A Day in the Life of my Paper Journal

My current notebook

My job has placed some interesting technological limitations on my traditional productivity methods, so in response I have made the transition back to pen and paper for keeping my activity records of my daily work.  You would think that for someone as digitally focused as I this would be a significant step backwards but surprisingly, especially to me, this has not been the case.  There are a few habits I have engaged that I will pass along in the hopes they may assist you as well.

The Daily Log Page

Each day of my journal begins with a daily log page.  This page includes:
– Date
– Arrival time at work
– Page number
From this point, each major topic or project I work on during the day is logged as a single line item.  By the end of the day I have a list of the major accomplishments for the day as well as my start and end times (these are critical when billing for time.)

The Journaling Process

As I move through the day all my notes and observations about my projects are logged in the journal.  Each page receives a page number and the date for easy reference later on.  This is where the first major change in my process happened and it has made all the difference in the world for me.

Permission to be verbose

I grew up in the workplace taking short, succinct notes.  Brevity and accuracy were next to perfection in my mind.  What I discovered though is there was an exceptional amount of effort I was having to put out trimming down my notes.  For what purpose?  They’re my notes.  No one else is going to be reading them.  That’s when the lightbulb went on and I stopped writing notes FOR myself and started writing them TO myself.  You see, since they are for reference then assumption is I would not have complete recall of the topic at hand and would be looking for more detailed information.  Rather than “summing up” a topic I started writing to explain it to myself as if it were something new.

Losing the self consciousness of writing a narrative to myself freed my mind to capture all the detail I might need and not feel bad about it.  Where before if the notes on a topic went on for more than a page I would be quick to edit and trim back, now I am writing 10-20 pages of notes a day.  It may seem excessive but in every instance where I have needed to know something I can now go back and find exactly what I need without consternation or doubt.

Permission for white space

I’m the first to admit I have a problem when it comes to notebooks and pens.  I love them.  The look, the feel, sometimes even the smell of the paper can put a silly grin on my face.  But with that came a dilemma.  I purchase these wonderful notebooks but then would hesitate to write in them for fear what I was writing “wasn’t good enough” for the notebook.  I know, right?  Sounds ridiculous, but it’s true (and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.)

The other major change was to give myself “permission” to write in these wonderful notebooks.  Now I don’t hesitate to turn the page when a page is half full if that will help me keep my thoughts in order.  I sketch, I doodle, I diagram, but all with the objective in mind.  When I finally accepted these journals were for me and not for public consumption, a significant weight was lifted.

The question comes in when we start thinking about collaboration.  Turning analog to digital raises the specter of “aren’t you doing double work?  Can’t you just capture it digitally first?” Sure I could, but I don’t want to.  My notebook has become my rough draft for digital; the starting place of the ideas and words before they are polished and sterilized by Ariel and Calibri fonts.

Not for everyone

The analog world is not for everyone.  If you have poor handwriting (as far too many people do) you may be best served typing.  If you have challenges focusing or other issues, digital may be your bastion of sanity.  But give analog note taking a try.  No one says you have to stick with it, but who knows, you might just like it.