My planning, writing and sketching tools

systems seedling

The other day I was trying to explain the various tools I use for various purposes to a friend, and one thing became clear: I use a lot of different things. I like to tinker with productivity tools, and it’s maybe complicating things more than necessary.

So here’s what’s in my stack currently:

Analog writing and sketching

After solidly Bullet Journalling for years, I dropped right off after having kids and pretty much not having any spare time to plan for. This year (2023) I’m picking up the physical notebook again, with a few tweaks.

A plain notebook for personal daily-ish journalling, sketches and thoughts. I haven’t put any constraints of what it is or isn’t, to Optimise for curiousity, not productivity. It’s a fairly cheap Clairefontaine A5 clothbound notebook, which has paper that is really lovely for fountain pens and brush pens, and sort of tolerates watercolour and coloured pencils. Going full plain pages is new for me (dot grid was my go-to) and I love how unconstrained it feels, even if my writing gets a little wonky. I’m not going back to BuJo at this stage, still just following my energy for how I use my spare time.

A lined notebook for work notes and meeting doodles. I use Notion for most of my work notes and planning (see below), but I sometimes get the urge to draw things out or hand write things. It’s usually things like wireframes or mind maps, which for me are more satisfying to begin on paper. I think a dot grid or plain notebook would be better for this purpose, but I had this lovely Rhodia A5 notebook lying around waiting to be used.

A Lamy Joy fountain pen with a fine nib. I bought this pen years ago, and have barely used it. Somehow it’s become my go-to pen for writing and sketching. It’s not the fanciest, but for me it is a lovely writing experience. I’m currently using it with blue Quink.

Digital writing

Notion

Work notes, journal and to-dos. I don’t go as hardcore with this as some - I have a page to house notes for each of my work projects, plus a page for each week’s to-do list. My work journal is a database as per this article on keeping a design journal but I’m still figuring out if it’s overkill. At work we use Jira for task management, so the tasks I keep in my Notion are more granular.

Personal notes. Currently this includes an exercise log, and sourdough baking log, and a list of to-dos for this site.

Bear

Fleeting notes, reading notes, and evergreen notes. This is my zettlekasten, my personal digital garden of notes from things I’ve read, heard or thought about. Each note contains one idea and usually a bunch of references, linked densely with other notes.

Daily-ish notes. Bear makes it really easy to add highlighted content to notes, so I usually create a new daily note at the start of the day and chuck in quotes from articles that I read or podcasts that I listen to. Ideally these should be turned into evergreen notes on a regular basis, but it doesn’t always happen. It feels good to have a place to put them though.

Obsidian

Website writing. I landed on Obsidian when looking for a cross-platform Markdown editor for writing blog posts on my iDevices - here’s My Obsidian workflow.

Obsidian as a whole is powerful enough to replace Bear and Notion for me, but the UI and reliability of the iOS apps is just not quite there.

Digital sketching

iPad Pro 9.7 inch + Apple Pencil + Procreate. These are my tools of choice for digital painting, and I’m so used to Procreate that I’ve struggled to use anything else for sketching.

I feel like each tool has its own purpose, and does what it does well.

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