My notebook system (part 1): Field Notes 56-Week Planner

I was one of those "paper is dead" guys. We all have some kind of mobile device with productivity apps installed on them, why would you use paper? Actually, my devices got me into using notebooks again. I spend so many time with screens. I'm a developer, so using my iPad for development made me a bit more aware about adding dedicated tools to my tool belt. Couple of months ago, I've read an article about carrying a pocket notebook which instantly made me want to have paper with me all the time.

Since then, I've tried so many Moleskines, but eventually I've settled with Field Notes. I love their quirky designs; their memo book looks like an everyday tool that I can tear apart. Currently, I use three Field Notes notebooks for different things. I like to have a specific placement of my work tools. My iPad Pro is centered. On the left side, I have a Field Notes 56-Week Planner: I use that as a daily planner and a calendar. On the right side, I have a Field Notes Steno used for todo lists, notes, and work journal. I also have a pocket sized notebook always with me used as an inbox to quickly capture ideas.

Field Notes 56-Week Planner

Problems with digital calendars

I've never owned a paper planner — I used those card sized yearly calendars years ago, but it wasn't anything like a full-fledged planner. Nowadays, I use Apple's Calendar app for time sensitive stuff like meetings and appointments, but I've also started carrying around a paper based planner from Field Notes. I've realized that there are things I just don't like about digital calendars (or Reminders or any other task management app).

I usually have a daily plan for things I want to touch on that day listed along with my meetings and appointments. It's a great map to have, but my digital calendar is not going to work for this type of workflow. When I add something to it, I have to specify not just a date, but hours and minutes too. To be honest, my work has a really small part that has anything to do with specific dates and times, so planning things like this doesn't makes sense to me. Sure, I have deadlines of projects, but those more like anchor points of priorities.

My digital calendar is also hidden in an app. I'm all for keeping important stuff digitally, but I also want to reach my calendar quickly. I can open my calendar app really fast, but I want it to be like "look down next to my iPad" fast. Having a paper planner always next to my iPad is exactly what I need.

Writing on paper also feels better than dragging stuff around on a timetable. Digitally stored events are long forms that I have to fill every time I add or change something. Sure, I can use Siri or Fantastical, but that still feels unnatural to me. Not to mention, Fantastical's natural language parser works only with new events. Start to edit existing stuff and you're thrown back to a form.

Field Notes 56-Week Planner Weekly Spread

Going back to paper: Field Notes 56-Week Planner

About 2 months ago, I've started using a small Field Notes memo book as a daily planner. It was great, my only problem was it's size, so I ordered their 56-Week Planner (56 instead of 52 to have a buffer month to order a new one, maybe). It's been great since then. The Planner is bigger than a pocket notebook, it has thicker paper, and more pages. It gives me a weekly spread divided into six equal sections. The last section, representing weekends, divided once more for Saturday and Sunday. I have 7 days worth of space to add plans and events. Also, it has only 10 lines per day which protects me from overplannig my day.

My usage of the Planner is really simple. I review my schedule every morning. First, I look at my digital calendar which contains my hard landscape (I have to be at somewhere at a specific time). I like to keep these appointments in Calendar, because then my Watch pings me at the right time. I also transfer them into my Planner. Writing it down makes me more aware of them. Then I have my next actions list stored in Reminders, which I review and pick a few items that I also write down in my Planner. This way, I'm not setting false due dates for myself in Reminders which causes stress by constantly pinging me at different times through the day. And remember, I just have 10 lines to write for one day which limits me picking too much stuff. Interesting tidbit: I never use pens with my Planner since plans can change, so I use a pencil with an eraser.

I love to work this way. With my Field Notes Planner, I can have a whole-week view of my life. I can easily plan projects and next actions in advance without feeling stressed about notifications through the day. It's also really nice that I can rely on an single-purpose analog tool. Checking things off my Planner gives me the feeling of accomplishment, which is truly the first time since I use a productivity tool.