How I Use My Everything Notebook(s)

I recently found inspiration in Reddit, of all places. I stumbled back into the social network mostly out of necessity, as it’s the only real community where solid support for some applications I use exists (Niagara Launcher, Notion).

In my perusing, I found some fantastic ‘subreddits’, including, but not limited to, r/ProductManagement, r/EDC, and the ‘sub’ where I got some inspiration for my new organizational method, r/bulletjournal.

You might have read the title for this post and thought to yourself, “Everything Notebooks? If it’s used for everything, then why do you need more than one?”

Valid question.

Personally, I prefer some separation between my work and my personal life. I don’t want to leave a personal notebook lying on my desk in the middle of an open floor-plan when I visit our HQ in Orlando, nor do I want to be constantly reminded of work when I take a vacation over a long weekend. Having two “Everything Notebooks” gives the two contexts some breathing room.

Analog notebooks, though?

Yes. I’ve used most mainstream note-taking applications out there for extended periods of time (Evernote, OneNote, Bear, Notion, Google Keep, Google Docs, iOS Notes, iA Writer, Simplenote*, Zoho Notebook*). All of them have their strengths, but ultimately fall short in the areas that I’ve found matter the most to me.

*Indicates fewer than 6 months

What I did like about all of those apps is that they fit in my pocket, and helped me avoid carrying additional items on the regular. They lived on my phone, synced across multiple devices, and ultimately did a really good job at storing things that I may need to remember later. They kept my thoughts portable (as easy as copy/pasta), and ultimately saved my time and money (e.g., vs. purchasing pens, notebooks, etc.).

Where they fell short, however, is in helping me remember the things I stored in them. I typed a note, or a to-do item, closed the app, put away my phone, and then I had to either, 1) remember to open that app back up, or 2) rely on my phone yelling at me via reminders/notifications to open the app and rediscover what I’d previously typed.

I don’t like the feeling of relying on my phone for so much (what don’t we use phones for nowadays?), nor do I like having to explain why I’m pulling my phone out if I’m in the middle of a conversation with someone.

So yes, analog notebooks.

Okay. Tracking. But what are the payoffs?

Good question. I’m glad you asked.

TL;DR, analog notes…

  • Help me be more intentional with the information I store
  • Help me unplug and enjoy life in the moment without the need for tech
  • Increase my ability to remember things that are important
  • Give me space to be creative

I find that with an analog notebook, I’m more intentional with the kind of things I write down. I have to do more processing, rather than typing everything I hear, relying on my ability to go back and review the notes later. It forces me to process, information, store some of it, and then write down a trigger that will help me remember the things I was thinking about later.

It gives me a place where I can be creative any time during the day. If I have an idea for our basement re-model, I can sketch it out on the next empty page. If I have some lyrics stuck in my head, or some original poetry brewing, I can write them down so that I can let them go and focus on the task at hand. And, I tend to fidget a bit. I’m willing to bet that it’s less distracting for someone if I spin a pen around my thumb, than if I’m staring at or playing with my phone during a conversation.

Keeping notebooks organized was always been a deterrent for me, until a few weeks ago.

This is where my Reddit perusing comes in. I collected a lot of great ideas, let go all of the ones that were unnecessary for me, and improvised to dial in a format that was low-maintenance and could be easily duplicated week after week.

Here’s an example of a weekly spread at the beginning of the week:

Note that all of the pages are numbered. I start with the current week, and date range at the top of the first page, followed by an open section where I can drop the most important tasks for the week, and a much larger open section for all other tasks. The “All Other Tasks” section continues on the second page.

Tracking work:

  • You’ll notice some tasks with the box half filled-out. Those are in progress.
  • Deferred tasks will get a line through the box.
  • Completed tasks are all the way filled in.
  • Things that are time sensitive get a little clock in the margin. This also gets filled in when the task is complete.

Events and appointments for the week go down the side of the second page, and are edited as necessary throughout the week. It’s a helpful review for what’s coming up each week, as I’ll otherwise never look at my calendar on my phone.

I also started habit-tracking recently. This is what that setup looks like for me:

The habit tracker lives on the back of the Events page (so, the third page in my weekly setup). The habit tracker is a good reminder/motivator of the things that I’m trying to improve on, or things that I want to make a regular part of my daily routine. A couple of the item on there, for instance, are reading, writing, and getting 8+ hours of sleep a night (not happening tonight, as I’ve been pulled into the current of writing this post).

After the habit tracker section, I take some more creative liberty regarding how each page gets filled.

  • Short notes get dated and receive a single underscore below, across the width of the note.
  • Longer notes get a title in all caps, dated, and a single underscore below the width of the title. All of the content for the long note goes below the underline. Sometimes I end the note with a line across the page.
  • Sketches are kind of their own thing. They live throughout the pages, sometimes within the context of a note, sometimes without.
  • Anything that needs further follow-up gets copied to the week’s first two pages as part of the to-do list. If I need to reference the note it was taken from, I can write the page number next to the task.
  • Once or twice a day I’ll process notes and to-do’s. When I’ve moved everything necessary to the week’s first two pages, I draw a double-line with a few pound symbols. It creates an easy visual reference that anything above/before those lines is taken care of.

Here are a couple example pages for reference.

Every Saturday I create a new weekly spread (Important Tasks, All Other Tasks, Events and Habits), and copy over any outstanding tasks from the previous week.

Having to copy over outstanding tasks is intentional. I hate writing things multiple times; sometimes the pain of having to copy over a lot of things is enough motivation to knock out as much of it as I can during the week.

Is this a scalable model?

In short, yes.

For personal use, I carry around a small dotted Moleskine Cahier notebook and my trusty Pilot G-2 0.38 pen. Having both in my pocket is a good reminder to pull the notebook out and check my tasks periodically. I also started carrying them in my dominant hand’s pocket (right pocket), and put my phone in the other pocket, to help kill the habit of pulling out my phone any time I’m bored. Basically, if I want to remember something, schedule something, or look something up, it goes in the notebook. This helps me stay in the moment without getting too distracted or side-tracked.

For work, I use the exact same setup, but in a dotted Rhodia A5 Webnotebook. As a PM I have a plethora of meetings every week, and take a lot of notes. If I used my small personal-use notebook for those meetings, I’d probably go through one every few days. The Rhodia notebook also has much more premium paper, which is way more enjoyable to write on during longer note-taking sessions.

That’s it.

It’s not a complicated setup or method. It’s easy to maintain, quick to duplicate week-to-week, and thoroughly enjoyable to use.

What brought you here? Have you been stumbling through different apps or organizational methods without any luck finding something that works just right for you? What are you trying to accomplish?

My email & DMs are open! Feel free to reach out!

4 thoughts on “How I Use My Everything Notebook(s)”

  1. […] time for those healthy habits I’d like to build into my daily routine is to track them in my EDC notebook. What I find is that having that extra ‘box to check’ in a habit tracker section is […]

  2. Nice, Zach! My life is lived by liars! Always has worked for me! Pen and paper! Love your methods!

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