UMR-85, which is something I was aware of ahead of time.

These are the pens and some of the notebooks that I’ve been using today (I’m not getting much fountain pen use lately): my beloved Orange Crush Spoke pen, and the new purple Karas Kustoms Battleworn INK 2.0 rollerball.

These two pens look great together. Spoke on the left, INK 2.0 on the right.

Field notes came out with a new addition to their National Parks series, which I’ll probably pick up on my next purchase there. They’ve got an offer for a free decal for purchases made by the 30th of August if that speaks to you.

A Pen Hack, a Field Notes and the Hi-Tech C

I had an issue with my Ti2 Techliner where my favourite gel ink refill (the Uni-ball UMR-85) and basically all gel ink refills dried out and stopped writing a few words after I uncapped the pen. While ballpoint refills like the Jetstream faired better, they also would “fade out” after a few lines, and then, after some coaxing, return to normal. It couldn’t be that the refill was drying out, as after capping the pen, it wrote well enough again for a few words. It was a refill problem, as the same refill wrote perfectly fine in a different pen.

I tried searching for answers and asked around in the Pen Addict slack but got no answers. It was frustrating, since I liked the pen, but couldn’t use it because it wouldn’t work with my preferred refills. I had a feeling that the magnet at the tip of the pen was what was causing the ink flow issue, but it only yesterday did I figure out how to bypass the very thing that was holding the pen together.

What I did was change the order of the parts in the front section of the pen. The original order was refill, plastic spacer, red o-ring, magnet and then the section screwed over that. What I did was reverse the o-ring and the magnet so now it’s: refill, plastic spacer, magnet, red o-ring, and then the section. The result is kind of pleasing to the eye, and more importantly it fixed the flow problem completely, and now I can actually use this fetching pen.

You can see the red o-ring around the tip of the pen.

I tend not to review Field Notes because they arrive so late to me (due to postal issues, not Field Notes issues) that it seems irrelevant to review last quarter’s edition when everyone already has the new one at hand. Covid-19 has made the postal problems even worse, and so only now, and after contacting the wonderful Field Notes people and getting a reshipment, have my Vignette notebooks arrived.

What also arrived were my Field Notes Rooster 2020 notebooks, which are part of Field Notes’ yearly sponsorship of the Morning News and the Tournament of Books. I read all of the books in the Tournament of Books shortlist this year, for the second year in a row. I didn’t post reviews of them all in this site as I didn’t enjoy the last 3-4 books, and I didn’t feel like posting negative review after negative review.

I did, however, love this year’s Field Notes Rooster special edition notebook, and it is by far my favourite Rooster special edition notebook that Field Notes ever issued. It is a squared notebook, and not lined, for the first time ever, and the bold red and black print on the cover is much more striking than their usual craft or cream choices for this series.

Bold, bright colours on the cover.

The fact that these notebooks (sold as singles, with the proceeds going to literacy related charities) arrived so late means that I have a had a few months to think about the Tournament of Books 2020 reading list.

Squared notebook.

I enjoyed the 2019 reading list more, but the 2020 list was overall a good, interesting list of contemporary writing that I for the most part would not have read otherwise. There were a few mediocre books on it, and a few that I really disliked, but as a whole it wasn’t a bad list. I may try reading next year’s list too.

The list. There are 18 books on the list, 4 books that I though weren’t worth reading, of them two were a silly, bloated waste of time and two were infuriatingly bad. There were 7 books that I thought were real gems.

I wrote a few weeks back that I was struggling with my notebook setup, and things have changed since then. I’ve settled on using a blank large Moleskine hardcover in Reef Blue and a Pilot Hi-Tech C 0.4 for a running list of work projects and related notes.

I’ve customized the cover with a Star Wars decal to make it pop and let me easily identify it.

I use the right hand side for a running tasks per project (I still manage major project points in the Things app), and the left hand side for related points, reminders and ideas. Each project has at least one spread, and I drop in pages with ideas and things to remember in between the project pages.

The Pilot Hi-Tec-C (also known as the G-Tec-C4) is not a pen that I would recommend because it’s so very delicate and unreliable, but I used to be a fan years ago, and in a burst of nostalgia (and against my better judgement) I’ve gone back to using these pens. There’s something about the barrel design of this pen, combined with it’s needle tip that makes me enjoy writing with it. Again, I wouldn’t recommend it, as you’ll rarely see a refill through (the tip will bend, or it will become to scratchy to use, or it will dry out and become unusable) and in general the Uni-ball Signo DX are much better 0.4 tipped gel ink pens. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and this is what I prefer for daily work use right now.