productivity :: balance :: freelancing :: notebooking

Greetings all. I’m your host here at 41dots, Annie. Here’s the story.

Oh my. That was a confident opening, but I don’t actually know where to start! Here are a hodgepodge of bits about me and about the site.

A history of me and my paper companion

I’ve had a notebook by my side almost my whole life. When I was a little kid, I kept a journal. The first volume was in the amazing little notebook with a mirrored cover with a rainbow on it, with rainbow-colored paper inside (which I adored with stickers).

Many volumes later, in high school and college, my journals evolved into sketchbook/journals. I drew a lot then (and painted and took photographs and did printmaking and bookbinding and papermaking and made zines and was generally an artsy-polymath-maniac… ok, I still am).

Later, when I had to join the “real” world and get a job, I started keeping what I called a “Work Notebook”. Since I was freelancing (as a designer) and generally working with a lot of clients at once, I used my notebook to keep track of the zillions of details of all my jobs, and as a place to sketch concepts, and as a place to jot to do lists, and as a place to write the occasional song lyric for my band or rambling journal entry. As each notebook got to the last page, I’d start a new one, always with a bit of a celebratory feeling.

As the years went on and my career advanced, I continued keeping work notebooks and evolving the systems I used in them — I had ways of keeping task lists and planning my weeks, ways of taking notes in meetings, ways of budgeting and tracking money and client billing, ways of recording information, making decisions, remembering what books I wanted to read — all and sundry. What was in my notebooks changed as I changed. But it always kept me organized and helped me to both plan and remember.

Much as I love my art supplies and my paper notebooks, I’m not a luddite. My work involves using a computer every day (designing, making websites, etc.) I’m not immune to extreme geekery. I’ve found lots of digital products I really like that also help me stay organized and help me run my business. But despite a few ill-conceived attempts, I’ve never been able to completely abandon the paper notebook. I’m a designer, I’m a visual thinker. I need to see this stuff laid out on a flat surface. And it definitely helps if I put it there myself with a yummy pen!

Streamline style

I don’t know if it’s something temperamentally within me or part of being a designer (our whole job is to process complex information into something more streamlined that communicates clearly and use visual tools to figure out the kinks) or both, but ever since I started working professionally, I’ve been obsessed with improving processes and workflows. That sounds dry as all get out, but it’s not really, It’s just about making things go more smoothly and easily for people and myself. It’s about optimizing one thing to make time for another or taking the redundant bullshit out of some procedure so everyone’s less sad.

Even when I was a young know-nothing whippersnapper freelancing at an ad agency as a junior designer, I was lobbying to have them let me reorganize the server and to document methodologies. Some people just like to organize things (I also enjoy stacking and lining up objects). As I got more into running my own businesses, and helping other businesses with their design and strategy, these proclivities certainly came in handy.

It’s been about 20 years now, and I’ve learned a lot about running a small creative business. I also still keep work notebooks and find them life-savingly useful.

And then…

One day I was trolling YouTube for something or other — probably videos about minimalism, which I go through spates of enjoying — and I happened upon a bullet journal video of some sort. A revelation! Other people keep notebooks like I do, and they use them to organize, plan, keep track of things and generally make their lives better and more intentional. And they have all kinds of systems and frameworks just like I do. And there’s a guy who started it, and tons of people who iterate on his system and share with each other.

It was love at first sight.

Since then, besides checking out tons of bullet journalists all over the web, I’ve learned a lot from what other people are doing and have felt moved by the great spirit of community that exists among them to start contributing myself.

I feel like there are a lot of bullet journalists who already run small businesses or freelance, and others who’d like to. The design thinking that goes into bullet journaling (and similar notebook-keeping) is, I think, characteristic of a type of person who also enjoys managing something like a small business and being creative. It’s a left and right brain kind of thing.

I started this site (and YouTube channel) to share what I’ve learned in my separate evolution of my notebook-keeping, how I’ve blended in ideas from the existing bullet journal community and, how all of this can help with freelance/small business work (and how to do that stuff well!), maintaining a holistic work-life combination, as I like to think of it), and generally living intentionally and mindfully.

I hope you get some good stuff out of it.

Thank you, and take care,


About the name

Oh and, 41 dots? It seems after the millionth time I counted how many vertical dots there are in my dot-grid Moleskine notebook so I could divide the page up evenly, I finally remembered. 41 dots.



I’m smiling on the inside, I promise.

A bunch of work notebooks.