I use paper a lot. I think on paper. I fill up multiple notebooks per year with notes, planning, clarifying and working things out on paper.
It dawns on me that few people talk explicitly about how they use their notebooks, and fewer still write about it to share advantages.
I'm not going to write a treatise on notebook usage -- but I've got three tips I've adopted that I think are uncommon.
1. Blank Line At The Very Top
I always skip the first line of a piece of paper. This might sound small, but I find it makes notebooks much easier to skim rapidly for topics and have the headlines stand out. I'll also often write notes and comments later in a different color pen, and having the top line free means I can write a summary line or an update in red or blue. This is the least radical idea here, but maybe the most useful.
2. When turning the page of the notebook, start on the right and leave the left blank.
Same idea and reasoning as above. This means that the majority of "skim this for important stuff" looking for headlines are on the right page only. It also means that, after a notebook is well-used, I still have open space to make additions and addendums.
This does lead to wasted pages if something isn't updated (like in the image above), but who cares? It's minor, paper is cheap, and this makes notebooks more useful. This does present the (seeming) problem that the left pages of my notebooks usually come after the immediately-to-the-right page notes, but I'm used to it at this point. To make things explicitly clear, I draw arrows at the top and bottom of pages when I move from right to left.
3. Sometimes work from both the back and front of a notebook.
Sometimes I'll have two radically different kinds of work. I'll be outlining writing, science, and planning from the start of the notebook -- and I'll also need to be making checklists and crossing off rote mundane to-do items.
In the past, I did two things which don't work so well -- the first was carrying multiple notebooks, which is a bummer. Weight, space, and just having a lot of barely-started-not-used-much notebooks meant this wasn't good.
The second way I did it was mixing in high concept notes and to-do lists to check off... but my rapid-use checklists tend to be messy, chaotic, lots of crossing off and amending, etc, whereas my notes and planning tend to be more coherent and clean to read. It's disruptive and makes skimming take longer when they're mixed together.
So now, when I need to do a very different kind of work in a single notebook, I start working from both the back and the front at the same time. Sounds odd, but it works. I almost always start with the front of the notebook (so I know it's used) regardless of if it's high-concept or nitty-gritty, but if I know I'm going to be segmenting it, I'll put the high concept stuff in the front and the nitty-gritty in the back to work backwards from.
When a notebook is finished that's used like that, I'll fold or rip one or two pages in the middle prominently as a reminder to myself that I can stop skimming/reviewing, because the back of the notebook is just completed checklists.
In the comments -- How do you use your papers and notebooks more effectively? Found anything fascinating or fantastic for little effort?
Just applied this after reading this blog post today. I have to say, its alot easier to start writing and continue writing on notebook than it is on microsoft word.
The problem I have with using physical notebooks over digital is archival purposes. I can't carry around years of notebooks for reference, whereas I can carry years of digital notes easily. I can search my digital notes quickly by searching keywords. Yes, you could photograph/scan every single page of every single notebook and then set them up to archive, but that's just adding tons of work that could have been avoided in the first place.
I'm curious about how you approach archival and how long you keep notebooks around, Sebastian.
Usually I find that only a minority of the notes are useful (the rest are checklists, or information already know, or advice that has been superseded by better advice) and these can be condensed and typed up by hand reasonably easily. This has a disadvantage over Evernote-esque options in that it takes more time, but an advantage in that it doubles as revision of the material, especially if you re-phrase and re-organize the information, perhaps adding new thoughts and filtering out the less useful information.
Worked well for my degree too - half of my revision work was done passively during one active rewrite of most of the information.
I tear out to-do and checklist pages as I finish them. It's one reason I often prefer notepads over notebooks -- easier to tear out those pages.
I carry a notebook everywhere. I use plain paper moleskin notebook rather than ruled because it helps free up creativity to draw as well as write, or turn the page on the side for tables etc.
I number all the pages so I can cross reference notes. I date most entries because sometimes I recall approx when I had an idea but not the heading. Also I now leave 5 pages blank at the front where I write a table of contents of headings and page numbers and dates - that makes reviewing and skimming much faster.
I use a few special symbols in my notes - eg small square is a check box for a task to do, small circle is note that I want to talk with coach about, small triangle is something to purchase on Amazon. I check each of these symbols off when done.
I photograph all my old notebooks and load into Evernote - mainly as back up. Though is handy to be able to refer to old notes on the road. I have about 30 notebooks so no way are they all traveling with me!
This is the coolest thing. I like the idea of using both sides of the notebook's paper from different directions and for different purposes. I've got lots of journals stored in a trunk but now instead of journals, I'm using loose leaf paper in a three ring binder with tabs dividing the different topics. It helps clarify my focus better and once it starts filling in, I see a bigger picture which gives me a sense of manageability.
if you take photos of the notes you really want to return to and throw them into Evernote - your handwritten text will be searchable and available on your phone at any time.
Alternatively they have special Evernote notebooks, but I have never used them.
This is also good if you are at a really interesting talk and you want to be able to reference a particular slide. I take a picture on my phone and the content of that photo is now searchable in Evernote.
Really like this topic Sebastian. Thank you for writing it.
My life and sanity has improved immensely from merely using paper to think, externalize, and allowing my thoughts to come alive.
One thing for me is I use any notebook BUT spiral ones because I hate (!) when spiral thingy gets in the way of my arm while writing on the left side of the notebook.
Arbitrage and speculation get a bad rap sometimes, but they're incredibly useful.
I'm leaving Ulaanbaatar shortly and I'll be heading to Japan. I went to stock up on some basic supplies - personable consumables and work stuff.
Strikingly, paper is really expensive here for Western-grade, Western-style paper. The local shops literally don't carry it. Instead, they have this checkered sort of paper. It's like graph paper, but with thick black lines. I prefer black ink, and after trying out one of those notebooks, I couldn't read what I'd written.
I tried some of the upscale department stores (Sky Department Store, State Department Store) and there's literally no Western-style, 60 sheet lined notebooks in the $1 to $2 range like you'd see in the USA. They have high end notebooks for $6 to $12, and they have these thin flimsy 20-page booklet-type things for around $1. I settled for the booklet.
Now, if there was the demand to make it worth it, someone importing Western style paper from China at 20 cents a notebook and selling it here for $2 per notebook would be creating a lot of value. If this presented a large enough opportunity, eventually you'd see the margins go down towards cost, as happens in almost all industries.
DIYGamer just featured Kung Fu Kingdom as an "8BitFunding Pick".
"Kung Fu Kingdom is an RTS. However, unlike most RTS’s that require some serious micro to play well, KFK lets you draw up what needs doing, and all your minions do the nitty-gritty work. This is why I liked Darwinia so much, so it’s cool to see someone else putting a completely different spin on the concept of a Macro-Management RTS..."
8BitFunding is a recently launched funding website in the vein of Kickstarter and IndieGogo, but targeted towards video games and video gamers. Kung Fu Kingdom was lucky enough to be one of the launch products, and apparently Geoff at DIYGamer sees potential in our product! Awesome.
While you have a few spare moments (Read: NOW) head on over to 8BitFunding and drop us some change, pre-order the game, or get some other great prizes from donating.