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Momentous notebook news, and my "standard kit"

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Apr. 13th, 2009 | 11:58 am

I abandoned my A5-ish side-by-side lined Moleskine as my main notebook, preferring an A6-ish squared reporter.

Reasons for my starting to use it in the first place:

  • I almost always have my bag with me, so the size shouldn't be important - A5 isn't very large.
  • It had larger pages than the A6, which would give me the opportunity to randomly engage in diagramming, mindmapping and so on. This would eliminate the need to carry a larger notebook for those purposes.
  • I had it on my shelf and it would be a shame not to use it.

Reasons why I stopped using it - after sixty or so pages, mind you, I did give it a good go:

  • Writing in it was physically harder than writing in a pocket notebook. More space is required and it needs to be balanced on a knee or put on a desk. Even though I had it with me most of the time, this made it less accessible than the pocket notebook. There was a barrier to getting it out - I had to be sitting at a table, in a relatively secure location, not just scribbling on the tube.
  • The page size was good for the odd break into diagramming or mindmapping, but most of the time it actually discouraged me from the process of idea dumping, which is the major reason that I have a notebook in the first place. It was an odd effect; it seemed as if the fact that the available space was putting me off.

So, I stopped using it. I am getting closer, I think, to knowing my ideal setup with notebooks, what I call my "basic kit", and it looks something like this:

  • one pocket notebook (reporter-style)
  • one larger notebook (A4)
  • my iPod Touch (which holds my email, my to-do list, my calendar and any documents I care to transfer).

The pocket notebook is the main one and is a destination for idea dumping, thought after thought, write them down whatever they are, deal with them later. To be useful this requires me to also process the contents of the notebook regularly, going through the pages, typing up, editing and filing the parts that are worth anything. I can keep this in my pocket and have it wherever I am; I can write down ideas in a club toilet, on a nightbus, in the queue in a coffee shop, under sniper fire in 'Nam.

The pocket notebook is reporter-style as I find that this suits the "idea dumping" behaviour. It is a very serial format, one thing after another.

The large notebook is kept in my bag and is moved to whenever I feel restricted by the lack of space in the smaller one. It is much better for mindmapping, and I do like to do that when I am exploring a concept, and that is what I use notebooks for - if I know what I want to do, doing it almost always needs a computer. There are hundreds of examples of this sort of notebook available from your local stationery shop. At the moment I have a Rhino ring-bound one, with a purple plastic cover.

I mix left and right brain quite extensively here - sometimes I like to write long pieces of prose, sometimes I like to draw lots of boxes and bubbles and arrows with a few words in each, the spatial relationship meaning something. And mostly I like to mix everything up on one page, which is something that is hard to do in digital form and very easy to do on paper.

These notebooks all use 5mm squared paper by the way. A grid can be used to help align things in two dimensions rather than one. It helps to organise notes and thoughts regardless of whether they are blocks of text or bubbles. It has to be a light grid, by the way - too heavy a grid is distracting.

When things begin to intrude into the "real world" I use my iPod Touch to add tasks and calendar entries. These are much better dealt with digitally, as they frequently change and also are far more useful with tag searching, alerts and scheduling. Also, if necessary I can keep PDFs, spreadsheets etc on it for reference, should I need to, though if I am working on paper anyway I prefer to actually print things out. Reviewing a document on an iPod screen is a bit of a pain.

Pens: a Space Pen in the back pocket and a pencil case in the bag. I can usually get away without the pencil case but it is nice to have highlighters, coloured pens and post-its, and let's not forget the absolutely essential sticky stars.

If I am feeling more energetic, and it's actually charged, I will sometimes take my Eee along as well, particularly if I might want to do some coding, but that can actually be counter-productive as it encourages me to check my email and go on the internet instead of doing anything useful.

Oh - what will I do with the old larger Moleskine? It's a nice enough notebook, there's nothing wrong with it, and it would be good for writing longish text in. Maybe I'll have it as a paper diary or daily book.

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Comments {6}

Mokeskine etc

from: anonymous
date: Apr. 13th, 2009 04:35 pm (UTC)

Or one Filofax .... go on, you know you want it (and I have a red one available!).

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from: fridgemagnet
date: Apr. 13th, 2009 09:39 pm (UTC)

It's not one I'm personally familiar with, though it looks pretty similar to lots of other systems - a task list with recurrence, contexts, tags, projects, filtering, due dates etc. Things, which I use on my iPod and desktop, does that. Most of them are based to a greater or lesser degree around GTD principles (e.g. Omnifocus is quite hardcode GTD, Things is pretty gentle, TaskPaper hardly at all).

When looking at systems like that I tend to rate them on
* syncing or otherwise being able to access them from different machines
* reliability
* offline access (iPod clients usually at the moment - lifetick doesn't seem to have one, the iPhone part is a web app)
* import and export - I've been burnt by that before
and of course general interface friendliness and feel.

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from: anonymous
date: Apr. 14th, 2009 05:50 pm (UTC)

If you have an iphone try the touch goal app

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from: pallasathene8
date: Apr. 13th, 2009 06:09 pm (UTC)

When you start talking about notebooks...it scares me a little. :P

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