I have carried some form of notebook for the last seven years or so. It started back at the tail end of grad school where I felt I needed a way to help me remember important appointments, meetings, and to capture to-do items. I started off by purchasing a Moleskine weekly calendar, which was great, but my cheap student mind didn’t like the added cost of the specialty book, whereas I could make the same book from a regular, ruled Moleskine. For the next two years, I would measure out the spacing and draw in the lines for the year. I appreciated the simplicity of the task and found it almost meditative, however I grew tired of having to do this at the start of each year.
Later, I switched from larger Moleskine notebooks to smaller, pocket books. Over time, I adopted the Field Notes brand of pocket notebooks as my go-to medium to capture thoughts, though I do keep an assortment of notebooks on hand (or on my shelf) for specialty purposes. The early days of Field Notes had me using a notebook until it was full, whether this was notes from a single month or from multiple months.
Eventually I settled on using one book per month, and started a fresh book every month, regardless of whether I fill the book or not. In this post, I’ll show you how I set up a notebook for the month of January, and provide some commentary on my choices.
The first step is to get a fresh notebook. You don’t have to use Field Notes, but I like the brand and the quality of the product. My only criteria when selecting a book is I prefer at least 48-pages that uses good paper and a grid pattern (either solid lines or dots). The paper is important because I use a specific kind of pen (I’ve settled on the Uniball Deluxe Micro as my preferred pen) that can easily bleed or smudge on poor quality paper as I write leftie.
The next step is to go through and number all of my pages. This is important because after I’m done with a book, I use an index (see below) to capture important pages that I want to reference in the future. The index does not capture any of the standard pages I set up at the start of the month, nor does it capture my individual days. Instead, it captures main to-do lists, important notes, or other things that I’ll need to find later. For instance, I use these physical books to remember passwords I rarely need to type. If I update a password, I note the date in my online calendar with a book reference (month, year, and page), so that I can go back and see what I set the password to. This doesn’t work when I’m out of the house, but I find this helps with keeping my rarely used passwords secure (instead of constantly answering security questions to reset the password).
After the index, I titled the second page my dream scratch pad. This is where I can do pie-in-the-sky thinking about things I want to do, accomplish, strive towards, covet, etc. To be honest, I rarely use this page, but I like to keep it on hand in the same place.
Next, any major to-do items get carried over. A lot of these have been on my carried-over to-do’s for some time, but I don’t want to forget about them (things like rolling over my passwords regularly, or little things I want to do around the house. If to-do items can be grouped under a specific theme (say, specific home repairs), they get their own lists later in the book. This page carries over everything else.
Next is my tracker page. This is where I track habits and other regularly occurring items so I can see them at glance. I list the dates along the left side (weekends get doubled-up so I can fit the entire month in), and each category of things to be tracked gets its own column. Some metrics are good things to track, while some of them I want to use to monitor my general health and well-being.
Since the entries per day are pretty short (not a lot of space), I keep this facing-page blank for additional notes on the month, if I need it.
On page 6, I capture my intentions and goals. I track goals and intentions a few ways. First, I have a “soul,” “mind,” “body” theme which allows me to focus on specific areas of my life (soul – social, philosophical, spiritual, etc.), (mind – learning, planning, etc.), and (body – physical health and wellness). I realize you can’t try and change too many habits at once and be successful, so these are just ways of helping me to prioritize things into themes, short-term and longer-term goals, and things I want to change. If page 6 is my capture page, page 7 would be where I would focus myself to a limited number of things. I would pick something from the previous page and devote more time or attention to it with specific plans and actions.
On page 8, I track some specific health indicators – my weight on the scale (left side), and my waist measurements (on the right axis) over time (the x-axis). Static views of single health metrics aren’t very helpful, so I’ve chosen to track weight and my waist as a better indicator of my overall progress in fitness. I’ve also started tracking blood pressure, which I input results for the day the data is collected as the systolic/diastolic reading.
Then, on page 9, I borrow a system I found on Reddit to track excuses. This is where I can measure intentions against action. For instance, if I set an intention to exercise and I skip it, I can capture what my excuse is for skipping it, assess whether it is legitimate (yes/no), and make notes on any ways I can mitigate the reality or implement solutions to keep my intentions.
Finally, on page 10, I start my first entry. Every day that I record in my notebook will receive a new page. I put the date across the top, then fill in tasks for the day, ideas, interesting quotes, or things to remember. Sometimes I’ll migrate thematic lists into this section, such as tasks I need to complete as Board Chair or for things around the house to repair.
This is the system I currently use. It borrows from a couple different sources, such as the original Moleskine planner I began with, elements from the Bullet Journal method, and good ideas I’ve found rambling through sites like Reddit. The notebook set-up iterates over time. I add and remove things depending on how useful I find them. Some of the items discussed above might get removed soon since I haven’t done a good job of keeping up with them, and therefore are no longer useful to me.
It is a little tedious to set up a new notebook every 30 or so days, but on the whole I like the systems I’ve developed and have found it immensely useful in my day-to-day life.
Share with me down below what kind of systems you use to help keep yourself on top of things. I’m always looking to borrow good ideas! I hope you found something here that was useful.
7 thoughts on “How I Set Up My Notebook”
Hi Ryan Auntie here: I love this system an I’ll be borrowing it. I of course will change to work for a stay at home Mimi but it will help with my day to day goals, what I teaching Penelope in her home schooling, play dates an other social outings for her. I will also incorporate my day by day schedule. I I’ve the idea of password pages etc. Many times I have to reset my password because i forgot it..
Lots of interesting stuff on this page and I read over the post a couple times because, for some reason, I’ve always been interested in how people who are organized approach being organized. I really like your “excuses log” which I think I’m going to try but I will probably just make up excuses why I never enter anything on the page.
I’ve tried to switch to all electronic stuff over the years and I’ve been using the internet or apps on my dumb phone. This past year, some of my stuff got damaged and dates and times changed so I made a mid-year resolution to abandon electronic stuff because it is largely unreliable despite what everyone says. Paper and ink (or pencil) has been pretty reliable for a couple thousand years and worked very reliably for me for a long time.
Anyway, I’m commenting because you seem to put an awful lot of work into making new notebooks every month, and you even admit that at the end of your post. Maybe consider going to a small binder organizer that you can still carry and then you can move items from month to month. Also, using the binder format, you can even design your own forms and print them out and hole punch them. I used to do that to avoid paying like $50 for a few sets of organizing page refills. Plus, when you print your own pages, you design them exactly the way you want. And even if you stay with the small pocket notebook, you can at least print a few forms out and tape them into your notebook or something to keep from writing out the whole thing from scratch each month.
As a paramedic myself, I needed a little more paper to do patient care notes than I could get on the tiny 3×5 notebook that many people carry. For a while I used the “reporter notebook” style pads as they were longer and fit nicely in my pants pockets, whether back pocket or side cargo pocket. For a while, I used a small planner binder, a Day Planner brand I believe, so I could have treatment protocols in that, plus a calendar planner and such. Of course, the planner/binder won’t fit in your back pocket but will in the side cargo pockets (if you wear those types of uniform pants where you work).
Anyway, as I consider how I will go back to all-paper planning, I like the small paper notebooks as you use, but I think I will end up back with the small binder that is zippered so things don’t fall out.
I enjoy your posts, keep up the good work.
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Hey, thanks for the comment! It really means a lot that you took the time to respond to one of my posts.
Also, since you are a paramedic, I apologize that I still haven’t gotten around to changing the name on this blog. I wrote in a post a few years back that I had shelved the idea of going back to school for paramedicine, yet even now I can’t think of a good title, so it’s stayed there by default. But I like that you’ve stuck with the blog despite the non-paramedic posts.
Regarding the excuses log – that was something I picked up from Reddit, but I decided to abandon it a few months back as I wasn’t using it. I think it’s a good tool if you are working on a specific habit, but as a catch-all reflection I found I kept forgetting to put excuses in at the time.
I’m with you – I try to balance new and old tech, but there is something about writing in a book and seeing the books on my shelf that speaks to me. Maybe I’ve been influenced by biographies that use letters and journals to recreate the story of a person’s life; I don’t think I’m important enough that anyone will find my notebooks of value, but I like keeping them as a reminder of the past.
I like your idea of the small binder organizer – it’s versatile and adaptable for multiple needs. The only drawback I see to that system is that it’s not portable enough for me. As you allude to in your comment, I settled on the Field Notes books (or, at least, that size of pocket notebook) because it can go with me anywhere as long as I have a pocket. I’ve intentionally narrowed my everyday carry down to a few items that before I leave the house I ensure are in my pockets – pen and glasses cloth in my left-front pocket, challenge coin and lip balm in my right-front pocket, my wallet in my back-left pocket, and my notebook in my back-right pocket. I’m worried that a small binder would still be too cumbersome for me to take everywhere. My system evolved a bit out of the Bullet Journal system, but the one area that I deviate from them is the size of the notebook. The Bullet Journal system typically uses a 5×8-inch (200+ page) notebook (Leuchtturm1917 or Moleskine). Since I don’t reliably carry my stuff in a bag and I want to keep my hands free, it doesn’t make for a good option when I’m out and about. On the other hand, a 48-page pocket notebook can go with me everywhere, which means I’ll be able to use it for anything (thoughts, shopping lists, purchasing details, etc.) and at any time. 48-pages has also become a good length as I have never needed more than that to cover a month, so I start a new book regularly.
However, your idea of printing the templates and taping it to the book is an awesome solution to me taking the time to manually copy the stuff out with a ruler. I should try that! It will be most useful for my daily habit tracker (part of the reason I buy grid-paged books as it makes the alignment easier) and my health tracker (I track weight and BP measurements since I’m working on being more intentional with my health).
I use a reporter-style type of notebook for my side-job where I moonlight as a security guard/bar bouncer. I bought one of those security books with the pre-numbered pages to take notes for things like accidents, thefts, and altercations at the bar. The notebook is inside of a hardback cover that also carries business cards, a small pack of Imodium, and my licenses to work. If I needed to carry SOP documents, I’d probably stash them in there like you, and that notebook also sits in my right-side cargo pocket when I’m in my security uniform (left-side cargo has my CPR face-shield and ear-plugs).
As you say, though, it all depends on your space constraints. I wish I could carry a larger book, but as my wife has all but banned me from wearing cargo pants in public with her, I’ve settled on the pocket notebook and it serves me fairly well.
Thanks for being a reader!
Good Morning Ryan.
I’m also one of those who needs to see my monthly adventures on paper. I’ve tried an I found that my phone wouldn’t remind me or I’d almost missed an appointment. With wedding season quickly approaching, my volunteer meetings an daycare I need to look at my book quickly in the mornings. I’ve seen people still writing things down on pieces of paper that never get reposted to there phone. I’m a little OCD.. when recording in my day planner. I still do write something down quickly on that little piece of paper but try to get it into my book. If not I like to take a picture. Then at night time clean out my pictures and record it in my day planner. I enjoy looking back thru at my year an see what life was about. What did I want to achieve this year? How could I make my life run a little soother..
so I’m rambling an need to do my page an soon new year an month.
Merry Christmas my wonderful nephew an beautiful niece.
I’m not sending out cards this year but I’m trying to do a New Years update for family an friends.
Have a Blessed Christmas an a safe New Year.