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    What's your notebook setup like? ask practices

(I ask this only half jokingly)


(Calendar and events are managed using digital systems)

Previous Discussions

    1. 4

      I actually buy my notebooks at Ikea (FULLFÖLJA, also larger), primarily because they look just like I want them to, but they only cost 1 or 1.50 EUR. Other than that it’s nothing fancy. I have a regular pen, and use the larger notebook for university related stuff (each entry is simply written under the other one), and I want to use the smaller one for personal notes and ideas, but I just can’t start doing that. I either have something to write, or I have access to my notebook ^^.

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        I want to use the smaller one for personal notes and ideas, but I just can’t start doing that. I either have something to write, or I have access to my notebook ^^.

        You describes my brain. I’ve tried GTD, dot journals, and even simple things like writing something every day, but I can’t get any of them to stick. I either have something to write, or I don’t.

    2. 4

      I discovered discbound notebooks a few years ago and will never go back. You can remove and replace pages, which is awesome for organizing notes. I used to get frustrated with how awkward it is to write at the bottom of a page when it’s lifted 1/2” off the table, now I can tear out a page, write on it as a flat piece of paper, and put it back in. You can even pick up a hole punch so you can store your own printed pages in it. When Spark Notebook was a thing, they had a PDF version – I printed it out, punched the pages, and now I had my own version, with my own distribution of different types of pages. When I’m ready to archive pages, I’ll usually just staple them or store them loose.

      I use a Bullet Space Pen. It’s not my favorite to write with, but it’s so convenient. It always lives in my pocket, and it becomes a full-size pen when I’m writing with it. And as a Space Pen, I’ve never had it not write when I’ve needed it to write.

      When I managed teams, I used the notebook for meeting notes and weekly planning. Nowadays I just use it as a notebook for online courses, getting thoughts out of my head, or a sketchbook for technical problems I need to visualize.

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        My experience with a disc-bound notebook: the pages were very prone to getting half-pulled out in my backpack. Once the part of the paper that grabs the discs’ raised edges gets folded, the page never hangs on to the disc very well again. Does that happen to you, at all?

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          Rarely, usually only when I use thin or light paper.

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            Thanks, now I understand why mine had problems: its paper was very light. And now I know that you can also have disc-bound notebooks without this problem. Thanks.

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        What makes a discbound notebook better than a 3 or 5-ring binder? Mostly curious since those also have the ability to add/remove pages.

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          Generally smaller, don’t have to open and close the rings, don’t have to worry about the rings being smashed or deformed. Small convenience, but it adds up.

      3. 1

        Oh, wow, thanks for sharing, that made me very curious, it may be just something I need to help me organize notes at work, and looks funnier and faster to use than a full-blown binder.

    3. 4

      I’m freegan, so whatever notebooks come my way. If not, I write on whatever paper happens to be around.

      I use whatever pens I find, which is many, but some I like more than others.

      Most of my writing is either throwaway practice or something I digitize shortly.

      For the “what the heck did I do yesterday?” notes, I do screen recordings. These can double as fake “pair programming”, where I put a screen recording in the corner and it feels like someone’s programming with me.

    4. 3

      My favorite lab-style notebook is this one from Boorum and Pease. Nice hard cover, acid free paper with waterproof markings, a sturdy binding that doesn’t suck, a bookmark ribbon… too bad it’s $50. ;-P I miss my previous employer that just gave us these standard, and I used it as an everyday lab notebook.

      For everyday use these days I generally use something from Moleskin with square markings and a soft cover. But for lab notebook style logs I just use OneNote.

    5. 3

      I don’t much care for notebook organization strategies but I quite enjoy Northbook’s and Leuchtturm’s dot graph notebooks.

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        Japanese company Muji make very minimalist rotten notebooks among other things. Dirt cheap too.

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          I’m assuming you meant “dotted” instead of “rotten”. I’ve been to Muji but their notebooks were a bit flimsy and too few pages for me. I’m more partial to their clothing.

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            I stayed all night to watch Youtuber boxing - yes, I meant dotted. Rotten notebooks are no good. The smaller number of pages is nice if you want to keep the notebook in a back pocket, for example.

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          Seconding muji. I don’t write much but occasionally go through events (classes, workshops) where a notebook makes sense. For better or worse I like the fact that they are cheap and don’t have any thick covering for weight/travel reasons.

    6. 3

      Rhodia pads, lined (various sizes..). Gel pens & Uni-ball Visions. Title in the top left, yyyy-mm-dd in the top right, nothing complicated (same style for years). I feel like if you’re using less than a page, maybe find a smaller notebook? It’s very hard for me to search notes if I can’t scan only the title line, so I almost always start a new sheet (and rarely write on the back). I like both the stapled pads (detachable sheets, categorizable) and the wirebound pads (still detachable, but nice linear history if you don’t).

      At work, I love those lined sticky notes (4x6”?), specifically for numbered todos. I sometimes paste them into work notebooks (usually cheap wirebound pads).

    7. 3

      Like seff, I also use a Leuchtturm 1917 (Medium A5 Dotted).

      For my pen, my favorite is the Lamy AL-Star fountain pen with fine nib combined with Noodler’s Bullet-Proof ink.

      I discovered these after a long, exhaustive search for the best setup (for me).

    8. 3

      A A4 piece of paper folded like a pocketMod to carry anywhere and Evernote to scan and keep. A Xiaomi pen.

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        Do you scan them every day or at another cadence?

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          It depends on the note. Some are short lived temporary ones. Others are more important. Those I scan as soon as I can. pocketMods are small and I tend to dispose them easily.

      2. 1

        Yes! I always keep one of these in my back pocket.

    9. 2

      I’m really happy with Leuchturm 1917 pocket-sized (A6) notebooks, numbered pages with dots. Fits in a back pocket, leaving my hands free to carry my laptop and mouse to meetings. I add an elastic pen loop with the excellent Zebra F-301 ball-point pen in blue.

      I track my daily work and home activities with Bullet journal method. Been using it at work and home for several years.

      Pen and paper is the best method of organisation I’ve tried. Apps like GTD, Tasks, OneNote, Evernote, and even Emacs org mode all became unwieldy and unmanageable for me, but paper is tactile, satisfying, and helps me remember what I write and when and where I wrote something.

    10. 2

      For special projects, I use a Fabriano notebook.

      However, I have recently (re-)discovered that having a super cheap spiral notebook increases my note-taking by a factor of 100x and that note-taking is a fantastic way to organize thoughts. I have since filled many of those. Something like 140-page Hilroy 1-subject notebooks.

      I’ve been using the Pilot G2 exclusively for over 10 years now. I buy them in bulk and always have 3 to 5 of them on me. I enjoy seeing them spread in other peoples hands wherever I go, so when someone asks for a pen I’m always the first to offer them one of mine and never ask for it back.

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        The G2 is a fantastic pen. I prefer the 0.38 tip size becethe flows so well and takes just a moment to dry.

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        Not an artist nor anything alike, but I simply love products by Fabriano. I always carry with me an A4 Notebook (Glued Long Side) with dots instead of lines. The 85g/m2 paper is perfect for the 0.1mm Uniball Pin. I’ve been using those for a long time now.

        Feel like everything looks better with this combination, specially mathematical stuff.

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        Pilot G2

        So you may like this post

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          Thanks for the tip! Pilot also makes a G2 Limited which is a fancier exterior but takes the same fills which should also work.

    11. 2

      Haha, very funny; please let this be the last….

      (I use an RS Electronics notebook and keep a Preppy 2019 edition fountain pen and highlighter in the elastic loop attached)

    12. 2

      I love this question.

      I iterated on this for quite a while but over the last several years I’ve settled on this.



      • I hardly have a system.
      • I write TODO, the date and a square box for a TODO list
      • I write a descriptive heading, and use some bullet points for writing down some ideas.

      The leather notebook has quite the patina now from carry it around for the last few years. And I’m a big fan of the Doan paper grid lines notepads. Higher quality paper than fieldnotes, but the same form factor. And I enjoy the grid lines pattern.

      I also keep some of the Doan paper writing pads on my desk at work and home for random disposable notes, like a daily TODO, and working out ideas.

    13. 2

      My main contribution here is not a specific brand of notebook, but a specific practice: every bag I am likely to carry frequently has a notebook and a pen. Whenever I have something to write down, I have the tools.

      This means that I don’t have a chronological lab book or journal, because I write in whichever notebook I’ve brought with me.

      Oh also, a product review: I bought the Livescribe pen, and while the practice of digitising notebooks was useful, the pen did not last long. The plastic deteriorated and cracked where the barrel meets the tip, within a couple of months of ownership, rendering the pen useless.

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        how do you review your notes? i would assume that you end up writing more in some notebooks than others hence finding related notes must be tough.

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          Two factors that help:

          1. The bag I take is context dependent so it’s not random where a note ends up.
          2. The one in my laptop bag (which most often joins me in a work context) is loose leaf so those pages get files somewhere.
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            interesting, you might find discbound notebooks helpful

    14. 2

      oh my where do I start, I have so many of those.

      • For small pocketable notebooks to capture ideas, jot down brainstorms, I favor Field Notes. Their subscription is really nice, you get beautiful editions every couple months.
      • For larger notebooks, I’ve been having a good experience with the Traveler Notebook system (this link is a comprehensive guide). I have many different refills for it but I learned that adding them all makes it too heavy for comfortably carrying around on my small bags, so currently I’m mostly using the blank refill.
      • To use as a diary / agenda, I prefer Hobonichi Techo (tons of info on this guide) planners. Their tomoe river paper is thin and awesome to write on and they are so cute that they basically invite you to pour your thoughts into it.
      • Regarding pens, I’ve tried a bunch of stuff ranging from fountain pens to rollerballs and everything in between. Now, I am quite in love with inexpensive Pilot G-TEC-C4s (also known as Hi-TEC-C), again jetpens has a good guide about them.

      I also enjoy tranlucent post-it notes and mildliner hilighters. But if I was going to make a new setup today, something simple and easy to carry, I’d probably go for Jibun Techo 3-in-1 planner as it condenses into a single package the setup I have with the Hobonichi Techo + Travelers Notebook. And I’d set for a Pilot Coleto multipens since they use the same kind of refill as the Hi-TEC-Cs I like (not exactly the same but same ink and point).

      As for methods, bullet journal and pomodoro technique works well for me. I could never adapt to GTD and I like just bainstorming. All the stuff I mentioned above is gorgeous but I’m not a person who makes pretty journals, all my stuff is chaotic and messy but makes sense for me. I use them mostly as a way to visualize and play with ideas and less like a way to organize stuff for the future.

    15. 2

      I write in a Moleskin classic ruled notebook. I’m sure I started with them out of some hipster impulse, but with ~20 fully filled books already on the shelf, I stick with them because I enjoy the aesthetic satisfaction of seeing my brain’s system log as part of my office decor (and the discipline of consistency is part of the whole process).

      I’ve used the same pen the entire time, a refillable ballpoint from Tiffany’s. It was an unexpected gift from the owner of a small company when I finished an unpaid internship there in 2003. I had been “hired” by an alumni of my university in the summer after my freshman year just to be an extra brain around the office (an analog “development” company, meaning real estate) and to get exposure to his business. When I saw how they managed data/process, I wrote them a small intranet app to do basic CRM and file sharing, and my boss showed his appreciation with the pen (and an open offer to go to work for him). Refilling the ink costs ~$1/year.

      The journal is free-form, sometimes general journaling and staying mentally healthy by processing complex thoughts, or sometimes working through specific technical ideas, but never with an editing mindset. Brain to paper, only thinking after.

      I do “action item” stuff right now in Omnifocus 2 again after a break with digital tools of several years. I had moved to using a small pocket-sized memo book for a long time, but I started to miss some of the re-organizing and re-ordering features of digital tools. A future weekend project is to explore some of the golang libraries for terminal GUIs to build my own system, but I already told you my story about writing a custom CRM, so how many more stereotypes do I really need to live into?

    16. 2
      • Notebook: leuchtturm1917 Grid (but want to try dotted next time)
      • Pen: LAMY Safari Fountain Pen

      I don’t really do anything other than a daily recap of what I did (usually work wise) and a few trackers (weight etc). and sometimes idea pages in the back.

    17. 2

      Oh, go on then. But I’m limiting myself to the bits that touch on software development!

      • In my chest pocket: a hardcover A6 notebook.

        • I let myself write anything in these notebooks, from grocery lists to software ideas to self-reflection. Putting in the grocery lists is what got me over my initial paralysis. (That paralysis went something like ‘these pages are forever and I must only write things that will still be interesting in the future’.)
        • I paste in calendar pages of my own design, because I don’t keep a separate diary. I had a lot of fun writing page-size-&-month-length–agnostic source code in ConTeXt/LuaTeX.
      • In my backpack: a hardcover A4 notebook.

        • I tried A5, but having a larger page feels almost exactly like having more working memory. I can fit more into (my head + my page) at once, and as a result I put down more details, paraphrases, connections, spin-off thoughts, and explicit problem statements.
          • Having a larger page is especially nice for drawing graphs — call graphs, dependency graphs, causal graphs/trees for when I’m looking for an incident’s causes, and Wardley maps.
    18. 3

      Come on, really? The throwaway copycat what’s-your-editor-setup posts were bad enough, but this is plainly offtopic. I hate to be a grinch but if there’s inflection point somewhere where this site just turns into HN or reddit, and I think we should sanction it even though it’s oh-so-tempting to chip in with our personal “setups”

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        Not all memes are bad. We’ve had a grand total of 4 of these posts, and all of them very easily fall under software development. (Yes, even this notebook one, since I and others have or often do use notebooks to aid software development and programming)

        I agree that there is a tipping point beyond which they will no longer useful or relevant, and I think we’re close to having tapped out this well in this wave. Sometimes it’s nice to let loose a bit, however, knowing that it will pass.

        I could see a monthly or quarterly “What is your (work|non-work) development setup” post also being a nice addition to our periodic book recommendations. I don’t think it merits the weekly nature of “what are you doing”, since development setups aren’t changing that often.

      2. 3

        It’s on the ask tag; if asking questions is a topic, then it seems on topic. Maybe you want to get rid of ask, or just want to filter it out? I don’t want you to have to see this posts if you don’t want to.

      3. 5

        I bet you’re fun at parties. The contrarian gets the upvotes, but think carefully about whether or not you want to reward this kind of behavior on Lobsters.

        1. -1

          Thanks for the personal insult, I appreciate it. I did not actually post this just to be contrarian and score points, as you’ve assumed.

          Speaking of rewarding behavior: no, I don’t want to see the rewarding of what are essentially meme posts, and I don’t want this site to gradually veer away to where the front page is meme posts and offtopic discussion. We have reddit for the former and HN for the latter. This thread is mostly a discussion of paper notebooks and favorite pens. I’m sure there’s a subreddit for that.

      4. 2

        but this is plainly offtopic.

        Asking lobsters about a tool that they use for/during development in my opinion is not off topic with respect to the tags used for the post. But the mods can clarify that. We’ve discussed this exact topic many times over the years and even development tool generally, why is it bad?

        I first learned about Bullet Journals from a comment on lobste.rs and it improved the way i work & write software by a lot.

    19. 1

      Field Notes (graph paper) + Post Its + Bic Grip Roller - monthly calendar for pages 1-12, notes in the back, to-dos go on post-its.

    20. 1


      • Work: A4 Moleskin
        • Exclusively for work notes; shredded when done.
      • Personal: A5 Moleskin
        • Daily journal, date, title, 30 minutes free-flow thoughts, bullet journal style todo list.

      Pen: Mitsubishi UM-151. Pilot G2, when desperate.

    21. 1

      My article in The Best To-Do System thread has been moved here https://jft.rocks/random/the-best-to-do-list-system.

      Well, after a year or so, my setup went from a Moleskin to an Amazon Basics notepad, and the pen is Papermate inkjoy gel. Mostly because they’re free supplies in the office.

      I tear off and throw away every used page after a couple of weeks.

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        Your system sounds good, but images aren’t quite linked right, so I couldn’t figure out what this looks like. 6B is very dark, I’ll have to try it. 2B is way better than HB

    22. 1

      MiracleBind! Removable pages! Completed checklists move to the back - most recent checklist is always at the front! Search MiracleBind on AMZN or other.

    23. 1

      I use a Word Notebook, because of the heavy paper, with the a nice leather cover.

      I don’t care for the Moleskins, the paper is too thin, most pens bleed through. Field Notes is hit or miss, sometimes they have heavy paper, sometimes not.

    24. 1

      I used to use a pad of engineering paper I found in an old cabinet at work, but I’ve switched to a pad of yellow paper and a run-of-the-mill Zebra black pen

    25. 1

      I’ve tried physical notebooks, Trello, todo.txt, but have settled on:

    26. 1

      I use a blank Moleskin, only because it was the only option in the shop at the time.

      Noticing a while back, I mainly use my notebook as a TODO list, and control flow diagrams. But with the TODO lists, I waste a tonne of whitespace on the RHS, so now I’ve started ruling a line down the middle in order to double up on the content. It’s working well for me so far.