Organizing my life on Notion: a tour of my system so far

I recently had a life change that changed the way I work. In the past, the organization that I worked for HIGHLY regulated websites that I could access, and also email and calendars, which meant that my system was spread across multiple systems. Also, I had a lot of competing requirements on my time- an inpatient ward with highly complicated medical care to manage, teaching, writing, mentoring residents, military career requirements, along with my personal life and raising two small children. This meant that my productivity system had to be highly portable, self-contained, and also cognizant of security requirements. This boiled down to that I was constantly on the run, rarely found at my desk.

I’ve since transitioned to a different kind of practice, and my work life is a lot less complicated. I have a desk as home base, though not always the same desk, and I have a lot less roles to keep track of. As a result, I went back and gave Notion a try again.

In the past, I found Notion to be quite heavy in the initial investment in set-up time, and without everything I needed. For example, re-typing tasks daily, and my schedule, is quite onerous, and doesn’t feel like a significant improvement over a paper planner. On the other hand, I’ve been looking lately for a place to put all the parts of my life- my daily planner, meeting and other work notes, research, my habit tracker, reading notes, travel dreams, and routines. I tried making an Evernote dashboard to help me track all these things, but making what I envisioned seemed like a LOT of trouble and required other services to plug-in, and even then, was ugly and clunky.

My second try with Notion has been very successful. This is partly because of the freely available Templates, which I have adapted for my own use. I’m still learning how to use all that Notion is capable of- and there are a lot of people to learn from, like Marie Poulin, Thomas Frank, etc., that I owe a lot of time savings to! My plan is to go over my Notion system, which has a lot of parts, in two blog entries- the first of which is today!

The foundation of my Notion system, which I can access from my phone, ipad, Mac, Surface tablet, and any computer at work, is my Personal Home page, which is like a life wiki for me. I have a daily planner link, weekly planner, tasks, notes system, and other things like references I use often, and lists of things I want to do someday, like travel ideas, TV and movies and books to read. I found this on the regular templates on Notion, and changed it around to suit my needs (you can find the template here). What I really like about Notion is that the system of interlinking blocks (think about Legos), allows you to customize your system to whatever you need. Additionally, the system is really beautiful, and you can customize with different header art, etc, so my system is unlike anyone else’s system.

my life wiki

The next section I use most frequently is my Daily planner. I adapted this from this template, but it is now very different. I open a new template planner every day, and it already has pre-loaded my daily routines, habit tracker, tasks (which are embedded from Todoist, so I have all the power of Todoist, but integrated in my own system), and weather forecast. I found a way to embed the weather so it updates daily! After I have finished using the Daily template, I drag and drop it into a calendar, so I can see anything I need to at a glance.

Top half of the daily template
The bottom half of the Daily template
Calendar view of the Daily templates- I can also see them in a table, but find the calendar view baked into the template to be more informative.

In terms of using Notion as a planner, the major downfall, at least for me, is the lack of a good Google calendar integration. You can embed your Google calendar into a page, which is nice, but no changes are possible at this time, from Notion. Additionally, the calendar has to be public, which I find to be concerning from a security stand point- do I really want my calendar to be publicly searchable? So for now, I have a calendar I sent up myself on Notion, with just special events, and continue to use Google calendar as a stand-alone service. Every day, I type in my schedule in my daily calendar. An API to help with this would be a HUGE upgrade, and I read that this may be forthcoming at some point.

However, the tasks, which was a big issue before- I don’t want to retype my tasks all the time- is now solved for me, by embedding Todoist into the Daily planner. My routine in the morning with Notion consists of typing in my schedule into a daily template, reviewing my tasks directly embedded below, reviewing the weather, and typing my top three priorities for the day. And that’s it! I do some journaling also, which I also have templated within Notion, and will go over next time.

Are you using Notion? I would love to see your daily setup or hear how you’re using Notion in the comments below!

My EDC and Current Productivity Set Up

Siliconsutra

 

Though COVID-19 has changed so much about life (telemedicine, anyone?), it hasn’t changed my need to get things done. The way work gets done might be a little different, but I still need to keep track of things, and focus on the projects that matter to me. However, tasks are much more likely to come to me via email, text, Teams, etc., and I am much more likely to be in front of a computer than I used to be. I thought an article about my Everyday Carry Setup (EDC) might be useful. Also, I added a new Apple watch to my EDC, which allows me to have reminders that are hard to ignore, and review my schedule and tasks right on my wrist! As a result, I’ve gone away from using a written planner, and moved to a digital calendar and task list, which helps me capture emailed tasks much easier.

Everyday carry:

  • A Hobonichi techo planner and Pilot Acro Drive ball point pen, in theSuperior Labor’s A6 Peacock Blue Notebook cover: I’m using this to make daily notes, write down quotes that strike me, check a calendar at a glance, and keep a habit tracker. The Acro writes smoothly on the ultra thin Tomoe River paper, and the minimal aesthetic of the Hobonichi and interesting quotes inspire me. I had this planner anyway, and figured when I switched to digital, I might as well use it. I sometimes add little ephemera to my techo- the tiny drawings and treasures that my kids give me throughout the day. I’ve ordered one of the Remarkable 2 devices, but it doesn’t arrive until October, so until then, I need to carry some paper to take quick notes.
  • Apple watch, series 5: I had a first generation Apple watch, that had become essentially non-functional. It recently disintegrated (really!), and I opted to upgrade the the Series 5. I am really glad I did- the larger face and updated technology allows me to see my schedule and tasks, and really make better use of this tool in a way I never did before.
  • iPhone (of course): this is where a lot of my data entry happens on the go. I’ll talk about my app set up later.
  • iPad and portable Bluetooth keyboard: I use this for data entry, writing longer emails and journal entries, and doing my morning ritual (if my MacBook Air isn’t available).

On my Apple devices:

  • Calendars 5 by Readdle: I’ve recently been trying to go with apps that allow you to buy them outright, rather than a subscription model. I was using Fantastical 2 to look at my calendar, the weather, and my tasks in one glance, but this also required both a subscription for Fantastical and a subscription for Todoist. Todoist on its own did not have the weather, or the ability to see a calendar at a glance. I already had paid for the app Calendars 5, which also gives me the ability to enter dates in natural language which is much faster than a dropdown menu for me.
  • Things 3: Things 3 is a beautiful app that can be as complicated or easy as you need. It also shows events for the day, and you can divide tasks between morning and evening to make the visual processing much easier. I’ve subscribed to a Weather calendar so I can see the weather in the events. Each morning, I review my calendar for the week, and my tasks for the week, and then manage my tasks for the day. I review what tasks are critical for the day, and times I have meetings and clinic. I divide tasks into daily and evening tasks to simplify my daily view. Also, I’ve created two important repeating tasks, which I drag to the top of my list to keep them in my mind throughout the day:
    • A repeating task of my monthly goal: this month, it happens to be logging food, intermittent fasting, and exercising 4 times per week.
    • a repeating task with Today’s Affirmation and Focus: today, it happens to be “I am mindful of the present moment.” This is a quote I am pondering or something I am striving to emulate for the day.
  • Instapaper: I’m wavering between Pocket and Instapaper, but for now, I save studies and articles I am reading to Instapaper. I’ve used an IFTTT formula to save articles that I click “like” on to Evernote to save in case I want to refer to them later.
  • Day One app: I use this for journaling, but I have also set up some templates based on the Stoics, that allow me to have an AM and PM reflective process, and let me see what I’m grateful for every day.
  • Zero: I am using this to help me remember to do intermittent fasting.

What are you using for your daily carry and apps? Let me know in the comments below!

Roterfaden Taschenbegleiter: the deluxe, super-flexible note book with the complicated name

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Roterfaden Taschenbegleiter is complicated if you don’t speak German. Which, sadly, I do not. Baum-kuchen, one of my favorite online stationery stores ever, translates Roterfaden as “red thread” which makes sense since all the notebooks are bound with a red thread (incidentally, they have one of the best selections of Roterfaden in the US). I requested a Roterfaden for Christmas from Santa, and must have been really good this year.

The notebook is a similar premise as the Traveler’s Journal, which I’ve talked about here, except they come in more sizes, and the mechanism which keeps the notebooks in the cover is different. My Roterfaden is A5 sized, which means I can use a wide variety of notebooks, including those of Roterfaden. Right now, I have a Roterfaden weekly calendar (April Fool’s Day is amusingly printed upside down), a grid notebook from another brand, a tear-out list booklet, and some random studies I’ve been trying to get around to reading. I change the calendar to a monthly one frequently, and often add a daily page or dashboard (I like this one from Baum-kuchen). I also have some plastic page protectors I use, and Midori MD booklets that I use for taking notes on specific books, depending on what I have planned for the day.

roterfaden front cover

The cover is a nice padded leather (ignore the smear on mine- everything I own is covered in espresso), with a red elastic band that holds it closed. I expect it to age nicely as long as I don’t have any more espresso accidents. There are other finishes available- one is made of recycled materials, rather than leather, for vegan writers or those not into the leather look.

Roterfaden inside

The inside is made of a soft gray wool felt, with pockets for tools, cards, and a writing pad or kindle, though most writing pads, including A5 Rhodia pads do not fit. Roterfaden makes one that fits, available again through Baum-Kuchen. An elastic loop holds a thin pen, but probably not a multi-pen. Other models even have zipper pockets! The unique thing about Roterfaden is the clip mechanism. The clips move downward to hold in notebooks, loose papers, etc.

roterfaden planner

The clips don’t just function to hold the booklets in the notebook cover, but also hold your place in the booklet. Here, I’ve used the clips to hold my planner open to the correct week. If you’re left-handed, as I am, the clips do not get in the way of your hand while you are writing, and the booklets are perfectly flat for writing. This has consistently been the problem for me with the traveler’s journal- if there are too many booklets (or even if there isn’t), the book tends to close. This one doesn’t!

roterfaden clip

The clips are very sturdy and non-obtrusive. If they break, replacement pieces are available, though I haven’t tried replacing any myself, so I’m not sure if it’s a simple process or not.

roterfaden side view

The notebook easily holds three notebooks, without any elastics, like the Traveler’s Journal. Here, I have a graph paper booklet, a plastic-covered Muji monthly calendar, and a list booklet from Roterfaden.

I would love to hear from other Roterfaden owners, to see how they are using their notebooks! There are Facebook pages for Roterfaden, and an active community on Instagram for more ideas! I can imagine myself using this notebook for a long time to come, as it’s super-flexible, lefty-friendly, and gorgeous. Thanks for reading!

Diarium: a great journal app with no strings attached!

6BA02F79-D795-4501-A825-9696CB3C7586Dear Diary,

All I want is a great looking journal app that syncs between all my devices- iOS, Mac AND PC- and doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg. Is that too much to ask?

Love, Silicon|Sutra

Like many people who love to journal, love technology and love analog, I have switched journal apps more times than I can count. I finally figured out I can do both by scanning handwritten journal pages into my journal app when writing by hand, but which app? I use iOS often- most often my iPhone to add photos to my entries- but when I am writing a long entry, I want a keyboard.  I most often use a Surface Tablet with the keyboard attached. I have an old MacBook air that I was keeping for the sole purpose of typing in Day One, my favorite journal app. Leaving Day One would be a big deal for me. Day One has a beautiful interface, great syncing, templates, and a variety of useful meta-data in each entry. I’ve been interviewed for their podcast. I’ve met some of their employees who were super-lovely people. But they’ve been promising some kind of web app/PC user work around for awhile (years), so I started looking elsewhere.

I tried several apps, but settled on Diarium. The app looks very much like Day One and Journey, two of the more popular apps for keeping a journal. The main page has a calendar that looks like both Day One and Journey, with either a photo (if present) or colored box to indicate a journal entry was completed on that day. You can see I like kids and dogs for my entries. The small icons on the bar above the calendar allow you to sort in other ways- location, by tags, etc.

diarum calendar view

Making an entry is easy- you click on the day, and a journal entry window pops up. You can choose a wide variety of information to be automatically populated in each entry- weather, location, schedule, activity level, etc. You can rate your journal entries, but I saw someone suggest using this as a mood log, which I thought was pretty clever.

diarum journal entryThe interface is very clean and uncluttered. The process of importing my Day One journal was a bit tricky- I had to export from Day One as a JSON file, and multiple attempts from my iPhone to use the “migrate from other app” were unsuccessful. The developer was super responsive and emailed me back nearly instantly, but wasn’t actually able to help me fix the issue. Finally, I tried doing this from my laptop computer, and THEN, the process was very easy. I can make entries from my iPhone, and finish them on my laptop, and both are updated! I did have to buy the PC version of the app (now on sale for $5 from $20), and the iOS premium version- another $10- but there’s no monthly subscription!

Big differences from Day One and Journey:

  • no ability to have multiple journals. There are tags, however, and I could see that you could use a tag like a separate journal as in Day One.
  • No automatic push that I saw. I had to manually sync, but this wasn’t a big deal.
  • No subscription (yay), but the app costs money for each platform. Day one is free, but has a subscription plan for many of the features I like. Journey has both an app you can pay for and a subscription, and the differences are confusing in my opinion and unnecessarily complicated.
  • No templates. This is a bummer.
  • Journey has built in- coaching for journal writing, but I also didn’t think this was super high quality, either, so my plan is to join an online writing challenge.
  • Back ups in Diarium go to one drive, google drive or drop box.

The Verdict:

I’ll probably stick with Diarium, at least until Day One gets their chrome extension or PC/windows versions done. The chrome extension is due in 2020, and the other, well, maybe never. It is nice to be able to see my work on a bigger screen than an iPad or an iPhone, so Diarium may be with me for the long term! In any case, I only paid for the app, and won’t feel bad about not using a subscription service!

The Jibun Techo: Analogue superplanner?

I am constantly trying out new planners- electronic, paper…I like them all. However, I’ve recently been turning more to paper, since I find that I remember my appointments and tasks better if they are written down, and I am rarely sitting at my computer. My profession, psychiatry, necessitates that I am fully focused on the person in front of me- no checking my phone for messages, overdue tasks, etc.

I’ve tried a few planners over the last few months, partly to write about them here, including the Mark’s Tokyo Storage planner (awkward name, elegant page design and functional cover), the Hobonichi, and the Traveler’s journal. However, I think the one I like best of them is the Jibun Techo.  It comes in a small size that looks like the Hobonichi Weeks to me, a business appropriate one (the “biz”) and an “A5 slim”, which is really Cahier sized, not A5.

The Jibun Techo is really three books in one. One book, the Life book, contains anniversaries, budgets, life events, memories, etc, that you might keep from year to year. It’s made from sturdy, fountain-pen friendly paper that should last several years. The planner book, the thickest of the three books, contains monthly and weekly planner pages, plus monthly trackers for habits, book lists, movies lists, maps of public transportation, etc. The paper is very thin, and I think perhaps Tomoe River, which has the advantage of being light, but fountain-pen friendly. The pages are multicolored, and days cover 24 hours while giving sunset/sunrise and moon phases, which is uncommon for planners like this. The third book is a thin Ideas book, which has Tomoe River paper, and can be a daily log, notes, etc. The whole thing comes in a functional vinyl cover, which has some card slots, and can be decorated (though I’m not much of a decorative planner person). A pocket in the back holds a pencil board with an elastic strap that holds the whole thing closed. I ended up putting a leather traveler’s cover from Jenni Bick on mine.

I leave the Life book at home. I noticed that I brought it with me every day to work, and never once used it- the kind of planning I did with it was more what I would do on my weekly/monthly/yearly planning, and I didn’t need it day-to-day. The other issue I had with it was my concern with losing it. I would be horrified if I left my budget and sensitive information like kid’s birth dates and passwords at the local Starbucks! Recreating your planner would be awful enough, but I think real identity theft damage could be the result of losing the Life book.

Now for the planner: I really like the layout. The vertical layout helps me plan my day but there is a ton of space for tasks, which I felt was lacking in the Midori traveler’s vertical planner. I don’t write tasks that I do routinely (daily rituals, so on), but I do have a lot of deadlines with my evolving career and family, and there was not enough space in other planners. The Jibun also has optional task strips, which are like perforated post-its which are a perfect column size that you can add on extra room for tasks (or clean up a task list that has become chaos!). There are small removable highlighter flags that are also column size, so you can highlight important appointments or tasks, though I have not figured out how functional I think these really are. I have them, and have used them, but I find the fact that they tend to fold away from the page somewhat distracting. I think a Mild-lighter highlighter might work better, honestly. Perhaps someone has a different point of view.

I also really like the habit tracker section, and the places to write movies, books, etc. I ignore some of the spaces to write things down- I feel like I keep a journal, and I don’t need to write EVERYTHING including what I ate down. It’s a fine line between detail-oriented and obsessive compulsive personality disorder! (kidding, sort of…)

I bought a few of the Ideas books since they are so thin; I figured I would fill them up rapidly, but to my surprise, I really haven’t. The paper has a tiny grid, and for some reason, I’ve adjusted my handwriting to the tiny grid, so I get a LOT of writing on one page.

Here’s my thoughts of the pros and cons of the planner:

Pros: great design, thoughtful sections, planner pages with sunset/sunrise/moonphases and color accents are quite nice, fountain pen friendly. Relatively light, especially if you leave the Life book at home. Can still be used, even if you don’t read/speak Japanese.

Cons: perhaps too many spaces for recording your life events/details (when does it become more time consuming than time saving to keep a planner), the sections like budget, etc are potentially too sensitive to carry with you in case of loss. Some of the sections (again, like the budget) don’t translate well if you don’t read Japanese. Tabs are in Japanese, and I had to write the translation in a fine pen, which is still hard to read. Many people, including me, sort of hate the font style.

One last handy tip- there’s some translation on the Jet Pens website, in the product photos. If you join one of the Japanese planner Facebook groups, they have more of the translation in the files sections of their groups. However, this still might not help you use the budget section since it can be a hassle to flip back and forth to the translation!

Do you have a planner you love, or really have an opinion about the Jibun Techo? Let me know in the comments below!

P.S. Is anyone else SUPER excited about the “Digital Minimalism” book by Cal Newport coming out next month??