How To Use Notebooks

May 10, 2017

If you’re a notebook lover like me, you probably have stacks of blank notebooks, but no idea what to do with them. Fear not. Here are some ideas that may help.

First, understand the basics.

  1. While they might look pretty NEW, they look better used and filled. There might not be a better smell, feeling, or sight than a fresh, unused notebook—but they are definitely more attractive with ideas and sketches inside. Don’t let the lure of a new notebook keep you from filling it up with good stuff.

  2. Notebooks are to be carried around. If they sit on the shelf, they won’t be used. Thus, they must go wherever you go. Keep one in your pocket . . . Your bag . . . Your car . . . Always have one. Always be using one.

  3. Notebooks are to be easily reachable at all times. If notebooks are out of sight, they will be out of mind, which means they won’t be used and won’t be carried around. Keep your notebooks VISIBLE so they aren’t lost in the business of daily life.

6 Practical Ways to Use Notebooks

The following list is not comprehensive but is how I am currently using a notebook in my daily routine. Feel free to add your additional thoughts and uses in the comments.

1. Capture tool

I follow David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. This means whenever something pops into my head, I quickly “capture” it in an “inbox.” One of my inboxes is a Field Notes memo book. When I don’t have my phone or laptop handy, I’ll jot a task on to one page of the Field Notes. I’ll then tear it out and throw it in my in-tray or in-folder to be processed later.

2. Jumpstart tool

I write pretty fast on the computer. I’m able to get things “publish-ready” by doing most of the writing using a keyboard. However, sometimes I need more time to think about what I want to say and how to say it. This is where a notebook can come in handy. I’ll jot down my main points, cross things out, and draw arrows to get my mind flowing. Even though it’s slow, the process helps the ideas steep before I go to type. I may not get the handwritten document “finished,” but it often jumpstarts my writing.

3. Get unstuck tool

Do you ever get stuck when trying to figure something out? I do all the time. And that’s when a notebook helps. I’ll use one page to explore a single idea—and repeat until I get clarity. This is an excellent process to try if you are overwhelmed or stressed out.

4. To test pens, pencils, and markers

I am a penaholic. I like different colors, sizes, and inks. But I don’t let them all go to waste. Sometimes I’ll use the pages of a notebook to remind myself how each pen or pencil writes. It’s fun.

5. To collect stickers

Sometimes I receive random stickers. (From Field Notes, Disney, and random products). I hate to throw these away, so putting them on their own dedicated page inside a notebook is a way to preserve them and rediscover them in the future.

6. Meeting notes

When meeting one-on-one with someone, a notebook can be less obtrusive than a digital screen. Because the notebook is horizontal, the other party can see what’s being written and know it’s “on topic” to the conversation. Research also shows that you retain information longer when it is written by hand.

My favorite notebooks

  1. Muji. (Amazon) These are by far my favorite notebooks ever and I’ll be sad if they go out of production. Paper is smooth. They’re slim. Look professional. Fit into a folder flap. The lines are not too bold, which makes the writing “pop.” Simply awesome & highly recommended.

  2. Field Notes. (Amazon) Kind of a cult, but I don’t mind. Yes, I’m a Field Nut. I like to collect these and carry them everywhere. They’re small and come in different colors, that is, if you’re lucky enough to snag a limited edition!

  3. Moleskine. (Amazon) I don’t love these as much as I used to, but I have a bunch to finish using and a bunch already used. Durable, professional, timeless.

  4. Baron Fig. ( These guys are cool. The cover is made from a linen material and the paper is top-notch. You can tell a lot of thought went into making these.

  5. Tops Legal Pad, (Amazon) I wrote a post about these here. The backing is nice and thick, which makes it easy to write nearly anywhere.

  6. Doane Paper. ( Brad Dowdy turned me on to these years ago. I have a nice supply of legal pads, as well as the idea pads. Really nice quality—especially if you like the lines and grid.

  7. Cambridge. (Amazon) Cheapest one on this list and always great quality. Nice stiff backing and very nice paper quality.

What notebooks do you use?

Are you a notebook lover? Let me know in the comments what kind of notebook you like to use and how you use it.

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