Is your pretty planner half empty?

Admit it, you started a new planner this month, right? Maybe you even have a planner board (or two) on Pinterest? Are there a few gaps appearing now, as we approach the end of the month? Documented Life Project, bullet journal, Filofax lust, Hobonichi techo, Moleskine hacks - I've tried them all. Some years they've worked and some years they haven't. I know a few reasons why.

From top: Hobonichi techo, bullet journal in a Leuchhturm1917, Get to Work Book by Elise Blaha Cripe. Pens are absolute favourites: Pilot's Frixion Ball 07 (Erasable! I like a medium nib, but they do thinner ones).

From top: Hobonichi techo, bullet journal in a Leuchhturm1917, Get to Work Book by Elise Blaha Cripe. Pens are absolute favourites: Pilot's Frixion Ball 07 (Erasable! I like a medium nib, but they do thinner ones).

Build it in to your day

I resist routine.  (Insert pause for the people who know me in real life to fall about laughing.) You know what though? Your draw-every-day notebook, your #100dayproject and your bullet journal are all doomed to fail unless you build it right into your day with some kind of routine. Yeah. Sorry about that. Just ask me how I know.

Things to think about: 

How am I going to fit this into my day? How can I keep the things I need for this process together? Do I need to carry everything with me? Is there something already in my day that I can use to pin this down?

For me, I've promised to touch my main planner once a day. It has birthdays, diary dates, daily to-do lists and my gratitude notes. I check it in the morning with my cup of tea, add any tasks for the day. I can carry it with me, and I only need one pen. More pens are fun, but if you don't write stuff down because you don't have your pale mint limited edition fine liner from Japan, the system will fail. I check in again at bed time, after all the screens are off. I cross off anything that needs it, jot down anything on my mind for tomorrow, and write down  two or three things I'm grateful for today. This last bit really helps me wind down for sleep, but if I don't beat myself up if I don't get to do both check-ins - one will do.

Planners are tools not goals

I hate to admit it, but this is exactly what has tripped me up before. If having a really cool planner is the goal, rather than the process, you will probably fail. I've seen this in Facebook groups for Documented Life Project and for Bullet Journalling. It's easy to get bogged down in perfection and making it pretty. This is the old style over substance trap. I love DLP and I love some of the bullet journal stuff I've seen (especially Boho Berry's). They can work for you, absolutely, just watch out for road blocks.

Things to think about: 

Am I writing everything out twice (once as a draft and once in pretty form)? Do I want to do that 366 times this year!? Will I be able to add stuff to my planner during the day without carrying around five pencil cases of equipment? Will I feel that I've ruined it if I use my normal handwriting by mistake? Where will I be sharing this (and honestly now, how much will that affect how I fill the pages)?

I've had times when I was filling in stuff after it had happened, which is fine of course if you're adding photos or notes, not so much if you're adding your dentist appointment weeks afterward. I've had times when I let comparison come creeping in and stop me in my tracks. I've had times when I didn't have time to use my planner, so I went back to writing things on my hand and on envelopes. If you're spending more time on your planner on the stuff you're planning, it's time to rethink.

Keep it simple

Be clear about what you want from your planner, and what that involves. If you are spending an hour a day tracking every little thing and making your planner just so, you might not have enough time to work on your dreams! If you can't arrange a coffee date with a friend because you don't have the right supplies, you might need to simplify your system. If you have five planners, and end up writing the same thing in three of them and can't find the ticket info that you're sure you added somewhere, you might need to get really clear on what you want.

Things to think about: 

What do you really want to track? How will that help you? What do you love about the pretty planners you've pinned? How much time a week do you have to spend on the fun part of making and decorating spreads? How much do you want to carry around? What do you want to plan for and when and where will you need that information?

This is my system at the moment:

Daily planner - all important dates like appointments, tickets, birthdays; calendar overviews; daily to-do lists. There's space for doodles, notes of memories or ideas, daily gratitude and stuff I want to remember. I do use some bullet journal techniques in this. Remember, it might make sense for you to do this in your phone. I carry it around most of the time.

Bullet journal - personal goal setting, tracking new habits, lists of books I want to read, useful details gathered together (I recently did this to keep track of magazine subscriptions). It's pretty, and it's fun, but I don't want to give it a lot of time daily. I aim for a five minute check in on the habit trackers. Then if I want to spend an afternoon creating pretty lists, reflecting on my goals, or journalling, I can. It mostly lives at home, but might come to a coffee shop or a getaway with a pencil case of lovely pens and some washi tape.

Get to Work Book - I love this. There is space to reflect and dream big, space to plan the nitty gritty of your next project, and space to plan your days, weeks and months. The structure supports structured thinking which I like. It works for me to have separate planners for work and life. That's what I did with the 9-to-5 and it keeps me focused now too. I use it to plan my studio time, my home-based admin and blogging. It mostly lives at home, but sometimes comes to the studio or to a meeting.

It may not even sound simple to you, but it works for me. It started coming together for me when I really looked at how I work and what I'm working toward. For example, I recently abandoned my blogging Filofax, in favour of some tracking and lists in my Get to Work Book.


I haven't received anything in exchange for mentions in this post. Sad times. They're all just things I like. 

Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin This book really helped me understand how I've kept the habits I've kept and why I didn't keep all those other ones.

Breakfast in Bed playlist by Spotify

Bullet Journal original site

Bullet journalling by Boho Berry

The Documented Life Project

Get to Work Book

Hobonichi Techo


If you are running a creative business, I suggest you check out the wise and wonderful Jenny Hyde's new course, Planning with Purpose  

I'd love to hear about your favourite planner. What works for you? So many of you have mastered this planning lark; I want to see , so share blog posts if you want. Or planner disasters... Are you a January through March girl, year after year?

Bravery is a rubber band

Or, if I'm so brave, why do I feel so scared?

Or, a tale of expansion and contraction.

Or, everything is a cycle.

One of the bravest things I've ever done - first steps into my own studio

One of the bravest things I've ever done - first steps into my own studio

It's natural to feel tired. This is something the 'coven' and I have talked about a lot. I'll tell you more about them another day. They're awesome.

Society sells us the myth that sleep is for the weak. Not exercising? Wake up an hour earlier. Want to write a novel? Wake up an hour earlier. Look at your heroes, they only need four hours and wake up fresh as a daisy!

Nope. Not buying it. Medicine tells us that most of us are chronically sleep-deprived. Anxiety and depression seem to be on the rise. Sure, some of the perceived increase may be increased reporting; we feel more able to talk about mental well-being these days. Even so, the increase is real (2013 Salon article with sources). People need rest. It's not a choice and it certainly isn't a weakness.


Flowers bloom in spring. Fruit follows the flower. Seeds follow the fruit, and hopefully, they travel. Then nothing happens, or so it seems. The seeds find somewhere to land and settle into the earth, waiting until the conditions are right. They soak up moisture and the goodness of the earth. They wait for warmth. And so it all begins again.

You're the same. I'm the same. We push and grow and create this big, wonderful thing. I'd love to hear about it, your last big thing. And then sometimes, we collapse in a heap. Maybe disappear into a book. Maybe binge watch something you'd hesitate to name aloud. Maybe sleep and wake and eat and be with family and then sleep again. It's natural. It's right. It's what the seeds of the next big thing need. 

And yet we question it. After a big push toward the deadline, we are wiped out. In the wee small hours we question whether we can even hack it. Come on, it took so much out of us, we're exhausted. At least, I know that's how it goes for me. The thing is, hard work is hard. It can be fulfilling and inspiring and even energising at times, but it is hard. Rest is the flip side of work. It's a cycle.  

Bravery is like that too. The energy it takes to take that step, make the leap and feel the wind on your face needs a counter. For you that might show up as fear, as questioning, as a few faltering steps after the big one, while you second-guess yourself. For me it showed up as hibernation, in the form of a lot of rest, and feeling unable to deal with much social activity at all, for months. 

It took friends to point out (and yes, more than once) that in the past few months I had expanded in a number of ways. I'd accepted work that was new to me, signed up to opportunities that felt outside my reach, committed to renting a studio, travelled a fair amount, opened my heart completely to experience Squam without holding myself back in my typical ways. I even fought a feral cat in the interest of getting him to the vet (and he won round one - I have the scars to prove it, and yes, I took my antibiotics too).

So yes, I see it now. The cycle of expansion (bravery, action, being seen) and contraction (rest, doubt, stepping back). It's part of the great glorious way of things.

I want to hear how it is for you. Are you in a resting, fallow place right now? Or are you bursting with the energy and creative push of the next big thing? Either way, you've got this; you're right where you should be. 

The 100 Day Project

#the100dayproject 74/100

#the100dayproject 74/100

How can something like The 100 Day Project help you be better? Whatever it is you do, whatever it is you want to be, a commitment like this can improve your work habits and the skills of your craft, as well as connecting with other creatives on the same journey and with your own creative practice.  

This is what I'm learning:

  • I like to dabble in a bit of this and that, but they fall into natural mini-projects if I just follow my whims
  • aiming for perfection is counter-productive
  • if you fall behind, pick yourself up where you are and carry on
  • don't wait until you have time to catch up,  you never will
  • if you carry on and do a bit extra you might just catch up
  • catching up isn't the point; doing your thing most days is the point
  • accountability is the key to success
  • accountability can be kind of annoying! 
  • it's easy to show practice pieces if everyone knows they're only practice
  • it's easy to show finished pieces
  • its really hard to show works in progress
  • sometimes I like to keep projects under wraps until a later stage

#the100dayproject 72/100 and 73/100

#the100dayproject 72/100 and 73/100

A make from Mollie Makes

Mollie Makes dreamcatcher*

Mollie Makes dreamcatcher*

One of the secrets to being more creative is simply to do creative things as often as possible. Just keep your hands moving! 

We all know that feeling: all set to spend that rare free afternoon up to your elbows in paint, or curled up in your favourite chair crafting. Then you find every crochet hook except the one you need. Or you need to spend some time researching and sketching red deer before you start your painting. The sewing machine is under a pile of laundry. So instead, the afternoon disappears into a flurry of Pinterest and Instagram, gem destroying and random household tasks.

Some projects are too big for small, golden pockets of time. They need planning, thinking, the whole living room floor, and time to try things out, rethink things and try again. These are worthwhile of course, and the main body of work for many most artists and designer makers.

For me, the answer is to always have something ready for stolen moments like these. I like sock knitting for this: one ball of yarn and a pattern you can read on your phone. A pocket sketchbook opens up opportunities for drawing whenever a quiet moment appears.

Magazine kits are great for this. You usually get everything you need and instructions are often kept to a page. They can normally be made in a single afternoon or evening session too.

I made a few changes from Erin Black's cute design, mainly how the feathers hang, and I'm really pleased with the result. It's the latest issue of Mollie Makes so you might still be able to get your hands on it if you're quick.

 *Something to consider: an excellent articule on cultural appropriation