Updated on 09.09.14

The One Hour Project: Keep An Idea Notebook In Your Pocket

Trent Hamm

plannerSo many times throughout the day, I come up with useful ideas: ideas for saving money, ideas for preparing food, ideas to improve The Simple Dollar, tasks that I need to take care of, and so on.

Forgetting these ideas is as good as money lost. They float out of your mind and most likely are permanently forgotten. Maybe you had a brilliant idea for work that wasn’t quite fully formed yet. Maybe you remembered someone from high school that you should really get in touch with. Maybe you came up with an amazing web application idea that could net you millions. Or maybe you just remembered to get milk on the way home. All of these are ideas worth real money – and they all slip away.

Whatever the thought is, it’s incredibly valuable to jot it down and then review your jottings regularly. That sounds really easy, but it requires a shift in thinking that takes practice.

Keeping Track of Your Valuable Ideas

1. Find a notebook small enough to comfortably fit in a pocket.

It doesn’t matter really what kind of notebook you use. I personally use a small pocket Moleskine. You’ll also want a writing utensil that fits into a pocket; I use a Fisher Bullet space pen, but a Bic will do just fine.

2. Keep the notebook in a very obvious place.

When I was first trying to get used to this concept, I left the pad out all the time so I would always see it. A friend of mine actually tied a piece of string around his wrist and attached it to his little notebook so he wouldn’t forget it when he got up.

3. Whenever you have a thought, jot it down.

No matter what sort of thought it is, if you want to retrieve it later, write it down in your notebook. You can worry about dealing with it later – just make sure that you’ve written down enough so that you can pick up the train of thought at a later time. Most importantly, don’t hesitate to do it in front of others – tell them that what they said was important enough that you want to remember it later, and they’ll be flattered, not annoyed.

4. Once a day or so, review the new entries.

I do this multiple times a day – just after leaving work, when I’m sitting at my desk and can take care of some things, and so on. This way, if I wrote down something like “get milk,” I won’t be already at home before I notice it.

Eventually you’ll get very used to this – and feel empty when you can’t take notes. You’ll also begin to realize how much impact such a simple thing can have on your life – in so many different ways. For instance, keeping a little idea notebook makes The Simple Dollar possible – I don’t know how I would keep up with the required ideas without it.

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  1. Sean says:

    I just write a text to my email address from my cell phone. No need to buy a notebook, and there’s no risk of losing my notes (unless gmail goes down somehow). Of course this limits the length of anything I’d write down, but usually it only takes a couple of key words to remind myself of the idea I had earlier in the day.

  2. Keeping a notebook or writing down ideas has helped me keep myself organized but also helped me when those ‘light bulb’ moments strike that I would have forgotten before I wrote things down. This is definitely the way to go. I purchased a small mead spiral bound notebook for rather cheap and I carry it with me wherever I go. It has everything from meeting notes to prayer requests to blog post ideas in it… and as soon as its full I’m going to get another one and in 30 years I’ll have tons of tiny spiral bound notebooks that my wife will ask me to throw away to make room for other things ;) I’ll have to cull through them looking for little bits that need to be preserved.

  3. Michel says:

    Besides all the advantages you mentioned, you may write down your expenses so you can put them on a Excell sheet later on.
    I have used moleskine before, they are great, but now I use a Levenger pocket briefcase (google it). Using a notebook,I had problems with “long term” notes. So when the notebook was full and I got a new one, I had to rewrite the “non disposable” notes if I wanted to have them with me at all times. This might be a list of books I wanted to read or just my “Waiting for” list. With the levenger and index cards, it’s simpler. Info can be sorted in a much better way. I use a pentel mechanical pencil to write the notes, by the way.

  4. Vincent says:

    I’m kind of a pocket snob — I hate it when I have big rectangles poking out of my pockets. If I have my bag with me it has a sketchbook, but otherwise, I just keep one index card and a pen in a pocket.

  5. Julie says:

    Keep your notebooks. Don’t discard them when you have filled them with thoughts and ideas. Even the most trivial things will be precious someday to your children and grandchildren. Hopefully.

  6. Marsha says:

    Good idea, Trent! Of course, it could be a notebook, a card, or some electronic system, but the concept is the same.

    I find that if I have a place or a thing where I keep a running shopping list, it helps me do more planful and frugal shopping.

  7. rocketc says:

    I really like this idea, but I hate having anything in my pocket. In fact, my worst financial habit is leaving my wallet lying around everywhere because I can’t stand having it in my pocket.

  8. Lynette says:

    PocketMod is a good way to make a thin notebook that you can easily carry in a pocket. I re-use the blank side of flyers or old letters to print mine, so it’s a recycling exercise also.

  9. Jasmine says:

    I do this! It’s soo helpful, especially if you are somewhat forgetfull like myself.

    And with time I’ve learned to check my notebook periodically to remind me of things.

    Also good if you need to kill time, I outline my budget, create to do lists and everything in a small notebook I keep in my purse.

  10. plonkee says:

    This would work better if I had pockets on my clothes.

    I fin that ideas come to me whilst I’m walking to and from work. Its pretty inconvenient to keep stopping to write things down. Someone suggested getting a digital dictation thing to record the idea, what does anyone think?

  11. My Road to Wealth says:

    I do this all the time. And my husband is so amused! But hey, it helps me!

  12. krisk says:

    Small notebooks like this are ubiquitous in the Navy. They are known as “Wheel Books”.

  13. Mariette says:

    I do this too! It’s so helpful. I love the moleskine notebooks but don’t want to buy them anymore because they don’t use recycled paper, so now I’m on this quest to try to find a moleskin-like notebook that’s recycled. I haven’t been successful and am on the verge of getting an ordinary recycled pocket notebook and keeping it closed with a rubber band (which is what I like about the moleskines.)

  14. Sarah says:

    plonkee: My husband uses a digital dictation thing, a “Hipster PDA” and his gmail inbox to collect ideas. He only uses the digital recorder while driving, and thinks it’s a great idea for walking too. You do have to treat it as an inbox and process the ideas once you get where you’re going (or daily).

  15. Avlor says:

    I just started a notebook for photography shot ideas. I think I will make it a general purpose notebook. ;) Thanks for the idea!

  16. Mrs. Micah says:

    I have one notebook for my briefcase and one for my purse. Plus I’m looking into getting some kind of hipster PDA set up (need to buy the index cards) for story ideas, as separate from other ideas.

    I got this from an English/art major I was living with. She’d write funny sayings, essay ideas, and also sketch ideas for painting. It was amazing! Then she saved them just in case.

  17. Banban says:

    Ever since college, I’ve kept a small notebook with me to jot down random thoughts and ideas. I learned this from a screenwriter friend of mine, who would have the most brilliant ideas at the most odd times. Working in the entertainment industry, many of my notes have become career boosters and life savers.

    After watching Oprah’s Debt Diet, I started using the same notebook to jot down my daily expenses. In short, my notebook is my life!

    I recommend transferring your notes to a computer later on, probably once every two weeks. That way, you can organize them more efficiently. You can also do a quick electronic search for words buried in all your scribbles, so you won’t have to flip through all your pages.

  18. MD says:

    I have never thought of this in terms of coming up with ideas on how to save money or make more. Now that you mention it, it definitely is very helpful and I’m looking to implement it immediately!

  19. Kat says:

    I literally feel naked without my sketchbook. I have been carrying one for years. Not a pocket one because they are too small. All my bags must be able to hold my sketchbook.

    @Mariette. You can glue a bit of elastic to a book in the back and then you have your recylced “moleskin” book. I found rubber bands have the worst timing of exploding.

  20. Kristen says:

    I’ve loved the idea of a moleskine notebook for a long time now, but after finally finding a place to buy one, I found out they are far too expensive! A couple months ago I was at the dollar store and bought some little notebooks – about the size of my hand. 160 lined pages, 4 of them for $1 plus tax. It’s not as nice as a moleskine, but for $1 it definitely works for me!

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