The notebook: analogue in a digital world

I am definitely one of life’s note-takers. Over time, keeping notes has become one of the most important practices in helping me to live an intentional life, seek purpose and work effectively. Whether I’m in a meeting, at church, in a cafe or whatever, I always have a notebook with me. I write things down because I like to record them and I write things down so that I don’t forget.

In one form or another, I’ve kept a regular notebook for a number of years. It’s taken me quite a while and a lot of experimentation to get to a comfortable point, but I finally have note-taking system which works for me. My notebook is a log of things that happen in my life, captured as they happen. It is my place to:

  • Record lists of things I need to do (there’s a system for that too, of which more later)
  • Capture notes from meetings, conferences and seminars
  • Plan out my daily lists of tasks and appointments
  • Capture pieces of information (facts, phone numbers etc.) as I learn them
  • Reflect on things I’ve learned from books, audio books, podcasts and videos
  • Sketch out and/or mind-map ideas and plans (for this blog, for instance)

Each notebook grows into quite an eclectic collection of data and comes with me more or less everywhere I go. It’s my dashboard for life and my repository of key information – I am pretty lost without it!

So why, as someone who loves technology and new innovations do still rely on such an old-fashioned tool? Well it’s true, there are some superb apps out there which make taking and organising notes a breeze. I’ve tried a lot of them and found the convenience and ability to search notes to be very useful. But… I keep on coming back to pen and paper.

There is something in that living, analogue process that clicks for me in a way that apps and laptops don’t; writing things down helps me to remember and to process in a way that the typed word does not. When I write a page of notes, I can still picture what they look like for a long time afterwards. The same isn’t true of an Apple, Google or Evernote entry.

The notebook itself changes organically with use as it evolves from new, crisp and pristine to a weathered, dog-eared old friend. I genuinely love the battered appearance of some of my old notebooks and flicking back through them takes me right back to where and when I made a given entry. Again, this helps to anchor the things I’ve needed to learn or remember.

A post on notebooks wouldn’t be complete without talking about the tools themselves. I’ve used a whole bunch of different books over the years, but most important for me, a good notebook must be pocketable. If it’s inconvenient to carry, I’ll leave it at home and that really does defeat the object. Currently I’m using some A6 sketchbooks that I bought in TK Maxx for £2.50 each and I’ve had superb results with small softback books which were only 3 for £1.00 in Tiger. I’ve tried Leuchtturn, Moleskine and the like and they are wonderful products. However, I find them just too nice to be a general day-to-day book – I fill books up too quickly and batter them too much, I’m afraid! One exception to this is for the notes I take at work. For those I use cheap A4 lined pads and every time I fill one up (roughly every 6 to 8 weeks), I scan the pages into a single PDF, creating a convenient online record of meetings and other notes. Having tried many, many other options, my go-to pen is the Pilot G2 0.7mm in black. They are simple, cheap (when bought in bulk), robust and they write nicely – everything that I need in a daily pen.

Never tried taking regular notes?  Grab a book and pen (any sort will do and probably the cheaper the better to start with) and give it a go. Take it everywhere and write down anything that pops up. If digital is your thing and you’d rather use Evernote or Google Keep (both superb note taking tools) then go for it. In reality, the medium is less important than the practice itself. Google around for ideas and inspiration, especially the notebooks and journals of famous people.

I’ll also be posting some ideas of my own in the near future, but the most important thing is that you start! As the writer Neil Gaiman (who, incidentally writes all of his novels by hand) said:

“The only thing which cannot be fixed is a blank page.”

Begin. Then having begun, refine your own system as you go.

My personal notebook is genuinely one of the most indispensable tools I own. I hope you find keeping one as beneficial as I do and I’d love to hear how you get on.


2 thoughts on “The notebook: analogue in a digital world

  1. I keep coming back to pen and paper for note taking too – I also have a couple of Leuchtturn books, the paper is fountain pen friendly which is nice, although I also use the Pilot G2 a lot too. Moleskines are nice because they lay very flat, but the paper is far from fountain pen friendly. Interested to hear what method you use for note taking & jotting down actions – I’ve been using ‘dash/plus’ for years now and it works out pretty well for me. Having said that, my notebooks are a real mess so I periodically transfer actions and notes to the computer to have them organised and searchable. I should really get more organised!

  2. Thanks very much for your comment!

    I was really disappointed with the quality of Moleskine paper generally but have never had the same issue with Leuctturm at all. My only struggle was the price of the damn things when I was filling one up every couple of months with mainly work notes! I keep one now solely as my journal for the year so it’ll last longer.

    For work notes I use cheap, spiral bound A4 books and when I fill one, I scan it in file the PDF. Though not searchable in the truest sense, it never takes me long to find what I need. For my own personal notes I keep small A6 notebooks or sketchpads and jot down anything I need to remember.

    If I find anything interesting online or really NEED searchable access to a note, I put them in Google Keep. Andy things to do go in Todoist, which is a game-changer of a productivity app for me. I’ve tried so many methods over the last five years or so (Bullet Journaling etc.) and my system is ever evolving! I guess that’s natural though and all part of the fun.

    I’ll post more about my system soon.

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