Notebook Attention Deficit Disorder
February 15, 2017 8:34 AM   Subscribe

I have a bad habit of grabbing any random notepad/notebook/piece of paper/sticky pad at work to take notes at meetings, jot myself a note, create a to-do list, etc., and would like tips, ideas, or suggestions for better organization & workflow.

I have a bad habit of grabbing any random notepad/notebook/piece of paper/sticky pad at work to take notes at meetings, jot myself a note, create a to-do list, etc. As a result I have a highly disorganized and scattered "system" (not really a system) that is not really working for me. I think it comes from liking clean/clear writing surfaces, as a way to ostensibly clear my mind.

Thoughts on how to kick the habit? Or cope better with the habit? Or find a better system? I use a computer heavily at my job, but I'm not very great at typing quickly either so this is probably in part why I gravitate to paper.
Thank you.
posted by ArgyleMarionette to Work & Money (25 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I'm kind of like this, and found that a discbound planner with matching hole punch lets me write on whatever paper I want, punch it, and keep it all in one book. Staples, Office Depot, and Levenger all carry this type of system.
posted by elphaba at 8:39 AM on February 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

I found that a Midori Traveler's Notebook is the best way for dealing with my own multiple notebooks/stickies/loose paper issue. Effectively, I still have multiple notebooks and stickies and loose bits of paper, but since they're all wrapped up within one object they're a lot easier to keep track of and deal with.
posted by Catseye at 8:44 AM on February 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

I got a composition notebook - one of the ones where the pages are stitched together, so nothing falls out. They have them at any drugstore. Important notes that I need to be able to find later go in there, regardless of topic, just all in chronological order. (I use a mini notebook like this, which I carry in my bag everywhere, for stuff like phone numbers, appointments, quick notes after a conversation. For meeting notes or extensive brainstorming, you'd want a bigger notebook.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:46 AM on February 15, 2017

Meant to say: in my mini-notebook, I'll transcribe stuff into the notebook. So I'm not cramming loose paper in there, I'm copying over anything I want to keep and throwing out the loose paper.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:48 AM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I used to staple the random papers into a notebook, but now I take a picture with my phone. Recently I've started using Evernote, but just keeping them in my phone's gallery worked as well because I would delete the picture as soon as I took care of whatever it was (to do lists, meeting notes, story outlines, lesson plan ideas, etc.).
posted by betweenthebars at 8:48 AM on February 15, 2017

I also struggle with this. What I did is :

Limit myself to three notebooks: 1 for meetings, 1 tiny one for my shopfloor walks/accident investigations, and 1 dated planner.

Create a color-coded system using Post-It flags, that stick out of the long end of the notebook. Pink = to-do (when I do the thing, the tag gets removed and thrown away), yellow = meeting notes (I jot the date and type of meeting on it), and blue = informational (site passwords, start date of X improvement I want to track, etc)

If I end up w a Post-It, I stick it to one of the aforementioned notebooks with the proper color flag. Or, if I have a part number I'll need on a piece of packaging, I'll tape it in one of the notebooks with a blue flag. Etc

There is still quite a bit of room for improvement and refinement, but its loads better then the randomness I was doing before.
posted by Fig at 8:51 AM on February 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

You might look into bullet journaling (I am like this, and it is ALMOST a thing I can actually stick with.)
posted by Jeanne at 8:52 AM on February 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

I also use a discbound journal, 5"x8", so that it's rearrangeable and I can make my own pages. I am right-handed, so my mouse/pad is on the right of my keyboard and my journal is on the left. I actually keep it open with the cover clipped to a clipboard, because I really hate floppy writing surfaces, but that also means it's as easy as humanly possible to grab'n'go.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:57 AM on February 15, 2017

I have a smaller Saunders A-Holder Aluminum Form Holder "storage clipboard" (you know, like bike messengers use), and I can rubber-band or clip "any old paper" to it....which makes it easy for me to always remember to use the right notebook.

Since it has a hollow body, I can tuck papers and cards inside it, and the notebook stays on the outside. I really do love it.

I think I got it at WB Mason, but Amazon sells it in a ton of sizes here, and the 5.75" x 9.5" version seems like the ones I use (mostly because I found two cases of fan-fold 5"x9" cards in a storeroom at work that was being thrown away).
posted by wenestvedt at 8:58 AM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Restrain yourself to one notebook. I know, they multiply. But lots of notebooks is the way to madness.

I use a system vaguely inspired by bullet journal, but more lowkey, with the main concepts being to-do lists on right-hand pages and notes on left-hand pages. Rewrite the to-do list every day or every few days, to clean out the old stuff and re-assess priorities. The left-side pages are for anything else I need to write down, occasionally spilling on to the next page or two.

With this system, I get a nice fresh page for notes every time I rewrite my to-do list (2-5 times per week) - depending on how much you write, YMMV whether this is enough for you.
posted by Gordafarin at 9:02 AM on February 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

I have a system that is super simple and super effective: index cards, held together by a binder clip. Having 1 topic/issue/task/reminder per card feels very clean and it is really satisfying to throw out cards as they get done. (As a bonus, jotting down all the to-do's swirling around in your head before bed is a proven technique for better sleep).

Tip: keep 5-minute tasks on top so whenever you have a bit of downtime or just want a break, you can grab a card and get it done.
posted by rada at 9:03 AM on February 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

This depends on personal aesthetic... for instance above suggestion of index cards has me in a straight up panic. YMMV.

I need clean, college lined 8.5 by 11 paper to write on and I have to be able to check back several days or sometimes weeks. That means a spiral notebook for me. Date at the top of every day, write out the to-do list (checking yesterdays' to-do list and notes to see what remains from there) and go from there. Agree with above poster that it is excellent practice to write out the to-dos for the next day at the end of each day, but often more stuff comes in overnight, so the morning to-do list would always have additional items on it.

For meetings, I take my laptop to every one, and I have a google doc for every series of mtgs. Like, whatever, "Planning Committee Mtg" gets one doc, and I take my notes on it in real time, dating each entry. So I can find everything that was said in this series of mtgs in one place. I highlight my own deliverables in yellow.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:40 AM on February 15, 2017

Carry your notebook like your wallet. I've actually put my ccs and cash into the back pocket of my journal so I'm forced to learn the habit of taking it with me. I write everything down in that single journal.

And yes, it's a bullet journal. I drank the kook aid and it is tasty and organized.
posted by Vaike at 9:46 AM on February 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

I struggle with this a lot and have invented my own little system, that while still not 100% perfect helps me keep track of things pretty well. I use a dry erase board instead of a notebook. I still use random notebooks and jot things down on scraps of paper, but I make an effort to transfer this stuff to my dry erase board as soon as I can. I have the board split into two lists “Today” and “Projects”

“Projects” is a list of my projects and the top priorities/to-do items for each. “Today” is where I list the specific things I want to get done today. I have a lot of the same items on both lists. This keeps me from having a bunch of lists and post-it reminders all over. It also helps me keep track of my overall list of tasks, but also prioritize which ones I need to be doing right now/today. Depending on how busy I am or how big the tasks are, I may be rewriting the “today” list every day, but not always. This lets me both have the satisfaction of crossing things off the list and also that nice clean writing surface for a new list. Plus, a dry erase board is hard to misplace - which I always did with notebooks!
posted by Sabby at 10:12 AM on February 15, 2017

I don't have a great system for this but one thing that helps keep some semblance of order is to put the date on everything. Then I can at least order all the random scraps and notepads chronologically, which helps me retrace my thought processes when I'm reviewing things.

You said you prefer paper but the other tool that I use a lot is Workflowy, it's a very simple dynamic outlining tool. Being able to search for things and move them around later and not worry about where precisely to jot my notes helps me be better about actually writing things down in the moment. I've tried a few other systems and Workflowy just seems to mesh with how my brain wants to organize things.
posted by yeahlikethat at 10:19 AM on February 15, 2017

Carrying that one notebook you love everywhere you go is helpful. I, too, am a bullet journaler, used to be like you, and have managed to force myself into using just one notebook by sheer strength of will.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:34 AM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I use a modified version of BuJo as well. I bought a nice Leuchtturm1917 notebook that is small enough to carry and a nice fountain pen that makes me take time to slowly and clearly write. Because of the financial investment, I find that I carry that one clean looking notebook with me everywhere. Benefits to this notebook? It opens flat without damaging the spine and allows maximum writing space. The paper is thick and supports wet ink, and in fact encourages the drying of that ink.

Here's the best piece of advice I can give you: Try and fail. It's about finding what works for you. Don't be afraid to try something and then have to reset if it doesn't work. Don't worry about perfection in your notebooks. Just dive in and start writing in it. The worst you can do is not try.

I wish you the best in your search for notebook precision.
posted by Draccy at 10:41 AM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Workflowy. Oh my god I so love this tool. It's a blank text document that allows you to make infintely nested lists. It just works like your brain works, plus, you already carry your phone around with you every day. No need for a second notebook.

My entire life is in Workflowy, from work extensive projects to shopping lists to general to dos.. If I need it for a meeting I will take my laptop and type straight into it so I don't have to type on my tiny phone. It backs up to Dropbox so it syncs to all your devices. The only reason I don't love paper and pen is because I like to be able to easily reorder stuff via drag and drop, but if you do, you can easily make time each day or week to transer your random pen and paper notes into the correct list in Workflowy.
posted by Brittanie at 11:53 AM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

The only thing that really works for me (and I often fail to do this) is to take all my scattered notebooks once or twice a week and consolidate the notes in one notebook.

Personally, I only like to use graph paper notebooks for this, because you can line up the columns in a really pleasing way.

(Just recently, having not done this for about six months, I went through dozens of phone notes and old notebooks to compile a list of to-dos and assorted notes, and wound up with a list like 100+ items long, everything from 'fix that necklace' to 'get a blood test' to 'call my cousin'. I am more on top of it now because yikes.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:13 PM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I got tired of all the notebooks, scraps of paper and post-its.... and now use Google Keep
I'm not the greatest typist on my phone so I use a combination of that, pictures that I drop into Keep and using the microphone to speak my notes and correct the typos later.
I've got my grocery list that I share with my husband (I love that you can check it off but leave it in the list below the fold and uncheck it when you need to buy it again), lots of to-do lists: personal, work, home maintenance (I share this with my hubby too, he is sometimes startled to see his to-do list doubled when he wasn't looking!).

I put my different packing lists in there and archive them, I bring them back into the main notes when I'm going camping, traveling for work, etc.

I have a places to go/things to do note. When I'm reading about an interesting place or event I just go into that note and use the microphone and log it in.

Of course it has easy transition to other Google stuff, easy copy to google docs etc. Other nifty things about Google Keep are popup reminders for date OR location. It has some of the other normal listy type things of categorizing with color and only seeing that category if you want. Drag & move around what you want to see first when you open Keep.

oh, and I don't have an Android phone, I use it on my iPhone and on my Windows PC.....
posted by IpsoFacto at 4:29 PM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

One way to break the habit is to limit your access to notebooks, pads, post its and other random bits of paper. One notebook and that's it. Or a big day to a page diary (or even a day to an opening - every day a clean page!) that you make all notes in. this has the bonus that you don't have to write the date out, because you make the entry in the right date. But this only works if you don't have too many meetings or it'll fill up too quickly.

For me though, it's helpful to separate notes from meetings and to do lists. It's a little bit of duplication writing out actions from meetings on a to do list but oh well. So I have an A4 notebook for meetings and an A5 notebook for tasks and lists of "things I must raise with the boss about at our next meeting". The A4 notebook is spiral bound but with the perforated sides so you can neatly tear out pages to file with other related papers or scan or throw out without leaving raggedy edges in your notebook. The tasks notebook I keep intact because it's more satisfying to me to see pages of "done" items than ripping out the pages but YMMV.
posted by pianissimo at 4:34 PM on February 15, 2017

Came in to n'th what several others have said: keep one notebook. In grad school, I was trained to keep a laboratory notebook. I did that for a couple of years after I got out, then gravitated to a Franklin Covey planner, where I could tweak categories and get everything "just right." I experimented with online notes, and ended up coming full circle back to the lab notebook about ten years ago, which I've been using ever since. While I don't do the bullet journal thing, I've looked at it and if you are just starting the habit of keeping one notebook, that seems like a pretty good way to get started. I buy decent quality notebooks (over last couple of years, mostly Moleskine Cahier in extra large, quad ruled) so I don't have to worry about ink bleeding through the pages. I've got a nice leather sleeve that keeps the notebook from getting too battered while I'm filling it up. The hardest part of a system like this is learning to not be afraid to fill the notebook up with the most banal stuff, like grocery lists if a meeting gets boring or reminders to call your dentist.
posted by kovacs at 6:20 PM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

One notebook. This is mine. All notes go into this and you just have to flip back through a few pages to find what you're looking for. I probably have one at the office and one for home and never the twain shall meet.

For temporary notes, shopping lists, morning reminders, I have scrap paper cut into quarters that I clip together with binder clips and recycle every day.

The system is broken down into short-term and long-term - it works for me.
posted by bendy at 8:59 PM on February 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I use a small notebook or transcribe directly into evernote, tagging as I go.
posted by canine epigram at 12:34 AM on February 16, 2017

I have this problem, sometimes more extremely than others. Sometimes I need to have a clean sheet of A4 folded in half, and I work on that in portrait orientation on all 4 sides, and nothing else is possible for me to work with. Other times I'm more extreme, with large sheets of brown paper and Sharpie marker. I also have notebooks (I'm partial to quad-rule composition books or local equivalent), but sometimes the only thing that will work for me is the loose sheets of paper thing. This is even for dissertation-sized projects.

I have given in to this. It works. When that is what I need, that is what I need, and it works, and I function better and write more freely and I'm more productive and feel better and all. My method for organising this becomes stacks/piles/stratigraphic filing, and when I need to corral things I have a lot of pouches that zip shut, which tend to get maintained in chronological or themed order (and they come with various zipper colours, which helps), and I can find things pretty well. For my desk, I need to have a survey/clear-out from time to time to re-orient myself, but once things make it into the zip pouches they stay pretty well organised and findable.
posted by you must supply a verb at 4:56 AM on February 16, 2017

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