One Notebook or Many?

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 Notebook or Many? Part 1: The case for one notebook

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….

One Notebook or Many? Part 2: The case for many notebooks.

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…

One Notebook or Many? Part 3: The case for loose sheets

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…

One Notebook or Many? Part 4: What’s been working for me

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.

7 thoughts on “One Notebook or Many?”

  1. This is a question I keep wrestling with. I’ve tried different systems over the years, but inevitably end up wanting some things for limited purposes. My current plan involves two a5 Filofaxes… One for a limited subject with various sub projects, and the other for everything else. I am experimenting with using the A-Z tabs for a sort of subject index in the ” everything else” book, so I can make notes or create pages using the paper notebook in the back slot, and then insert them in the section in which they fit. Well see howitzer goes.

  2. After 20 years of carrying a 2 page per day Franklin compact (along with a pocket molie), I am trying a bound 5×8 daily planner. But I keep a small 6-ring binder because the looseleaf format is perfect for exactly what I need it for. I have started using a dedicated 5×8 bound notebook for certain projects. As a filmmaker, I’m enjoying having the bound notes in a neat, professional book. And I still carry a pocket molie. And a case for my fountain pens.

    But, sheesh, I used to do it all in one Franklin.

  3. Right now I use two notebooks. One is a Journal/Diary, and is a hardbound lined notebook (A9 by Blueline, 9.5 by 7.25 inches). The other is a small memo/notebook for carrying around and making note of anything that interests me. I’ve used small 3×5 Moleskines, Clairefontaine staplebounds, or most recently, top spiral bound memo pads you get in 4 packs at Wal Mart of all places.

    I can see branching out to use other notebooks for specific purposes, but when I do that, I tend to forget about them. Case in point was a book journal that I’m hopelessly behind on.

  4. I struggled with this for awhile. Had so many notebooks and would bounce around too much, never finishing any of them. Then I decided to use ONE planner & ONE notebook. After a yr I got in the habit of using & finishing both.

    Now I feel confident enough to use multiple notebooks. Currently in use:
    1 daily planner (Moleskine)

    1 permanent notebook for notes on writing & other stuff

    2 catch all “scribble” books. I leave one at home, carry the other. If the content is worth keeping, I transcribe to the permanent book. These are super cheap, not well made ones I picked up at thrift stores for a dollar or 2. I’m going to throw these out when filled. I’m finding a lot of what I write is mind jibberish that loses its meaning over time so no need to keep the info. And I need the space!

    1 notebook for knitting/crochet/sewing/art projects, used maybe once a week.

    1 thin notebook to list books read, used maybe once a week.

  5. I have a hybrid system – some thematic (work/volunteer), some location (car/bag/home/lab)… As a “lister” I capture action items/reminders and eventually cross them off; or I translate into Evernote if the notes skew toward intel and ideas. Meeting notes tend to go on a 5×8 Doane Paper pad, then translated same as above (and pages recycled). Field Notes are my preferred vehicle – I have given them to each of my team mates, including students who work in our lab – they are the perfect size for jotting and fit in scrub pockets and jeans pockets. I have a Moleskine for “big ideas” and sprawling, random journal-type entries on trips and such.

  6. I’m currently using the bullet journal method and finding it to work fabulously. I’m just wary of finishing it but still needing some of the spreads inside, so I’ve been wrestling with the idea of adding a few other notebooks. One is a sketchbook where I draw to relieve stress or have extra time or just don’t want to the task at hand or am inspired to do so. Another is a goals notebook where I keep a list of goals I want to accomplish and steps on how to get there, therefore making it easier to actively work towards the goals. A few I’m considering adding on are a collections notebook, which would house different collections such as books I want to read or movies I want to watch. That sort of nature. I’m still trying to figure out what sort of blog notebook or discbound system I could use, what would I place in it. I’m considering just leaving movies I want to watch in a household binder instead…..or keeping in the digital format it’s in right now. We’ll have to see.

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