5 tips for using a notebook planner to boost productivity

Transform your Notebook Planner into a productivity goldmine.

Open notebook with doodles

More and more of us are turning to pen and paper to keep our work lives in order. Here’s how to turn your notebook into a productivity goldmine.

We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again – learning how to be more productive is one of the best ways to invest your time, whatever profession you’re in.

There’s a wealth of knowledge out there, from time techniques like the Pomodoro method to psychology hacks like habit-stacking and temptation-bundling. But what if a simple notebook and pen could revolutionize your personal productivity levels?

Say hello to the analog productivity trend

There’s a growing movement of people who are shifting away from apps and digital productivity solutions and embracing the world of pen and paper. From luxurious notebooks and stationery to the enjoyment of the hand-written word, there are plenty of reasons for choosing to add a good old-fashioned notebook planner into your modern lifestyle. 

For one thing, as our lives become more entwined with technology, going analog answers the need to switch off. Working with a paper productivity system is a neat way to perform a digital detox without putting your life on hold. There’s no blue light, so you can update it at night without risking your sleep hygiene. And it’s a great way to focus for a period of time without the interruption of notifications or the temptation of more-ish mobile games. 

Digital or paper? Pros and cons

The pen-and-paper lifestyle has an undeniable appeal. But is it right for you? To help you decide, here are some of the ways paper productivity solutions are different from their digital counterparts.

  • Space and capacity
    A digital productivity organizer, such as a to-do list app or Kanban board, isn’t limited in terms of the space it offers you. You can add as many tasks or sections to it as you like without having to buy a new one.
    However, a paper product only has so many pages, which means you need to choose a format that’s got all the room you need or to have more than one volume of your notebook journal. For those who enjoy stationery or love to ‘collect the set’ this can be a definite advantage. (Did we mention there are 6 colorways of our gorgeous hardcover MOO Notebooks?)
  • Deleting mistakes
    If you make a mistake on your smartphone, computer or other device, it’s simple to hit the backspace key and try again. Nobody – not even you when you read it again – needs to even know you didn’t have it right first time.
    On paper, there are ways to undo what you’ve written such as rubbing out pencil or erasable pen marks, or scribbling out words written in ink. But there’s usually an indication you’ve made a change. This isn’t a drawback necessarily, it just means you need to be comfortable with a more mindful approach to note-writing, or with embracing little imperfections when they come up.
  • Uniqueness
    Digital information can be backed up, replicated or stored in the cloud for access on multiple devices. Your notebook planner is one of a kind, the only copy in existence, which makes it a precious possession. Accidents do happen, so if you’re using a notebook, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of photographing your pages regularly so you have a digital backup of your information.
  • Personality
    A notebook planner becomes a little world all of your own, as creative as you want it to be and completely personalized. There are so many ways to express yourself, from your choice of page layouts to your ink color to the little doodles you make in the margin. Then there’s your choice of notebook, the kind of paperstock you favor and whether you go for lined or dotted rule.
    An app might have different customization options like colorschemes or calendar layouts, but it’s never going to be as personal as something written by your own fair hand.
  • Availability
    Having a notebook planner around gives you a physical reminder of your schedule and your commitment to yourself to be organized and productive. It’s right there on your desktop or in your bag, unlike an app or software tucked away inside your phone. It’s also really easy to get an overview of what’s current and to flip the pages and find out how far you’ve come since you started – great for building motivation.

5 tips to help you plan your life on paper

 1. Mix up analog and digital

We’ve explored the differences between paper planners and online or digital tools. But who said it had to be either or? Why not take the best from both worlds and combine digital and paper tools in a way that suits you?
For example, you could set a daily alarm on your phone to remind you to update your journal. Just set it up as a daily recurring event on your calendar app. Or you might run a digital to-do list alongside your notebook planner. This could be a promising option if you often have tasks that have a component online, for example a link to your Maps app for directions to an event, or to your best friend’s Amazon Wishlist when you’re planning for their birthday.

Tip: use a special symbol in your paper planner next to these tasks to show that they’ve also been added in your app, so you can cross-reference the two.

2. Embrace the beauty of bullets

The appeal of the notebook planner is obvious when you take a look into the online world of bullet journaling (#bujo). Fans of this trend, which was developed by Ryder Carroll, fill their blogs and Instagram feeds with inspiring page spreads from their notebooks, and use luxurious stationery and tools to create planners that are functional works of art.

We’ve delved into the bullet journal trend previously, but now it’s time to get into the nitty gritty of bullet journal productivity. 

Anatomy of a bullet journal

A typical bullet journal starts with an index page, which is a numbered contents page for your notebook. After that there are a series of logs, or lists. These are usually based around time periods, like month, week or day, although you can also have ‘custom logs’ for specific tasks or events such as wedding planning or vacation research.

The language of the bullet journal is ‘rapid logging’. It’s a way of noting things concisely, and as the name suggests it’s pretty speedy. Unlike writing long-hand, it condenses your journaling into the shortest possible time, so you’ve got more of your day available to get work done. According to the Bullet Journal website, Rapid Logging has 4 components:

a) Topic
Short, informative titles for your pages, such as “Vacation Checklist” or “January”. They make it simple to keep your thoughts organized and to group your tasks on a page.

 b) Page numbers
These are important because they map the pages of your bullet journal to an index at the front of your notebook, so you can find what you need at a glance – another time-saving win. 

c) Short sentences
Unlike a regular notebook or journal, a BuJo is about saving time, so sentences should be short and concise. Instead of “Today I need to take my dog to the vet”, write “dog to vet”

d) Bullets
The heart of the bullet journal system. There are a few kinds of bullets which help you plan your time and record your progress.

  • Dots (.) indicate a task
  • Dashes (-) are notes
  • Circles (o) show open tasks
  • Crosses (x) are completed tasks
  • Stars (*) are priority tasks

At the end of your day, week or month, you can choose to migrate the tasks left open to the next page of your notebook, or discard them by drawing a line through them. That way you’ve left a record of how you prioritized your tasks which can make future planning more efficient.

3. Try a new notation style

There’s no question that the bullet journal is the definitive 21st century productivity journal. But it’s not the only analog notation style in town. There are other options too, such as Strikethru. This system is interesting because it shares some characteristics with the Kanban board, a digital to-do-list focused on moving tasks from one place to another.
With Strikethru, your notebook is divided into 3 parts:

  • Live list
    Your current to-do-list, which will live in the front part of your notebook. Each day, fill a new page with a list of tasks, which you get to cross out (hence the name) when they’re complete.
  • Vault
    The middle section of your notebook, which contains longer-term goals or ideas which can be moved into the Live list when you’re ready to tackle them.
  • Dump
    The back third of the notebook, which is reserved for quick notes, ideas you need to jot down in a hurry, phone numbers, doodles and whatever else you like. If you’re using one of our MOO Hardcover Notebooks, the heavier-weight colored pages in the centre would be the perfect place for this section.

You can also include a calendar section at the front or back of the Strikethru notebook to help you keep track of important events, anniversaries and deadlines. And of course, there are no rules saying you have to adopt just one system and stick to it. Why not combine elements of the bullet journal and Strikethru in a way that suits you? It’s your notebook after all.

4. Schedule your notebook planner time

One of the biggest challenges people seem to face with productivity notebooks or planners is actually using them. 

Notebooks that were started with enthusiasm can end up gathering dust on a shelf unless you’re able to successfully form the habit and stick to it. Regular use will also maximize the benefits of the process, as you’ll build up a record of your activity over time. 

Routine = habit

Adopting a regular journal schedule is one way to make sure the journal habit sticks with you. Decide on a ten-minute window each day when you’ll sit down with your notebook planner. It may be first thing in the morning while you drink your coffee, or last thing at night when you’re concluding your day and thinking about your goals for tomorrow. 

For the best chance of success, pick the time of day you usually feel most alert and engaged, and make sure you have enough uninterrupted time to get the job done. 

Pile of hardcover notebooks with cloth cover in various colors

5. Get creative with the notebook format

You don’t have to be a crafting genius to physically transform your notebook and extend its productivity powers. Here are a few simple hacks you can make using everyday items from your stationery drawer.

  • Dutch door
    A smart way of looking at two pages at once. Dutch door modifications involve cutting or folding some of your pages so that you can see the other pages behind them.
    Some people make a horizontal dutch door spread that allows daily pages to be turned while a weekly or monthly spread stays visible at the top. Others do it vertically, by either cutting or folding a single page in half down the center so it forms an insert within a weekly or daily spread.
  • Pocket
    Just attach a piece of stiff card on three sides to the inside of your journal using glue or washi tape, and you’ve added a handy pocket. It’s great for safely storing business cards, stamps, coupons or whatever you like. By the way, our MOO notebooks come with helpful stickable pockets included, so there’s no need to do any DIY. 
  • Bookmark
    Save a few moments finding the right page with a handy bookmark. You can take advantage of the built-in ribbon bookmark in your MOO notebook, or attach one with tape to the spine or inner cover.

Feeling the pull of paper? Explore our range of showstopping Notebook colors and designs

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