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New Year, means new plans and new tools


It’s the new year and like many folks, I am planning not only what today looks like but the new decade! Sitting at the kitchen table due to a small hip injury and trying to figure everything out. From architectural plans for a house to lots of personal and work projects everything is spilling out in a great creativity session.

However, spilling creativity is great, capturing it and making use of it is another thing altogether and this year I want to kick off with a better productivity workflow.

How I am working now…

Big ideas and projects each get there own Trello board, often set up as a kanban with individual columns for the progress of tasks this is where I come for where a project is at what I’m doing and to dump ideas for a given project.

Ideas, thoughts and notes they go into Google Keep which is both on my phone and computers. It’s where all my notes go, from copy and pastes code dumps through to shopping lists its a disorganised mess of notes and sticky notes.

Except that’s not where ALL my notes are kept, for most of those notes started off in a notebook as a scribble or thought often in more shorthand making it indecipherable to everyone including me.

So an idea starts in my head, might make it to paper, or put straight in as a digital note then, gets turned into a task which gets put in Trello and there it sits until I’m ready to do something with it at which point I…

Put it in Todoist, Todoist is a great todo app and each project in Trello also has a project in Todoist as well as in Productivity Challenge Timer my time tracker of choice. Keeping up?

Good, because I’m not, there are so many leaky things about this that stuff is getting lost and everything gets out of sync by me merely looking the wrong way then I get upset and I throw my arms up and declare my utter failure at everything.

In other words this works great on digital paper but this is failing in reality.

Two potential replacements

I am sat at a crossroads as so often is the case with a choice to make and as of writing I haven’t made it, indeed I’m hoping you dear reader will help set my mind one way or another.

my choice analog or digital.

Option 1 – Bullet Journal

There is something right about using your hands and holding a pen. I love notebooks I doodle and while I literally can’t draw a straight line that doesn’t stop me from trying. Bullet Journaling or BuJo to give its hip social media name is a method of journaling that goes beyond simple planning it’s planner, diary, CBT therapy all rolled into one. It’s very trendy, very popular and if you watch Youtube or start googling it you will almost immediately feel like you are the worst human being on the planet with all these beautiful journals filled to the brim with thoughts and emotions and the people talking about how much it has changed them.

That is not to say that it has not, and success shouldn’t be discouraged but if you are coming from a low place the BuJo community is somewhere you might not immediately enjoy and embrace. However, once you get over the shock there are some great thoughts and ideas that I love.

  • Plan by hand, almost everything to do with bullet journaling is done by hand to get going you need some paper, probably a notebook, a ruler (unless you can draw lines) and some pens, there better be some colours there. After that, it’s yours to create.
  • Most have the “diary/planner” at their core, for some this is divided into two a more practical I need to meet Bob to discuss things, or these tasks must be accomplished while the other is more thoughts and feelings. These can role into one.
  • Tasks typically are identified as a dot . and completed with an x, something that is information has a dash – before it and something that is important it a *
  • Most bullet journals have ideas, and notes sections for writing down things, while this is obviously much harder to search than a digital version you are more likely to get it into memory as you have written it.
  • There are lots of resources out there, and once you join the cult, I mean community it will embrace you.

I have seen beautiful bullet journal spreads and I can easily see how it would work for me, but where it won’t work as easily is the day to day task management, it’s not going to remind me to do it and it won’t get in my face (that might be positive)

Beyond productivity and into mindfulness I can really see the benefits of BuJo style journals mixed in with traditional diaries and the power in setting out each morning what you want to achieve. My friend Piccia who runs Design for Geeks is a perfect example, she writes out each morning how her perfect day will look like this reinforces such a positive mindset and image of the day that more often then not, her day becomes remarkably close to the point I have referred to her pen as a magic wand. I really want to get a magic wand of my own and feel if it was part of a wider system for tracking me this would work well.

However I can also see myself adopting a simpler system, each day has the 3 priorities at the top, any additional tasks and events underneath and notes on the alternate page. With monthly planning around it.

In theory, I could actually do all this digitally but it loses a lot of the charm, and if going down the digital route the simplicity might become a negative almost.

It also lets me buy another notebook, or perhaps even make one, I remember watching Darbin Orvar video on making a traveller notebook and thinking it would be a lovely thing to try.

Option 2 – Notion

Whereas bullet journaling is a set of ideas and thoughts centred around using a notebook my digital option is basically software.

Which basically means they are almost not comparable yet they cover so much of the same ground, my current problems are things are everywhere, a bullet journal would allow me to organise my thoughts in a structured way in a notebook. The key is to try and be systematic while keeping everything in one location. Having identified my problem is that if I’m needing to reference and maintain links to each thing in multiple places I’m going to struggle.

So for the digital option I really want to centralise, notes, tasks and projects into one location in effect I want a second digital brain.

Notion (AF) has been on my radar for a couple of years and I seriously looked at it as a replacement for Google Keep after one of Google Keeps many issues crept up but decided it was overkill and had to much overlap with Trello and Todoist.

In my head it was the app for when I started again, well now I’m considering starting again and I very much can see how I could use Notion to replace Trello, Todoist and Google Keep. At its heart, Notion is just a file manager and text editor, with the ability to generate documents and pages that are linked. It’s sophistication not that much more than a wiki. However, its a beautiful well-crafted wiki-like system with templates and everything is designed to get your to your data quickly and easily.

By far Notion most powerful feature is Templates, these allow you to quickly and easily change the layout of a page converting it from a traditional text document to a Kanban board in a couple of clicks. Building out a BuJo style set up but digitally could be done potentially in minutes rather than the hours it would take with a ruler.

Being Digital it also has the benefit of integrations, embedding video, maps and just about anything into the page and the pages themselves link seamlessly so you can share data objects.

I can see how Notion could be my digital option, either mimicking my current setup or coming up with new options. Like bullet journalling there is a massive community of people pushing out templates and sharing tips.

Digital also has the advantage I can import my existing content, while I could do that with a paper solution it would be tedious which means it almost certainly wouldn’t get done.

Is there a third option, could it be… WordPress

Nah don’t be silly, you’re not going to build out an entire WordPress site, with a pile of custom post types to do what notion already does. Yes, there is a Kanban board plugin and a calendar plugin and I’m sure a todo plugin but they won’t play nicely together and it’s going to be a silly insanely complex project.

It would be open source and very much in my control though….

No there are two options to think through (unless you think otherwise comment below if you think option 3 is even a possibility)

So more than two options, but which route?

So there are actually near-infinite options, but really I’m trying to decide do I go Analog or Digital. Analog comes with the lack of flexibility but is that actually bad and is much more physical thing. In many ways, I think the analog option will benefit from it being slower and much more personal thing even if the content is the same.

The digital route has flexibility and ultimately I suspect improved productivity with similar benefits but it loses some personality. What it gains is much more accountability it goes beyond being a book I can leave, it can remind me when things need to be done it can keep me in routines much more easily than a notebook.

So there is my dilemma dear reader, as we start the new year, do I take the red or blue pill of productivity. As both would be a fresh start I plan on documenting whichever route I go but now I want feedback from you.

Are you an avid Bullet Journaller or have a written diary/planning note-taking regime that’s not digital, does it work, have you got suggestions and ideas for someone like me?

Are you a Notion pro or heavily into digital productivity can you recommend resources and things to help me get going?

Maybe you are having the same internal argument, which way are you leaning or maybe you simply want to learn more about one approach or the other and are keen to watch me learn one let me know. It’s been many years since I have actively solicited comments here but please do comment below with your ideas on which route I should go down.

Before you go comment, quick plug did you know I had a newsletter?

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Usual Disclaimer bits, putting in your email means I will spam you forever MUHHHHHAAAAAA!!!
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Notes & Links

AF – Please note this link, contains tracking code which acts as a referral link to Notion, if you were to sign up that would give you $10 credit and me $5. if you don’t want to do so then you can visit

Cover Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters

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