How I Use Notebooks

Despite the fact that I use several apps in my productivity workflow, I have a tendency to use paper a lot as well. As a matter of fact, paper is often my first method of capture. This is for a variety of reasons, such as:

  1. It doesn’t require recharging, so it never runs low on juice.
  2. There are far fewer limitations to paper, unlike on a digital device.
  3. I can have multiple notebooks available to me (one on my nightstand, one in my jacket, one in my travel case, etc.), which isn’t the case for my devices.

But I don’t use them as a means to keep a to-do list. Instead, I use them to ensure that I get the right things done. Paper helps me connect. There is an ever-present feeling about it, one that gives me the knowledge that capture is just a few pen or pencil strokes away.

Here is what I use notebooks for:

  • Capturing ideas for posts and projects
  • Doing quick brain dumps
  • Outlining
  • Mind mapping

Ultimately, however, I use notebooks to connect with the things that are most important to me on a daily basis. I keep them handy because I don’t want to lose sight of what I really want to accomplish. My mind stays clearer knowing that I have quick access to a tool that can take care of any distractions that enter my mind — whether they are ideas, thoughts, or anything else.

I tend to keep either a stack of Frictionless Capture Cards or a smaller notebook (like a Field Notes notebook, for example) with me for when I’m out and about, and I use my Pilot Cole to multi-pen to write down anything in it. Why a multi-pen? Because I use the different colours to represent different things. Right now I’m using green for items, red for personal items, blue for other professional work, and black for anything that doesn’t fall into those categories. That way I have a visual trigger whenever I look at the notebook — I know what item is for what category.

The colours create a firmer connection for me.

I’ll use a junior legal pad or a larger notebook on my desk for outlining, brain dumps, or mind mapping. I won’t transfer stuff from the smaller paper products to these larger ones — those items go directly into my digital task manager (at which point they become part of the larger productivity workflow I use).

There are times when I feel stuck, and that’s when I’ll bring some of the items in my task manager onto the larger paper pad/notebook. This gives me a good view at what I’ve got on tap for the day. Then I’ll evaluate those items in tandem with other factors (energy level, whether it is a heavy-lifting or a light-lifting day, etc.) just to give me a better chance to push through it.

When a smaller notebook is used up, I’ll recycle it. The larger ones get kept because they often have a much longer shelf life (i.e. they aren’t used simply for quick capture).

I’m a notebook fan. Always have been, always will be. I’ve gotten a handle on how to use them best for my workflow. No matter how you choose to use them, it’s a good idea to do so. You just never know when you’ll need to get something out of your head, and notebooks give you the most accessible way to make sure you can.

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