On Notebooks

February 10, 2013 •

What’s the first thing you do when you start a new project that will have a significant analogue component? If you said—“Grab a new notebook!”—then you’re not alone. This need to start a new notebook for every project is fuelled by the desire for organisation. Compared to digital documents, which can be easily copied, aliased, moved, filed, or trashed, going back to paper seems like a giant leap backwards. When you write something in a notebook, that’s it. So you sure as hell better stick it in the right notebook.

This organisational paralysis is completely unecessary, since wherever you write your mind maps, outlines, or doodles, you will be able to liberate them. But knowing that doesn’t really help. We are spoilt by the ubiquity of search for digital information. If the piece of information exists, whether it’s on the internet or your hard drive, you will be able to find it. How can you search a notebook? You could try writing the start and end dates on each notebook. It’s fairly easy to remember the rough period of time you had the idea, so you should be able to find it again if necessary.

Instead of buying more notebooks, I’m going to use the ones I’ve got, cramming them with as much information as I possibly can. And when I run out, I’m going to buy a plain pad of paper. Pads of paper are cheaper and more functional than notebooks. You can stockpile them for volume discounts; but resist the urge to keep starting a new pad for each project. Overpriced notebooks may be alluring, but they don’t make organisation easy. If you have a simple pad of paper (or even better, one with perforated sheets) you can just tear anything useful out and file it somewhere more permanent. Don’t panic if you want to tear something out and not do anything with it. I know that, although minimalism (especially in terms of possesions) has taken hold, getting rid of ideas is hard; it doesn’t need to be. You can treat each sheet of paper like an inbox item, and do it, delegate it, defer it, or delete it!