Setting Up Your Notebook

For me, the most daunting part of starting a notebook is deciding what to do with it. I used to live in constant fear that I would have this amazing new journal and use it for the ‘wrong’ thing. I was afraid to fill up the first few pages and then change my mind. I still live with this fear when I am gifted journals and notebooks. There is no real solution when you’re sitting at your desk with that first stark page staring at you. However, you can usually avoid this issue by choosing the topic before you choose the notebook.

Yes, if you see the coolest design on the cover of a notebook at Staples, or a journal at Michael’s, and think you know what you want to use it for, get it! But for more serious endeavors, those where functionality is more important than appearance, choose the topic for the notebook before you buy it.

Now lets say you have two categories of your life that you’re working on today. The first is your job, and the second is a new class you’re starting next week. There are different approaches for each of these areas, and they differ further based on the specifics only you know. A notebook or journal for work can be extremely useful. It can be a small handy way to reference information later. Let’s assume that you’re using the notebook to keep track of items said in different meetings for later reference. Here are some things to consider for setting up this notebook:

1.) Sizing/Spacing

Questions: How big are the pages? And how much do you anticipate you will write for each meeting?

Reasoning: If you have a regular wide- or college-ruled notebook and the meetings last half an hour, its unlikely you’ll fill the entire page every meeting. It would burn through a lot of paper to have one meeting per page. However, if the meeting are detailed, larger pages are better.

Take AwayDecide before you start on how much approximate space each item will take up. One meeting to a page, etc. Decide how to cope with the possibility of overflow from a previous page onto the next.

2.) Organization of Information

Questions: How do you receive the information you’re writing down? How much information is included? Is the way it is presented to you structured, or does it meander?

Reasoning: If you’re writing notes from a well-organized presentation, it is easy to highlight important points from what they show you. It is even easier if you’re sent the presentation afterwards. However, what if the presentation is not well structured, or someone goes back to an earlier point? Knowing how you want to sort the information in advance is very, very important.

Take Away: Choose a way to bullet or list information. Decide if you’re going to number items or otherwise in advance. Once you’ve picked a pattern, stick to it! I highly recommend making a key for yourself. I write one on a sticky note and put it on the front or back cover of my notebooks so I always remember the pattern style I chose, even if it has been a while since I used it last.

For work notebooks, these two concepts are typically the most crucial to consider. The overall point, however, is to consider as many factors that could come up during use before they do. Not considering in advance, formatting, page alignments, etc. are the things that often lead people to abandon their organizational practices, especially when they’re not required, like in a work settings.

Now consider the second category you’re working on: your school notebook. The same questions and thoughts above apply, but there’s more things to consider. Will you create a table of contents to help you find a topic before an exam? How will you break up chapters and sections? We could list questions like these for hours and still not cover all of the possibilities. The main takeaway is learning to think and consider all factors in your notebook/journal use before you begin writing, no matter how small the topic is. It’s difficult at the start, but it will increase your note-taking endurance, consistency, and proficiency long-term.

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