A Look at My “Idea Notebook”

As I’ve mentioned several times over the years, I carry a pocket notebook and a pen with me wherever I go. Whenever I have any sort of an idea or discover any piece of information I might want to use or reflect on later, I don’t hesitate to pull out that notebook and jot it down.

I can’t even tell you the number of times this notebook has really come in handy in my life. It’s been a life saver for keeping ideas for The Simple Dollar, recording gift ideas, jotting down books I might want to read later, noting some contact information, writing down some sale prices… the list goes on and on. In fact, I once made a list of ways a pocket notebook can save you money.

Although I’ve discussed the notebook in several different contexts before, I’ve never really explained how I do it in detail. So here goes.

I simply keep a small pocket notebook in my pocket at all times. Most of the time, I use one of those small Mead notebooks with the spiral at the top. Sometimes, family members or friends will get me a small Moleskine notebook (or something similar) and I’ll use that – I certainly like it better, but when you’re comparing a notebook I can get for a quarter versus one that will cost several dollars (and considering I’ll blow through it in a month), there is no real comparison.

I also keep a reliable pen in my pocket. I prefer my long-used space pen, which has never failed on me or leaked in my pocket. I received it for a gift, so I wouldn’t encourage someone to run out and spend $30-40 on a pen, but I will say it’s the best pen I’ve ever used.

It’s a bad idea to try to keep bits of information in your head. Whenever I discover a new idea or a new piece of information, I attempt to get it written down in that notebook as quickly as possible. If I try to keep it in my head, two things happen. First, I spend some of my brain power trying to keep that piece of information in my memory, meaning my focus on other things is less. Second, I sometimes still forget that piece of information.

I write ideas and information down as soon as possible. As soon as I discover something worth recalling later, I jot it down. I’ll even pull out the notebook during conversations if need be, telling the other person that they’ve just given me a great idea (they usually view that as a compliment).

I don’t organize these jottings at all. I don’t worry about organization of the stuff I jot down. I just get it down on paper as quickly as possible.

I separate jottings with a slash or a page break. When I finish an idea, I put a big slash underneath it. Then, the next time I open my notebook, I start the next idea under that slash – if there’s room. If not, I just flip to the next page.

Once a day – or more often – I review all of the jottings and deal with them. I usually do this at my computer. I’ll transfer dates to my calendar. I’ll transfer contact information to my address book. I’ll look up information if need be. I’ll add things to my to-do list.

If a jotting is dealt with, I cross it out. As soon as I’ve dealt with a piece of information, putting it in its appropriate place, I cross out that jotting in my notebook. It has now served its purpose, and crossing it out makes it easier to find the jottings that I haven’t yet processed.

If all jottings on a page are dealt with, I tear out the page. Again, this gives me fewer pages to deal with later on. Most of the time, I only need to open my notebook and leaf through a page or two to find the next blank page. If I’m using a nice notebook, like a Moleskine, I’ll use the bookmark string to hold my place instead of tearing out pages.

The end result of all of this? I get ideas out of my head as fast as possible. The system I use is very reliable, too – I tried using electronic solutions for this, but if a battery went too low, I was simply out of luck. Not a problem with pen and paper.

This notebook saves me money and helps me earn more on a daily basis. What more can you ask for?

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