My DIY Productivity Journal

My last paper-based planner-journal was the one I got from Starbucks after drinking too many cups of expensive, oftentimes sweet, coffee in 2011. After that, I saw the power of Google Calendar on my browser and on my Android phone. So I went full digital and ditched my paper-based planner. It wasn’t too difficult to train myself to adjust to a full digital planner and calendar.

Enter appointments on the app and it syncs everywhere!

If I had an upcoming meeting, deadlines, or any appointment, I just swipe my smartphone open, pick the date and time with a description of the appointment and it syncs with all the devices where I installed the calendar app. For the record, I have only ever used Google Calendar since then. I use Outlook’s calendar every now and then for work, but that’s the only setting where I use another calendar app.

Reminders, reminders, reminders!

When I input my schedule, appointment, and deadlines, Google Calendar lets me choose the reminder options. My phone buzzes before the appointment, Google Calendar also sends me an email about it, and if I am on a browser with the Calendar open, it also sends another notification. The only way for me to forget an appointment is if I do not enter it into my calendar app.

On second thought…

However, seven years after going full digital on my planner-journal, I read several blog posts and productivity tips about the power of a paper-based journal. It must have been Tim Ferriss’s blog and podcast that piqued my interest. He talked about his morning journal habits. He talked about Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, something which I am also familiar with thanks to Ms. Cameron’s books on creativity. I also keep a paper-based journal/diary where I write my thoughts, doodle, or just explore ideas.

I also had a conversation with my boss when he noticed that millennials (people my age) were using paper-based journals and planners! At the time, it seemed unthinkable because supposedly, going digital can solve our productivity problems and make us more efficient and effective.

Rethinking my Productivity system

I am also a productivity system junkie. I have read David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and I know all about the Pomodoro technique. But my thinking about productivity changed after reading Personal Kanban and Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time.

But after listening to a lot of productivity podcasts and reading a lot of blogs, I decided in late 2017 to [re]try a paper-based planner and journal. So I started reading online about different products in the market. Here are the best ones I have found in my research.

Which Paper-Based Journal?

  • 5 minute journal – This is what Tim Ferriss originally recommended. It only takes 5 minutes a day (ideally) and it asks simple questions about gratitude, what would make today great, affirmations, and then at night, it asks you to report on what happened today and how to improve.
  • Panda Journal – This is what I decided to buy because of the price point. The reviews were really good and its layout helped me plan for my day, week, and month. It also has an End of Day Review. Check this out on Amazon.
  • Bullet Journal – A lot of people swear by this journal. There are products you can buy for this, but you can also do it yourself. There is an online guide at to help you build your own bullet journal.
  • Full Focus Journal – Michael Hyatt is another blogger that I occasionally follow. In the past 2 or 3 years, he released the Full Focus Journal, which is meant to help leaders lead better and manage their time more effectively. Check it out here:

As an aside, if you want to read more reviews of paper-based planners and journals, check out this excellent review from The WireCutter:

These are all wonderful products! But my problem is the price point! Except for Bullet Journal, they are pricey! Panda and Full Focus Journals are also setup quarterly, so it means you need to buy them 4 times in a year! The Bullet Journal, on the other hand, seemed too elaborate for me.

My DIY Paper-Based Productivity Planner-Journal

I wanted something simple, customizable, printable, and most of all FREE! That’s why i decided to go guerilla and do it myself! I looked at all the best features from all these paper-based journals. You could almost say I copied it. But then, originality and trademark are pretty difficult to establish in the realm of paper-based planners. (You can debate me on that if you will.)

So I created my own layout by using Microsoft Word! I tried doing it on MS Publisher at first, but I figured, simple is better. My paper-based planner has the following features:

  • The Year in Review
  • Monthly Highlights (which had been part of my monthly and annual personal review for 5 years now)
  • Quarterly Review
  • The Ideal Week (I have not yet filled this out to be honest, but I am working at it)
  • 30-Day Challenge (I intend to use this to keep track of habits and personal projects)
  • Daily Pages, which include a version of a gratitude journal, affirmation, focus, 3 big tasks, itemized Recurring Tasks & Reminders, and an End of Day Review
  • Lastly, I also have a Weekly Review section to help me keep track of my weekly progress.

You can download my journal’s Monthly and weekly pages below. Feel free to download and tweak for your own use.

This paper-based journal directly flows out of my productivity system. The key to making it work is consistency. Thankfully, since November last year, I have made significant strides in integrating this to my daily workflow.

What I do now is to separately layout the yearly and quarterly pages, fill them out, review them throughout the year. As a part of my weekly routine, I print out one week’s worth of my Daily Pages, including my Weekly Review page. I intend to buy a comb punch binder so I can nicely compile and bind my journal for reference.

Do you use a journal to keep track of your productivity? Which one do you use? How is it working for you so far?

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