On the Nature of Note-Taking and Notebooks

Note taking, prima facie, should not seem like a big deal. Just write something down, don’t be weird about it. Because jotting down a note is as routine and ordinary as it gets, valued Wndsn Team contributor Ken Buscho requested out of curiosity that we expand our intentions that we first began with the guide included in the Wndsn XPD Explorer’s Notebook.

We start this deep dive into note taking with the whys of writing things down on paper instead of by a digital method. We’ve talked about it before, physically writing something down with pen and paper enhances creativity and can reduce stress. Often, that is purpose enough. Humans have been writing things down for 5,500 years, and it is well grooved into our ways of being. There’s something organic and spontaneous about writing, even if it is only one’s shopping list.

Notebooks can fulfill a variety of purposes and are only limited by the limits of time and pages. A short list would include:

  • Daily organization: task and appointment management, shopping lists
  • Health: recipe collections, nutrition logs, fitness plan/log
  • Art: sketchbook or art journal, a regular journal but with more visuals.
  • Brain dump: a Spark file or random collection of ideas that might be worth picking up later.
  • Reference material: contacts, family data, insurance data, important dates including birthdays/anniversaries, and other pertinent information.
  • Project specific: single-focus notebooks where there’s a specific goal or larger task broken down into subsections for information retrieval and task management.
  • Narrative journals: recording emotional processing or preserving history for future generations.
  • Mega notebooks: combining all of the above.

The guide in the Wndsn Explorer’s Notebook was inspired by professional recommendations for note taking in laboratory conditions. In this professional context, whatever one writes is not just a record of one’s thoughts but a living document that points towards greater discovery, understanding, and verification or evaluation of a hypothesis. It is also considered property, intellectual or otherwise. On a practical level, it contains all of the processes, directions, and findings so that the mission can prevail regardless of staffing. In this case, note taking with a codified, repeatable process is not only basic professional proficiency but holds the keys to the next breakthrough, and a CYA if something goes awry.

As Wndsn is in the business of interacting with the observable world and taking measurements, our first priority is to make sure our findings are clear, repeatable, and available for examination. This requires a certain amount of precision in the act of writing. Unless we are actual scientists and have been trained in the manners and methods for effective note taking, we have probably not spent much time wondering how we write things down. What we want to prevent is this common occurrence: noting something down and then later saying to ourselves, “What did I mean by that?” In order to prevent loss of data or inspiration, we must evaluate our mostly unconscious habits to a degree. We say to a degree because at the end of the day, it is just writing things down.

The suggestions in the guide are as follows:

  • Create a TOC or Index
  • Number all pages
  • Date all entries, including later additions, corrections, or deletions
  • Develop an internal organization method, such as 'Objective’, ‘Outline’, ‘Results’ and ‘Conclusion’.
  • Develop your own set of symbols, or use something like the Bullet Journal Rapid Logging system and apply them consistently.
  • Consider use of your own labels, color coding, or hashtags to more easily populate your TOC/Index.
  • Notate your legend (symbols, labels, required pieces of information) in the cover or beginning pages
  • Don't remove content, instead mark as deleted, making data recoverable.
  • Write in permanent ink.

These suggestions can be grouped into three categories, which we will explore in this series:

  1. Organizing the blank pages
  2. Delineating and organizing the content
  3. Preserving the content

Whether it is making sure you don’t forget to pick up the dry cleaning, or you have a wedding to plan, we want to offer guidance on how to utilize best practices for your notebook, so that your notebook is something you refer to and reflect on day in and day out.

Next week, we’ll get started. In the meantime, your task, should you choose to accept it: What do you write down? And how? See you then!

The picture shows a page from the Wndsn XPD Explorer’s Notebook inside the Papa Wallet by Thousand Yard Studio.