Okay, the last two letters have been pretty heavy, considering the subject matter, and I feel the need to throw something lighter in here. We are all about the hot takes and shitposts and fluffy productivity hacks here, AS WELL AS overthrowing global hierarchies. Both? Both!
In that spirit, here is my favourite fluffy productivity hack: ye olde notebook. Pen and paper. There is something about the act of handwriting that helps me organize thoughts in my head.
(On a tangent, I wonder if that will still be the same for generations who grew up post-smartphone — if they’ll have the same kind of hand-to-brain connection with a pen, or if thumb typing on a little 3" x 5" lighted square will do the trick? I’ve tried it, and it works well enough for me as far as actual writing, but the fragments don’t flow in any meaningful way like they do in a notebook. It’s a bunch of solo notes that shuffle themselves around at will. As for the actual Reminder function (yeah, yeah, there’s an app for that, I know) — it’s not the same, ok? If I don’t get an alert, it’s a little too out of sight/out of mind, and if I do set an alert, it’s always pinging me at the wrong time which just encourages me to ignore it.)
(I think those are the most succinct points I’ve ever written on why all the note taking apps I’ve tried just don’t work as well as the damn notebook… although I’ve yet to try Roam, it definitely has my interest piqued.)
Here’s how I set up my notebooks. I like cheap notebooks with that thin, shattery glass paper texture — nothing fancy. I don’t do any complicated bullet journalling stuff, although I’m totally happy if it works for you! I just haven’t gotten into it. This is the method I’ve found that’s the best intersection of simplicity and reference points.
I leave a blank page at the beginning of each notebook so I can list important things as I come across them — kind of a Table of Contents (more on this in a minute).
I write a page or two each day, with the date at the top. Might be my to-do lists, my bill payments, notes from podcasts I’m listening to, ideas for stories or other things. The things I want to get out of my head so I can remember them — and also the things I want to get out of my head so I can forget them.
When I write something in my daily pages that I might want to find later, I add a line to the front Table of Contents list with the relevant date.
I use the back of the book for a second set of reference notes. When I’m reading an article or listening to a podcast and taking notes, I add it to the reference list at the back and give it a number. I put the number by the notes (like, circled in the margin) so I don’t have to write the reference down twice. This puts all my “footnotes” in one list, at the back, cross-referenced by the date I took the notes.
Finally, when I start a new notebook, I go back through the last one and pick out the most important ideas and mindset changes I want to carry through to the next one. (This is the best part.) I write all of these highlights at the beginning of the new notebook.
It’s not as efficient as a cross-referenced database, I’ll give you that. But in some way I like that the things I write get left behind. I like that they get lost unless I really want to sit down and look for them. It’s a feature, not a bug — anything really important gets carried forward or transferred to a dedicated project file. The rest of it is just useful compost. And when I do look back, these notebooks have helped me see how far I’ve come in six months or a year, even though it often feels like not much has changed day-to-day.
Do you use a notebook, or a productivity/journaling app? How has it helped you?