on pens and planning

While I love the rainbow spectrum of my fountain pen inks, I prefer to be colour consistent in my planner and log books. This is a change from how I once worked, colour coding everything.


I’m embracing simplification. Not in an austere sense of only having a few pens (I don’t think that’s possible for me), but I keep fewer ink colour choices around.

What was wrong?

The biggest problem with many of my old systems was how if I didn’t have the right pen (or ink colour) my system would come crashing to a train wreck. I want my system to work no matter where I choose to work that day or what writing tools I select.

A robust system shouldn’t break with a minor tool change. I place high value on content before formatting in my digital files. Simplifying ink colour helps me be consistent with that concept on paper as well.

But are blue and black inks really that different?

No. In this I’ll “blame” Instagram planning posts. Many of the designers I follow have perfect planners and are very particular about pens and colours. While that degree of focus is not a good one for me (I learned that last year), I found that black and dark grey are more visually consistent than various blues.

Current system

My every day pens are now almost all black or dark grey ink.

Most of the pens are also smear proof when I watercolour/highlight over them. I use Noodler‘s Lexington Grey in the majority of my fountain pens.

I have a range of other pens that I also use in my log books; there is little consistency in brand or type. Some are gel, some are felt tip, others are ball point. I’m trying to write through what I acquired over the years before I purchase new.

Strategic colour

When one applies colour strategically, it helps the eye to focus. Think back to when you first began to highlight school notes. Chances are you highlighted almost every word. Could you remember or find anything in your notes? Probably not.

Years ago, I found that highlighting my todo list as I finished items helped me to focus in on those tasks yet to be completed.

Now with a standardized base colour the other bits of colour in my planners and notebooks pop just a little bit more.

What about all the other pens and inks?

I still use my rainbow when I write letters to friends, for drafts, and my morning pages.

This tiny shift to a simpler system has helped reduce decision fatigue and paralysis. My focus has increased and I am getting more done. Have you made a small shift with big results? Please let me know.

additional planner pages, quo vadis principal

The main pages of my planner are well known (thanks to my almost daily photographs), however, what else lies within the covers? This post will provide a brief tour of additional planner pages that are often overlooked, and changes I’ve made to them.

The Cover

img shows brown-black desk with keyboard, notebook, and pen. notebook is "Texas", a faux suede Quo Vadis planner cover in charcoal black. .

I use the faux suede (vinyl) cover that arrived with my Trinote back in 2013. Quo Vadis calls this style “Texas”, and mine is in charcoal black. It’s held up much better than I expected; while it no longer looks new, it is still presentable.

Inside front cover

The front spread is where I keep post-its. It’s also where I often forget about them while I’m planning. They are most helpful when I’m at the library or Starbucks and need a post-it, stat!

I also wrote up my watercolor recipe for the color of tea. Do I need it? No. One day I was playing with my watercolours and wanted to see how much white I needed to add to the yellow when I doodle the sun. It evolved from there as yellow is also the colour of Twinings’ Earl Grey box. I now often draw herbal teas as a leaf instead of a square teabag.

Personal notes page

There are many entries I do not complete and some which are in my own personal encrypted code.

Why? What if I lost this notebook? I try to be careful, but as I do often work in public spaces, it could happen. While I blur things in my posted photos, those aren’t how they appear in the book, nor is my blurring necessarily infallible. I’ve had to trade-off usability verses encryption.

Is my encryption hard to break? No.

Will I teach you? No.

If it’s something that private, I don’t record it here.

Front Notes Page

Here in the front is where I keep random information such as the hours of certain stores. I also have phone numbers that I keep in my cell that I don’t have memorized.

Time Schedule

I’ve struggled with this spread, which is a surprise given my love of time blocking. I now have post-it notes that fit better with the time grid (thank you scissors) and am slowly working on using this regularly. I had been writing in pencil, and while that works, it wasn’t as flexible as I’d like. This still isn’t quite right, but I’m looking at it more.

Current Anno Planning

Other than blocking out the Jewish holidays and 6-month dentist appointments I haven’t been using this as much as I used to. It’s a bit narrow for me to write daily events such as dinner and I prefer to keep that record with the rest of my day. I may begin to record my morning inbox count here; by recording it within my daily notes, it often becomes lost. It would be interesting to see if there are trends.

Future Anno Planning

I haven’t done much in the 2017/2018 Anno Planner beyond marking out that I need to get my car inspected in August and the 10th annual Paine to Pain is tentatively scheduled for October 8th. The slightly darker grey boxes are the Jewish holidays I need to remember to schedule around (Pesach in 2018 is at the end of March).

Revised Back Pages – Monthly!

Until last week, I mostly ignored the back pages. I was tired of schlepping a different sized monthly calendar around, even though I really liked to be able to lay it out next to my weekly. I’m waiting for the Monthly 4 to be available; I’ll have to figure out a new cover solution then. In the meantime, I printed up a 4 week layout through August and pasted it over the reference pages of Practical Information which I haven’t used since I began this planner last July.

Ideal? No. Good enough for now? Yes.

It has simplified what I need to keep track of when I go running off somewhere other than my desk or the dining table to plan. The layout proved useful last week when I realized how very little time there was before Pesach! My default google calendar view is three weeks, so that was a surprise!

Back Notes Pages

Here is where I do pen and watercolour tests. I haven’t figured out what else to write in the pages that isn’t in my always present log book, but they are there.

Three-year calendar

Here I highlight the Jewish holidays, there really isn’t space to do much else.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of some of the shyer pages of my planner. Do you find yourself puzzled by pages in your planner? Let me know, I believe together we we can find a solution.

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?

planner status, December 2016 edition

I’ve received many messages over the past few weeks, “What are you using in 2017?” and until last week my response was, “I don’t know yet”. I’ve decided and my solution may surprise you. This post will cover the current system, the proposed system, and how I’m using the notebooks. It is a long post so I decided to split it into two parts with another post next week covering the smallest of the notebooks.

Current planner system, December 2016

  • Quo Vadis Principal® Academic Year planner: weekly planning, time blocking, and … daily log-journal
  • A5 Muji Monthly notebook.
  • Clairefontaine A5 grid clothbound notebook: client/project work log
  • A6 grid notebook: todo list, daily punch list, and meal planning.
  • an inexpensive composition book: for brainstorming

Proposed planner system, January 2017

The same as I’m currently using, that’s a very nice feature of using an Academic year planner!

As the current log books fill, I will switch in new ones. This is the last of the A6 notebooks I purchased in Budapest this summer, so I’ll switch to the easier to acquire Muji A6 grid. When the client/project log is full I will upgrade to a different Clairefontaine A5 grid, but I can’t talk too much about that new import yet.

Really, no changes?

Ok, the biggest change over the past few weeks was to finally work out a system for identifying tasks that are personal, PennyWise Consulting, and little acorn creations. I tried quite a few things the past few months. Different colour pens, markers, and brush pens. The colours I mentally identify with each business don’t work very well on paper as they are similar in tone. As expected the solution was simple and is effective in monochrome or colour.

The Shape System

I chose shapes to represent each. Oh simplicity, you make my heart sing. It’s easy. A square shape represents PennyWise Consulting. It’s similar to the current logo so there’s consistency. little acorn creations is a triangle, let’s say I chose it as it is close in shape to a capital A. Finally, personal is a circle, I draw them in a way similar to how I write the Hebrew letter פ, the first letter in my name. (I used a פ for a long time but this is easier). Books are represented by a diamond. This is where I really like this simple outline system. Just the shape means a task (or a book I want to read). A dot in the middle indicates that I’m working on it, ⟐. A fully shaded shape ◆, means the task is completed. Wow. That makes it sound much more complicated than it is.

What about the Hobonichi?

I really enjoyed it, but I used a considerable amount of budget on notebooks and planners in 2016. So much so I spent into my 2017 budget, so unfortunately I’ll have to skip for next year.

How I use the Quo Vadis Principal® Academic Year planner

It took me a while to figure out this new-format-to-me planner. I think I’ve finally settled into it, and I am not using it at all as I expected. The biggest change was when I realized I could, thanks to correction tape, switch Saturday and Sunday. Once I got used to seeing the planner this way, I no longer notice the somewhat the odd order to my week.

example of PSG mods to Quo Vadis Principal planner page

I’ve tried using printed labels to pre-populate routine tasks, but I found I actually like the process of writing it out by hand. I no longer try to track all the routine tasks in my notebooks. To my surprise I found two android apps that work well enough for me and I’m happy enough with them that I now track this digitally.

Instead of using the task sections for phone calls, emails, and notes I use these sections for big-topic work items. Here I record a blog post & its general topic, themes for what I want to photograph and post to social media, and when trash/recycling pickup is.

In the schedule area I write out my time blocks. While I have a weekly master plan, I found it is easier to sketch it in during my morning planning session.

The open expanse, solved

The middle area perplexed me for a while. The lines bothered me. I tried splitting it into 4 sections with the fourth as household projects, and tried to use the tasks as intended. That didn’t go well. I finally decided to use it as I was using the Hobonichi … as a sort of “diary/journal” … with doodles! I record the weather with windchill. I keep track of what I drink during the day as I am skilled at being dehydrated. Oh, the water drop with the 3 small circles? I decided that is how I’ll designate seltzer. We drink liters of seltzer.

It feels really good to doodle freely.

It works out because I don’t need to doodle and draw all the time, and the space was begging for use. The lines (which are faint in my photocopy) no longer bother me and I find them useful to help size my coffee & tea mugs.

What about that small A6 book?

Next week I’ll write about how I’ve sectioned the notebook and how I learned that no matter where I write daily tasks, writing them all down in one list while my coffee or tea cools.

Want more planning?

On the PennyWise Consulting blog yesterday I announced a new project I’m developing, but I need your help.

I received my QuoVadis Principal® planner from Karen at Exaclair, the FTC wants you to know.

planner status, September 2016 edition

Today is officially autumn, so it’s time for another review of my planner system. Summer and July are now a distant memory. As the leaves begin to turn, am I still experiencing planner love this September? Yes!

Have I made any small adjustments over the past few weeks? Of course! I’d love to think I’m a most productive person and that’s why I’m always refining my methods, but I think it’s more because when something becomes too habitual I just do it without thinking. It’s important for me to be mindful about my planning and by making small (and often large) changes to how I do things, it helps keep me focused.

September 2016 Planner status

Current, September 2016 planner system setup:

Occasional Players:

  • Hobonichi Avec July-December volume
  • Jr Sized Circa/Arc hybrid


I made the log book switch after I realized how much I loved the tiny and subtle 3.7mm grid of the Hobonichi. That size is hard to find here so I am using 4mm grid instead. I love having one book to grab, even if it’s a bit big and heavy.

The format of the Quo Vadis Principal® is working well for me. In time I will find a better way to utilize the timed sections of each day, every week I make small adjustments. This week I used colour to shade in my time blocks. It’s not been as effective as I’d hoped. I don’t know what I’ll try next week. Some days the sections I’ve allocated to planning for work feel limiting (personal stuff gets the big roomy middle). However, I am more realistic in my planning and a bit deeper in my focus. If it doesn’t fit in the box, it must find a new day! I don’t know why I didn’t get friendly with correction tape before and just switch Saturday & Sunday. It didn’t take me very long to get used to the new layout of the week.

Yes, the Hobonichi is an Occasional Player. I love it, but I haven’t figured out how to fit the A6 into my workflow. I’ve thought about getting the cousin for 2017, but I’m also intrigued by the Stalogy Editor’s Series 365Days Notebook, but am quite happy with my current system. I may acquire a separate notebook for daily drawing and doodling practice, but as of right now my occasional doodling suits me fine.

Itching to change:

It’s been both wonderful and frustrating to return to one master logbook. I miss being able to spread out my week views across all the notebooks and the planner at once. Photos help, but they’re not the same. Yes, of course I wish all the notebooks were the same size, but I gave up on that. I need my main future planning book to be different. I guess bigger is better in this case!


Most surprised by:

The community that has grown up around the bullet journal! I was ignorant! A friend of penguingirl, shared with me many links to the talented people influencing the direction of planners and journals. While I still don’t decorate my planner, I do like it to be laid out cleanly and in an aesthetically pleasing manner. So I guess it’s no surprise that I’ve gone a monochrome grey-black. I’m still using my highlighter rainbow in the planner book, but I leave it on my desk. If I finish a task while I’m out, it gets a standard ✗. It’s taken me some time to be comfortable with both the grey mildliner and the brush pen on the same page as they are different greys, but the highlighter travels easier as it’s smaller and fits in my pen pouch.



I still have one or two things I would love to change (and would likely require magic), but this is finally the system I feel I can trust.