a peek inside my a6 notebook

As I mentioned last week when I discussed my overall planner status, today I’ll dive into how I use that tiny (and inexpensive) A6 notebook. It basically has filled the role all the index cards once did. It took me a while, but I figured out a way to live happily in one small notebook.

Overall daily book philosophy

This is not to be a book of record. This is really a hardworking book that goes just about everywhere with me. It gets beat up quickly and spends time in my pocket, the bottom of my bag, and often has tea, coffee, or wine spilled on it quickly. This particular volume I picked up in Budapest over the summer, it cost 150 forint or about 50¢. (I wish I bought more.) I picked up a few A6 grid notebooks the last time I was at MUJI, so I should be good until late February at least. One thing I’ve learned is it needs to be a proper A6, the small moleskines or other popular notebooks that are about the size aren’t right. I’m definitely misplaced here in the States!

But, Hobonichi?

Ok, I really loved the A6 Hobonichi avec. I love the 3.7 mm grid. Ok, love might not be strong enough a word. However, there’s not really an easy way to incorporate pages of tasks, without also adding in the memopad set, and with shipping we’re quickly approaching $45. I’ve learned to make peace with the 5mm grid.


This book started as a task list only book, similar to many others I’ve kept over the years. The biggest change I started with in this volume was to add two columns on the right, for due dates and for listing a client/project if applicable. I then review and transfer these tasks to my weekly planning and daily punch list.

meal planning

This was the next section to move into the notebook, and I started on the last page and have been working back to front in the notebook. I thought I would find it very difficult to move on from my index cards, but I quickly realized how nice it was to be able to add to the shopping list throughout the week. I list the menu at the top and the groceries are written out based on the store layout. We purchase the bulk of our groceries at the standard chain store, then followup with produce and fruit at a different local store, thus the line.

daily list

This is the newest addition to the small book. I experimented without this list for a short period and it was a disaster. Apparently I need to rewrite my daily tasks. When I don’t do this, no matter what happened during the morning planning session even if I waited until then to write items in the planner, my day unravels by about 11am. I guess it’s true that How Writing To-Do Lists Helps Your Brain (Whether Or Not You Finish Them). I guess you could say this looks most like a standard bullet journal. My sample ended up that way, but there are other random notes generally sprinkled in as I don’t include the Quo Vadis Principal isn’t part of my general every day carry. I started it in the middle of the notebook and I’m working to the back. When I meet up with my meal planning, I’ll work from the center toward the tasks.


I do wish it was easier to find smaller than 5mm grid, but I’ve come to terms with that. And I wish I bought more of the notebooks when I was abroad. I do need to figure out a thin cover solution as the covers are definitely cheap cardstock and fall victim to my rough use quickly. I’m tempted by these x17 A6 covers, but I’ll probably just fashion a cover out of random supplies I have laying around. I’m using an elastic hair tie to keep all the pages together right now.

I hope you found this helpful. How are you planning and what do you look forward to changing?

Product Review: Clairefontaine Roadbook

Back in the grey and chilly days of early February, Karen of Exaclair put out a call asking for reviews of Clairefontaine Roadbooks. While my travel wouldn’t coincide with the review dates, I offered to put it through its paces around town.

What is the Roadbook? From their blog (and marketing materials), the “travel notebooks are part of the Clairefontaine Basics Life.unplugged lineup: “Rugged, essential and expedition ready, whether exploring the Silk Road or Soho, Clairefontaine Basics are the perfect companion for wilderness or urban adventures.”

They feature rounded corners, an elastic strap, and a flexible cover of heavy cardstock in four colors with a leather look-and-feel. The 8mm lined paper is acid-free, PEFC certified, and 90gsm. The Roadbooks contains 64 pages so they’re slim yet you won’t run out of pages overnight (well, you could…).

Clairefontaine Roadbook

While it is available in a smaller size, I opted for the larger A5 size and Karen sent me one in Red. No way was I going to loose or forget it among my other notebooks. It’s a nice red, closer to brick than primary. I’m surprised to find after weeks of use I like the color! I took it all over town to various coffee shops and let it hang out in the bottom of my bag or join me for my morning coffee even when I wasn’t using it.

Clairefontaine Roadbook

Clairefontaine Roadbook

Clairefontaine Roadbook

I took these pictures of the cover in my sunroom at about 4pm today.

Clairefontaine Roadbook Cover

Clairefontaine Roadbook

Clairefontaine Roadbook

It still, in my opinion, looks amazing. I would have no problem pulling this notebook out at a new-client meeting and worrying that I’d make a poor impression with a tattered notebook. I’m impressed.

I love most everything about it, from the size, to the weight, to, of course, the Clairefontaine paper, but I knew that going in. It put up with every pen I tossed at it, from several fountain pens to some pigma microns. I didn’t go through every pen in the house, but the ones I had in my bag I used. I love that the paper is white. I am surprised, I’d been veering toward ivory papers.

Clairefontaine Roadbook writing samples

Clairefontaine Roadbook writing samples

Clairefontaine Roadbook, writing samples, back

Clairefontaine Roadbook, writing samples, back

The rounded corners help it stand up to abuse in my bag, or if I drop it. I like that I can fold the cover and that it is sturdy enough to write on my leg, useful for taking notes on a train.

What do I wish it did differently?

I wish there was a pocket in the cover, perhaps on the outside so it couldn’t interfere with writing. When I travel there is always ephemera that I want to keep safe until it makes its way to the scrapbook (or recycling bin).

I wish that there was a grid option or narrower rule. I prefer 5-6mm so the 8mm is super wide spacing for me. It’s ok but not my preference.

I wish that the pages were indexed. I think? I don’t know. I go back and forth on this.

I wish that the lines were spaced more evenly on the page, I don’t need the header & footer margins to be so wide.

But really, those are all trivial issues.

How did it surprise me the most? I was skeptical about the cover material. It has stood up to quite a bit of abuse. While I couldn’t make myself purposely spill tea or coffee on it, I am very pleased with how it’s held up.

Clairefontaine Roadbook

A collection of thoughts and photos by recent reviewers can be found at this Rhodia Drive post.

You can find the Roadbook in two sizes and four cover options at many retailers, including Paper Bistro and Goldspot. There are similar notebooks in the Basic Life Unplugged line available at Jetpens and The Goulet Pen Company.

Thank you to Exaclair and Karen for providing this review copy in exchange for an honest review.

current state of the Planner

On Instagram the other day, a follower commented on one of my morning coffee & planner posts that they wished they were as organized as I am. A picture doesn’t tell the full story; I rarely feel as organized as I look. Right now I’m in a transitional phase revising, refining, and refocusing some of my work and I also made a planner change two weeks ago.

planning system March 2015 edition

Overall my 2015 systems have remained the same, the method of tracking my planning has a minor modification that is mostly just a return to my 2014 method.

While I really enjoyed my custom system, I kept refining it every few weeks and printing out new pages. When both the ink jet and laser printers needed to be fed new ink on the same day, I realized enough. I wasn’t printing copious amounts of high colour planning pages, but the printing I did added up.

After purchasing ink that Sunday afternoon, I went across the strip mall to the local art supply store. My primary goal was to research watercolour supplies, however I also hoped that there might still be some 2015 planners on the shelves. I was lucky, there was a sizable selection and they were even half-off. It was a difficult decision to chose one. I cannot overstate how I love the size of my log books. However, I do not like how most planners here in the states make Saturday regular and Sunday tucked into the corner.

That doesn’t work well for me. I don’t need to track much on Shabbat and I often work on Sundays. There is a lovely Time and Life Planner that provides “equal weight” to each day, but it’s a very special order and my planner budget was tight this year. I also would love to try a Hobonichi Cousin, but again, that requires planning ahead!

Back at the store, if a Dashboard Weekly Planner had been in stock, I likely would have purchased it. I know if the Colour a Month planners came in the large size I would likely use them for my log books. As it was I wavered wondering if I should use the 12 Month Weekly Planner/Diary Vertical (large) or even return to the 12 Month Weekly Notebook (large, softcover with notes), a design I used for several years. I almost picked up an Excompta 2015 Visual Planner Refill but wasn’t quite happy with the layout even though the page size is closer to perfect.

In the end, I returned to the format I knew and enjoyed from last year, and picked up a Trinote refill. Beyond staring down my budget, why didn’t I go with something different? I wanted to settle in as quickly as possible and get on with doing.

The rise of bullet journal(er)s has given me some new ideas for my own logbooks. Overall my day-to-day format has remained the same. I now record the week’s tasks on a left-hand page and facing it, the routine tasks and habits with a grid to check. The half-filled boxes just mean I partially did the task. A dot in the box is if I didn’t have my highlighter du jour handy. I apologize for the extensive blurring (you can click to see the images full size) it was taking longer to create a page I felt comfortable sharing in full than to edit it.

In the Trinote I’m writing with whatever pen is handy, and have fallen back in love with Pigma Micron 01s as they don’t smear when I highlight over them. I do wish the 01 size came in hunter green.

I am currently optimistic that this system will work well as we continue through the year. I feel mostly settled in to the new system and while it doesn’t travel with my everywhere (my log book does) it’s working. I still haven’t decided how I’ll use the priority boxes at the top. I’m not the only one with questions about how I’ll use them and expect I’ll just start doodling the day’s weather.

How is your planner system working for you? Have you made changes? Are you starting to look at the academic planners with longing?

planner status, summer heat wave edition

We are now in the third quarter so I think it’s time to look into my current planner arrangement. I’ll pause to let you see where I was at the end of January. Yes, it changed again. Does that surprise anyone?

Progress, it's sluggish progress, but still progress!I partially blame that bizarre need to photograph my lists. (Yes, even after reading this.)

Each morning as I sit down with my first cup of coffee, I photograph my todo list. It initially fit on my favourite 3×5 index cards, but then, as lists tend to do, it expanded and needed more space. So I began to fill a composition book page each day.

Why was I not writing in my cica-arc hybrid notebook? Even with the arc paper, I find it expensive for something that is intended to be recycled very soon. Also, all my rings are 1″ and while that is nice to hold a year’s worth of paper at once, the resulting notebook (even with a change of front cover) is still bulky and heavy. I have my eye on a set of smaller rings but haven’t yet been able to commit to the purchase.

Tuesday please just hand over #morecoffeeSo welcome, the humble, cheap wide ruled composition book, comfort food of my childhood, teen years, college days, and beyond. How I love you. But you do have one serious character flaw, the spacing between each line is vast. As you can see (click to make bigger), my handwriting is … atrocious. I yearn for a grid or dot system. And the paper is so thin… it disintegrates before I finish the volume, so am I really saving any money?

I held the demise of the last composition book at bay for an extra week by quickly sewing a simple cover out of scrap fabric. The only thing I forgot to add was an elastic closure. Oops. It holds a pen (or two), a highlighter, and in the bigger pocket is an eraser and some post-it flags.


This helped, but last week saw the end.

I then pulled a slightly more expensive book off the shelf, a grid composition book and set to work setting it up. only four days in I’m happier to have paid just a little more for this book. My handwriting has improved and due to the smaller grid size, even when the list is impossible, it isn’t frightening because it doesn’t take up the whole page.


So why do I like this set up over all the other planners I keep purchasing and abandoning?

It’s customized to me and my needs. I first set up a 3 week rolling view, then follow with three weeks of relevant daily pages. Why 3 weeks? I find it’s helpful to see more than one week at a time, and when I do two or four weeks, they just aren’t right. Plus with the rolling, I am no longer caught with surprise at the start of a new month.


While I love the flexibility of a traditional filofax or circa/arc system, I need everything to be attached in one book so I can find it later if I need to. Yes, these books are meant to be temporary records, but I still need all their pages attached while I’m working with them.

I do wish my calendar could auto populate at least some events on the pages without my needing to write them out and transcribe them (or affix labels). I’m sure if I looked into inDesign programming I could probably make it happen, but then I’d be back into the issue of needing to print a custom notebook or going the circa/filofax route again.

I bet if a planner company (or individual) set out to offer planners in 3 month (aka a quarter) chunks with various layouts… I’d probably be one of the first in line to purchase.

The other complaint right now is very silly. It bothers me that I have a discord in paper sizes, though that does allow for me to very quickly pick up the one I need. I confess I’ve been eying this system once again. (A5 smooth grey cover, then either slim moleskines or other A5 notebooks. I think.)

Yes, I’m still using the green moleskine planner for weekly review and recording dinners and I very much like that arrangement as a diary record of 2013.


Least you wish to join the chorus in complaining that while I work in technology, I rely too heavily on paper, please remember that paper is technology and so are books.

planner status, end of January edition

All too soon it’s the last day of January, time to discuss how the new planners and I are getting along.

Overall it’s going well, I’m surprised at what a difference a small formatting change can make. As I wrote in planner angst, I was nervous about the impact of those small changes.

Let’s start with task planning.

Last year, I migrated to a junior-sized hybrid circa/arc system for tasks. I like the circa planning pages but as I consider these a temporary record, refill cost is a concern. So for 2013 I opted for the Arc week/month refill.

This is a sample of the pages I used last year, immediately following a Monday morning planning session. Do you see my hack for dealing with repetitive tasks?

I use labels. I like the small return address label size. I type four lines of text in two columns per label and cut them in half to cram the most information onto each label as I can. These examples are out-dated and it was really hard to write up a sample week to scan and publish without it looking really silly.


I highlight tasks as they are completed, colour coding each day. That way I can see at a glance when tasks were completed and when something hasn’t been. I use a Zebra Mildliner Set (Mild & Fluorescent Color) with a mild grey and violet to round out the set. I purchased mine at Kinokuniya which is how I acquired the singles. I do wish I had a green instead of just the blue-green from my set, the blue and blue-green are very similar shades! The colours didn’t scan well and I did some amateur image correction so the yellow and orange would show up. Again, this is a made-up week, but it is representative on how it generally looks by Sunday evening.


For 2013 there was a long getting to know you curve for the arc format I chose. I’m still not 100% in love with it, but perhaps it will help make my week more efficient. I also have yet to print up new repetitive task labels. It’s not really bad as I do gain from rewriting tasks (more on that in a bit) but I do miss them. I also tried to not be so set-in-my-ways with the highlighter colours. After a three week trial, I decided I don’t like it. Last week I went back to my preferred rainbow order.

What are the format differences and how do they impact me?


First, the paper is wonderful. It works well with my highlighters and collection of pens (mostly the sarasa 0.4).

Changes I like: The Arc background shades alternate days. I like that more than I expected I would. I like the monthly divider tabs, not a surprise as it’s something I felt was missing from my Circa system. For the layout, I like that I can block Saturday and Sunday together as one task day, since Shabbat tasks don’t require a planner! I do have a colour for Saturdays and often tasks are coloured in if I need to check on something Saturday night. I like when there is not a lot of purple appearing for the week.

Changes I do not like: I do not care at all for the five months at a glance. I never look at it as the font is too small to see unless the planner is in front of my nose. I also haven’t figured out how to use 3 lines of notes at the bottom of each page.

However, what really bothers me is how the week is broken up across the fold. My week generally has a Monday-Thursday focus with Friday reserved for scrambling to pick up missing pieces and prepare for Shabbat.

I have felt a bit lost on Thursdays, though I’ve never gotten the hang of them in general. In an ideal world this new format would mean Thursday would become the new Friday (but without Shabbat stress) as the weekly work review day and bear the bulk of the scramble to get everything done, but that hasn’t happened yet.

I’ve not yet declared complete planner fail, but I do wish the 2013 junior sized inserts would go on extreme discount.

sample-day-planning-cardNow to the topic of my task rewriting habit…

Each morning over my coffee, I check in with the planner and basecamp and do a mini-review of open projects, the week, and what I need to focus on for that day. That results in an index card that looks much like this. The card often includes items that don’t make it into the more big-picture task planner. They are even more temporary than the planner, I only keep them long enough to write the next day’s list.

Does it work? For me, yes.

Is it efficient? For me, yes.

The repetitive writing brings the important things for that day to the top of my brain and allows what isn’t important to settle a little. That’s not a bad thing.

Please read Lifehacker’s article on remixing for a personalized productivity system for additional inspiration.

Finally, the big question, how is that big change in format for the desk calendar/diary record faring?

I’m still not 100% sure how I plan to fill this out. I have been writing entries in pencil (4H grade), but as that definitely didn’t scan well, I edited the image and typed up the daily entries. I used a free font based on a scan of my handwriting, so please don’t twitch too much with the bad kerning.

The biggest change is that there is no sketching of what I wore. This makes me sad but at least I’m writing the items down. Why aren’t there doodles? My plan was to work on my sketching skills, but I have a desire for this book to be perfect and I know the sketches will not be. Therefore there aren’t any and further, I’ve not been doodling much lately. I have a selection of books on sketching and doodling I’d like to look through, but the main thing is I need to get past this mind-block of needing perfection and start sketching.


Overall I am pleased with this format even with the page break on Wednesday. The oxide green is a very nice colour and it makes me happy (hah I hadn’t noticed my font colour until I edited this post).

I admit to eyeing the new 18 Month Turntable after I learned about it, but that is more curiosity than my having any real need for it. It has features that remind me of ways I’ve tracked tasks in the past and I love that it can easily be used two different directions and changed weekly if desired!

I want to end with how I use the anno section, a section that many apparently struggle with, regardless of brand. In my anno section, I record what I made for dinner. I’ve been doing this for a while with different formats. This list is typed with that font because again, I’ve not yet inked anything into this planner.


How are your calendars and planning devices faring so far this year?