A Man’s Guide To Notebooks 16

“[H]e had in the head of his staff a pen and ink-horn, carried always a notebook in his pocket, and as soon as a thought darted, he presently entered it into his book.”

– John Aubrey

Whether you are a businessman, author, or normal person, carrying and using a notebook will help you remember important ideas that can help your business, writing, or life.

A notebook can be used to record…

  • to-do lists.
  • book recommendations.
  • improvement ideas.

However, before you can start reaping the many benefits of this organized method, you must first choose the right notebook for your situation and tastes.

#1 Electronic Device

Many digital devices (iPhone, Blackberry, etc.) have the ability to take notes electronically.


  • Already Carried – If you keep your phone in your pocket anyway, it is very easy to get into the habit of using it as a notebook.
  • Sync Easily – You can always sync it with your computer, so you have your notes backed up safely… even if you lose your PDA!


  • Looks Like Texting – When you are writing something down, you look like you are texting.  When you are in the middle of a conversation and you want to write something down, you look like you are distracted with a second conversation.  This leaves your friend thinking, “Am I not worthy to listen to?”
  • Slower Recording – Unless you are skilled at using the keypad or micro-keyboard on your PDA, recording your notes here will probably take more time than it would if you were to simply write on a notepad.

#2 Loose paper

First, there are several different options under the general category of “loose paper”.

  • Individual Sheets – This is not recommended because they are easily lost and damaged.
  • Hipster PDA – This is an interesting system of organizing individual sheets of paper using paper clips.
  • PocketMod – Folds a single sheet of paper into a small book.


  • Cheap – Loose papers are the cheapest version of a notebook. You only have to buy a couple sheets of paper and perhaps a paperclip.
  • Easily Reorganized – You can quickly and easily change the order of your notes to keep them organized for quick access.


  • Not Enduring – When you have the cards in your pocket for a week, the papers will be all sloppy and look ugly. So for the short-term they are great, but for the long term? Not so much.
  • Easy to forget – If you accidentally wash a piece of paper, all your ideas will be lost.

#3 Regular Notebook

One of the most common types notebooks are the original, book-sized pads (spiral-bound, Moleskin, etc.).


  • Long Life – Unlike the loose paper solutions, a solid notebook is much easier to store and maintain.  Because of the cover, the paper inside is less likely to be damaged, and the binding helps keep everything together.
  • Looks Neat – Do you remember the last time you saw a man writing in his notebook? Probably not. Most men today do not use it. This provides a perfect opportunity for you to lead the way in a return toward greater manliness.
  • Historic Nostagia – The moleskin in particular is a classy notebook with a rich history. The company even claims that Hemingway and van Gogh used the book.


  • Bit Pricey – A moleskin is a somewhat expensive little book. Although it is worth the money, spending $13 can seem like a bit much.  On the other hand, you can buy a spiral-bound notebook for much less.
  • Harder To Keep Organized – Say you write one page of book recommendations, then a to-do list, and then another page of books.  Using a notebook, it is impossible to rearrange these pages to keep similar topics together.

Whether you prefer an electronic device, a loose paper arrangement, or a regular notebook, you will enjoy higher productivity and greater organization.

What notebook do you prefer to use?

This article is written by guest author Stefan Knapen from StudySuccessful.com, a blog about living a successful college life.  You can also follow Stefan also on Twitter.

16 thoughts on “A Man’s Guide To Notebooks

  1. Reply Jason V Mar 10,2010 7:29 AM

    My always-present notebook is a small 5/$1.00 spiral bound 3×5″ one. I wrap duct-tape or packing tape over the cover/spiral and then they last for many months in my back pocket.

    I use for to-do’s / phone numbers and names / etc. Primary use is to write down ideas so they are not “lost”. Quote that I once heard: “If you don’t write it down, it never happened.” This is true of ideas as they can sometimes get pushed from our mind by business. Especially the “Truly Unique” ones that come like a flash of lightning out of the blue.

    I just picked up an “iPod Touch” which is decent, but requires cable for sync. Aimed mostly at media, it does an “OK” job with Notes for recording todo’s and ideas. The ability to run “Apps” is what attracted me, as you can download to-do apps, list-apps, map-apps, etc.

  2. Reply Jason V Mar 10,2010 7:34 AM

    PS: Hipster PDA is a great idea, but I still think it needs some sort of plastic or duct-tape cover to be truly rugged and useful.

  3. Reply Jordan M. Williams Mar 10,2010 10:03 AM

    Call me old fashion but I like the note book, a little tip on organizing the notebook. All you have to do is yours those color tabs (like for binders) and coordinate what goes with what color.

    As for Notebook 2.0… Evernote has always been a little useful note taker for me. If I ever neet to take a quick note and I dont have a pen and notebook I just text the information to ever note. Im able to access it later via my computer (which can be offline after synced online) or any other computer…. also with the Evernote app via iphone/itouch, and blackberry

  4. Reply Stephen C. Berry Mar 10,2010 4:30 PM

    I really love moleskine notebooks, especially the ones that are top-bound like a reporter’s pad. I work part-time at a Borders bookstore and we have an off-brand called Picadilly that looks and feels just like the moleskines for about half the price!

    I use them for everything from book, music and movie recommendations, to lists and song ideas…or just to jot my thoughts down or whatnot. I keep bigger notebooks by my bed to write more coherent things, but I love carrying a pocket-sized one with me during the day! Before I started writing things down there were soooooo many good thoughts and ideas that have just vanished!

  5. Reply Stormbringer Mar 11,2010 4:16 PM

    In another forum, I saw a discussion similar to this, and found out about Moleskine. (Trivia: Nothing to do with moles or skins, it’s an Italian name, pronounced moll-uh-SKEEN-uh. The guy in the store looked at me like I grew a second head when I asked for it correctly, and he offered to show me “mole skins”.) I also found out that there is a variety of similar products for less money, including Piccadilly.

    But I found out that keeping a journal is not for me. Part of that problem is that my thoughts are published online. The other part of the problem is starting a habit like this at age 50, with the belief that nobody will want to read what I write in those anyway.

    Instead, I carry a small notebook to grab passing thoughts. My main choice is Field Notes brand. It fits in the shirt pocket and is flexible. For even less money, Wally World has a small composition-style notebook for less than $1 USD. In both cases, you cannot tear out the pages. Anyway, I gather my thoughts and then put my “to do” stuff in an online calendar (sync with Sunbird or Thunderbird’s “Lightning” extension on my desktop).

    Carrying some kind of small notebook, and the commitment to “write it down”, have saved me a great deal of distress.

  6. Reply D. Barton Mar 11,2010 8:21 PM

    I keep a 4″ by 2.5″ pocket notepad and a mechanical pencil in my pocket where I place any thoughts that occur to me. The original idea was to write down any names that I would use in future book writing that popped in my head, but lately I have been using it to keep a larger variety of things, mostly lists (music, books to look up and online CG artist’s.)

  7. Reply Nate Desmond Mar 11,2010 9:48 PM

    Thank you all for your comments!

    I have enjoyed hearing which notebooks you use, and you have given me some ideas for future notebooks.

    Currently, I use a basic spiral-bound notebook (probably about $5 in a grocery store “school” aisle.

    Now, however, I want to try a couple of other systems as well.

  8. Reply bondChristian Mar 14,2010 9:48 PM

    @ Stormbringer

    Thanks for sharing that… I love trivia, and I’d never heard it pronounced the correct way before.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  9. Reply bondChristian Mar 14,2010 9:52 PM

    I often carry some kind of small notepad with me to jot down thoughts I have (I tend to get my best ideas in the worst times).

    But I once heard something that changed my journaling habit. Someone (important) said to buy the most expensive journal you can find, and fill it with thoughts that are worth the price you paid for it. I could see how this could keep people from writing freely, but for me it was a huge help. Something about buying an expensive journal (I didn’t go THAT expensive) changed how I think when I write. I loved it and have found that the quality of my journal writing has gone way up.

    Something to consider. I enjoyed this article by the way. Thank you for posting. I’m a big fan of writing.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  10. Reply RJ Licata Mar 17,2010 8:43 AM

    I have been using Moleskine (Mole-uh-SKEEN-uh – very interesting info by the way) for about a year and have three different varieties. I have a small, pocket-sized notebook with perforated edges for quick-hit ideas that I have throughout the day. I also use a medium-sized notebook that I use to keep quotes and other longer lasting ideas and concepts. Some of these come via transfer from my pocket notebook. The third kind is a larger, journal-like notebook that I keep near my bed. This is used for elaborating on ideas and preserving inspired thoughts.

    There is nothing more frustrating than having a great idea and waiting until later to write it down only to realize an hour later than you forgot it. Experience that once and you’ll be carrying a notebook the next day.

    I chose Moleskine for their durability and so far they haven’t disappointed. I tried using my cell phone, but for some reason it wasn’t the same as actually writing it out. For me, they’re worth the extra money.

    Thanks for this article. It was a good read and is a habit all people, not just men, should really consider starting.

  11. Reply Stefan | StudySuccessful.com Mar 17,2010 2:03 PM

    Thanks all for the comments! Would like to tell you guys how I use notebooks.

    After some experimenting, I didn’t find a pocketmod to work for me, it got sloppy and couldn’t read it anymore. So I decided to get along with my Moleskine.

    I have that little baby in my coat always, really always, together with a pen. So if I have an idea, I’ll write it down immediately, works perfect!

    I don’t use an electronic device because I don’t have a good one. But in the near future I will buy an iPhone and probably use an app like dropbox for my ideas. Just because it is faster and when I don’t have my coat with me, I’ll still have my phone!

    Again, thanks for the comments guys, you make it worth to write!

  12. Reply W S Burdick Apr 10,2010 7:15 AM

    Great article. I have used PDAs, small (pocket sized) spiral note books and several other things. What has worked best for me is 3 x 5 blank file cards.

    I buy a pack and keep it on a shelf where I empty my pockets at night. Each morning, I make sure I have a few blank cards, pencil and pen.

    I use the cards for notes, phone numbers, lists and such. When I buy materials, I cross them off the list. In the evenings, I look at my cards and transfer whatever I want to my computer, address book or whatever and cross them off the card(s).

    When the card is filled with crossed off items, I trash it and get another one. Since I don’t carry a card very long, it does not get too ragged. If it does, I just throw it our before it gets full. It is not very ‘high tech’ but it works for me.

  13. Reply Nate Desmond Apr 10,2010 8:12 AM

    @W S Burdick – Your advice is particularly useful since you have tested the other methods! I agree that “high-tech” is not always “high-efficiency”.

  14. Reply Josh Jan 21,2011 3:02 AM

    I’ve always had a hard time finding a system that worked to capture my thoughts effectively.

    I’ve tried:
    1. Pocket recorder: I never had the time to transcribe all the notes, so it was pointless.

    2. Jott.com: I could call my account from my mobile and record a note to be transcribed and emailed back to me (or anyone else). The problem was that the transcriptions were about 60% accurate (probably because I have a deep voice and talk fast), so cut/paste wasn’t possible. Also, at $5/mo. I wasn’t seeing the value.

    3. Notebook: Organization is the bane of this as there’s simply no way to inventory everything and find things easily. I’ve recently purchased a Moleskine to follow Jim Rohn’s famous advice bondChristian mentioned of purchasing an expensive journal and placing valuable ideas in it. I really like the format and quality, but again, organization is the achilles.

    So, the solution that actually works the best and is most reliable now is using Evernote on my Droid. I’ve had Evernote for a number of years, but started using it about 6 months ago to organize notes and items to file around various centers of my life (ie: Family, Fitness, Work, Hobbies, etc). I use each of those centers as ‘Notebooks’ to organize within and then use ‘tags’ in each note to make searching a breeze.

    I can upload info via a written note through my phone, via picture by snapping something with the phone’s camera (and the text in the images is searchable too!!), or even a voice memo, which I haven’t used yet.

    If I remember a task to do, I just email it to myself and it’s waiting in my inbox to be done when I’m knocking stuff out. Otherwise, ideas and stuff to file/archive goes into Evernote and is easy to find instantly on the phone, PC or online.

    Best of all, I’ve yet to run into the limits of a free Evernote account.

  15. Reply bondChristian Jan 31,2011 9:27 AM

    Yes, Josh, I’ve heard excellent things about Evernote too. Since commenting here, I’ve actually started switching all my old notes to digital files… and then using search to find what I need. As far as archives, though, I still haven’t found a perfect solution. So for now, I’m working to try to keep things from the past year fairly searchable and not worrying about the rest. That’s the best I’ve got for now.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  16. Reply Elf M. Sternberg Mar 31,2011 11:20 AM

    I use a moleskin with two hacks. The first is that I use book darts, small hammered copper bookmarkers that slip onto the pages. Darts at the top of the notebook indicate to-do lists, darts on the side indicate long-term and “maybe someday” project lists; a page with no dart is a generic note page.

    The other is that I try to “clear” note pages by figuring out why I made the note and converting it into a to-do item or otherwise acting on the note, and when I’ve cleared a page I cut off the upper-right-hand corner with a pair of scissors. The remaining pages show up easily and are easy to thumb through afterward.

Leave a Reply