Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My Notebook System

I love the idea of having only one notebook.  It would probably be a sophisticated leather-bound affair, with creamy unlined pages.  The cover would be soft and worn with use.  The notebook itself would have multiple sections - one for journalling, one for miscellaneous notes, one for keeping track of the books I read, and so on.  Accompanying the notebook would be a simple pen case, containing perhaps only a couple wooden pencils, a vintage fountain pen, a multi-pen with gel refills, and not much else.  I appreciate simplicity and minimalism, so the idea of one notebook is very attractive.  However, it is not, so far, a reality for me.

In reality, I have multiple notebooks, multiple pens and pencils, and multiple pen cases, all of them equally stuffed full, and I still find myself acquiring more, although not quite as much these days as I once did.  However, I have gradually developed something of a notebook system: a series of notebooks, each with a distinct use.  This system, although it does not quite fit my ideal of simplicity embodied in the single notebook, is still an improvement over my previous notebook "system."  This earlier "system" was not really a system at all, as it consisted merely of a random collection of notebooks, acquired haphazardly over the years, with many of them overlapping in purpose.  I wrote a bit about this "system" in my post wondering how many notebooks were too many.

Now, my current system is far from ideal either.  It still includes what I feel is simply too many notebooks, and some of the notebooks still overlap slightly in their uses.  However, I hate to retire any notebook until it is entirely filled up, so there are still a number of older notebooks hanging on in the system, even though they are no longer necessary parts of it.  As these older notebooks are gradually used up, I will be able to simplify my system further and, hopefully, take more small steps towards my ideal of one notebook (or at least fewer notebooks than I use now).

But enough said about all that.  Let's get on to the notebooks that are in my system:

These four notebooks are probably the core of the system.  From left to right, they are:
  • Draft notebook (Hilroy 1-subject Notebook): As I mentioned in my last post on writing pen reviews, I typically write drafts (of blog posts or other things) out by hand before typing them up.  The cheaper the notebook I use for this, the better.  That way I have no fears about writing whatever comes to mind, I can cross things out, scribble, doodle in the margins, whatever.  And once the blog posts are typed up and published, the old pages are torn out of the notebook.
  • Journal (unlined Rhodia Webnotebook)
  • Sketchbook (Heinz Jordan Permanent Sketchbook)
  • Commonplace book (Paperblanks Journal): This notebook is used to collect quotes, poems, lists, etc.  Read more about commonplace books in the terrific article over at D*I*Y Planner.

The following three notebooks are also a part of the system, but are not quite as essential as the previous four.  They may also not be permanent parts of the system, and one day they may be combined with some of the previous four notebooks.

  • Art journal/gluebook (large notebook beneath the other two): Probably one day this will be combined with my sketchbook to become an art journal/sketchbook that includes drawings, sketches, painting, and collages.  It makes less and less sense to have them separate, but it works for now.
  • Tarot journal (left; Clairefontaine Minuscule): Used to chronicle my current work with Tarot.  Probably not a permanent part of the system.
  • Book journal (right; Banditapple Carnet): I'll be writing about this more in a future post, but basically it's a notebook that I use to keep track of the non-fiction books that I read.  It's still a bit experimental, and I'm not yet sure if it's going to work out or remain in the system.

Finally, the next five notebooks are those "hangers on" that I mentioned earlier.  They're still in use, but they're not really part of the system anymore:

From left to right, they are:
  • Poetry book (blue floral notebook): This is a notebook that I use to collect poems that I like.  Essentially, it is just another commonplace book and when it is filled up, it will be replaced with my regular commonplace book that I discussed above.
  • Field notebook (Rite in the Rain Journal): I used this notebook when I was in university for field trips (which were frequently wet, rainy, muddy, and/or dirty), but I don't really have a use for it anymore.  I'm not sure what I'll do with it now.
  • Poetry journal (green notebook): This is where I write my poetry, but the small size makes me feel too constrained to really let loose.  Some journal entries have crept into it as well, so I may combine it with my journal, or perhaps find a larger notebook to use.
  • Notebook for miscellaneous notes (Quo Vadis Habana): I like the idea of having a notebook for miscellaneous thoughts and notes that don't fit into any of the other notebooks, but in practice I don't really seem to have any miscellaneous thoughts.  Or they just end up in my journal.  So I'm not really sure what's going to happen with this notebook either.
  • Quote notebook (black notebook with stickers): Similar to the poetry notebook, this notebook is used to collect short quotes, and will also likely be replaced by my commonplace book.

So there you have it!  That is my notebook system!  As you can see, it is constantly evolving and is still very much a work in progress.  As old notebooks are used up, I am continually simplifying and condensing multiple notebooks into one.  I've listed twelve notebooks here; in time, these could probably be condensed down to six, or maybe even five.  That's still more than one, but I'm getting there.

What about you?  Do you use one notebook, or many notebooks?  Do you have a notebook system?  If so, how has your notebook system evolved over time?  Does anyone else get as obsessive as me about how they use their notebooks?


  1. It's very gratifying to see someone with a notebook system even more extensive than my own. I will say that with time came simplicity: I used to have about 10 notebooks going at one time, but several have fallen by the wayside and several more got merged into a pocket notebook that I carry everywhere, simply because I lost the time to use them or lost the motive for the purpose they had been assigned.

    But! Reading this I want to go hunt down the rest of those notebooks and fill them up. Because I hate that I have half-finished books laying around... :-)

    1. Half-finished notebooks haunt me... They just feel so sad and lonely, languishing on the shelves with all those empty pages yet to be filled....

      I hope that my system will simplify over time as yours has though. But I just need to fill up all those old notebooks, and I think I'll be a lot closer.

  2. Hi!
    I just use one notebook for everything. To keep track of things I put post-it flags on the pages and use different colours for writing various entries. It is very satisfying to fill one notebook and start in another one. It usually takes me about 2 months to fill one.
    My drafts for stories I tend to write on loose sheets(lined and preferably wide ruled) because you can throw away things more easily when you're not completely satisfied.


    1. Thanks, FB! I love your description of how you organize your notes in your single notebook. That is the kind of system that I would like to develop for myself one day... if I ever fill up the multiple notebooks that I'm using now, that is.

  3. It's delightful to know that there are others out there like me...with many notebooks all in use at once and all with particular jobs. For me, some of them are for writing (calligraphy, business, dreams, etc.) and others for artwork (and those get very esoteric based on paper and art technique and sometimes topic too.) I really thought I was the only one who did this! It is quite a relief to hear that I am not alone. Cheers! :-)

    1. Not to worry, Sara! You are definitely not alone! And as much as I love the idea of one notebook, I suspect that I may always use more than one at once, just because I use my notebooks for so many different purposes.

    2. i feel better about myself now!! i thought i had some strange illness for notebooks thanks guys take care regards mark wightwick

  4. I feel so validated now. I do my morning pages in spiral notebooks. I also have a large and a small Moleskine reporter that capture random journal entries during the day. The small reporter is also used for quotes I want to keep. I tried using for my day to day stuff, but it didn't work out. I have another small Moleskine that I capture the weather, food for the day, financial inflows/outflows and a brief description of the day's events (Just started this and I really like it.) I also have a small Apica that I use for notes on planning and planning systems.

    I love the idea of having a Commonplace book, so I should find a nice large notebook for this. I scored a lot of small notebooks marked down at Target recently, so I'm in good shape there. We all could use a good excuse to buy more notebooks (and fountain pens)!

    1. Ah yes, perhaps that is the true reason why I seem to need so many notebooks - just to give myself more excuses to buy more! I like your description of your notebook system as well, especially your notebook that you use to track the weather, food, etc. It is fascinating to read how everyone has a slightly different method of chronicling their lives.

      Thanks for the comment, Teri!

  5. i too would love to have just one book. so far, i've come as close to it as i ever have. currently i use a personal sized filofax. i know it's not for everyone, the rings can get in the way and the whole thing becomes enormous if you go to a nice practical a5 drawing size. but i love having my one book with me for stuff i need to do today, movie lists, book lists, art to see, things i want to make, random notes, quotes, resolutions, etc etc etc. it's nice to be able to move things around and take things out and that sort of thing. although just because i USE one book at a time doesn't mean that i haven't also somehow aquired a bit of a collection as sometimes i want to carry only a pocket (starting to feel that way reight now) or the personal or the a5 (only once) or maybe some colour (i tend to love black) or maybe some texture. i guess a notebook addict is a notebook addict. regardless i enjoy having my own current system and it somehow makes things i 'have' to do today more fun especially when all i have to do is turn the page and i can doodle or write some silly haiku

    1. Thanks for the comment, SNARLing. I have also considered using a filofax or binder of some sort. The ability to move things around and take things out of the book would indeed be useful, but there is something about the permanence of a bound notebook that appeals to me more. Everyone seems to find their own system that works for them...

  6. Hi guys.I also use only one notebook.I like to have all my things together.I keep it as a journal,planner,put pictures in,write notes,etc.The problem is I am still looking for the ideal one with as many pages as possible.My ideal is to have at least 300 pages,meaning 600 pages with 300 lists.I found one ,it is called Miquelrius,it has 300 lists,it is a small shares which i love but it is too small for me,the size is 6x8.I would love to have double the size.It is difficult to write in because too many pages and such a small format.So i am still looking.
    But there is one thing that still bothers me.I like to have this notebook/planner forever.Yep,sounds funny,i know.But soon or later not even half full i just stop writing in it and look for another one.So i have millios of them,well around 30-40 not even half full which i hate.But cannot do anything about it.
    Does anybody know about notebook with some minimum of 250,ideal 300 lists with the size 12x18 something?Thank you.Dita

    1. I think its crazy that you want one that big!!!!!!!!I write in,like 4 by 3 (or 5,6,Etc.)journals!!!!!!!!!!!!!But,like everyone else commented,we all hhave our own unique systems.if you want something huge i reccoment the worlds thickest itallian leather journal from guessed it, thickest you can buy.pretty big,too.if not,i'm sure you can find something on epica that will suit you.theyre a bit of a bank buster though,so be careful.good luck :)!!!!

  7. Bullet Journal. All I need to say. Just Google it.

    1. I actually found out about the Bullet Journal several months ago, and have been using my own modified form of it since the beginning of this year. You can read about it here:

  8. I have a system that has more or less become a default for me. I use a regular composition book as my main book.

    The first few pages are for a monthly overview for the current month quarter. In the remaining first half I write out a day planner, one page per day. Everything goes in that notebook that is appointment related. I also use the right hand margin to record water and food intake as well as write my weight for the day. Tasks get entered from the bottom of the page up with a check box to mark once completed. For my uses, two months usually works just fine.

    The second half of the book is literally whatever I encounter. Customer calls, journal, doodles, sketches, takeoffs from blueprints (lists of products I can bid on), quotes, comments, observations, etc. Each item that has any sort of task related to it gets a check box that I mark off when complete.

    At anywhere from 25 cents to 3 dollars each I can afford to go through them frequently, and writing some of the same info into the new book helps to solidify it in my mind.

    At the same time, as I may not always have the comp book with me, I keep some sort of smaller book as a place to jot things down till I can move them to the comp book. Sort of an inbox/ capture point. Especially helpful when on the motorcycle as I can keep it in the pocket of my jacket. Receipts tend to go in here as do workouts while at the gym seeing as it fits in my gym shorts nicely.

    I will use either a multi pen or a sharpie fine point. I like both and switch back and forth every now and then. This is what my system inevitably defaults to. Ive tried other formats and notebook sizes, but this has always worked the best for me and so it is what I return to time after time.


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