In 2011 I started carrying a small notebook with me. At work, it sat on my desk. At home, I kept it beside me when I read or when I watched TV. Nine years later, I still try to keep my notebook close. I also maintain a second notebook that is my primary journal, where I keep notes from meetings, task lists, and appointments. I allow myself more flexibility with the pocket notebook, as described below.
You may be asking, “Is there a need for two notebooks?” For me, the answer is “yes” because neither of these notebooks could absorb the content of the other without significant retooling. Plus, the combined notebook would contain many more pages and be bulky to transport.
What works for me right now as a pocket notebook is the Moleskine Art Plus small notebook (3.5 x 5.5 inches). The pages are thick, like index cards, and each notebook has 80 pages. I like the small number of pages because the loss of a notebook would not mean losing months of years of notes. I fill a pocket notebook every two to three months.
These reasons below include the benefits of using a pocket notebook.
Proven tool used by masters
Many of the great intellectual and creative minds of history kept pocket notebooks with them at all times. This article has summaries and images of several such notebooks.
Keeping a notebook with you wherever you are assures that it is alway available for jotting down notes and ideas. I have experimented with different sizes, but the 3.5 x 5.5 inch size works well for me. It slips easily into my back pocket and equally well into my travel bag. As the phone is also approximately the same size as my phone, the items are easy to carry together.
Regardless of whether pages are lined or blank, the ability to write anywhere unconstrained on a page opens up possibilities. Word processing applications (Word, Pages, Google Docs) do not make it easy to write outside of the margins. Note taking applications are better, but you still may have to conform to the limitations of a particular app.
Blank pages allow for drawing plans, making lists, and developing ideas. In each of my pocket notebooks I have doodle pages for drawing practice as well as pages for planning and sketching. On the right page below, I was experimenting with drawing in the Funko Pop style.
Brainstorming techniques were originally designed for groups, and it is true that many still work better with teams (e.g., SWOT analysis, SCAMPER). However, you can apply brainstorming techniques by yourself. Mind mapping, generating lists of ideas, and storyboarding are great examples. Chapter 2 of Thinker Toys by Michael Michalko includes these suggestions that are perfect for a pocket notebook:
- Keep a journal of problems that you find to be personally interesting and that would be worthwhile to solve.
- Writing down challenges may trigger your mind to create solutions.
- Make a list of things that bug you and select one as a challenge.
In my formal planner, the flow is linear: a series of two-page spreads that start with the first week of January and go through the end of December. I do not follow the same linear flow in my pocket notebooks. I often use empty spaces on pages that already have notes or drawings.
The utility of the notebook can be enhanced through customization. Two ways to accomplish this are through taping two sheets together to create a small pocket. I keep a few 3×5 cards in the pocket but also insert business cards and flyers I receive.
Another way to customize your pocket notebook is to add foldouts to accommodate larger sheets, such as maps, handouts, and other reference material. This pic shows a map of the Washington, DC Metro subway system. When closed, a hand-drawn map of my key stops for a trip is displayed. When open, a larger portion of the official map is displayed.
Store Post-its and notes
I like to keep a few self-adhesive notes at the front and back of my notebook. These are convenient for many reasons, including notes to leave for others, visual reminders for myself, storyboarding, and bookmarks.
Useful for reference
When a pocket notebook is full, I take a photo of each page and create an album in Google Photos. I can quickly reference information from previous notebooks via my phone. The most recent volumes are stored in my office. I lost Volume 7 at the IKEA in Atlanta, GA.
Collaborate with others
Collaboration includes asking others to write information in my notebook. This can include contact information as well as notes on projects. I also find that I can easily share my notes with others while we are together.
Small notebooks are fairly inexpensive. If you have never carried a small notebook, I encourage you to give it a try for a month.