Steve at Recording Thoughts has written a marathon series on the question “One Notebook or Many?”
Now, I suppose you could argue that this isn’t even a question, as you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog if “many” notebooks wasn’t your idea of a good thing! But the issue here is whether to capture all your various jottings in one notebook at a time, vs. splitting them up into notebooks dedicated to single topics. Both approaches have their merits– a few excerpts and photos of Steve’s notebooks below.
One book is cooler. A volume covering all of ones life, being read by descendants long after my death, like the journals of Leonardo da Vinci, makes a nice day dream.
It’s fun to read through a diverse journal with sketches and notes on all kinds of things. Paging through an old journal and coming across doodles my daughter made is a treat. Sketches of things I was planning to build or of other things reminds me of the diversity of my life, which is often handy when I’ve become too focused on one narrow aspect….
A single subject notebook increases focus. When I’m writing in a single subject notebook, I feel a discipline to focus on that subject. It’s a reminder of what I’m doing, and there’s no risk that while I’m paging through old entries I’ll end up on some trip down memory lane. Instead, paging through the book reminds me of other aspects of the subject, helps the focus, and can even help with writer’s block…
Blank sheets are versatile and adaptable. Since it’s not part of a book, it doesn’t have a dedicated purpose. The paper can be used for anything – I can write a letter, leave a note, give it to my daughters to draw on, or fold it into an airplane. This is especially useful when traveling, because it means I carry less…
Separate book vs. in the journal. I’ve found that unless the new book has a very strong purpose (like the NumberQuotes notebook) or has a specific place in my life and routine (weekly planner), it’s at risk of being abandoned. The food journal hasn’t quite become a reliable partner yet, but the birds book has. The weekly planner has become very important, and I record some things there that could be in my journal. Despite many attempts to find an electronic replacement for my weight records, pen and paper have proven to be the best and most reliable.
If the work has a lot of structure, and clear boundaries, a separate book seems to work best. If the work is somewhat amorphous, a separate book just doesn’t feel right. For example, I just used the large Leuchtturm1917 Jottbook I received to start a web-focused notebook, only ideas and thoughts related to my various websites that don’t have books of their own, or for ideas (like selling ad space) that are common to all sites. That lasted a short while before the book become refocused on this blog. So far, it’s been earning its keep.
So many things in these posts resonated for me. I’ve tried various approaches, and like Steve have ended up with a hybrid solution: one main notebook for most things, plus a few satellite notebooks for specific topics or uses that require a different format. But the other solution that I was surprised Steve didn’t mention was to use a Filofax or similar binder– you can incorporate different page formats, devote a few pages in a section to different topics, and carry over pages you want to keep for reference while filing away others. I used small looseleaf notebooks for years and loved them… but then electronic devices replaced the calendar and address book sections of those notebooks… and for what was left, a stack of bound journals did just seem cooler than a box full of rubber-banded looseleaf pages. But I keep feeling like I should give it a try again.
How about you? One or many? Join in the discussion here or at Recording Thoughts.