Boost Your Creativity and Productivity by Using a Simple Notebook

An Ode to the Humble Moleskine Notebook


Trying to find ways to capture your creative bursts and brainstorms and use them effectively? One of the greatest tools ever invented is a humble notebook. Now I love computers, word processors, and databases, but so many of my best ideas and projects start out as scribbles on paper. In fact, most of the creative, successful people that I see use notes as part of their orgnizational and creative process.

Famous Note Takers:

Da Vinci, Bill Gates, Thomas Edison, (I’m still convinced that O.J. Simpson’s famous legal pad is what actually kept him out of prison.) With this list of success stories, you could surely benefit from taking solid notes.

Note Taking Styles

There are many different methods and styles for taking effective notes.

  • The Cornell Method – This is a systematic format for condensing and organizing notes. It also helps you find the information later on.
  • The Outline Method – This is the old school Roman Numerals, Letters, Bullets method that you probably learned in gradschool. I actually use this sometimes when I’m working on a new book or a training course at my day job.
  • The Mapping Method – This is where you draw a map or a graphic representation of the content of a meeting, lecture, or idea. I think that this is best for brainstorming new projects or solutions..
  • The Charting Method – If you know the hi-level topics of a meeting/lecture, you write them out with blank spaces before hand. Then, all notes are jotted down into their appropriate sections during the event. This has some limitations, but it could be helpful if you have the agenda up front.
  • The Sentence Method – During the event, you write each concept on a separate number line. I don’t like this. It takes too much time to write and limits your ability to participate.

All of these have very good ways of helping you capture, cataloge, and retrieve what is going on. Click through for more information.

Life Hacker’s “Take Notes Like Thomas Edison” article breaks down a master note taker’s technique. This short well written article is great. Also, Rutgers University has posted over 5 Million Pages of Edison’s notebooks online in PDFs if you would like to see a master at work. (Seriously 5 million!)

Life Hacker also has a good article on the Cornell Note Taking Method. This is one of the more highly reccomended methods.

Here is a link to a PDF from Stanford University with some good information on popular Note Taking styles.

For those of us who are visually oriented, the Mind Maps technique by is pretty cool. You draw a word or concept in the middle of the paper and start connecting ideas from it in an expanding octopus. Each new limb can have new ideas branching off it to continue the theme.

Here’s a video explaining the benefits of Mind Mapping by Tony Buzan.

Maximise the Power of Your Brain – Tony Buzan MIND MAPPING has a bunch of really good books with tips on taking effective notes.

Moleskines for the Artsy Type

Many people are doing things that are more creative. Notebooks are not just great for taking notes and making plans, they are great ways of getting your creativity out of your head and into the world. I put together a playlist of YouTube videos that show moleskines used to begin the creative process. These are all pretty inspiring.

Moleskines as Travel Journals or Scrap Books

These are the best ways to make a travel log. Just put it in your bag and bring it with you on your journey. When you get papers like a plane or train ticket, a museum or park admission, a tourist map or a receipt for a fabulous meal, you can just jam them into the book. Then, leave a blank page or space and scrible down some quick thoughts. Later on, you can go back and stick in photos or more complete ideas. If you want to be more formal, you can transfer it to something nicer later on. This way you have a good chronology, along with an accurate diary of your thoughts.

Check out this video showing exactly what I’m talking about.

Organizing and Cataloging for Maximum Efficiency

I read a great article on indexing your paper notes for easy retrieval. Basically, you number the front right corner of each page. Then when you finish taking notes on a page, make an index in the back of the book. Write the page number, then a few brief words or tags from that page. Now, you have an index for the whole notebook. Flip to the back, scan for your topic, then jump to any noted pages. It’s almost like a real textbook.

Number books and put a copy of indexes in a master book. You could cary this out further by number all of your “full” notebooks and photocopying just the index pages from each. Put these into a dedicated “master index” and then you have all of your notes easily searchable. (Yeah I know that’s a little anal, but I’m just sayin’)

Different Sizes for Different Tasks

I usually work with a few different notebooks at any given time. My main one is a standard sized notebook. I use this for all of my projects and meetings at work. I also have one that’s about two thirds size that I keep in my bag. I use this for working on articles and ideas for this site. It’s smaller, so it’s more convenient to carry anywhere. The size is also good for working on the train or anywhere esle with tight seating. I also use a mini notebook that fits in my back pocket for some things. I call it my “detective” pad, because it reminds me of the ones that they used to use on cop shows. I use this for things like lists for the store, or quick notes about to-do items. It’s pretty convenient when I go shopping. Here is a good article on uses for Small Notebooks.

Well, what are you waiting for?

Go get your moleskine notebook and start writing, recording, brainstorming, creating, sketching or whatever. If anyone has some other good ideas, or would like to show what they use their notebooks for, put a link in the comments below or email me.

Attribution: the photo “Broc’s Moleskine” is used under the Creative Commons licensing. It was taken by Flickr user Retro Traveler. Click here to see more of his pretty cool work. Thanks, Retro Traveler.

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