One Notebook or Many? Part 2: The case for many notebooks

One notebook, many notebooks, or something else? This is something that has had me thinking in circles for a long time. Should I have one notebook, and record everything in that, or different notebooks for different subjects, or something else? To give others something to chew on as they make choices for themselves, I’ve written a multi-part series on the virtues of different systems from my point of view. This part is about the advantages of having a subject in their own notebooks.

A single subject notebook makes for easier reference. When I first got the idea for NumberQuotes, I wrote it in my journal. As I started to implement the site I kept more notes, and my journal from that period has entries with sketches of logos, notes on structure and all kinds of other stuff. As I kept working on the site, and I started to need some of the notes I’d made earlier I found myself constantly going back to that old journal and then paging around trying to find what was looking for. Not very good for productivity. While page numbers and some tables of contents might help, the solution was to start a NumberQuotes notebook. I decided that the subject was narrow enough that it would support it’s own notebook, and it has.IMG_2022.JPG

A single subject notebook increases focus. When I’m writing in a single subject notebook, I feel a discipline to focus on that subject. It’s a reminder of what I’m doing, and there’s no risk that while I’m paging through old entries I’ll end up on some trip down memory lane. Instead, paging through the book reminds me of other aspects of the subject, helps the focus, and can even help with writer’s block.

It can also keep you from repeating yourself. I have more than a few entries on some subject where I ‘discovered’ the same idea for a second time. I was reading through old stuff, got the idea, and wrote it down. Then later I saw that I’d had the idea the first time around, I just hadn’t found the book that had it.

A single subject book means less eggs in one basket. One time I left my notebook on a table at a conference. It was my personal notebook which I’d brought and put a few work notes in. Losing the work notes would have been inconvenient, but losing all the personal stuff would have been a lot worse.

A single subject notebook is less to carry. For many things a small Cahier or similar book will serve, such as most 1 or 2-day business trips. A lot easier to carry than a larger hardcover journal.

A single subject notebook can bring clarity. Putting a bunch of related but separate thoughts in one place doesn’t just make them easier to find, it makes them easier to combine together.

A single subject notebook keeps my journal cleaner. Keeping weight, diet, exercise, or spending records in my journal chewed up a lot of space, and made the book very tedious to read. Especially when I went through a phase where I wasn’t writing much. Workout records in particular took up a lot of space, and really didn’t add any value when looking through the book later on. All of these entries had one thing in common – they were mostly numbers that had little meeting when casually read, and belonged in their own book.

All posts in the series:
One Notebook or Many? Part 1: The case for one notebook
One Notebook or Many? Part 2: The case for many notebooks
One Notebook or Many? Part 3: The case for loose sheets
One Notebook or Many? Part 4: What’s been working for me

5 thoughts on “One Notebook or Many? Part 2: The case for many notebooks

  1. I have this same problem but it goes deeper than that. If I write something about food but made a mistake and added it to the exercise notebook I get very irritated over my mistake. I know this is totally irrational but it still happens. I think I am better off having one book and just throw everything in there much like my closet. That is actually more of a reflection of my life then perfect separate books. Great arricle


    1. Hi Katherine,

      Nice to see you here again!

      I’ve had the situation where I have a great idea for a subject whose book is not at hand, and struggled with writing it in the ‘wrong’ book.

      I decided as long as it got written, that was better than nothing, and I usually end up copying it into the correct book later.

      When it happens a lot it does have me wondering if one book wouldn’t be better though.


  2. I’ve been mainly a one-notebook person for the last few years, and I have that fear of using it at work and then leaving it behind– my personal journal entries are NOT something I want my co-workers to read!


    1. I know the feeling. On some trips I will take just a small empty book to take notes, and I will write journally kind of stuff as well. I figure if some near-stranger reads about how I felt on the plane, or what I thought of the hotel I can live with it.

      For day-to-day I take my regular journal to work and keep an eye on it. Fortunately I work someplace where a) I don’t feel much need to vent about work and b) Personal space and privacy are respected.


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