One of the most powerful things I’ve done in the past year in order to resist the attention economy is to start carrying around a small pocket notebook and pen with me at all times, no matter where I am going or what I am doing. Below, I’ll talk about how this has helped me and how I do it.
I’ve long been fascinated with the Bullet Journal system — the original BuJo system, not the Pinterest/Instagram crazy overly decorated version — as a way to manage daily tasks and brain dumps, but I did not like the fact that, on paper, you cannot move ideas or tasks around. Mainly I use Workflowy
for tracking my daily to do lists and bigger projects, but I’ve found a super simple system for using a pocket notebook that allows me to maintain daily focus while also capturing ideas that I need to come back later.
Essentially, I keep a pocket-sized notebook with me at all times. When I think of something I want to remember, I write it in my notebook instead of taking out my phone or shifting to the task app on my computer. Here are some examples of things I have written in my pocket notebook recently:
- A non-urgent task that I need to take care of at home
- Notes of references or things I want to look up while reading a book
- A movie a friend recommended over beers
- Artists and artworks I wanted to learn more about while on a recent visit to a museum exhibit
- Random grocery items that I remembered we were out of
If I am working at my desk, my notebook is beside me. When I go to bed, it sleeps on my nightstand. When I leave the house, it goes into my purse. There are a few reasons why this seemingly simple change has actually been revolutionary.
- I am less likely to be distracted by other things on my phone, like notifications.
- I am lot less likely to be derailed by fleeting ideas or things I need to remember when I can simply write them down and get back to what I was working on.
- I find it a lot less rude to pull out a pen and paper than to pull out my phone when I am in conversation with someone.
- The actual act of writing something down helps commit it to memory.
When I think of something I want to capture, it gets written down. Each note is prefaced by a dash, so that notes that run several lines stand out individually, and notes with sub-notes can be written outline-style. I have a reminder set for the end of each day to go through the notebook and process the notes I’ve made. Some get processed immediately (like if I need to add something to our grocery list or add a book to Goodreads). Others get filed away into Workflowy if they are less timely. Once I am finished processing an item, I simply put a line through it so I know it’s done.
The system is simple, but I am picky abut my notebooks. My preferred PoJo of choice is a dot-gridded Moleskine Cahier
. They are thin enough to go in even my smallest purse, not too nice that I get “precious” about them (my current one has lots of things scribbled out). They have stitched binding instead of staples, and they hold up pretty well, even if you have to tear a few sheets out. They also have a little sleeve pocket in the back for collecting other notes, recipes, business cards, whatever.
I like dot grid notebooks because I find the format more flexible. Recently I started writing in them sideways, which gives more real-estate to each line (even if there are fewer lines per page). I have yet to use this hack for folding the pages over
, but I could see how that might come in handy. I use a teeny tiny binder clip to keep the used pages out of the way. Once a notebook is full, I might hold on to it for a few days just to make sure I don’t need to reference it, but as a rule I don’t keep filled notebooks — they go in the recycling when I’m done with them.
So that’s my system. Write it down, get it out of your mind, get back to work. Let me know if you have any questions, or anything else you’d like to see in this newsletter.