Organize your notebooks for quick reference

Back in 2013, I wrote the article “Marking up your to do lists for increased productivity” about formal methods of marking up your notes and lists to make them more usable and easier to reference. I was reminded of it recently when I came across a Fast Company article, which introduced yet another trick for organizing a notebook that I like quite a bit.

I carry a little notebook in my pocket all the time. Even though I’m a a professional techie, I still feel that the best way to jot something down I need to remember is with a pen and a piece of paper.

Any problems I encounter with this system come from retrieving the information that I’ve written down. The rapid nature of quickly jotting something down often means poor organization of the captured information. To help solve this issue, this is where Rachel Gillett’s advice in the Fast Company article applies.

Cribbing from Adam Akhtar, Rachel suggests writing a sort of index in the back of your notebook while taking notes or jotting ideas down. This index is comprised of themes or topics that come up while you’re writing things down. In her example, she wrote down the following topics:

  1. Writing
  2. Editing
  3. Social media
  4. CMS
  5. Analytics
  6. New Staff

She recommends leaving one line between each index topic. Then, when she writes something down that corresponds to one of these topics, she makes a mark on the edge of the page that corresponds to the line on which that word is written. The image at the top of this post illustrates this idea pretty clearly. Then, when she wants to find notes on writing, she can turn to the back page and quickly see the pages with relevant content. Flipping to them is quick and easy.

I think this system is a brilliant solution. It’s easy to see how this will work outside of business, too. Topics like “kids,” “school,” “work,” or whatever applies to your life would be perfect.

Again, check my older article for some additional ideas for adding a bit of organization to your notebooks. Jotting something down is easy. Finding it when you need it later doesn’t have to be a problem.

7 Comments for “Organize your notebooks for quick reference”

  1. posted by infmom on

    Just get some Circa notebooks. You can rearrange the pages to your heart’s content.

  2. posted by [email protected] on

    Great idea. There are lots of ways this idea could be useful. I would probably be more apt to use dates instead of page numbers, though, since I date all my pages but don’t number them.

  3. posted by Mama Rachael on

    This is great! I needed something like this. I use a simple composition notebook for my day planner, grocery lists, book lists… you name it. This will certainly help me keep track of pages that I need to keep track of.

  4. posted by Pat Reble on

    I work in a high security environment where personal electronic devices are banned and large personal note books are discouraged. I carry a small stack of 3 x 2 cards clipped together and placed in a plastic collectors card sleeve. The result is a low tech file of permanent notes, plus cards I can remove for filing. I now use the same system at home. A card can be removed to take as a shopping list (fits inside my phone case) or filed for reference in a binder with the big sleeves designed for collectors cards. I can color code the cards or inks if I want to, but I find the KISS principle is working just fine for now. It’s the cheapest, lowest tech, highest efficiency system I’ve ever used and it WORKS (for me anyway!)

  5. posted by liz on

    When I got a tablet, I started using the note taking function on it. Alas, it died before I could figure out how to transfer, print or anything else with the stuff. My new tablet is a Windows tablet and my laptop is also Windows based. So, I finally checked out One Note with setting up files, pages and other stuff and then being able to sync the files between the two machines via the cloud. For now, it is a good system for me.

    I do use notecards and composition books, but I see these as something temporary to write ideas down. I plan to transfer key items to a book in One Note. And since I carry the tablet around to be able to read the favorite blogs, I can also read something and then summarize it or link to it.

  6. posted by Joan on

    I use the Bullet Journal method of notebook-keeping and its index is definitely what won me over. Very helpful.

  7. posted by Becca on

    Would it not be much simpler to divide your notebook into six sections and keep all your notes about each topic there? This is overcomplicating things and you will waste time flipping around to find things.

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