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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Working tools 7 – Notebooks

Mike Hurley and Federico Viticci, two of my favourite podcasters, are fans of the “multi-pad lifestyle”. I believe the phrase may have been coined on Cortex, a show that Mike does with CGP Grey, but don’t quote me on that.

I live the multi-pad lifestyle too. They, of course, are talking about iPads. I’m talking about pads. Paper ones. You know, like notebooks. I use a lot of notebooks.

Notebooks
A small selection

Current Setup

Let me give you an insight.

1. I carry a pocket notebook and a writing instrument everywhere. When I wake, it is beside my bed. Then, it lives in my pocket or by my side all day. I use it to record anything and everything. An observation, a thought, an aide-memoire.

2. Bullet Journal is my daily driver. A free-format planner if you like. I track things in here and it serves as my task list and time-blocker.

3. Scratch pad or book. Sitting at my desk, I often think things out on paper. Or doodle. If I do this in the Bullet Journal, I would burn through them.

4. Novel Kit. I use medium/A5 size cahiers. These often come in three packs and I use a pack per novel. One is for plot, one is for characters and one is for research.

5. Learning. A medium or large book that lives in my office. I passionately believe in the importance of learning. Whether that be how to use an app, edit a photo or edit a website, I love to learn. I have one book for media skills, one for corporate compliance stuff and one for Greek language.

6. Procedures. Not the most exciting, but I have discovered that I have an enormous capacity to forget things. This leads to a loop of discovery, implementation, amnesia, which whilst fun, is not terribly efficient. I have started writing these up, and they exist in notebooks and digitally. I imagine that the more team-oriented ones will live in the digital world, whereas my own, – say, photography workflow, will live in a book.

7. Standard Memorandum. Here I record a single thought every day.

You can see why I bought a notebook company.

Benefits

Part of this extensive use is, I concede, a vehicle to allow me to use lovely stationery, but it does serve other purposes too.

I need to make space in my head. Getting things down on paper, allows me to forget them. Once one trusts the system, then having written something down, I can forget it and come back to it at a time that suits me. This is a key element of the Get Things Done methodology and many other productivity frameworks.

I find that taking notes helps me maintain attention. If I don’t, I am more than capable of completely blanking a fifteen minute video.

Reference: Not only can I refer back to notebooks as reminders, I can get a glimpse of what I was doing and feeling at specific times.

Notebooks are important to my workflow. It helps that I love them too.

J is for Journal

Journal

I keep a journal.

In the past, I used a brilliant app called Day One. This allowed me to update from my computer, my iPad and even my phone. I could ‘geo-tag’, add photos, a soundtrack even.

Now, I use a fountain pen and a notebook.

Keeping a journal helps me stay grounded and focused. I don’t have a prescriptive format for the journal. I may write a single line one day and five pages the next. I may celebrate the successes of the day or lament the failures. I may simply record events without judgement. I have a friend (No, I do, really), who writes entries with titles like ‘Carthago delenda est’. Cato the elder, I think.

Initially, I wrote entries in the mornings. However, I found that writing a journal put me in a wistful, contemplative state, which is not ideal when I have things to get done, so now I write in the evenings.

If you don’t keep a journal – consider it. It is scientifically proven that you will be more attractive to the opposite sex if you keep a journal.

OK, I made that last bit up – but keeping a journal will help you understand where your time is going, and time is one thing that we can never get back.

B is for Bureau Direct

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I blogged yesterday about Amanda, my writing buddy. (Her excellent blog is here)

She introduced me to Bureau Direct purveyors of fine stationery. They have become my ‘dealers’. No, seriously – this stationery stuff is addictive.

I have graduated to the hard stuff. Daily, I am taking a big hit of notebook – in fact this post began in a Rhodiarama. I’m a habitual Rhodia user and I sometimes cut in some Clairefontaine too. To change things up, I sometimes move away from the French gear and get a bit Teutonic – there is nothing wrong with a Leuchtturm 1917 now and again. It really is that bad.

Bureau Direct understand the link between creativity and stationery. With a good notebook and a fountain pen, I can instantly transport myself to different worlds, where the only rules are ones that I decree. The website is excellent, the deliveries are prompt and the customer service absolutely superb – but have a care. Once bitten, you might find yourself compulsively going back for more. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you!

When finally, my time comes, some poor soul will be in my garage scratching his head;

“The wine, I understand. But what on earth did this guy needs thirty two thousand notebooks for?”