Peninsular Notebooks, Porto

    My analogue journaling and tracking of todo lists happens in Field Notes notebooks. Over the last couple of years I have grown to love the convenience (for me) of the size of Field Notes and occasionally will buy notebooks of a similar size but made by a different brand.

    While my wife and I were in Portugal earlier this year, we visited a beautiful stationary and graphics store in the city of Porto, Peninsular. I did not document much of that trip due to my part of the visit being cut short as I had to return to the US for my Naturalization interview. However, the experience of entering Peninsular remains with me. The store was full of notebooks, pens, pencils, paper, printing presses all lovingly curated. While browsing, my wife noticed a small collection of Field Notes sized notebooks produced by Peninsular, and I bought them.

    Yesterday I opened my first Peninsular notebook to start tracking my days. 📝

    Peninsular notebooks

    Managing my Life

    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

    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 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 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 have been helpful as they share their tools. I’m am looking forward to that hunt!

    Journaling while in Self-Isolation

    I have long kept a journal. For me it started as a record of my travels during the late 1980’s. Since returning from those journeys my journal has become a place to share what has been on my mind, to explore my thoughts and work through them. It has been a place to just write with no goal.

    The passage of time

    Journaling as a daily activity has embed and flowed. From days of intense involved writing, to weeks of occasional notes, just wanting to get a thought out of my head while not having enough time to take it further.

    I have gone through periods of having my journal sit beside me during my morning meditation. If something is really nagging at me, I pick up my pen and journal and write it out of my head.

    Other times I have put time aside to write, just allowing the pen to go where it wants to go with no agenda as to what I say. I might start with the weather and end up with something that happened last week.

    Yet again I might have my journal as something that I carry around with me and jot words into as I go through my day - words of inspiration, something that I am doing, or just something that I am trying to work out in my head.


    The journaling medium has also varied over the years. For the most part it has been a pen and notebook. I love the process of allowing a pen to track across the page. My choice of notebook and pen have varied. I find it important to write with that which I am comfortable.

    As the digital age developed I started having a part time computer based journal that lived on an app on my computer and iPhone. With this I had a place to catch things on the go. In time, with the realization that if the app goes so do my journal entries, I have started to transfer those entries to a digital text based format, something that can be opened in pretty much any writing application regardless of platform - computer or phone. And with that my main journaling medium now appears to be text files sitting in the Cloud.


    With a digital journal that can be accessed on my computer and iPhone, I have found it a helpful as a place to go to during this period of self-isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Self-isolation puts me and my family in a situation that we have never found ourselves in before. The isolation part does not bother me. I am use to not venturing far. But being an introvert in a very extroverted family with our needs and wants sometimes clashing, having a place to go to put down my experiences and feelings has been a great help. The process allows me to go inside, to process, to explore, and normally by the time that I reach a finishing point I find I have created some space in my life. In some way I have relieved pressure that has been building up in me. I am ready to take on other things. The exercise of writing has allowed that to happen.


    Each day I simply open a new file, put the date at the top, enter the time of my first entry and write. Later in the day I will open the same file, enter the current time and add more content to that file. By the end of the day it becomes a log of my experiences and thoughts through the day.

    I am grateful for it.

    Time passes

    I started this post on April 1st according to the timestamp on the file that is holding this post. I am unsure why there has been the delay in getting this out? I think in part it has been managing my way through these times of self-isolation with my family. Today I wrote on my blog,

    One of those days which never really feels as though it gets going, such that by the end of it there is a sense of frustration and a “cross my fingers” that I am not there tomorrow.

    Life over the last almost four weeks, that is how long my family & I have be practicing self-isolation, has been an up and down ride. Some days have gone well, others have felt like trudging through mud - unproductive, lethargic, family members struggling.

    Through it all I have been journaling. Some days more than others - the frustration that I speak of in the blog post above can play a part in that. However the day plays out, the writing helps to keep me going.


    What are you using to help you manage your way through these times?

    If you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you. Just click here.