Super Simple GTD Approach For Traveler’s Notebook

How to get GTD functionality into the traveler’s notebook format? I could use an entire notebook, and many people have documented approaches to that. Patrick Ng has some really nuce lether tabs he uses in a notebook. Or, I could try something simpler.

In my former system I used a sheet of paper for each project and treated each sheet as a kind of log to keep notes and define the next action. Id then transfer those next actions to a single sheet organized by a few contexts. That sheet would be folded and kept in a pocket. The idea was that the project sheet forms a record of the project, while the next action list became an inbox as well.

I can’t recall ever using the project sheets for reference, so do I really need them? I decided to see if I could live with just a simple project list, which would be far easier to carry around me. I checked the book to see if Allen had anything to say about it, and indeed he mentions simple lists as an acceptable method.

So I took a piece of 100+ lb cover stock, folded it into thirds, and slipped it into the center of a notebook. Then did the same with a regular sheet of paper. The cover stock is the project list, and the second sheet is the next action list. I can add or cross off projects as I need to and replace the sheet when it gets too full or too beat up.

The next action has six sides which lend themselves to contexts, and so they were labeled.

I like:

  • Easy to find. The thing about traveler’s style notebooks is that the center of each book has an automatic bookmark.
  • Know where to find it.
  • Doesn’t get all beat up so easily.
  • Gives me an excuse to carry the notebook everywhere.
  • Cheap and easy to make.

I don’t like:

  • Too easy to ignore. While the center of a notebook is easy to find, it’s not usually where my focus is. When I use this kind of notebook I get used to ignoring the notebook’s tendancy to flop open to the center. Which is where the list is.
  • I hate feeling like I have to carry the notebook everywhere.
  • Slow to use. While standing in a store aisle, or wherever, a paper list is easy to pull out and add to. The notebook (particularly one loaded with stuff) is harder.

I used it for a while, and it worked ok but I don’t have as much confidence in it as my old system so I’ve actually gone back to my old system. However, for many I think this will be a good solution.

Living With A Traveler’s Notebook

I’ve written about the Midori traveler’s notebook before, and I’ve been resisting buying one of these notebooks for a long time. I’ve been perfectly happy with my very large Leuchtturm1917 master dots notebook, but the simple leather lifestyle is very compelling. As I saw reference after reference to the growing cult group of Traveler’s Notebook aficionados, not to mention their Flickr feed, I got this growing feeling that I was missing something and started to crack.

I’d made some leather covers in the past – the poor man’s Midori – but they didn’t captivate me. I made them a different size, and I started thinking that maybe part of the Midori Magic is the size.

Still not willing to spend $60 on less than a square foot of leather, I decided I’d order some refills and make a cover to fit them. So on a Thursday I ordered three refills from, and I received them on Saturday – pretty darn fast service considering they were shipped via regular mail.

In the mean time I made a cover to fit the correct width, but letter height (it’s only a 1/4 inch more than A4), and sewed a few pamphlets to go inside. Also, sometime in there I found Patrick Ng’s awesome photos, and they stoked the flames a bit as well.

So despite that I love my Leuchtturm1917 Master Dots notebook, I’ve decided to try to live the Traveler’s Notebook Lifestyle for a while. Here’s my observations so far:

  • It fits in a jacket pocket. I’ve been using not-jacket sized books for so long that I’d forgotten how nice it is to have a book that fits.

  • It’s nice to have multiple books in one cover. I like to keep work separate from personal, and I’ve replaced the pocket weekly planner from Moleskine with this Midori insert.
  • I haven’t gotten into all the embellishments. It’s a little girly for me and the people I work with. But I might crack yet.
  • I haven’t traveled with the book yet, but on my recent trip to Russia my latest Midori clone got used because it fit on the airline tray table where the Master sized book would barely fit closed.

  • Two inserts is fine, three still works, four starts to become a problem for the first or last one in terms of being able to write comfortably. BUT, for having a past journal in for reference, the first position would be fine.
  • I cannot imagine having both card sleeves and the zip pocket in a book with multiple inserts.
  • I never got into the paper planner habit. By the time I needed a calendar, I was using outlook, and it’s been the standard for me ever since. That might inhibit my adoption of this system.
  • The idea of the leather aging, and becoming a symbol of experience, wisdom, and adventure is like a narcotic. I can see why people are addicted to these and other leather books. I’ve actually become a little obsessive about it. I put wax or oil on the first several covers I’ve made, but on the latest one I used just a little conditioner, to get more honest aging. It doesn’t take much wax to make leather quite scuff resistant. On the other hand, raw vegetable tanned leather is not a very attractive color, and it can take a while to lose that flesh tone.
    I want the dark brown color, but I haven’t a good experience with dye so far.
    The refillable nature of the notebook just enhances the idea of it becoming this indestructible and reliable old friend.
  • I put four ribbon bookmarks in the book and at first they looked silly. Now I’m thinking they’re awesome, and I’m thinking about using four colors instead of two.

  • The Midori sketchbook is a bit thick. I love the paper, but it adds a lot of bulk.I ultimately decided to give it the boot.


  • Making one’s own refills has a great air of self sufficiency and individualism – I’ve even ordered some bookbinding needles and thread to do a better job at it. It remains to be seen if it’s worth the expense and hassle, if the exact paper used isn’t an issue.
  • This kind of system is like a filofax – it’s supposed to become the center of one’s life. that means carrying it everywhere. Nice for sketching and jotting ideas, but a bit of a pain. The narrow format fits in coat pockets, but the thickness makes it look like I’m Dirty Harry packing a hogleg.
  • I used ~3mm leather for the cover I’m using, because that’s what I had. It’ll probably take a while to get limber.
  • It doesn’t lay flat, but it sort of does. It depends on which book in the stack you’re at, how the cover is sitting, and how limber the paper is. The thin-paper refill from Midori lays pretty flat. The sketchbook is at the other end of the spectrum.

The Leuchtturm and the Midor clone may live together. The new book has already replaced my old Moleskine planner that I use for tracking weight & exercise, and has enough space for some other things I’d like to add. That plus a sketchbook would be a useful combination. But for the time being I’ll leave it in the current configuration: Work notebook, journal, planner.