Working Tools 19. – The Pocket Notebook

The Pocket Notebook

The original personal data assistant.

I use a combination of digital and analogue tools, which is not a policy decision, rather it depends which tool is right for the job. I wrote about my range of notebooks back in January. The primary function of the pocket notebook for me is data capture, and for that, I consider it unbeatable. I’m very seldom without a notebook and pen.

I’m aware that I could take a note on my phone, but I rarely do.

Why not?

  1. Process versus outcome. Field Notes have a tag line: “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.” It’s the act of making the note that is important for me. It cements that otherwise fleeting thought. Often, I don’t need to refer back to my notebook, I automatically recall what I wrote. This is less true of things I have typed.
  2. Efficiency. I hand write much faster than I can type on a phone. I could dictate I suppose, but people think I’m weird enough without me wandering around mumbling into my phone all the time.
  3. Presence. I do not buy into the idea that screens are destroying the world, but I absolutely know that a smart phone can undermine and divert human attention. In the pocket is better than on the table, I find.
  4. Musing. Doodling. I draw very poorly, but from time to time, I get something from making marks on paper. It soothes me. (Told you I was weird.)
  5. Availability. My notebook is always on, and never loses power. Should my pen or pencil disappear or fail, it’s usually quite easy to replace. A phone, less so.
  6. Archive. I’m old enough to have learned that digital data is transient and impermanent. How many people had their lives backed up and preserved on floppy disks, video cassettes, and CDs? How many dissertations survive only in digital formats that can no longer be easily read? Sure, we can migrate data to newer formats every few years, but who does? I could lose my notebooks, or they could be destroyed, but a disaster apart, they will be just as legible in twenty years as they are now.
  7. Hashtag. Pick your favourite. #amwriting, #hipster, #analog. It was pocket notebooks that got me back into stationery – so much in fact, that I bought a notebook business. There are some really cool notebooks out there. (Most of them @NerosNotes)


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#BulletJournal #BuJo


I regret to report that the star of my last post, Samuel has still not signed up for the blog. I suspect that his emergency business trip has kept him busy.

The laptop is re-listed on eBay, so there is every chance I will have another long exchange with a fraudster. If I do, I’ll report back.

#BulletJournal. If you have not heard of this system, you can find out more at this excellent website. I am experimenting with several analogue productivity tools, and the bullet journal is the latest.

For the moment, I will not show you any of the internal pages. I need to learn how to electronically obscure some of the more private data.


This is my index so far.

I use the # symbol for collections. These are pages where I track specific things. There is a log of my postal correspondence (if you are under 30, google ‘Letters’), a log of things that I am waiting for, a reading list and ideas for blog posts. I will soon add a habit tracker.

The BulletJournal, for me, acts as daily task manager, note capture space, and reference hub. I don’t use it much as a calendar or for reflective journaling. That’s my choice. Despite my love for the analogue approach to many things – I have yet to discover something that can compete with an electronic calendar. Accessible from anywhere, and most importantly, shareable.

Every day, I “rapid log”. I write down things that I need to get done, things that I need to remember, or just observations. It’s quick, it’s easy and forgiving. It doesn’t interrupt my flow. As I go through the day, items get ticked off, crossed out or processed in another way. At the end of the day, or maybe even at the end of the week, I review the logs.

This review is the key exercise. This is where I sweep up all open bullets and either carry them forward or deem them no longer relevant. There are no loose ends. The system has mechanisms for deferring and scheduling bullets, which can be as simple or as complicated as you wish. For me, the critical thing is to stop using my brain to store data, but to act on things.

The #BulletJournal system rewards. There is something very satisfying closing out a day with every bullet dealt with.

Yes, I know that there are some amazing apps for this. I own a decent share of them. Todoist, To do, Wonderlist, Any.Do are all brilliant and I have used them in the past. For me they all lapse quite quickly, as they cover only the task function. I then need to use another app for the notes. Somehow, pen and paper engages me more. It feels like commitment.

Ultimately, being productive and organised comes from within. Not from a book, or from a system.

Speaking personally, I need all the help I can get.

Bye Bye Desktop


I have posted about how I am becoming a little more analogue in my approach to life.

I felt that technology was beginning to dominate and dictate my days. Through a combination of electronic tools, I was always connected and always looking at one or more screens. I decided to reassess how I used all these wonderful gadgets. First, I swapped my iPhone for a ‘dumb’ mobile phone – one that works just as a telephone.

My next target was my desktop at home, where I sit to write. The picture above shows how dominating the computer is – both in terms of real estate and visual impact. The iMac is a beautiful piece of kit – and its screen demands attention. Attention that I very often gave it.

Below, is how my desk looks now.


Quite Zen isn’t it?

I still have access to my electronic life – I am writing this post on my MacBook.

The laptop sits either on the slide out shelf under the main desktop – or in a book stand to the side. I open the laptop out when I specifically want to use it: At other times – I use the desk to write letters or notes with a pen, on paper.

How novel.