How I Organize My Notebook

How I Organize My Notebook

I’m obsessed with how I organize my notebook.

OBSESSED.

The notebook itself hasn’t mattered – I’ve gone from Moleskines, to pretty softcover books, to finally a luxe Baron Fig one. It’s the inside that changed my life.

It’s helped me manage my time. It’s kept me somewhat healthy and sane.

I’ve tried other notebooks and systems before. It would work for a week or two, but I’d inevitably get sick of it or forget a day.

The Day Designer‘s daily template was excellent – but I hated lugging a specific planner in addition to a ‘notes’ notebook. Todoist was, by far, the best digital platform I used. But after getting behind and seeing too many items in red, I closed the app and never opened it back up.

Bullet Journaling was the method I stuck with the longest, for most of 2014. But I got behind on setting up my monthly calendar…and never started it back up again.

It was my goal last year to find a system that worked for me. And I finally developed one that works – for me, anyway.

My system is rooted in the bullet journal method, but I’ve added elements from Deep Work, Laura Vanderkam, the Day Designer, and the things I’ve always done.

No day or month looks the same, and I needed a method that was equally as flexible. I also wanted something that I could jump back into if I skipped a day.

Better yet, I wanted a system that I enjoyed following so I wouldn’t have to skip the days.

This is it. The #planwithhitha method, if you will.

How I Organize Each Month

Monthly Calendar

I like the idea of opening up a page to see what I have planned that month.

But I’m not focused on my plans. I’m focused on the empty spaces, and keeping at least 10 of them empty.

I reserve this page for in-person meetings and appointments. For me, limiting my in-person meeting days and evening events to twice a week is ideal. Three times a week is doable. Four times a week is the danger zone.

I don’t block these days off to write ‘NO MEETINGS.’ Seeing that white space on the page reminds me to have space in my life – to read, to exercise, to create, to sleep.

Definitely sleep.

I kept this monthly calendar format from the Bullet Journal method, and will continue to do so.

Even if it means filling out the calendar mid-month.

How I Organize Each Week

Brain Dump & Weekly Plan

I love a brain dump.

It’s a form of meditation, to take all the thoughts, tasks, and ideas swirling in your head and get them on paper. I’ve written them out in notebooks, typed them up in multi-page Google Docs, dictated them into my Voice Memos app, and scribbled them on whiteboards.

I’d do a task or two, and then get distracted. The critical ones would eventually get done, but most were forgotten.

Not anymore.

Every Sunday while Rho naps, I make myself a cup of tea and sit down with my notebook and laptop. I list out all the things I’d like to do, writing from memory first.

I open up my e-mail accounts, do a quick triage, and quickly respond to the ones that I can answer under a minute. The rest go on the list.

On the opposite page, I write out each day of that week. I begin transferring tasks from the brain dump to these pages, grouping like tasks together and blocking them in 2-3 hour chunks. I try to only work 2-3 days in advance, in case I fall behind and have to reschedule certain tasks.

There are always a few unfinished tasks from the Brain Dump list. No problem – they immediately get moved over to the following week’s Brain Dump.

No muss, no fuss.

How I Organize Each Day

Daily Schedule

This is everything.

It brings Deep Work  to Vanderkam’s recommended time logging. And it works.

The last work task I do each day is to write out the next day’s schedule. I write in the date, three columns, and 30 minute time increments written out (switching to hour-long ones from 6 pm onwards) in the skinny column on the left.

In the middle column, I write out how I want to structure my day. Anything on my Google Calendar (meetings, calls, events) go in the calendar first, along with commute times.

I flip back to that week’s brain dump and weekly plans, and regroup my activities if needed. I write them in (complete with little check boxes). I open up the window or application for my first task on my computer, and close out everything else – my browser windows, e-mails, and other apps.

I try to make it as easy as possible to jump straight into work the next day. These two tasks help – a lot.

During the actual workday, I fill in the right column at the end of every hour. I also take that minute to close my eyes and meditate for a quick minute, which goes a long way in helping me refocus.

Even if my day goes off track or I get distracted, I log everything I do. Even if I fell down a YouTube binge or spent an hour reading all the recent articles on The Cut.

I still log it.

I’ve learned a lot in reviewing these daily logs. I know that my most productive writing days are Mondays, afternoons are better to shoot, and Wednesdays are ideal for formatting and uploading blog content (especially if I had marathon meetings the day before).

Reading or crocheting are incredibly restorative, and result in better work. My Rho Pharma work – decks, e-mails, research – is how I start and end every day.

Some days, it’s all day. And blog work either happens that evening or early the next day.

It’s a juggle – and one I’m still figuring out.

What I’m Doing Next Year

I’m bringing the same format and method to my 2018 notebook – but I’m also making a few changes.

The first is the notebook itself. I’m swapping my Moleskine and uni-ball Vision pen for Baron Fig’s beautiful set (get 10% off with code ONTHEGO).

The dot-grid pages allow me to set up each page easier, and the thick paper prevents any bleeding from the pen. The leather case protects the notebook beautifully, and the pen just glides on the paper.

It’s a definite upgrade. And one I’m personally excited for.

How I Organize My Goals

Vision Board

I really love glancing up at my vision board when I’m working from home, and I want to bring that same inspiration with me wherever I am.

I’ll be cutting and pasting my goals and dreams for 2018 in the first two pages of the notebook. Some of the items on my current board are coming with me (Oprah, obviously). When I need a reminder of what I’m working for, or a quick jolt of inspiration.

Or a swift kick in the ass when I get distracted.

I have some big dreams this year. Here’s hoping this portable vision board helps make them a reality.

Monthly Calendar & Habit Tracking

The monthly calendar isn’t going to change (reserved only for outside meetings and events, continued focus on keeping white space). But the opposite page will look different.

I’d been using the Daily Schedule to track various habits, on and off. I reserved a little bit of space at the bottom for the big three – meditate, exercise, journal – and check off the ones I managed to do.

It’s a great habit. But it’s a poor way of tracking all of them.

Using a modified format as the monthly calendar, I’ll be tracking the same habits and a new monthly one. One of my overall goals for 2018 is to be a better communicator – daughter, friend, cousin, niece, colleague…

There’s nothing quite like receiving a piece of mail (that isn’t a bill or an Amazon box). And I feel like I’ve been a pretty lousy friend and family member this year.

Thus, January is my letter writing month.

I’ll be using the last column to log my emotion that day – happy, sad, exhausted, fulfilled, excited. In my continual effort to balance my energy levels and my obligations better, I need to start logging how I feel here (vs in my Five Minute Journal, which I also am sticking with).

Brain Dump, Weekly Plan, Daily Schedule

I’ll be keeping the same format for Brain Dumps, Weekly Plans, and Daily Schedules. I’ve stuck with this current format for the past 4 months now, and I’m really happy following this practice. And the results, obviously.

It took me a while to get to this system, but I’m really happy to have found something that works for me. And hopefully, for you.

And that, my friends, is the method to my madness. AKA my life.

If you’re interested in trying this out for yourself, I have two things for you:

  1. You can use whatever notebook and pens you have on hand to start this method. But my friends at Baron Fig are hooking you up with 10% off this set (code – ONTHEGO). It’s the set that I’m using for my 2018 journal, and I can’t recommend it more highly. The paper is thick, the pen writes beautifully, and the leather case keeps all your big life plans protected. It’s worth every penny – truly.
  2. If you’re serious about trying this out, join my January Journal challenge. I’ll be sending you exclusive e-mails and doing private live videos, showing exactly how I use this method and to answer all the questions you may have. Click here to sign up!

Here’s a look at my current morning routine and where I get it all done, and the only exercise I’ve managed to stick with. This candle  is currently burning while I work, and this floral arrangement brings joy to my mood and my desk.

How do you stay organized? Paper or electronic? A specific system, or something that’s uniquely yours? Comment below and let me know!

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  • Amber Burns

    Whenever I’m doing something that aligns with what you’re doing, I smile uncontrollably, because it usually means I’m on the right track! I have a similar method but the notebook, planner combo work really well for me, so I keep them separate.

    The separation of church and state for me is ideation/maybes (the notebook) vs concrete plans and deadlines (the planner).

    I do want to be better about tracking my habits and logging real time, so you’ve definitely given me something to think about.

    Happy New Year, Hitha!

    • hithaonthego

      Well you just brought a giant smile to my face! Thank you so much!
      I tried to have separate planners and notebooks, and it failed spectacularly for me. I typically take notes electronically (Apple’s native Notes app is the one I use!), and keep my notebook for just planning purposes. If I’m in a meeting, I’ll usually take notes on my laptop or iPad, or record the meeting on my phone and transcribe it later.

      Logging real time is the only way I stay accountable and focused, and I’d love to hear what works for you (and if you give my method a try) :)

      Happy New Year to you!

  • Sarah

    So, I started using a bullet journal as part of end of 2017/into 2018 and I absolutely love how flexible it is to be what I want/need it to be. one thing I also have been doing for ages has been the daily schedule/time logging–when I was in college, it helped me to feel more in control of my time and less stressed since I knew exactly when I would get everything done. What is revelatory for me, is to go back and log how I ACTUALLY spent my time. I know that I update my plan multiple times, but this would 1) set things in stone and 2) help me reflect on how I’m spending my time. Thank you!

    • hithaonthego

      Time logging is everything – it’s been eye-opening (and also a little scary) at how I spend my time. My goal for this year is to do a better job of analyzing these hours and optimizing my day. I think you’ll love next Tuesday’s post, featuring my friend Janna’s masterful week planning. She’s been an inspiration for me in how I organize my weeks.

  • Beth Uding

    Thank you so much for this! I am going to try your method. One question: Do you also use an electronic calendar on your phone/other devices, or is this journal your only calendar, all on paper?

    • hithaonthego

      I definitely still use my Google Calendar, which I keep all my appointments/meetings in. I don’t use it for time logging or putting in solo time (like ‘writing’ or ‘commute). I use the Google Calendar app on my iPhone, which conveniently redirects me to Google Maps when I need directions on where to go!

  • Telicia Allen

    “I try to only work 2-3 days in advance, in case I fall behind and have to reschedule certain tasks.”

    That was my favorite line! I don’t know why I try to plan out a month at a time.

    Thanks!

    • hithaonthego

      After trying (and failing) to plan things out so far in advance, I’ve finally learned my lesson. I’m so glad you enjoyed this post!

    • Tammy

      +1!!!! As exciting as it is to plan the whole week out, I’m generally very discouraged when I have to reschedule too many tasks. Love the work 2-3 days in advance method.

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  • Tammy

    I love all of this! I fell off my bullet journal the last few months after a travel marathon. I got into Todoist and LOVE it. I loved that I could quick add tasks to my Todoist while out and about instead of grabbing for my journal. The smart scheduling is perfect in helping me reschedule tasks instead of just pushing everything until tomorrow.

    However, I REALLY miss taking notes during my meetings. I am thinking of incorporating some of your planning methods x Todoist. How do you capture notes and thoughts in your notebook? This includes meeting notes, notes that come to mind while working on a task, etc.?

    Thank YOU for always sharing your amazing ideas to help me kick ass at life.