Let’s talk tools #2: Notebooks
I love notebooks. Real notebooks, none of these mini-binders/day-planners pretending to be notebooks that my podcasting friend might like (see here). I have no problem with those, and they might work for other people. But, they are not for me.
I have reached a point where I have stopped buying notebooks. I had to, I was running out of space and starting to drive myself crazy. I can only keep track of so many things and keeping around one notebook for each project would never work for me. I now have stacks of notebooks waiting to be used.
Currently, I have two notebooks I am actively using. One for keeping track of events, lists, to-dos, and the rest of the daily sort of stuff, kind of a low-tech life log. And a second one that I use for longer notes, planning, thinking, writing, etc.
One For Notes
So, instead of one notebook per project, I have one notebook that I use for longer notes. Anything that is more than a couple of words go in this notebook. The big thing for me is that the notebook is not an endpoint for the note, it is more like an inbox or the starting point of the note. I go back to review the notebook and I migrate the notes from into my more permanent storage (Evernote or my folder of text files, see here). As I address or migrate each note, I cross it out. This is to avoid the double note problem and the backlog problem, both of which have ruined notebooks for me in the past.
The double note problem is when you migrate a note from one place to another, or resolve something from a note. But, instead of marking it off or crossing out the note, the note just sits there and eventually you end up with them as part of you backlog.
This leads to the backlog problem. This is where your note taking, or other task, has so much accumulated work involved with approaching it, you never find the time to take care of it. This is fatal for a note taking system. A stack of notebooks full of ideas, or worse half full of ideas, can be paralyzing not just for the processing of the notes, but for even taking more notes. This is why I try to keep my system simple.
- take a note
- migrate note into permanent storage
- cross off note
This way I don’t ever have a backlog of notes to process and I can keep my note taking simple and clean.
For notes I really like the idea of sketchnotes (here and here), but not being a totally awesome artist, I usually just use some of the ideas to make my notes a bit more appealing and quicker to identify.
Currently, my note taking notebook is this. It works for me for three reasons:
- Blank paper. I tend to have horrible handwriting and lines actually make it worse. Letting myself write as big or as small as the notes need actually helps.
- Large number of pages. 200 pages rocks.
- Perforated corners. So, you can keep track of the next page to use. Nice.
One For Life-log
As part of an attempt to keep track of where my time goes I have been keeping a second notebook. Into this notebook I have been using my own version of the Bullet Journaling (see here).
So, the things I love about the Bullet Journal, so far:
- Index. Simple idea, but one that is so powerful. Just keep a page or two in the beginning as an index of what is in the notebook. So, when you need to refer to it later, you can quickly see what is in the book.
- Everyday has its own heading.
- Everything moves forward. Need a page for a note, just use the next page (drop it in the index, of course).
- Tagging of entries. On the daily calendar you have three types of entries: events, tasks and notes. And a few additional tags: high priority, good idea and follow up.
- And that is about it. You keep track of each thing you do with an entry, as much detail as you need.
I have been doing it for a month, and so far I really like it. Most of the effort has been to collect the data about what I am doing.
Currently my “life-log” is a Moleskine Cahier with gridded paper (here).