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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 January 21, 2020

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

How to Self-Taught Effectively

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

More About Self-Learning

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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