How to track what you’re reading (and what you’ve read, and what you’d like to read)

I love books.

In my family, good grades meant book money. For every subject you score a 90 or above, you get a pocketbook. As a kid this was how I fed my Sweet Valley High addiction.

At the time I was an only child and we lived in a bad neighborhood. My parents wouldn’t let me out of the house aside from school, so I never got into sports. My only pastime, pre- computers, was books.

My friends were mostly fiction; characters from whatever fantasy series I was into at the time.

One day, I made actual living human friends. And some of them loved books as well.

So we talked about books. Recommended books. Traded books with one another.

And then I learned to save money so I can buy my own books.

Over the years, this meant a lot of books. Books I read. Books I lent. Books I borrowed. Books I meant to read. And so on.

It was getting out of hand.

Then in 2009, Typhoon Ondoy (international name Ketsana) rolled into the Philippines. A flood rushed into our single-storey home. Our books were some of the first to go.

It was the universe’s way of telling us we needed a booktervention.

So of the books we managed to salvage, we sold. Of the books we couldn’t sell, we donated.

These days we still read a lot. But we’ve become a lot pickier about which books end up in our home.

As part of the pickiness effort, in 2012 I got the idea to track what I read. I wrote everything on a single list, making notes along the way if something was worth recommending.

In 2015, I decided to go visual and moved everything to Trello.

What is Trello?

Trello is one of those things that are easier to show than to explain, but I’ll try anyway.

Imagine a cork board. Those boards where you tack a piece of paper to make an announcement, or a photo to remember a special event in your life.

Next, imagine a Kanban board. Those boards that have three columns: “To-Do”, “In Progress”, and “Done”. They’re used for task management where everything starts in the To-Do queue and make their way to Done.

Trello is the two’s lovechild.

What is Trello for?

Trello is a tool meant to organize projects visually.

Trello is a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process.

“What is Trello?” by Trello Help

It’s popularly used as a project/task management tool similar to JIRA (on that note: Atlassian acquires Trello).

What does this have to do with books?

Everything.

I track what I read, what I’m reading, and what I want to read all via Trello.

library
My virtual library over at Trello.

Similar to a Kanban board, I have three primary columns:

  • Next (To-Do)
  • Now Reading (In Progress)
  • Done!

But I don’t track tasks. I track books instead. I track what status I am in reading them.

Over time I’ve added other columns as well.

  • Potential – Books I’m interested in but don’t have a copy of. These books are either recommendations or stuff I see in bookstores that caught my eye.
  • On Hold – Books I’ve lent, or dropped temporarily for one reason or another.
  • Dropped – Books I’ve dropped not-so-temporarily.

So, it just tracks what you’re reading? That’s it?

Yes… and no.

Trello has a lot of nifty features, and its those features that allow me to do so much more than just track. For example:

Comments

I can comment my thoughts on a book, post somebody else’s review (like Amazon’s or Goodread’s), or put a note to self if I borrowed it from/lent it to someone else.

Since I set the board to public, others can comment on the cards as well so if you want to feedback on any of the books go ahead.

Labels

I’ve labeled the books by genre and which ones I recommend.

Since Trello can filter by label, its easy for me to look for say, “books about fantasy” or even “books about fantasy that I highly recommend”.

It also gives me an idea of what kind of books I gravitate to. Trend says I read mostly nonfiction nowadays.

What does this have to do with the Ondoy story?

My family lost our library that day. We don’t intend to rebuild.

Instead, we’ve become more conscientious book-buyers. We try to borrow a copy or grab an e-book as much as possible. If we really have no choice but to go buy a physical book, its with the accepted risk that someday we’ll re-sell or donate it.

So the Trello board is the closest thing I have to a personal library. A virtual library. One that, at a glance, shows me everything I read. Whether its something borrowed, downloaded, or bought.

Trello has been really effective in tracking and organizing my books, so I would recommend this tool and method to anyone.

In the next post I’ll write about how I find what books I want to read next. That “Potential” list doesn’t populate itself after all.

Migrating to a New Bullet Journal (plus a tour of the old one)

It was around June this year. A friend of mine, a fellow stationery enthusiast, asked if I’ve heard of the bullet journal. She’d seen my to-do lists and how obsessed I am with productivity. She thought the bullet journal was right up my alley.

She was right. Six months and one bullet journal later, it most certainly was is right up my alley.

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Old and new bullet journals, side by side.

I’ve finally made it to the last page. So today, as I transition to a new notebook, I’ll go over the lessons I learned from my first bullet journal.

 

But first, what is a bullet journal?

The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above.

-“The System”, bulletjournal.com

Hang around long enough in any productivity site (Lifehacker, anyone?) and you’re bound to hear about the bullet journal, or BuJo for short. A quick search of #bulletjournal or #bujo through any social media platform greets us with images of neatly-inked notebook pages.

The creator’s site (above) is already a pretty accurate answer as to what a bullet journal is. So instead, I will define what a bullet journal is by how I use it:

For me, a bullet journal is a systematic to-do list.

 

Danna’s bullet journal: A love story

My love of to-do lists established, what the bullet journal offered was a way to take my to-do lists to the next level. It offered a simple way to track and migrate the tasks from my to-do lists, from one day to the next.

It does this through it’s namesake: the bullets.

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Screenshot of key page (aka bullets)

The bullets also offered the option of writing down non-tasks without having to establish a separate “place” for them.

By changing the bullet, I can change the context of the text that comes after–Is it a task? An event? A note to self? This eliminated the need for having a separate journal and day planner.

These bullets were the primary reason why I knew the bullet journal system was going to work. It was easyIt was just extending something I already do (to-do lists), but offered a system for not a lot of extra effort.

 

What does my bullet journal look like?

To commemorate, I want to show off what my old bullet journal was like before I bid it goodbye.

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My very first bullet journal, June to December 2016.

I use an A5 double-ring 70-sheet notebook from Muji. On the cover is a watercolor temporary tattoo I painted in class and a sticker label of my name. There’s a built-in elastic to keep the notebook in place.

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First page of journal, and dot grid up close.

On the first page of my bujo is the original of the watercolor tattoo. The pages are cream-colored and made of recycled paper. I use dot grid because it strikes a nice balance: It has the structure of lined and grid notebooks, but with more freedom akin to blank sketch pads.

I stick to two colors of ink: black and pink. No special reason this time.

 

Lessons learned while migrating to a new bujo

As I migrate to a new bullet journal, I’ve had the chance to review the old one. I’ve had the chance to review what went well, and what I could have done better. I’ve listed down the lessons learned here.

Learn from my mistakes–so you won’t need to make them in case you ever decide to give bullet journaling a try.

1. Put the index at the back

If you follow the classic bullet journal format, it will tell you to allocate about 2-4 of the first few pages of your notebook for the index.

But, is two too few? Is four too much?

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Index that ended up having two columns

In my case, I allotted two pages and ended up about two lines too short. As per above, I squeezed in the two lines into a second column.

Moving forward, I will do what books do: Put the index at the back. My entries and the index will then meet somewhere in the middle.

No more worries on how many pages to allot!

2. Use categories
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Categories (see left)

When I started on the bujo, I had listed all the tasks along a single column like I would a to-do list. This was okay for the first few weeks, but as I got used to the bujo and started listing more and more tasks, the single list started to get confusing.

Respond to Brad’s email? About which?
And which report was I was supposed to update again?
Why did I have to do this again?

Etcetera. To resolve this, I added categories before the tasks to help give context. As a bonus, it complemented the Outlook categories I was already using.

3. Don’t be afraid of whitespace

In an attempt to save paper, I would sometimes put 2-3 unrelated topics on the same page.

This wreaked havoc on my index, especially when I would add something new to an existing topic and found I didn’t have enough space. Moving forward I’ll stick to 1-2 topics per page, never more.

4. Rapid log as often as you can

Something I realized while reviewing my old bullet journal: I underutilized its journaling capabilities. While I would occasionally note an event or thought, I found that for the most part I would still refer to emails and phone messages when trying to recall when did I do something.

If I had chronicled it properly in the first place, this shouldn’t have been a problem.

5. A bujo is not an art journal

One of my friends had started on her bullet journal around the same time as I did. She even bought a fancy notebook and a couple of expensive pens to go along with it. Six months later, and she still hasn’t gone past the first few pages.

I asked her why, and she said it’s because she didn’t want to ruin how it looked. 

Like myself, this friend frenziedly writes up a to-do list first thing in the morning.

Unlike myself, she doesn’t do this on her bullet journal. Instead she writes it on a memo pad we got as a freebie.

Not the bullet journal, she says. It’s too pretty for that.

Look up #bulletjournal online and you’ll see artsy pages decorated with calligraphy, collages, and illustrations. It’s easy to correlate that because other people make bujos an art journal, that it’s the proper way to do it.

It’s not.

The whole point of the bullet journal is customization. You make it work for you. If you like making art journals, go ahead.

I don’t. Rather, I can’t. Not in the morning when I’m gulping in my daily caffeine while rushing off to a meeting.

My use of the bullet journal is utilitarian. It’s just a bunch of to-do lists broken up by the occasional essay draft. It’s not pretty to look at, but it’s damn useful.

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I’M UGLY BUT I WORK!

 

 

That’s the big lesson really.

The bullet journal offers a system. How you use that system is up to you.

It’s Normal to Love Lists (I Promise)

During a recent desk move at work, we uncluttered three years’ worth of, well, clutter. A lot of re-discoveries were made: Lost pens were reunited with their owners, papers overdue for the bin finally met their dues, and this:

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

I had managed to accumulate six notebooks’ worth of daily to-do lists.

Seeing them piled up like that was a bit alarming. I mean, SIX NOTEBOOKS? Isn’t that a bit much? It’s not like I was particularly busy these past years… And given those blue Coronas are about a 100 pages each, it would mean I was averaging about 2.3 pages per day… hoooowwww? But more importantly, WHYYYYYYYYY???

Continue reading “It’s Normal to Love Lists (I Promise)”

The Ideas Behind the Idea Bank

I am not an original thinker.

I borrow other people’s ideas, mix them with others’, change them to suit me, and improve on them… until I toss them out for a new idea.

That’s pretty much how my idea bank came to be.

What is an idea bank?

An idea bank is a repository for ideas.

  • I deposit ideas into the idea bank whenever I get them.
  • I withdraw ideas whenever I need them, such as when I need to write.

Those withdrawals are the substance of my blog posts. It’s a great way to ensure I always have a  topic in the pipeline, and so I won’t forget about something worth sharing. Right now even if I don’t come up with any new topic ideas, I should have enough blogging content to post twice weekly for the next year.

It’s also a great way to gather the little notes I have scattered all around the place in a desperate attempt to NOT forget an idea.

It is in no way original though.

Continue reading “The Ideas Behind the Idea Bank”