Uncommon Ground

Getting organized in 2018 – Trying an everything notebook

Introduction to the series

If you know me or if you read later entries in this series, you’ll see that I’m a bit of a tech geek. Most of what I do to keep myself organized I do electronically with a series of different applications that work across the electronic platforms I use (MacBook, iMac, iPhone, iPad),1 but I am also a fountain pen afficianado. I carry 6-7 different fountain pens with me in my briefcase, even when I travel. I also find it much easier to take notes with pen and paper when I’m in a meeting. Since I’m in meetings so much as a result of serving as a Vice Provost and Dean, I use pen and paper a lot. Let’s start with how I use them, or more accurately how I am planning to use them in 2018. I’ll describe how I integrate the paper with my electronic platforms in a couple of weeks.

Last year I tried using a Bullet journal. The idea is appealing. It provides a simple way to organize to-do lists, meetings, and notes from every day into a single notebook. If I were working solely analog, I would almost certainly be using a Bullet journal. But I depend heavily on my interconnected electronic devices. I suppose I could carry my Bullet journal with me everywhere and record everything there, but it just doesn’t fit the way I work. I always have my iPhone with me, and if I’m at home or in the office, my iPad and MacBook (and iMac if I’m at the office) are never far away. I can add something to my to-do list if it occurs to me when I’m at the grocery store.2 I can even use Siri to add something if it occurs to me when I’m driving to or from work. For me a paper Bullet journal is just duplicated effort, and after a year of trying it, it’s clear that it won’t work for me.

This year I’m trying an Everything notebook. I don’t remember how I ran across the idea, but I think it’s going to work very well. There have only been 4 working days to try it out so far this year, but so far it fits my work patterns much better. There are a few differences between the way I’m setting up my Everything notebook and the way that Raul Pacheco Vega set his up.

  • My notebook will be strictly black and white. I’ll be using a Rotring fountain pen that I’ve had for a little over 20 years, because its nib is fine and inflexible, so that my notes will be as neat as they can be with my lousy handwriting. I can’t tell you the exact model of the pen, because Rotring no longer makes fountain pens so far as I can tell.
  • I will be using index pages in the front of the notebook, an idea borrowed from the Bullet journal, instead of labeled plastic tabs.

At the end of every day, I’ll quickly review my notes and transfer to my electronic platforms as needed. The only difference between this and what I’ve done in the past (ignoring the Bullet journal for the moment) is that in the past I used notepads that didn’t leave a permanent record (other than what I transferred to my electronic systems). I expect this to work well for me, and it will provide a physical backup should that become necessary.

  1. Yes, as I said in the introduction to the series, I am part of the Apple ecosystem. I made the switch about 8 or 9 years ago. I am not, however, an Apple evangelist. I haven’t tried an Android phone or tablet, but reviews I’ve seen suggest that they would probably work about as well for me as my iPhone or iPad – just a different set of applications. Similarly, there’s one piece of software I use (but not very frequently) that runs better on Windoze from what I can tell. I’ve been happy since switching to a Mac, but I could probably be just about as happy with a modern Windoze notebook.
  2. I was going to add “or at the movies,” because for most people that would be also be a place where you’d be unlikely to be carrying a Bullet journal. In my case, I haven’t been to a movie in several years. Yes, you could say that I have no life. I prefer to think of it as, I really, really, really enjoy what I do.

Comments (6)

  1. Jeannette Whitton

    Hi Kent,

    I’ll be curious to hear your strategies. I’ve been trying an everything notebook, but the indexing and tabs approaches are not working that well for sections that place over longer time periods (like organizing background readings for a manuscript).

    1. kent (Post author)

      That’s why I’m using the index pages in front. It’s only been a few days, but so far it’s working well.

  2. shawn

    How’s your bullet journal working for you 2 months in?

    1. kent (Post author)

      I tried a bullet journal last year, and it didn’t work for me. Since I have everything in my electronic system (OmniFocus), it was redundant and unnecessary. The Everything notebook approach is working well. I record notes from meetings, transfer them to Evernote or Dropbox (via Scannable or a photograph) if I want to save them, and transcribe any to-dos into OmniFocus. This approach works much better for me – the right combination (for me) of analog and digital.

  3. Shannon

    How has this system been working out for you since you’ve tried it? I tried using a bullet journal myself, and am now using a simple book I made for myself with a page for each day’s notes & schedule, and some yearly, monthly, and weekly planning pages. I like it (and use it) a lot more than I did my first few bullet journals.

    1. kent (Post author)

      It’s working well for me. I keep my calendar and todo lists electronically (desktop, notebook, iPad, and iPhone). I find having a single notebook for notes at meeting that I “scan” into Evernote or a PDF using my iPhone works very well for keeping track of things that come up. Reviewing my notes at the end of the day and again on Sunday when I’m planning my week helps me ensure that todo notes recorded in my notebook get into my electronic system.

      I don’t claim that it’s the best system for everyone, but it works for me.


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