Dissertation Journal

I have been obsessed with this new post-consumer recycled lined paper journal called Ecosystem. It has a bright and flexible cover, an inner pocket in the back, has 192 pages, and is 9.9 inches tall and 7.4 inches wide. It comes with a unique ID on the inside of the back cover, which allows you to track where all the parts came from to make the journal. I wasn’t able to find a link on their website about this though, but will email the company and report back in a later post. You can even buy pocket inserts for sketching, Toodledo doodling by hand (i.e., making to-do lists), custom-made calendars, and a few other old-school ways of taking down information.


Since I’ve been taking paper notes in a variety of different ways – steno pads, Moleskine cahiers, large post-its, and legal writing pads – I decided to create a new system for this phase of my dissertation journey. Many of you reading might be thinking, “Keep it simple and just digitize everything.” Well, for the most part I have and continue to do so.

Unfortunately, this digital system does not always serve me well. When I’m reading and annotating on my iPad using GoodReader or Papers away from the office, it’s a huge inconvenience to use my iPhone, computer, or laptop to type up interactive notes, copy and paste, format them, print them out, and then organize them in a binder. Even with all my digital upgrades, I find myself gravitating towards paper.

Originally, when I was thinking about my IDEAL dissertation journal, I thought I needed:

In the end, I decided against the large Moleskine Evernote for a few reasons: it’s more expensive than other notebooks, does not do anything extra special in terms of speeding up digitization of my notes, it’s much smaller than I expected, and it lacks pizzazz.When I learned about Ecosystem, I fell in love mainly with the color options and the environmental commitment of the company. I upgraded my post-its to a durable kind, ditched the wooden pencils because they always fall off, and may still use the Pilot G2 pens when I want. I’m waiting on the pen quiver because it may not be necessary. It’s so cool though!


I symbolically chose green after remembering that green is a healing color and is associated with renewal, growth, hope, and potential. I also purchased two of them immediately from Amazon.


Instead of going with the Pilot G2 pens as originally planned, I decided to use the extra fine Precise V5 rolling ball pens by Pilot. They are skinnier than the G2’s and and are much cheaper than my other favorite pens by Stabilo. I’m primarily using the purple Precise V5 for daily use, green for dissertation related matters I might need to find quickly, and red for statistics-related notes and ideas.



I want to graduate sometime in 2014. Ideally, in May but I realize that there may be unexpected delays. So in this Ecosystem Journal, I downloaded a yearly calendar for the next two years and I copied and pasted the months into my Ecosystem in reverse order by month. I plan to note monthly deadlines and circle the dates accordingly. Having a visual of the months and being able to count week throughout the year also helped me fine-tune my dissertation defense timeline. This clip just shows the present year and there’s much left to plan!

reverse calendar


Over the years, I have always wanted to create a notebook with an index. Until now, I had not implemented an indexing note-taking system.

Index page

I’m very excited and most of my ideas about this came from reading so many posts about ways to “hack” one’s Moleskine. In the end I went with Nikkah Planner’s system for indexing and I have decided to implement a quadrant note-taking system when I need to.


I plan on using these durable post-it tabs like Chris Poldervaart uses Book Darts (minus the Bible part). I’m thinking of using a different color to label three different sections. I plan to use:


I modified the Frugal Law Student instructions and even had to create my own template because the size of my IDs were slightly larger than the ones he used.

hacked wallet

Additionally, I used an Ecosystem instead of a Moleskine, a manila file folder instead of card stock, and rubber cement instead of a glue stick. The wallet turned out quite nicely and is not bulky at all. The cards and IDs are packed in there quite nicely too. I’m impressed. And, I have space to add three or four more pockets to hold cards and/or ID’s.

My built-in Ecosystem wallet is as cool as my old iPhone case/wallet – without adding the extra bulk. When I find some more time and get these supplies, I plan to make this wallet, which does not require glue and can be transported from Ecosystem journal to journal.


Some of you will be happy to note that I am easing up on my latest obsession of hacking my dissertation journal as my focus shifts to data collection now that I have received IRB approval. While waiting for IRB approval, I had a lot of time on my hands. I decided to synthesize what I have learned about hacking journals in this blog post. Chris Poldervaart’s musings about his Moleskine journal hacks and reflections on improving his “hacked” journal/calendar/wallet is very detailed. Chris P., if you’re reading this, you are one of my hero’s.

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