Making My Own DIY Diary

diy diary - make your own
Image by @glenncarstenspeters

Around this time last year, I wrote a piece about how I was intending to keep on top of my planning with a new diary I had kindly been sent a copy of. At the time I was unsure about how it would work for me, but I was certainly prepared to give it a go. Now if the title of this article hasn’t already given the game away, the answer is that it sadly didn’t work out for me.

To be fair that is more a comment on me than on the diary (sounds like an awful break-up story – it’s me, not you). I just found it was too prescriptive, and unless that is exactly in tune with your needs then a highly formatted diary is always going to clash with your own personal wishes for the format.

However I did like some elements of the diary, which I didn’t want to lose. The chances of me finding a new diary with 2020 already started seemed highly unlikely, so I did the next best thing. I made my own diary. Yes, I made a DIY diary and I thought I should share how this came about with you.

What I like in a diary

More than a notebook, a diary is so personal. Some people like a day-to-page desk format whilst others like a pocket weekly layout. My Dad always liked a slimline monthly planner that Biella kindly sent him all the way from Switzerland each year, but it would never have worked for me. So my DIY diary is very much that – my diary. That said, here is what I wanted from it.

Task orientated
Above all else, I wanted it to be based around tasks, almost like a glorified to-do list. My time is not overly taken up with appointments, and anyway I use an online calendar for that as I find it easier to manage my time that way. My diary was all about getting me to focus on what tasks needed to be done by when.

Long term/Short term goals
The diary also needed to be able to schedule in tasks over time, not just for that day or week. It needed to put jobs in against a longer-term plan so that I was sure I was working to a goal, and could prioritise around that.

I am restless and so are my diary needs. What I might have started the year thinking I needed might soon be a bad fit. A DIY diary would give me the option to change it as my needs changed.

I really did only need a Monday to Friday diary. With zero need for weekends I decided not to give over any valuable real-estate to Saturday or Sunday.

For obvious reasons it would need to be easily printable, and so it ended up as an A4 diary format.

The DIY diary result

diy diary templates

Armed with my requirements I set about making my ultimate diary. So what did I end up with? Well it was divided into three basic sections –

Yearly – This was a list of repeating tasks that I needed to remind myself to do each month, or quarter. A nice and simple checklist.

Monthly – This is where it really made sense for me. I would set out a longer-term aim (a quarterly goal), as well as a monthly aim. I worked on the basis that if I could achieve one big aim well that was better than several incomplete ones. These aims would be big sky plans, something that really made a difference in the end.

Below that I then set out tasks for the month which would be graded as essential, important or low-priority. Unsurprisingly the aim was to always get the essential tasks done by the end of the month, try and get the important ones done, and see what happened with the rest.

Any tasks not done at month-end would simply migrate over to the next month. The quarterly aim might also morph into a completely new aim as time progressed.

Weekly – And so the theme continues. Tasks would trickle down to the week ahead which would be planned out by Monday morning. Each week had a single aim, each day a focus around a particular area, and then tasks would be assigned. I would allow myself three must-do tasks and the rest would be on a take-it-as-it-comes basis. Each week any incomplete tasks would be rolled over to the next.

Back Burner – There is a further sheet which I have as a collect-all receptacle for those tasks that I just know have no immediate place in the diary. Not yet ready to be binned but not good enough to be a priority. Put them here and maybe one or two will ever see the light of day. The rest can be gracefully put out to pasture.

Bullet journals

Isn’t this just a Bullet Journal, I hear some people ask? Well, yes and no. I like to think of it as a To-Do Diary, and I failed with bullet journals because they were too complicated a system. Mine was pared down to the basics of keeping a list of what to get done that month, week and day, but always by looking ahead at where I was heading. So it was similar but not the same. Oh, and I just used one symbol – job done gets a tick.

So, did it work?

Well…(deep breath). I’d love to say yes, and I’d be lying if I said no. The truth lay somewhere in between. It was working quite well at first, and then something happened around March… Yes, Covid really did knock my routine for some months. Suddenly having a to-do based DIY diary didn’t work when I a) had almost no work, and b) was attempting to home-school a reluctant 7-year-old. So the diary gathered dust for a while.

But the silver lining to this story is that it has come back to life. I have resurrected it just recently in line with work (slowly) coming back and the now 8-year old going back to school. And after several months apart I think we are still a good fit for each other.

When might this not work?

Well, if you want something pre-packaged and ready to go then a DIY diary is probably more work than you are looking for. It requires time adjusting it to get the right format.

Also, it isn’t very portable, it needs a folder or clipboard to keep it even vaguely ordered and tidy, and it certainly doesn’t look very professional if you need to project the right image. It also needs to be printed out.

But making your own diary is really about fitting a diary precisely around your own needs. Which is surely a good thing? If you have struggled to find the right diary format then why not have a go and make your own?


Click here to download your own copy of my 2021 DIY Diary

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  1. Brilliant use of a very simple system. I also found bullet journaling too complicated.

    Ferris Wheel Press have a notebook that would be perfect for this kind of diary set up, particularly if you like to plan by hand. It’s called the Nothing Left notebook, and was designed for to-do lists. The only thing missing for me is page numbering, but it’s easy enough to section off a weekly, monthly or yearly calendar in advance, and mark the edges of the pages for easy access.

    1. Hi Charlotte – thanks for this. I have had a look – – and it is possibly a good solution. Hard to know for sure as sadly they don’t show the page layout in full. It is also all those other little bits around it that sort of make it work or not, hence why I ended up doing my own. I guess I could just use a basic Leuchtturm dot notebook but then that would be a lot of work drawing it out. Nice suggestion on the Ferris Wheel book though

  2. Hi Dominic,

    Good stuff, great idea! Any suggestion for a good printer paper to use? as all stationery geeks know… not all paper is equal!

    1. Ah Andrew, you have just undone all my good work. I am using the most basic ream of A4 paper from my local supermarket. A stationery fraud! Actually there is some good in that, as I am not so precious about the print outs. And it also means I don’t leave any special paper in there by accident for others to print out their work on! On a serious note, I guess I could seek out better quality paper, I just hadn’t given that much thought. It was something of a work in progress this year and had many adaptations at first, and just a bit of wasted paper… Maybe if I have refined the layout now I could think about that

  3. I started with the bullet journal but having to draw everything became too time consuming. This year I almost went full-DIY but because I had already purchased two Leuchtturm1917 notebooks, I glued printables from and Etsy onto most pages and drew what was missing. I like to have a weekly vertical to plan out the week followed by a weekly in two pages so I can write in what happened on those days. I also include a budget, expenses and meal plan each month. Next year I’m tempted to test a Hobonichi or go full-DIY.

    1. Yes, full DIY is tempting but has drawbacks. I am now tempted by a notebook that I convert to a diary, but it seems like too much work. Good luck with your 2021 decisions!

  4. Hi Dominic,
    This is just what I need. Thank you!

    I used to keep a daily to do list in my work notebook with symbols for important stuff and underlining for absolutely essential. My work life has changed out of all recognition this year and I keep losing scraps of paper and sticky notes because I no longer look at a work notebook on a daily basis. These pages can be pinned to a board and I’ll be able to review my now chaotic schedule every so often and bring things back into focus.

    Like you I keep an online diary with meetings, appointments and links to zoom calls but some things are better managed when they’re staring you in the face. Plus there’s the satisfaction of seeing those ticks 🙂

    And for anyone concerned about printing hard copies; shred the pages when you’re done with them and pop them in the composter.

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