The Five Notebooks I Use Every Day

Five notebooks!? Yes five.

I’ve always been an organized person, and while I take full advantage of a digital suite of organization and productivity tools (Google Calendar, Evernote, Salesforce) I’m still a fan of writing certain things down in a physical notebook — or in my case, many notebooks.

It’s taken me years to fully sort my own organizational system, but I’ve finally found what works best for me.

Five. Count em’!

My notebook carry is pictured above. Let’s work left to right.

Black Moleskin: Life

This notebook is reserved mostly for life planning. When I reflect on the past year or quarter, I make notes on what’s working and what’s not. I write out my focus areas for the year — or big rocks, and do periodic health checks.

I also write about new projects, and ideas and document the outcomes of Thinking Time.

The Five Minute Journal

The Five Minute Journal has had a profound impact on my life. As a mission-driven person, I find incredible joy in my work. I also know that I enjoy being involved in multiple projects at once — spending 100% of my time on one thing would bore me to tears. That said, I have two young children and I wrestle often with being fully present for them, and for my wife. This journal changes that.

The simplest, most effective thing you can do every day to be happier.

The premise of the Five Minute Journal is to take a few minutes first thing in the morning to reflect on: what you’re grateful for, and what would make the day great. These could be as big as “I’m grateful for the health of my two young children,” or as simple as “I’m grateful for a warm bed to sleep in.” Focusing on what would make the day great is setting your intention for the day and outlining the ‘Big Rocks’. At the end of the day you quickly write down three great things that happened during the day.

The process actually trains your mind to look for great things throughout the day. You’re searching for positivity, and feeling grateful for what you have and living in the present moment vs. constantly living in the future.

Disclaimer: It has taken me a few years and several different versions of this to finally find a version that worked for me, and even now I complete it about 90% of the time.

Make it Happen: Meeting Notes

As a continued student of sales, I follow a great trainer named John Barrows. When I saw John was running a Kickstarter for a Sales Journal late last year — I jumped on board.

The basic idea is this: every call or client interaction that you commit time to should have a purpose, and so you should be willing to spend a few minutes preparing, and then documenting action items.

The notebook includes a place for: Contact names and titles, description of the business, proposed agenda, recent news, and specific questions to ask. Most importantly, it leaves a place to outline their next steps, and your next steps.

I like this format for a few reasons:

Firstly, there is such a thing as ‘over-preparing’ for a meeting. Generally, I like to have a few relevant/recent items top of mind and I spend no longer than three minutes here.

Second, the meeting agenda is a great reminder to establish an Upfront Contract: a clear agreement on what will be accomplished on the call, and in what order.

Finally, the documented next steps have clear action steps for each party and make it easy for me to refer back to these next steps at a later date.

In the past, customer meetings and calls would be scattered throughout my other notebooks and I’d lose track of conversations or committed actions. Having a dedicated notebook for customer meetings has been helpful in 2018.

Blue Moleskin: Work

Outside of customer meetings, I play a role in company operations, strategy, fundraising, and business development. These conversations involve many internal meetings and often overlap with different functional areas of the business. I find these notes are more ‘free flowing’ and often require me to review at a later time to see how one topic relates to another.

This notebook serves as my work sketch pad for ideas, concepts, new business models, etc.

Moleskin Cahier: Work Actions

This might be my most important notebook of all. This notebook actually sits inside my Work notebook (above) and is reserved specifically for Action Items. My old system was to outline actions with check boxes, but I found it difficult to find and track them scattered throughout various notes. Now, ever clear action that I have to take gets documented in this notebook.

You know you’ve said something important (to me at least) when I pull this notebook out in a meeting because I’ve committed to some sort of action.

Summary: What works for me may not work for all.

This is the system that works for me today. Yes, it adds a few pounds to my backpack, but that’s why I carry a backpack and not a fancy messenger bag. Having distinct areas for specific topics or areas of my life has allowed me to compartmentalize and has brought clarity to my thoughts and focus to my working time.