One notebook to rule them all

Maybe you’re like me and you keep a paper planner, a writing notebook, a nature journal, scraps of shopping lists, index cards with quotes on them, and so on. I’ve tried to go paperless using Google calendar and Evernote, but the truth of the matter is that I love paper, fancy pens, and all that. Material book culture pleases me.


You know what else pleases me? Meeting the carpool on time. Meeting my copy-editing deadlines. Removing apostrophes from plural nouns. Watching the ants circling peony buds. Enjoying a meal cooked by my teenage son. Doing all the things.

You may be able to relate to the long list of scattered tasks. Especially if you’re an entrepreneur. Chris Guillebeau writes articles that resonate, in particular this one from February: “How to Run a Business and Still Care for Your Family.”

Priorities are not just a question of time, in other words, they are also a question of focus and intention. I think it’s important for each of us to be able to say:

This is what I am living for.

This is what matters.

I will select these values and allow them to be my compass.

The way this is lived out may be different than how other people live, or it may even be totally unique.

So what are you living for? What matters? How do you translate these things into a life?


My friends, here’s an idea: Focus your scattered paper energy. Ditch the dozens of notebooks, planners, journals, scraps, and rubber-banded index cards.

Two words: Bullet Journal.

I started one in March and fell in love immediately. One notebook to rule them all. It’s indexed, so I can find my quotes, my reading list, my nature drawings, my lecture notes, my essay starts and story maps, and my daily schedule. I use a Leuchtturm1917 medium-sized book with dotted pages.


Granted, it’s not as neatly written now as when I started, but it’s highly functional, and functional is what I’m after.

naturejournalpageGo find a notebook and try a bullet journal. Like all systems, it’s tweakable. Make up collections as you go. Make it do what you need it to do. Make a mess.

Just don’t lose it!

Launch yourself in the right direction

Accomplishing your goals takes focus and organization. Carving out the time in your schedule for a writing session is the first step, but once you sit down at the computer, considering your short-term as well as your long-term goals is key to making the best use of your time. Here are a few places online you can go to create goals, stay organized and focused, and track your progress:

Create goals for yourself. I do my business planning both digitally with a spreadsheet and manually with paper and pen, and during my annual review session I break out the crayons and glue sticks. If you are looking for a place to begin planning, I recommend Jennifer Lee’s book, The Right-Brain Business Plan: A Creative, Visual Map for Success.

Goal Posts

Stay organized with Evernote Storing your documents online means you can log on to any computer and work, and you never have to worry about lost writing. Evernote lets you set up notebooks for each client or project, with searchable notes within each notebook.

Focus with a spreadsheet. At the top of my list, staring me in the face first thing in the morning, is my project management spreadsheet on Google Docs. I use a notebook and pen for capturing ideas, but once something is ready for typing, it goes in my spreadsheet. I’ve got all my writing projects listed and organized according to where they are in the process, from idea to drafting and revision, to finished. Headers for length, genre or form, markets, theme, and status all tell me what I’ve got. I can see at a glance what I’ve set in motion and which pieces need action. I color code my most active piece with orange, so that line jumps out at me, and I color pieces that are pending with an editor a pleasant, prayerful shade of lilac. Whether you use Google Docs to create your spreadsheet or some other application, keeping an organized record is essential.

Your spreadsheet should also track your financial records: note your payments, check numbers, invoice numbers, associated expenses, time spent, pay per word or per hour, and pretty much any other data you want to collect. Spreadsheets are just fantastic, I don’t think I could live without them.

Track your accomplishments with Duotrope’s Digest. This is a most treasured site. Duotrope’s Digest is a searchable database of over 3,450 fiction and poetry markets. Once you polish up a piece of writing, hop over to Duotrope’s and plug in the parameters of your piece, then peruse the resulting list of possible matches. Visit websites, order and read samples of your target publication, read submissions guidelines, then send off your work!


This morning I heard a timely message sitting in my Quaker Meeting. As I listened to a lively speaker tell us that the time is now, not tomorrow, I gradually let the words seep in. I listened, then I listened some more. The goals that we have in life, the relationships that we want to have, they are all happening right now. Or are they?

I’m planting some seeds here and there in different relationships in my life that I’d like to strengthen. I’m learning to listen more and focus more fully on who I’m with. Focus, you see, is my theme word for 2011. Rather than make resolutions, I decided on a theme.

Focus will encourage me to live in the present time. And focus will encourage me to take actions to meet my goals. Now. Not later.

In my head, I compose nearly constantly when I’m folding laundry, taking a walk or showering. Who doesn’t maintain a near constant inner dialogue while showering? Part of mine goes like this: “I’m gonna write that fairy story, I’ll pare it down and make it manageable” or like this: “I’m gonna get that blog going again, I’d love to write things that don’t end up in my filing cabinet or stashed away on a flash drive somewhere. I’d love to write things that folks will read.”

But, then I go about my business and I check my email and make my phone calls and fill my crock pot. I think to myself, “Tomorrow I’ll do some writing. Today I’ve got to do this that and the other.”

Today, after listening to Logie Meachum, I decided that I can sit down and write every day, clear these ideas out of my head, offer them up to the world, and go on my way to think up more thoughts. Well, maybe not every day, that’s too much of a commitment. But yes, get ready, I’ll be writing here more often. It is time to slow down and focus on what is important.