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10 Great Notebooks Productive People Love

10 Great Notebooks Productive People Love

Although I’m going on 10 years as a PDA/Smartphone user (Palm IIIe – Handspring Visor Neo – Treo 180g – Zire 72 – Treo 680 – Blackberry 8310), I love notebooks. A good pen on nice paper makes me much happier than the feel of a stylus on a plastic screen or the clickety-clack of a thumb-board. My personal notebook inventory consists mainly of three kinds of notebooks:

  • A pocket-sized Moleskine : I love the reporter’s notebook or standard lined notebook, though lately I’ve been using the tiny extra-small Volants, whose soft vinyl cover stands up to my back pocket better.
  • Tops Docket Gold letter-sized pads : These are my favorite pads for writing; they are the only letter-sized top-bound legal pads I’ve been able to find with both narrow rules (most legal pads are wide-ruled) and an extra-stiff cardboard backing, perfect for lap-top writing.
  • Hardbound Foray notebooks: Foray is an Office Depot house brand; they make several sizes and colors of hardbound notebooks. The front dozen or so pages are project planning templates, which makes them useful for, well, for planning projects. I keep one for each major project I’m involved with. (I couldn’t find a link to the particular one I use; they’re sold in the executive journals section of the store.)

But I’m always trying out new notebooks — at the end of the day, they do the same thing but some are just more of a pleasure than others. And I do a lot of writing and note-taking, so anything that makes that feel less like work and more like play is A-OK by me.

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Here are a few of the notebooks (and their note-y cousins) I’ve tried, owned, or just plain lusted after.

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  1. Moleskine : The classic. I’ve said more than enough about Moleskines already! (But for someone else’s perspective, check out the fan blog Moleskinerie .)
  2. Picadilly: A lower-priced knock-off of Moleskine’s notebooks that many claim are just as good as Moleskines. All the reasons you’d buy a Moleskine apply here, with some leeway for differences in paper or binding.
  3. Rhodia : Rhodia notebooks come in several styles (including a hard-cover Moleskine-like journal) but the classic is the soft-covered, stiff-backed pad bound with staples at the top. Known for their orange covers (though they also come in black) and loved for their high-quality paper, Rhodia notebooks are available in a variety of sizes andfor as low as a couple dollars each. (For a taste of why Rhodia notebooks have such a cult following, check out the blog Rhodia Drive .)
  4. Field Notes: Simple notebooks with a retro flair and a whiff of adventure about them, Field Notes are soft-covered, saddle-stitched notebooks with a straightforward, no-nonsense attitude. Field Notes are $10 for a pack of three pocket-size notebooks, and each shipment includes a fistful of goodies including matching pencils and click-pens.
  5. The cheapo spiral: The basic, no-nonsense cheapo notebook with spiral binding across the top or down the side. I hate them with a passion, but other people love them — they’re cheap, simple, unpretentious, and most importantly they get the job done. Plus, they’re available practically everywhere — supermarkets, drugstores, convenience stores, and of course office supply outlets.
  6. Levenger Pocket Briefcase: Not a notebook per se but an index card holder, Levenger’s pocket briefcases are made of quality leather which gives them a luxurious, almost decadent air. Most have a space for holding one “ready-to-use_ index card and a pocket to store used cards and spares. They’re not cheap, at about $30 and up, but everyone that owns one swears by it.
  7. The Hipster PDA: At the other end of thecontinuum from Levenger’s luxury is the bare-bones, stripped-down hipster PDA. A stack of index cards bound with a binder clip and *presto!* — you got yourself a handy, pocket-sized notebook. GTD’ers love it because they can record thoughs one per card and toss them in their inbox for later processing when they get into the office or home.
  8. Rite-in-the-Rain Tactical Notebook: Designed for military use, these perfect-bound, vinyl-covered notebooks literally go anywhere — the light green pages are waterproof! Add a Fisher Space Pen or other waterproof, write-anywhere pen and you’re good to go, and go, and go. I still have one from years ago (I managed a military supply store on the US Army base many, many years ago) and can vouch for the pages’ waterproofing. Though I don’t camp much, when I do, I take my Rite-in-the-Rain notebook.
  9. Scientific Notebook Company lab notebooks: Lab notebooks are more than just a place to take ntoes, they are a permanent record of scientific progress. SNC’s notebooks are designed to be used in support of patent claims, so each page includes headings for project info that are useful for anyone’s projects. (The footers include lines for signatures and witnesses, which are less useful, but take up little space.) The standard notebooks are hard-bound and letter-sized and run $12-20 US; vinyl-bound soft-cover student notebooks can be had for under $4 a pop.
  10. Livescribe Pulse SmartPen system: Not technically a notebook — and really, overkill of the worst kind, but: oh my! When used with the system’s specially-prepared paper, the SmartPen records every stroke of the pen plus audio of the class, lecture, meeting, or otehr event you’re taking notes on! You can later download your notes to the computer, effectively solving the “paper can’t be backed up” problem. For only a couple hundred bucks.

What are your favorite notebooks? Let us know in the comments!

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

This is why setting priorities is so important.

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3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

1. Eat a Frog

There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

2. Move Big Rocks

Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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3. Covey Quadrants

If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important and Not Urgent
  3. Not Important but Urgent
  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

    The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

    Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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    You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

    Getting to Know You

    Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

    In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

    These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

    More Tips for Effective Prioritization

    Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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