On January 1st, with a new month here, never mind a new year, I worked through my December todos, seeing what was undone and bringing those items forward to January.

This is not my Bullet Journal, rather it is a hybrid system that I have been cobbling together from a number of different systems. It has taken me a while to get here, but I am feeling more comfortable than I have done for a long while in managing my life and for that I am grateful.

The process of getting here has been a reminder to me of sticking with it. If the intention is there, I believe that a way forward will be found. The key for me has been perseverance.

Now also feels like a good time to review where I have got to.

A sketch of my system

I have borrowed from the following places and systems,

  • Bullet Journalling
  • Patrick Rhone’s Dash/Plus system
  • James Clear’s work on building habits
  • The community at Micro.blog

Probably the biggest move, and this started over a year ago, has been the move away from digital task management to good ol’ pen and paper, in the form of notebooks. I think as digital devices became more portable, I thought to manage my life with their help. But I had to be honest with myself, it wasn’t working. It was also pushing me into a corner of feeling as though I had to get things done, either because of how the apps were constructed or how I understood to use them.

With benefit of hindsight, this move to notebooks made total sense. I have been keeping journals, both written and digital, for a number of decades. The written journals have always been my most enjoyable in keeping - making the time to write and then having that visceral experience of putting my thoughts to paper through a pen, a favourite of course, traveling across the pages of the notebook.

Let me take a look at how the systems listed above have come together to create what I now use.


Returning to the list above, I’ll start at the end. I have found the Micro.blog community very helpful as members share where they are at in managing tasks in their own lives. While I can’t point to one specific person or piece of advice, I have appreciated the thinking out loud which has nudged my own thinking along and given me new ideas where I was getting stuck. So “Thank you, all.”

Bullet Journal

The Bullet Journal method by Ryder Carroll was my first attempt at transitioning from digital to paper. At first I stayed away because the learning curve looked too steep to me. I forced myself back to have another look and ended up using Carroll’s system for many months. I enjoyed the ritual of sitting down and writing, being away from the screen, both big and small. With time though the Bullet Journal felt too involved for me, bringing an added layer of complexity to my todo management that I did not want. Whether that was how I was using the system, sticking to rigidly to how I thought it should be used, or it simply not being for me, I don’t know, but I moved away from Bullet Journaling.


The Dash/Plus System is a metadata markup system created by Patrick Rhone, whom I met on Micro.blog. Like the Bullet Journal, I started using it and then stopped. It is not as involved as Bullet Journaling, something that appealed to me, but it still did not work for me. With the benefit of hindsight, I think that I was probably trying to stick too rigidly to the system as Rhone presented it as opposed to making it my own (ironically, something that he encourages). I put it down and did not return until I picked up James Clear’s Clear Habit Journal.

James Clear on building habits

I started reading James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, and using his methods of using small habits to build larger habits. I was making progress there and so decided to buy his Clear Habit Journal to help track my progress. I never finished Atomic Habits, but in the Journal I adopted some of Clear’s ideas alongside creating a Dash/Plus / Bullet Journal hybrid method unintentionally (see below). This I feel is still under construction, but has been working for me since August 2020.

David’s Tracking Method (for want of a better name!)

Clear’s Clear habit Journal can be used in anyway that one likes, but has some features that made me think in a particular way.

  • The bulk of the book is dotted pages which put me into a Bullet Journal / Dash/Plus mindset. Clear offers some suggestions for how to use the dotted pages, but they did not work for me.
  • The front of the Journal contains an Index. With that and the dotted pages, I dropped into a daily list of todos, short journal entries and reflections, and occasionally some data points around what I needed to remember. I use some of the markup from Dash/Plus and created a couple of my own. Days just run on below each other, separated by a short, drawn line.
  • At the end of each month, I start a new page bringing forward undone items from the previous month.
  • The initial pages in the Journal offer space for a single line journal reflection each day. I currently use it to reflect on what I am grateful for.
  • The back pages offer a way to track habits per day, each month. I use that to keep up with some habits that I wish to build.
  • I also use the back dotted pages to keep notes on meetings I attend, projects I am working on, or fact sheets I need at hand.
  • All of these have quick access from the Index at the front of the Journal.

In conclusion

This still feels like a work in progress, but truth be told I have pretty much dropped into a rhythm which I think will stick with. I use my iPhone and laptop’s Calendar and Reminders apps for some appointment checking - sometimes these will start in my journal and then be moved to the appropriate app - otherwise it is in my journal.

As I start to see the end of the current Clear Habit Journal in site - I’m not using a notebook year on year, just as I use it up - the next decision is what notebook will be next? Clear’s Journal has a lot already in place, lessening the need for setup, but there is also a lot that is superfluous to my needs. So I am looking elsewhere, and again the pen and paper crowd on Micro.blog have been helpful as they share their tools. I’m am looking forward to that hunt!