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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 July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

    More About Goals Setting

    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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