My work notebook

I take a paper notebook to my meetings at work. I am more present and focused when I leave my laptop behind. The inflexibility of a notebook always bugged me, though. I’d try different organization methods, but I’d always mess up the system: maybe I didn’t leave enough pages for that one section, or I didn’t start off a page the right way. Since I’m a perfectionist, I’d want to throw the whole thing out and start over.

After a lot of trial and error, I found a more flexible way: the disc-bound notebook. I use a Levenger Circa, but there are other, similar systems available (like the Staples Arc).

This kind of notebook is made of specially-punched pages held together by discs. You can add, remove, and rearrange pages. You can buy page refills or make your own with a special punch. There are also accessories including tabs, pockets, special discs, pen holders, and page finders. You can buy a fancy cover and have the same notebook forever, adjusting the inside as you need to.

I use my notebook throughout the week to stay organized and to take notes in all of the meetings I attend. I divide it into sections separated by tabs that make them easy to turn to. In each section I keep five or so pages at a time, and I file old pages on a regular basis lest my notebook get too big. Here’s an overview of how I arrange (and rearrange) the inside of my notebook:

First, I have a section for myself, where I keep a list of the things I want to do and check on that week. If there’s something I’m worried about but haven’t figured how to address, that goes there, too. I call this my worry list. I start a new page every Monday and pull forward items from the previous week that are still relevant but didn’t get resolved.

I keep general meeting notes here as well. If I’m in a meeting, it probably means I need to share some information or act when a decision is made, so it makes sense for these to live in my section. I’ll then add todos for myself to my page for the week.

Also on Mondays, I add new pages to sections for each member of my team and my boss. When something comes up I want to cover with someone, I add a note to their section so I don’t forget. This becomes my agenda for our one-on-one meeting. I also take notes from the meeting on that page. As things come up over the week that require help from my boss, I add them to his section for our one-on-one, and again, take notes from the meeting there.

Finally, I devote a section to interviewing. Of course it has plenty of empty pages for taking notes when I’m meeting with a candidate. I’ve also added several pages of my go-to interviewing questions, which include engineering, management, and behavioral topics. That way, I always have another question ready to go.

Using this system keeps me organized and has made a big difference in my follow-through. Since I keep the newest information in my notebook, I don’t have to spend a lot of time flipping pages to find what I need. If something about my system isn’t working, or a new member joins my team, adjusting can be as easy as adding a new tab or moving some pages.