Two weeks ago, you learned in part 1 of this two-article episode some benefits of getting into the healthy habit of keeping a notebook that you write in regularly or perhaps even frequently. But how can we do this effectively and creatively in our modern times? In today’s second part, let me share nine suggestions for keeping an effective notebook.
#1. Insist upon your unique original style.
Develop your style of keeping a notebook that reflects your personality, preferred cognitive style, and originality. We’re all different and unique. So, what works well for some people doesn’t resonate with others.
For example, a few years ago, I experimented with a new notebook-keeping method that I found interesting: The Bullet Journal Method. My initial enthusiasm faded quickly, and while adapting a few aspects of bullet journaling, I switched back to my usual style of notebook keeping. Why? I believe that Bullet Journey Method works well for more efficiency-driven types but not for highly creative people like me. So, because I profile as an extreme Ideator in TIPS (Thinkergy’s Talent & Innovator Profiling System), I found the method too rigid, meticulous, and slow to match my more fluid, flexible, and creative style.
#2. Taking notes on paper or digitally? Experiment.
Here’s an interesting question: Do you use a classic paper notebook? Or do you prefer journaling on a digital note-taking app on a computer or a handheld device like the iPad or iPhone?
In the last couple of years, an abundance of new digital note-taking solutions has widely expanded the traditional way of keeping a paper-based notebook. I have always enjoyed working on a big, rather heavy paper notebook I carry in my backpack. However, over the last two years, I have more and more switched to writing most of my notes with an Apple Pencil on my iPad Pro, thereby experimenting with different note-taking apps such as Apple’s Notes, Notability, and Moleskine Flow.
Compared to a paper notebook, I appreciate that these apps offer some cool features that allow for more flexibility and creative play during note-taking. Moreover, your digital notes are also easily accessible in the cloud whenever you have an internet connection. The caveat? I risk that all my digital notes are gone forever if a major discontinuity (such as a cyberattack) destroys our digital infrastructure.
So should you switch from classical notebook writing on paper to a digital format? Or perhaps use a hybrid solution that combines the best of classical notebooks and modern digital note-taking and -keeping (such as Moleskine Smart)? The answer to this question is profoundly personal and relates to your appetite to embrace new digital note-taking solutions.
4 Digital Notes filed in my Digital Notebook
#3. Use unlined (or dotted) paper.
What paper outlines should you choose for your classical or digital notebook? Many people opt for notebooks with lined paper. If you are one of these, turn your notebook by 90 degrees the next time you hold it in your hand, and look at what you see: the prison bars (= now vertical lines) of your creativity. Or put differently, ruled paper (another name for lined paper) constrains your thinking and writing to adhere to your notebook’s “outlined rules” (in the truest sense of the word). (By the way, notebooks with squared paper are almost equally popular and creativity-restraining as lined ones; ask yourself: How can you think out of the box when you write in a notebook full of boxes?)
So, please use a notebook with plain paper instead to allow your creativity to roam freely on paper, unconstrained from any lines or squares. A blank, empty page will enable you to freely position text and visuals anywhere on the paper. What if you’re someone who craves some orientation on a notebook page? Consider using dotted paper instead while strictly avoiding lined or squared paper.
#4. Write it by hand.
Whether you prefer your notebook in a digital or classical paper format, I urge you to write your notes in longhand. So, in a digital note-keeping app, please jot down your thoughts by hand (e.g., by using the Apple Pencil on an iPad) instead of typing them on the digital keyboard. (If no digital pencil is at hand, make your entry using voice recording.) Why?
Writing longhand is more natural, flexible, intuitive, and creative — and allows you to connect to your inner voice, authentic core, and soul. In contrast, when we type text on a computer or handheld device, we are limited by the program’s functionality constraints and arguably tend to think more mechanically, robotic, and removed from our original human core.
#5. Be visual.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” the adage goes. So, add visuals to your notes whenever possible to spice up and sex up your notebooks. It’s also what you tend to notice first when looking for a particular entry in your notebook at a later time.
Such visual elements can be personal sketches, concept maps, icons, charts, and tables. Consider developing your own iconography for topics you regularly discuss in your notes (e.g., I often feature our X-IDEA iconography in my notebook when listing ideas or working on certain innovation project stages).
12 Pages in one of my old Paper-Notebooks (freshly digitized)
#6. Date your entries.
Muster the discipline to add a date (and possibly even time) to each notebook entry. As stated in part 1, a dated entry can give chronological evidence of your work and creations to outsiders or in case of a legal proceeding. But it can also provide valuable insights into how your thinking, products, and mindset have evolved over the years.
#7. Number your pages.
In a physical notebook, keep a running number at the bottom of each page. That way, you can notice if you lose a page (e.g., due to wear and tear over time or if someone tears it out). It also allows you to index important content for easy finding (see next point).
#8. Use keywords and tags or an index.
Categorize your notebook entries by using a set of consistent keywords and tags (if you prefer digital journaling) or keeping an index at the beginning of a paper notebook. Why? This makes it easier to quickly locate a particular entry you’re looking for. For example, whenever I jot down an idea or make another entry related to one of our four Thinkergy innovation methods (X-IDEA, TIPS, CooL, and Genius Journey). I add the respective logo to the note and a tag (if it’s a digital note recorded on my iPad).
I also use a consistent set of abbreviations, icons, and symbols to categorize different types of entries (e.g., the abbreviation BCR captures notes taken on a client call that I can turn later into a formal business call report, while I add an idea bulb as a symbol to every idea I jot down and our respective X-IDEA icon to every wild idea I jot down).
#9. Digitize your old paper notebooks.
Do you have old paper notebooks? Consider digitizing them. Last month, I began scanning my old notebooks and then saving them in the cloud. That way, I make them easily accessible from everywhere (in case I need to look at an old entry while on the go), and I can preserve my paper notebooks in a digital format (to prevent losing their contents through any form of physical degeneration (e.g., mold), theft, a fire or a natural disaster).
Conclusion: Experiment to discover and evolve your ideal note-taking routine
Today, I share a few tips on keeping a notebook, knowing that you likely disagree with some of my suggestions. After all, there are way too many options to keep a notebook nowadays. Forgive me if my tips are too low-tech (if you’re a member of Gen Y or Gen Z), too digital (if you’re a Boomer cherishing the old-school ways of journaling), or otherwise feel unsatisfying or incomplete for you. So, please use any tip that makes sense to — and otherwise, embrace my first point made and experiment to develop your best way to actively keep a notebook. But whatever means you use to journal, please keep a notebook as one of the routines that can help you reconnect to your genius inside.
- How do you keep your (digital) notebook these days? Any “hot tip” you want to share that is missing from my list? Any counterpoint you want to set? Please feel invited to comment on any points you think I missed.
- Keeping a notebook is one of the things we ask creative leader candidates to keep while taking the Genius Journey (Thinkergy’s creative leadership development method). We run experiential Genius Journey training courses (1-3 days) for companies and can also tailor a more extensive Genius Journey development program for a group of executives. Contact us to find out more.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2022. This article is earmarked to be copublished in an abridged version in the Bangkok Post in the coming weeks.