Leuchtturm1917 as a BuJo, vs Muji’s spiral notebook, and other BuJo-related thoughts.

I’ve been using the Leuchtturm1917 A5 notebook as my bullet journal for more than four months now. I feel that’s enough time for an objective and thorough review.

Leuchtturm1917 A5 Hardcover in Berry.
Leuchtturm1917 A5 Hardcover Dotted Ruling in Berry. AKA, my current BuJo.

But first, a bit of context.

I had loved using Muji’s A5 double-ring notebooks as my bullet journal. Loved it so much, in fact, that I would go through 2-3 notebooks a year. It wasn’t economical and it was a pain to have to transfer notes so often. Obviously 70 sheets wasn’t enough.

Muji Recycle Paper Double-ring Dot Grid Notebook - A5
Muji’s Recycled High-Quality Paper Ring Dot A5 Notebook. Aside from being a mouthful, they’re BuJo #s 1 to 3. I kind of miss that cover. It worked great as a canvas.

And so I found myself in need of a new notebook that had more pages. Leuchtturm1917 often came up as a recommendation, so I decided to give it a try.

Now in order for my review to make sense, it’s important I establish the way I… bullet my journal. BuJo notebook reviews tend to be subjective as the whole bullet journal system is open to interpretation.

So how do I use my BuJo? In a word, UTILITARIAN.

I do not use it for art. I do not use it for journaling. I don’t even use it for long-term planning (at least, not much). My bullet journal is a series of daily to-do lists. Whatever I list there then gets scheduled into my Outlook calendar. I may have the occasional text like notes and minutes dumped in there, usually out of convenience.

If you use your BuJo in a similar way, then you’ll be able to make the most out of this review.

That established, let’s start off with the good points shall we?

The Positives

  • LOTS of pages. This was the primary reason why I switched from Muji in the first place. At 249 pages, that’s more than 3.5x the writing space Muji ever offered. I started on this notebook on the 1st of October last year, and I’m still on page 104–just a little over 40%.
  • Numbered pages. All the sheets are pre-paginated. No need to manually write down the page number! And what a time-saver for indices!
Leuchtturm1917 Numbered Pages.
Leuchtturm1917 numbered pages. All that pre-paginated glory.
  • Dotted or Dot-grid Ruling. The Leuchtturm1917 comes in four possible paper rulings:
    • Ruled (your average notebook)
    • Squared (that math notebook you never used properly)
    • Plain (aaarrrrrrrtttttttt), and
    • Dotted (the queen to rule them all).

    Dotted is my ruling of choice. It isn’t as common in other brands so I’m quite pleased Leuchtturm1917 offers it.

  • Sturdy Packaging. The notebook comes in a hardcover which means it can deal with a bit of wear and tear. I didn’t know how important this was to me until my older Muji cardboard covers started to fray at the corners.
  • Elastic enclosure band. Same as Muji, there’s a simple band that helps keep the pages in place. Leuchtturm1917’s seems to be sturdier though.
  • Stickers for labeling and archiving. Someone had once asked how was I going to tell my three Muji bullet journals apart. I don’t have an answer to that yet, but for Leuchtturm1917 at least, it comes with sticker labels for the cover and spine.
  • Colors. Available in 21 colors, there’s a lot of room for personalization. As I love pink I had my pick between the colors “New Pink” and “Berry”.

The Negatives

  • $$$.  Leuchtturm1917 is expensive, there’s no going around about it. One of their selling points is how it, “stands for premium quality in more than 50 countries.
    $20 for a notebook is definitely a premium. Locally, its priced at P1,200 (almost $23) at National Bookstore.
  • Limited availability.  Even though its available locally, stocks are limited especially the dot grid kind. It’s so bad, actually, that I had to get family to buy mine from the US.
  • Table of contents (ToC). This is one of the most subjective points in this review. The way I use my BuJo requires an index rather than a ToC, so I find the three pages Leuchtturm1917 dedicated to the latter useless.

    Leuchtturm1917 Table of Contents
    Leuchtturm1917’s table of contents, of which it has three pages for, when all I wanted was a good old index page.
  • You can’t tear off pages. The pages are thread-bound, so if you detach a page you may end up ruining the notebook’s binding. The notebook does come with 8 perforated and detachable sheets, but I’ve already used all of them up.

Neutral, but possibly important, points

  • Gusseted pocket. If you’re like me and don’t know what “gusseted” means, I’ll save you that Google trip and tell you it’s an inner pocket. The pocket contains: stickers, an information booklet, and a thank you note (aww). I can imagine this pocket would be useful for art journalers to keep scraps in, but I haven’t found a use for it yet.
  • Thin paper. Fountain pen users beware! The paper, while smooth, is very thin. Like I-can-almost-read-what-I-wrote-in-the-back-level of thin. It won’t be able to handle fountain pens, heavier inks, and most especially paints. I just use ballpoint pens so this isn’t a deal-breaker for me.
  • Two bookmarks. I just need one bookmark–to tell me where’s my most recent page–so I find the second bookmark excessive. Your usage may vary.

In Conclusion

For my utilitarian purposes, the Leuchtturm1917 makes for a pretty great bullet journal. My biggest gripe is the lack of an index, but I can live with it.

The cost hurts. But considering the Muji notebooks I was using weren’t that cheap either, I can justify the price. Your budget may vary and there are definitely a lot of cheaper alternatives out there.

There’s also an official Leuchtturm1917 Bullet Journal, a collaboration with the original BuJo designer. It costs around $5 more, and from what I’ve seen the changes aren’t worth it. About the only advantage is that it uses a proper index rather than a table of contents–my biggest gripe, but not worth the extra dollars.

I’ve gotten a few recommendations around other notebooks, particularly cheaper ones, but as I’m not even halfway through I’m in no hurry to test them. Realistically, I’m likely to stick with the Leuchtturm1917 unless it runs out of stock again.

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Female system administrators

<rant>

So in case you aren’t aware, I’m a technology project manager. In particular my experience is in infrastructure.

Networks, storage, servers… It’s been my life since I left university all those years ago.

A recent project of mine had me work with Veritas Cluster Servers (VCS), a technology I only had a very high-level understanding of. I did recall, from my UNIX administration days, something about needing to freeze service groups and such. But I knew this stock knowledge wasn’t going to be enough for the project.

So off to the Internet I go…

…and back from the Internet, I rant. Because one particular site opens their article with:

The purpose of this post is to make the Cluster concept easy for those young brothers who have just started their career as System Administrator.

Uhm yes, brothers.

Mind you, this post was written in 2016. Its not like women just magically appeared in technology within the last few years.

Why can’t a sister be a system administrator?

</rant>

Resuscitation

WordPress tells me that the last time I published on this blog was six months ago. That was June.

In June, my father developed a nasty cough.

In July, he was on oxygen.

In August, he was in the hospital. For 23 days.

And on the 30th of August, he passed away, after battling cancer for seven years.

The past six months have been very, very difficult.

It felt weird, if not outright wrong, to not to have to worry about the next doctor’s appointment, the next lab result, where to source so-and-so medicine, and how the hell was I going to pay the next doctor’s fee.

It felt weird to have time and headspace for myself. It felt morally wrong to enjoy that time and space.

For a long time, my brain shut down. I couldn’t process any long-term thoughts. Day to day I’d come into the office, rely on my to-do list to get me through the day and give me the illusion of productivity.

Around December I met up with a friend and plotted a long-term project. While I usually would take on the planner role, my brain was just mush and I let her take the lead. We’re supposed to do something late February/early March.

Also in December, I signed up for an online Data Analysis school (details to follow). In gist, the school had offered a partial scholarship. Both my current and previous managers encouraged me to take it. The track in particular was for career transition to analytics.

It was like life forcing its hand telling me, “If you don’t do this now you’ll regret it!”.

Except I had a big certification exam coming up. And that long-term project with my friend. How the hell was I going to find time for this school?!

So in January I opened up my Trello board again for the first time in months, the one where I was running with the focus project.

It was like brain diarrhea. Every single “I have to do this…” thought I had in the past few weeks couldn’t transfer from my brain to the keyboard fast enough.

I was surprised at how I could think in terms of weeks and months again.

I further surprised myself by coming up with an idea on how to improve on the focus project. And how even more surprising, was that one of my first thoughts after the a-ha! moment, was to share the idea through my blog.

So here I am. I’m not 100% back, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be. In a couple of weeks my father would have celebrated his 57th birthday. I’ve been more teary-eyed this week than I have been the past few months.

But I enjoy writing. And sharing my ideas in this form. So here I am, showing up, drafting one letter, one word, at a time.

Why are poorly written books so popular?

This is a re-post of my answer in Quora.

When I crack open the books my kids read and even re-read, I’m appalled. These are books that are published, and sell. They’re full of too many characters and everyone “smiles happily” or “grins.” All the time.

Is there more to it than dumping endless barrels of money into marketing?

 

I have a circle of book-loving friends who are never able to recommend books to one another. Most people find this strange until I ask this question:

What matters to you in a book?

  1. The plot.
  2. The characters.
  3. The writing.

Each and every single person in my circle answers this question differently, and I suspect it is also the reason why these “poorly written” books have become “so popular” (I put these adjectives in quotes as they are quite subjective, which warrant a separate question).

Once while reading a popular YA novel I had to stop because of a page where the author couldn’t seem to decide whether she was writing from a first or third person point of view.

I thought, Doesn’t this author know what she’s trying to say? What kind of editor lets a book like this get published?!

For reference, I’m a writing >> characters > plot type.

I asked a friend how she managed to survive reading the same book, and her answer was she was too engrossed in the story to notice the tiny stuff like I did.

She’s a plot > characters >>> writing type.

These popular books probably have plots or characters that appeal to a large audience—the kind that thinks good writing is “the tiny stuff”.

So in a way yes, it is marketing. There’s a market out there for readers who don’t mind good writing as much, and publishing houses are selling for that market.

 

 

Read Danna Lariba‘s answer to Why are poorly written books so popular? on Quora

Farnam Street Course: The Art of Focus, a review

UPDATE: The Art of Focus course is now closed.

How do you learn to focus?

We don’t need to be reminded about the importance of focus. But if its so important, why is it so hard to learn how?

There’s a lot of material out there claiming to teach you how. Anywhere from psychology, self-improvement books, to Lifehacker.

Which one actually works?

As part of Project 2017 (i.e. Continuously improve myself throughout the year, through a series of sprints ), I set out to learn how to focus in six weeks.

Given the deadline I didn’t want to waste my time sifting through all the options, so I decided to just pay someone to teach me

After a bit of research, I narrowed it down to two choices:

  1. Farnam Street’s The Art of Focus
  2. Shawn Blanc’s The Focus Course

 

How I heard about these focus classes

I’ve been a regular reader of the Farnam Street blog for a while. I firmly believe Shane Parrish (the original blogger behind Farnam Street) and his team have some of the best content in the web. From books to the pursuit of wisdom, Farnam Street writes about things I truly care about.

Through his blog he mentioned the FS courses, one of which was The Art of Focus.

In Shawn Blanc’s case, he had featured in some of Sean Wes’s videos and podcasts back in December where he talked about the Focus Course he was developing. Sean was a big fan: he recommended the course to his subscribers, even offering a discount.

Sean Wes, in case you aren’t aware, has a huge online presence. Getting a plug like that is practically guaranteed revenue.

 

Why Farnam

So why did I go with Farnam Street? Even if it had no discounts? And so few reviews?

Because it’s Farnam.

Before The Focus Course, I had never heard of Shawn Blanc. I didn’t know if he was any good aside from the selected testimonials on his landing page.

On the other hand I’ve been a longtime reader of the Farnam Street Blog. I can attest to the quality of the content. But I didn’t know if this quality translated to the courses.

I came to the conclusion that even if the course doesn’t work for me, I can consider the course fee as a form of donation to the fantastic blog.

 

So was it worth the money?

Its hard to quantify if the course fee was worth it. Doing so would mean putting a dollar amount to my hours, and that I have a baseline to compare against.

I don’t.

But I will admit I learned a lot.

If you’ve read Cal Newport’s Deep Work, much of the material in The Art of Focus course is based there. What the course offers is a structured way to execute the material from the book.

I had enrolled in the course before reading the book, so much of the content was new to me.

Now that I’ve read the book, I wish I had done it the other way around: I felt I should have had context first (something the book does well) before being taught the plan (something the course does well).

One big con is that the course felt very much one-way. i.e., Shane explains, you absorb. There was no feedback mechanism to tell if you’re headed in the right direction. Maybe that was the idea behind logging your hours (one of the steps Shane implements in the course), but it didn’t work for me.

I felt annoyed considering I thought I had paid for a course, not just content.

But as I said earlier, I had gone into the course with the mindset that the money was a donation to the blog, rather than the fee for the course. I couldn’t stay annoyed for very long.

Especially since the material itself—whether it was Farnam’s or Newport’s–was good.

 

Would I recommend?

So in spite of all my complaints, I would recommend The Art of Focus if:

  1. You are looking for a structured way to execute the strategies taught in Deep Work.
  2. You are very much a self-learner and do not expect interaction nor feedback.
  3. You learn well through videos.

That last one was a doozy. Most of the material is delivered through videos–a miss for someone with poor hearing like myself. Shane does offer transcripts, but I’d appreciate subtitles more as transcripts don’t allow me to view the video content at the same time.

I guess I should be thankful it wasn’t something like podcasts, or else I’d demand a refund.

 

Key takeaways

Much of the content of the Art of Focus is based on Deep Work, so its difficult to say who was the source for which takeaway.

I did notice that the Art of Focus gave a lot more err, focus, to these topics:

  1. Attention residue
  2. Meditation

Which is why I’m finding that, even without implementing the other Deep Work strategies, just addressing these two have already made a significant impact.

The latter especially, as I’ve never really meditated and assumed it was something only yogi do.

The course seems to assume you already know how to meditate though, so I had to look up elsewhere to learn how. FYI, the Headspace app is great, but lately I’ve been using Smiling Mind.

I’m considering re-doing the course again in a few months, maybe even next year, now that I’ve finished Deep Work. I’ll give myself more time to digest the content before I start implementing such structure again.