An Insider Look at the 5 Notebooks I Use to Keep My Business Organized
Why is it so hard to resist a beautiful notebook? Why do most of us have stacks of unused or partially used and abandoned notebooks hidden away somewhere? And don’t get me started on fancy pens…
But seriously, organizing feels like a never-ending quest. There’s something about a fresh start in a new notebook that makes us feel like we ourselves can start over. And certainly the people selling “organization” would have us believe that the answers lie in having even more stuff (which is ironic, because the more stuff we have the harder it is to keep organized!)
And yet, for me there is something important about writing things by hand. I think it makes them more real, rather than losing them somewhere on my computer, never to be looked at again. And as I wrote this article, I realized another part for me was how much I love looking back on the work I’ve done over time all in one place. That’s much harder to do in all sorts of separate digital documents.
So, for what it’s worth, I thought I’d share the 5 things I use notebooks for in my business. You may find some inspiration, you may find some comfort, or you may just find it interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes.
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If I had to have just one, this would be it. Oh, how I love my Action Journal! This is a dot grid style notebook with a special twist: there’s a checklist space on the right-hand side of every page. They’re sleek on the outside, colourful on the inside, and wildly functional. This is the one notebook that sits on my desk at all times and I use it for nearly everything. The purpose of this book isn’t to capture things that need to be referenced years later; it’s a chronological place for me to keep notes that I’ll need in the short-term and action items I need to remember.
I use this book for meeting notes, small brainstorming, calculations, lists, and so much more. If I’m on a client call and I promise my client I’ll do something, I put it in the journal. If I’m in a meeting and I need to take notes I put them in the journal. If I’m in a session with my coach, I put my notes in there, too. I even use it for personal things just because I don’t want to have too many notebooks on the go.
This is an XL, blue, Moleskine notebook I’ve used for years to capture all my notes from courses I’ve taken. Really it’s nothing more complicated than that! But the pages are so gloriously smooth and off-white that it’s a pleasure to use.
Last year I started working with a coaching supervisor and I realized my existing notebook system didn’t have a place for the work I was doing with her. This book has everything I’ve learned from my supervisor, but also all my reflections from coaching calls and homework assignments. This book, as it grows, will really show my evolution as a coach and I’m excited to look back through it in the years to come. This is also an XL Moleskine (green, if you were wondering).
The last two books aren’t really for organization, but I wanted to tell you about them anyway.
I did not take the LifeBook program, but I did like the name so I’m borrowing it. The primary use for this notebook is for yearly reflection (which I wrote about a few weeks ago here) though I do use it for a few other life-adjacent things like important mind maps and yearly planning. I like to have a place I can see all my reflections in one place. It’s a blank notebook without lines that I painted the cover of to make it my own.
This journal is a book filled with quotes and testimonials from happy clients. A lot of business owners struggle with self-doubt and sales, so I recommend they create a Praise Journal they can use for reference when they’re feeling down on themselves. It has actually come in handy for other things like when I needed to put testimonials on my website or when I was trying to figure out what true value I bring to my work. There’s something really special about seeing all the words from people who appreciated your work over the years all in one place, like a flood of awesome.
You’ll notice there are two main things I don’t use a hard-copy notebook for, and those are client notes and time management. Client notes would become too unwieldy, and I love using a project management system like Asana for them so I can incorporate links and reminders in there, too. Plus, the search function and sort function come in handy. I’ve written about time management before, and that is something I reserve for a digital calendar. For a brief time in my life I used both a paper calendar and a digital one, and it was a complete disaster, so now I fully embrace the digital world for this one.
I want to give an honourable mention to my actual journal, which has been neglected for quite some time. I’m not the kind of person who journals every day or does Morning Pages, but when there’s something on my mind I can’t quite work out, or something that’s really bothering me, I journal about it. I just let the words flow until there’s nothing left to say, and often it feels better. Sometimes I get some insight, and sometimes I don’t, but it’s a process that helps my brain free up some space and start to let the issue go. The fact that it has been neglected is actually great, because there hasn’t been anything weighing on my mind quite enough to bust it out! This journal was gifted to me while on a coaching retreat so it felt very appropriate for journalling. This is the one notebook I don’t actually go back and read because I don’t think I want to go back to those thoughts once they’re resolved.
It should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway…this is not the best or only way to organize your work. This is what works for me and what I’ve settled on over the years. You don’t have to rush out and go buy 5 notebooks (though I know you’re tempted!) I just hope this gives you a little inside look at how someone else runs their business.
So what’s your notebook system? What do you digitize and what do you have as a hard copy? Are you organized about your notebooks, or do you have stuff all over the place?
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