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One Notebook or Many? Part 3: The Case For Loose Sheets

One notebook, many notebooks, or something else? This is something that has had me thinking in circles for a long time. Should I have one notebook, and record everything in that, or different notebooks for different subjects, or something else?

To give others something to chew on as they make choices for themselves, I’ve written a multi-part series on the virtues of different systems from my point of view. This part is about the advantages of using loose sheets of paper instead of notebooks.

Loose sheets are simple but effective. That’s probably why David Allen recommends them in his book Getting Things Done. When I started using David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology for my personal life, I started out trying to use index cards and notebooks. It just didn’t work. Finally I duplicated the system that worked so well at the office and I started keeping file folders for projects and using letter-sized sheets. I’ve been using that for a while and it works well enough that I even considered going to blank sheets (or maybe dot grid) for everything, even my journal.

The best paper comes in loose sheets. I can get whatever kind of paper I want, in whatever color or weight. I can mix blank sheets and various kinds of ruling. Nearly any paper that is made is available in reams and is not too expensive. I could vary colors or styles to suit the purpose or provide additional categorization. Letter size sheets are everywhere, so if I’m not picky in a pinch I can just ask for a few sheets from the hotel if I run out while traveling, or just rely on their supply.

There’s a ton of accessories designed to work with letter sized sheets, including folders, envelopes, luggage, cabinets, etc. Whatever you need, someone makes it and you can probably buy it locally.

A simple blank sheet always fits the environment. They are more business oriented than a small notebook might seem to be, and since they’re blank to start with there’s no risk of inadvertently sharing personal thoughts with anyone.

Blank sheets are versatile and adaptable. Since it’s not part of a book, it doesn’t have a dedicated purpose. The paper can be used for anything – I can write a letter, leave a note, give it to my daughters to draw on, or fold it into an airplane. This is especially useful when traveling, because it means I carry less.

Content and organization are separated. I can decide how to organize later. If I fill a sheet with a mix of ideas and journaling, I can make a copy and have it in two places. I can carry just the past few weeks of journaling with me, and archive the rest at home. Making copies of any material is far easier with loose sheets as well, so backups become a real possibility. Business and personal can be mixed when it makes sense, and then separated when it doesn’t. I can bring the notes from the last 5 product meetings without being the notes from my performance review.

All posts in the series:
One Notebook or Many? Part 1: The case for one notebook
One Notebook or Many? Part 2: The case for many notebooks
One Notebook or Many? Part 3: The case for loose sheets
One Notebook or Many? Part 4: What’s been working for me

3 comments… add one
  • Blake December 23, 2011, 11:58 am

    I used loose sheets for a few years, and really liked many aspects of them. But I abandoned them earlier this year because I found that I wasn’t bringing them with me all the time. They are just too unwieldy to grab and go, so you always have to have a bag.

  • Steve December 23, 2011, 5:05 pm

    Hi Blake,

    Yes, they do require something to carry them in if you’re going to carry them. A binder might be a possibility, but they’re not very durable.

    So what are you using now?

  • Blake December 23, 2011, 5:34 pm

    I’ve used index cards for quick/disposable stuff (shopping lists, phone numbers, etc) since high school (way too many years ago), and so I still do.

    But for permanent notebook stuff, I use an 8×5″ sketch book. You know the ones. Available everywhere, relatively cheap, worry-free. And easily portable.

    Now I just needt a way to stick a pencil inside. Currently I’m just using a binder clip on the cover, which tends to damage both the pencil and the cover.

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