I am a big fan of analogue note-taking. I can type faster than I can write (well I could last time I measured it). Typed text is searchable, spell checkable, editable and all the other benefits of digital. Handwriting is more tactile and more suited to my non-linear thinking. For me, a mind map on paper is so much more powerful and immediate than using a tool in spite of the benefits of the tools for mind mapping. With written notes on paper, it is much easier to add modifiers (icons or pictograms for actions, follow-ups, questions etc) and draw arrows to link concepts. Handwritten notes also make doodling easier either to help explain something or to occupy my mind. Writing in a notebook in meetings is also more socially acceptable – everyone assumes the person pecking away on their keyboard is not taking meeting notes even on the rare occasion they are.
There is a significant challenge with notebooks though. One that I only found a solution to when I discovered Bullet Journaling. With a notebook it is difficult to keep track of multiple different topics. At school this can be different lessons. In work this can be various projects or clients.
Solutions that don’t work: a brief summary
Loose leaf ring binders: pages drop out and go missing, unless it is a 4 or more ring binder the holes end up getting torn and pages lost. Admittedly this is the approach I sued at uni as the paper is cheaper than nice notebooks.
Start at the front and the back: This approach is great if you need to track two topics and it uses the whole notebook. One theme starts at the front and works to the end. The other begins at the end and works to the front. When they meet it’s time for a new notebook. When I started work, I had a single project and also staff management. Notes relating to the project were at the front and the staff related notes were at the back. It can’t handle more than 2 topics though.
Assign sections: If you can guess as to how much space each topic needs then each topic can start anywhere in a notebook. This can be quite wasteful as you never guess correctly. It does open the chance for pretty page tabs and an excuse to browse a stationery store when an urgent deadline is looming.
Multiple notebooks: It is possible to have a notebook for every topic. I tried this for a while with a reasonable amount of success. If you always know what topic you are going to need to cover then it works. If you find yourself going from meeting to meeting you have to carry lots of books around. And you inevitably find yourself in a meeting with the wrong books. And then you lose one you’ve not used for a while. Even if you don’t lose one, you can spend hours wondering in which book you wrote that significant phone number.
How to organise with a single notebook
The answer is simple: threading. What? I hear you say. The easiest way to make this work is with a notebook with numbered pages and ideally an index at the front. You can number the pages as you go.
Threading in action
The first page in my notebook is typically essential numbers. Key phone numbers, project budget codes, national insurance number, basically anything I might need to recall and not be able to remember. So I fill these in one page 1 and in the index put “Key numbers” so I know where to find it,.
I usually put an A5 printed calendar on either page 2, so I have a list of dates as I can never remember them. I have started putting this on the inside front cover more recently as the pages then turn easier – so this goes in the index.
The next free page gets a list of critical useful pages from my last notebook – that will not make sense yet so we will come back to it.
Each time I need to take notes I start on the next blank page and put an entry in the index to cover what it is. So the index might read:
1 Key numbers
2 2019 calendar
3 Useful pages from the last book
4-9 Project x notes
10-27 Training course notes from course y
28 Project z notes
Next time I come to take notes on project x I can either add a new line on the bottom of the index or I can add to the line that says 4-9 Project x notes so it reads:
4-9 Project x notes, 29
This stops the index getting too long. As I do this on the bottom right of page 9 I draw a little right-pointing arrow and next to it put p29. On the bottom left of page 29, I put a left-pointing arrow and a p9. This means when I am reviewing my notes on the project I can go to the index and see all the pages related to it and when I am reading a page I can see where the previous and next pages of notes are. This is threading.
With this approach, I can have a large number of different topics covered in a single notebook. I don’t waste any pages and I can find all the notes related to a particular topic.
My favourite notebooks are the LEUCHTTURM1917 A5 dotted books. They have numbered pages and an index. The dots make it easy to write text or do drawings