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Getting Ready for 2010: My Moleskine Setup

Getting Ready for 2010: My Moleskine Setup

Getting Ready for 2010: My Moleskine Setup

    I’m a few days late, but with the new year upon us, I’ve decided to inaugurate a new Moleskine. The old one is… well, it’s not good. The binding is broken, pages are out, and it’s just about full anyway. Plus, I’ve got a saucy new Moleskine in fire engine red that’s eager to get in the game.

    Since I make a big deal about using a Moleskine (or similar notebook) as an always-with-you productivity tool, I thought I’d share exactly how I set mine up. It’s not super-complicated, but it might give an idea of how a simple pad of paper can hold together all the strains of an insanely complex life.

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    My strategy is simple: Make it as easy as possible to pull the thing out, use it, and put it away. No messing around to find the right section, no page numbers, nothing fancy. A few tabs, judicious use of the bookmark and elastic strap, and a good fine-tipped pen. And that’s it.

    Making Sections

    One of the greatest inventions of the 20th century was – ok, I overstate myself. Still, Post-It Index Tabs go with Moleskine notebooks like biscotti goes with coffee. Usually sold in assortments of three colors, these little plastic tabs are a little under an inch long and are coated on one end with Post-It sticky stuff so you can easily add tabs to any piece of paper or card stock.

    I use two per Moleskine. The first one goes a little past halfway into the book, the second about a dozen or so pages back from the end. That makes three sections:

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    1. Next Actions/Notes

    The first section starts on page 1, so doesn’t need an identifying tab. This is an ever-growing list of next actions. I’ve tried using contexts in my paper to-do list, but it just gets in the way – I never know what to do with the next task after a page marked “@phone” or “@computer” is full. It certainly defeats the point to have to flip back and forth to find the right context to add a new task to.

    I used to have a separate section for notes, but I don’t anymore. What I do instead is this: tasks go on the right-hand page, notes on the left-hand page. And I do a lot of notes – I brainstorm post ideas, outline posts I intend to work on soon, jot addresses and phone numbers, draw maps and write directions, and on and on.

    There is one right-hand page that’s not for notes, usually the first one. This I designate for “Someday/Maybe”. I just don’t run into the same problem that contexts give me – running out of room on the page – because I guess I don’t use Someday/maybe all that much. In any case, I’ve never filled the page before needing a new Moleskine.

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    2. Projects/Goals

    The first tab (which means the second section) is for projects. On the first page of the section, the one with the tab on it, I keep a running list of all the projects I’m working on. The next couple of pages are blank, so I can continue the list when the first page gets full. A few pages in, I start pages for each project, usually just lists of tasks and random ideas I want to remember.

    On the back of the first page, I write short-term goals. I have a simple formula: “By [DATE] I will have [GOAL]”. I typically set goals for 1 month, 3 months, and (maybe) 6 months in the future, so in this notebook, I’ll have something like “By February 15th, I will have…”, “By April 15th, I will have…” and (maybe) “By July 15th, I will have…” Then I revisit this page every so often to gauge my progress and set new goals.

    3. Reference

    The last section is for pieces of information I might need on the go: logins for my utilities, my Google Voice number (I can never remember it!), and other random but occasionally-useful stuff.

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    My Moleskine in use

    My Moleskine lives in my back pocket. As I said, the goal is that when I need to us it, whether to check something, write down a task, or cross something off, it can happen instantly. Both the bookmark and the elastic strap are drafted into service of this primary goal.

    Usually, the sewn-in bookmark marks the first page under “Next actions” that I can write in, and the elastic strap is wrapped around the first blank page under “Projects”. If – and this happens very rarely – if the notes and tasks in the “Next actions” section get too far out-of-whack, whether because I’ve taken a bunch of notes recently and gotten several pages ahead of the last page of tasks, or vice versa, I’ll use the bookmark and strap to mark the last pages of tasks and notes separately.

    Although the Pilot G-2 is the time-honored companion to the Moleskine, my current favorite pen for my Moleskine is the Sharpie Retractable Fine-Point pen, a fat click-pen with a fiber-tip that lets me write super-small (thus maximizing the usefulness of a pocket-sized notebook).

    And that’s the whole system. Like I said, simple, but it works. And because it works with minimal effort, I actually use it. Every. Single. Day.

    Do you have any special tricks that help you get the most out of a pocket notebook? How do you set yours up? Let’s hear it!

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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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