The Notebook: Could It Be More Obvious?
Now, I'm just as much a paper snob... er, connoisseur as the next guy, but that can be a problem. For example, I have some nice Moleskines, quality sketchbooks and journals that I keep handy, but hardly ever use. Why's that? Well, I suspect that many of you know the feeling: they're too precious to sully with mere idle thoughts, to-do lists, memos for groceries, and so on. They are, in fact, reserved for "special" thoughts, often during long and dry stretches of no use. And yet, a thick planner can be a little too bulky to carry around absolutely everywhere, and index cards have their problems too: it's hard to shuffle a large pile and find things, and the ones with important and frequently-used notes tend to get lost in piles, migrate under books, or slip beneath a keyboard.
I've rediscovered a certain joy lately, and among all the tinkering I've done lately, it was one of the last things to occur to me, even though I did it for years -- seemingly a lifetime ago. It's the act of keeping a portable, messy, continual-brain-dump device known as a notebook.
The main reason for keeping a notebook is precisely that it is not a journal, planner, calendar, commonplace book, or anything overly precious. It's an excuse to slap down any thought, regardless of how permanent you think it is. It is for collecting.
My tips for choosing and using a notebook:
- It should be inexpensive, but still convey a little quality. Unless you have an affinity for them, stay away from spiral-bound ones and instead opt for one with a real cover and binding. Having a cover that's water-resistant and wipable means that you won't fret taking it out in damp weather or using it at the breakfast table. Most department stores carry these for about $5 USD, and range about 120-150 pages.
- It should fit in your bag that you tote around, ready to use at a moment's notice. If not, you'll never have it handy when you need it.
- Label the inside front cover with your name, email address, phone number, or any other pertinent contact information. On the inside back cover, tape a small reference calendar for the year, such as the one found in the D*I*Y Planner Hipster PDA Edition, and slap in a small stack of sticky notes (about 6-10).
- On every page, make sure to put the page number (mine is at the bottom) and the date (the top). This way, you can reference things ("see page 23") or see when something happened. Use a sticky to keep your current place, and mark pages that are currently important. As you finish each notebook, label the spine with a number and date range.
- Fodder for your notebook: notes, half-baked ideas, inbox collection, vague musings, quotes, to-do items, snatches of dialogue, meeting notes, recipes, lists, memos, sketches, groceries, appointments, and anything that might prove useful some day.
- Keep your notebook wherever you'll likely to need it. If you come up with ideas while taking a shower (as I do), bring your notebook to the bathroom. (Hence, getting one with a water-resistant cover.) Bring your notebook around the house as you get things done, watch television, surf the net, work in the garage, try out a new recipe, do some transplanting, or sleep (for dreams, insomnia-induced ideas, purging ideas, etc.). Keep it a constant companion.
- Your notebook works well as a continual inbox, but be careful that things aren't lost outside of your planning system. At the end (or beginning) of each day, make it a part of your daily review. Come up with a system to denote what needs to be transferred. For example, I use a circle to mean "move this to my planner", and put a long black line in the margin to make the items stand out. A diagonal stroke through the circle means that it's been already transferred, and another one in the opposite direction (making a cross) means it's been done, so don't worry about it. Some GTD-specific examples:
O NA@Home: Call bank about last car payment
O Cal:01/12: Appointment with nurse for shots
O WF@Work: Frank - Environmental Impact Report (due 02/08)
O File: Frank's contact info: frank @ franklyfrank.com, Work tel (555) 555-5555
O File: Recipe for Frank's killer buffalo wing sauce (see card)
- If you're using the notebook for creative purposes as well, don't forget to transfer the important bits into your system as well, whether that's a dead-tree journal or sketchbook, or software like DEVONthink, Tinderbox, Zoot, Emacs, Word, or just some handy text files. Remember, the notebook is for collection, not filing.
- Spend some quality time with your thoughts. Take the notebook and a pen to your favourite chair, turn off the television, get comfortable, open the book, and just start writing. It's amazing what ideas come to you when your mind is open yet able to focus.
Above all, the most important thing to remember is that it is a notebook. Refer to it thus. It's for notes. It's not a journal, or a diary, or a sketchbook, or anything else precious that you resist writing in. When your mind is cooking, it's there to catch the drippings.
(Ugh. I can't believe I actually wrote that line....)