Analog Journaling: What is it Good For? A Whole Lot, Actually.

Naomi Hawkins-Rowe

Back in September when I traded the classroom for my dinning room table, I was overwhelmed with freedom. Instead of just being a 5 a.m.-writer (and occasionally an evening one, if i could peel my eyes open), I now had the whole day between school drop-off and pick-up to write. I was busy, but I’m not really sure I was productive. I’d make to-do lists on post-its, but somehow I’d find myself doing laundry when I should have been revising a scene. To be frank, it was like my brain had forgotten time management. I needed a plan: Enter Analog Journaling.

I’d first heard of this task checking method in the form of Dot Journaling on Erin Boyle’s minimalist blog Reading My Tea Leaves; I had even used it to keep track of research for one of my three WIPs. Though it wasn’t until over a year later that I thought to give this method a try to utilize every second of my day. Leo was a late bloomer and so am I.

Most people reading this likely already know what analog journaling is, and if not, here’s the gist.

My Calendar and Habit Tracker for February 2019

A closer look at my habits and goals

Bullet Journals, Dot Journals and Idea Journals (used by da Vinci, Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, Beatrix Potter) all fall under the umbrella of analog journaling. Think of them as tools to compile calendars, to-do lists, idea-lists, habit trackers, sketches and doodles. Entries are meant to be short; they are meant to be a record of information; to capture an idea you want to explore. As mentioned, they aren’t a new phenomenon; I’m just crazy late to the party.

Of all the methods, however, it’s the Bullet Journal Method that has become most popular. If you type in the phrase analog journal, you will get tsumanied with articles on the Bullet Journal Method. (I apologize upfront, this post is link heavy). While I am not using the Bullet Journal Method specifically–you wont find the Bullet Journal terminology used in this post– the practice of analog journaling offers flexibility and freedom to tailor your journal to address your specific needs. You want to meal plan, train for a marathon, or start a small business? Do all three? This is your jam.  All you really need is a journal and a pen, no other fancy equipment required.

Materials: I am currently using a Sulirun1981 dot journal (the less fancy cousin of the Leuchtturm1917, which is most popular in the BuJo world), a mechanical pencil, a set of Papermate Flair pens in an assortment of colors and a set of Koh-I-Noor woodless color pencils (a gift from my husband who understands my genuine love a good writing implement).

WHY I STARTED AND WHAT I GET OUT OF IT: While I have flirted with online task/habit trackers such as Habitica, I’ve been fully converted to the analog camp; it has changed my life since I started experimenting this past November. My initial entries were just a habit tracker and a tentative Mon-Fri Schedule (which would be changed in December and changed again in January to a blend of what worked well in Nov. and Dec.). I wanted to be more productive, not busy, so I was curious to see how I was spending my time.  It forced me to be honest with the hours of my day and how I was doing establishing my desired habits and goals. Now it is February and my Mon-Fri Schedule works pretty well, though their are some habits that need to catch up before the train leaves the station.

For me, analog journaling is like a tether back to reality. It keeps me grounded and focused. It’s a central place to gather my ideas, thoughts and lists. Actually if truth be told, I really enjoy making lists; I crave structure–within reason. It’s a place for me to be honest about what I am actually achieving. It tames my daydreaming and meadow prancing while still allowing me an open-ended method that acts as a jumping point to get creative and messy. Complete with a mom-voice reminding me “dinner is in five”.

February 2019: Mon-Friday Schedule (Sat. & Sun. are included, though I do not require myself to follow my M-F schedule). I divide my writing tasks, color-coded in Blues and Hooker’s Green (named after the botanical artist for the curious) into the following: Reading, Writing/Revising, Research, Critiques, Fine-tune Editing & Story development/Brainstorming. (Through note the color theme doesn’t correspond with my Habit Tracker; something to be remedied in March.) My day still starts between 5 and 5:30 am because I am one of those crazy morning people. Though this month has been rocky.

HOW I USE IT CURRENTLY: At the moment, I use my AJ for tracking habits (which ultimately effect my productivity), recording how I spend my day, daily and weekly goals, a list of story ideas and as a calendar.  As mentioned before, I am not specifically using any one method (a culmination if anything) and  I created my own symbols and color coding. On my Monday-Friday Schedule, I’ll sometimes use two colors per square if the time I spent doubles as more then one type of activity (for example: being on the phone with my mom counts as time with my community (Dark Yellow) and media time (Light Vermilion) since I am using technology to do so). I also keep a running log for how to improve my AJ’s use, both visually (I’ve been pretty good about not going too far down that rabbit hole, though I’ve been tempted) and in task tracking.

WBM Monthly Goals (small but hopefully doable) & First few days of WBM. I use my own symbols: a green mountain (task complete (reached the summit), blue waves (making progress) and a yellow sun with an arrow (move to tomorrow / future).

For WBM, my focus has been on meeting my goals for my three WIPs. The first (P1), I hope to have the first-third revised; the second (P2), the premise and the characters established so that I can begin writing a first draft in March; and the third (P3), which is still just a seed of an idea, a solid premise. I also included in my WBM goals the process of minimizing my home and life, which for me deeply contributes to being successful with my writing. Even though I started the process nearly a year ago, my house is still not where I want it to be. I am having to accept that with three kids organizing and minimizing is something that has to be maintained frequently! For my daily to-dos each project’s task is identified by its assigned color: P1: Plum Purple; P2: Bright Blue; P3: Red and Minimalizing: Olive Green.

First full week of WBM!

Second full week of WBM!

HOW I HOPE TO USE IT IN THE FUTURE: Having practiced the fine art of analog journaling for nearly four months now, I am interested in taking my task and habit tracking up a notch, and I am especially interested in observing how other writers use them.  For March, I’d like to add a Word Counter, Editing Tracker, Reading List & Seasonal Reading Guide ( it’s cool how the author of this blog does her reading list) First Thoughts (upon waking or about something that is happening socially, politically, etc., as that is often a source for story ideas) and a Minimalization chart (to keep my decluttering efforts going). In April, I am sure I’ll add more.

Of course there is debate as to whether AJs actually work or not. In favor of  Bullet Journaling, though reluctant at first, Tim Maurer spoke with Ryder Carroll, the creator of the Bullet Journal Method, about the analog system. When asked about the concern that the method requires more effort, as you are often rewriting daily and monthly tasks not completed, Carroll replied by noting “If you don’t have the time to rewrite something by hand, chances are it really doesn’t matter.”

The last few months have shown me, Carroll’s really onto something there.

Interested in giving it a go? There’s a lot of info online, but to help wade through the tsunami, here are a few articles/videos I found useful, informative, or worth stealing ideas from:

Further Reading for a general approach:
Ryder Carroll’s TEDtalk

Productivity Subculture Wont Quit (Part 1)
BUJO For Beginners (Part 2)
A Thorough Guide to BUJO
Ultimate Guide to BUJO (Beautiful examples, might be intimidating for first-timers or those who don’t consider themselves artistic.)

Further Reading for the writer:
Complete Guide to BUJO’s for Writers
BUJO’s for Fiction Writers
For the Fantasy Writer

And just because these are deliciously inspiring, if not down right intimidating: 20 BUJO Instagram Pages


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