5 Small Lessons Learned From Carrying a Notebook Everywhere


Writing is the basis of all wealth – Jeffrey Gitomer

About six months ago I read this quote from an article written by Scott Ginsberg in which he recommends writing everything down. Inspired by the idea I decided to start writing as much as possible: I started planning this blog, journaling my thoughts every morning, and carrying a small notebook with me everywhere I go.

That small notebook made all the difference.

Deciding to carry a notebook with you sounds like a small change, but it has a huge effect. So big that I can’t imagine leaving the house without my notebook anymore.

  1. You never know when you will need pen and paper: It happens all the time. You meet a new person and need to write down his phone number. Someone calls you and tells you an address where to go. You go shopping and need to write a list of things to buy. Usually this involves furiously looking for paper. And when the paper is found, there is no pen in sight.
  2. Ideas come, ideas go, be quick to write them down: I have noticed that usually the best ideas come when you are away from your desk: out on a walk, riding a bus, driving your car. I used to think that if I don’t remember the idea the next day it probably wasn’t any good in the first place. Lately I have come to understand that it’s the nature of ideas that if you don’t write them down, you will lose them.
  3. Reading your ideas helps you when you need inspiration: This morning I was about to panic as I didn’t have much time to write and was still missing an idea for a blog post. I took my notebook, browsed it a bit and noticed that on August 26th I had written a small note: “Things learned by carrying a notebook everywhere you go”.
  4. Journaling takes time: I kept a diary for about a month, but it soon dried out. I just didn’t have the time to write my thoughts down after working, blogging and family time. Luckily carrying a small notebook with me all the time gives me some of the benefits of journaling in a more efficient way. Some day when I have more time I will start journaling again, but for now this is better than not writing at all.
  5. It feels good when you can help someone else: Having a pen with you all the time means that whenever you see someone in a need of a writing device, you have one to share. I usually don’t share my notebook (except I let my wife write shopping lists in it) but the pen is something that I lend all the time. It makes people happy, and it’s a good opportunity to tell them to carry one with them as well.

I suggest you give it a try.

Buy a cheap small notebook and put it in your pocket. You’ll be surprised how soon you will be attached to it.

This month we’re celebrating Insanely Interesting September. Check out the announcement and participate in the group writing project: What do you find interesting today? What makes this September the most interesting so far? Why are you insanely interested in something? Share your thoughts and see what others have written.

33 thoughts on “5 Small Lessons Learned From Carrying a Notebook Everywhere”

  1. This is so important! I don’t know how many times I’ve had the idea for the best post ever…only to forget it before I could find a pen and paper!

    Great blog you’ve got here. I’m subscribing now :)

  2. What a good idea, I think I might just give it a go. Althogh less for noting down idea’s per se, but more for the fact my three year old has me in hysterics when we’re out and about, and yet when I get home I can never remember exactly what he said that was so funny.

    I also have the memory capacity of a sieve, so it’ll be rather useful :)

    Thank you muchly.

  3. Taking notes is also kind of interaction with the self. When you take notes the ideas become clearer because you transferring your thoughts from one place (your brain) to your hand. Once you communicate a thought or an idea it is ingrained into your psyche. Good points Jarkko :-).

  4. Quite good thing. Few months ago I started to carry a little notebook with me everywhere I went… We, programmers, might find it very useful, but I’m not using it just to write down my ideas, but also as a key to change some of your habits; e.g. if you’re smoker and you want to quit, before you take a cigarette, just throw a look on your piece of paper where you’ve wrote everything that you hate about smoking. I don’t think that you’ll take a cigarette. :)

    And Jarkko, how are you these days? Winter on the horizon? :))

  5. Thanks for all the comments, guys!

    Kaisa: Welcome! I’m glad you like it here. How are things going with the new release of Juoni?

    Dana: Thanks!

    Modified Mummy: That’s a great way to use a notebook! A recorder might also be pretty good ;)

    I can hardly wait to hear what my son will have to say when he starts speaking…

    Amrit: Good point. It’s true that when you write a new learning (or idea) down, you remember it much better even if you don’t look back in the notebook.

    Nedzad: That’s a cleaver way to use a notebook!

    Yeah, it’s quite rainy here in Finland. Getting colder every day – but it’ll still take some time before winter :)

    What about you?

  6. I laughed when you mentioned “driving your car” because I tried that once during one of my many business road trips. Ya, not a good idea.

    Now when I’m driving, I record my thoughts (if I’m lucky enough to have them) into my mp3 player and then write them down later at my hotel. That seems to work much better :-)

  7. For about a year I’ve been doing something similar – I keep a folded A4 sheet and a small pen in my wallet.

  8. “Having a pen with you all the time means… you have one to share… it makes people happy” hahaha!!! thats the funniest joke ive ever read!

    next time i see a kid crying, i’ll give em a pen. that’l fix em! haha!!

  9. Great writers write for the love of writing, and write every day. Having a notebook with you all the time allows you to capture otherwise lost or undeveloped ideas. As a blogger myself, I get inspiration in odd ways. Thanks for the reminder about a habit I want to develop. P.S. I’m subscribing too!

  10. A speaker at my church once suggested we carry our “temple” with us–a Bible, a book, and a notebook and pen–for those free moments. I’ve tried doing it (especially the notebook part) and it has worked sometimes that I can write in the car (if someone else is driving) or if I get stuck some place with my child sleeping in the backseat. Not long ago I spent over an hour writing and revising at a local lighthouse while he slept. That was some good use of unexpected free time.

  11. Jeff: Good that you brought that up so I don’t have to try it myself :)

    MihaiC: Yeah, A4 works as well… I just like how a notebook looks.

    hooter: It works! Kids love drawing, you know…

    Charrise: Yeah, writing every day is important. Thanks for subscribing!

    Ad Tracker: That’s a bit more extreme than my approach, but I’m sure it works well. At least it gives you the freedom to write blog posts away from your computer. Which is good for example if you want to work outdoors…

    Libby: That’s a bit more stuff to carry with you than just a notebook, but it sure sounds good! And I love the idea of writing at a lighthouse.

    Last time at church I did something related to this that I hadn’t done ever before: I wrote notes about the sermon to my small notebook. Felt good :)

  12. Being self employed and single I appreciate the structure I receive from filling out a colored index card in the morning and carrying it with me through the day. It includes the date, work related tasks and other tasks including whatever is on the evening schedule. I’ll often put a little inspirational message on it as well.

    In addition to the back of that card, I carry a recorder, (for flashes of brilliance) and usually a sketchbook.

    I _always_ have a pen, and usually a back up. Your post spoke to my compulsive behavior so I had to speak up. Good luck all…

  13. What a great idea. I always try to have a notebook close and out in the open ,but I always wished I had one with me when I go somewhere. I am going to make sure I have one in my car for just those times when I see or think of something that I would love to blog about and then of course I get home and forget all about it.

  14. I carry a notebook so I can remember what I drove downtown for. Then when I get there I write down where I parked my car.

    For a couple years I used a floppy disk to keep a daily journal that was very helpful in bringing to mind lost ideas and things I wanted to remember for my own amazement. I always noted the weather, and how the garden was growing, what stories I sent out; maybe even a terrific recipe I made up that tasted great.

    Then came the crash and a new computer. All lost. I should have kept my journal in a notebook as you suggest.


  15. I carry a notebook so I can remember what I drove downtown for. Then when I get there I write down where I parked my car.

    For a couple years I used a floppy disk to keep a daily journal that was very helpful in bringing to mind lost ideas and things I wanted to remember for my own amazement. I always noted the weather, and how the garden was growing, what stories I sent out; maybe even a terrific recipe I made up that tasted great.

    Then came the crash and a new computer. All lost. I should have kept my journal in a notebook as you suggest. Notebooks never crash. They just get all crumpled up and soaked in beer or coffee.


  16. Great idea Jarkko. I recently put a small notepad in my vehicle for this reason. Seemed it never failed, on my thirty minute drive to or from work I would always think of a good idea for an article but never had anything to write it down.

    If I could find a small enough one I would carry one with me all the time, but I’ve just not found one yet. With the cell phone in my left front pocket and my wallet in my right front pocket, I think having a notepad in my back pocket might be a bit cumbersome.

  17. Jeffrey S: That colored index card sounds like a good idea. I think I could try something similar. Thanks for the tip!

    In general, planning the most important tasks (MITs as Leo Babauta calls them) in advance for each day would be a good habit that I’d like to get used to.

    jennifer: Having one in the car is already a good idea! Just take Jeff’s advice and don’t write while driving. :)

    Vince: Ouch… That must have been annoying. I really hate it that you can’t trust a computer to hold your information safe.

    I guess we just need to keep taking as many backups as we can. And getting the really important text to also be on paper…

    Deron: My notebook is the smallest one I could find in the local bookstore. It’s about 4 cm x 6 cm (rough estimate) and fits nicely in the right front pocket with my cell phone and keys.

    Good luck in finding one!

  18. I usually have small moleskine sketch books with me just to do sketches, but also to write down game ideas. The paper is thick, the whole thing can be driven on and it still lasts. Sketch books like this are also good conversation openers. When you’re drawing that exhausted family or a group of people at Athens International at 5am, people tend to notice. I’ve shared a lot of interesting conversations and laughs because of this habit and I still feel I should do it more.

    There was once a subway sketching group in Finland which I’ve thought about putting up again. You just sketch people travelling in the subway and post those sketches in a website.

    I also feel it’s a great way to break the mundane. Don’t just read that silly newspaper with 2 day old news or look out of the window while sitting in the train. Write stuff down or draw the people around you.

  19. Hey Reko, nice that you found my blog (I actually noticed a familiar shade of green on your laptop monitor when you weren’t looking ;)

    I really need to come and check out how your Moleskine notebook differs from the “clone” I have here at home. Maybe on Monday then…

    Your subway sketching group sounds like a lot of fun! Is the website still up somewhere? It would be interesting to take a look…

  20. Hi :) I actually found it ages ago, but my blog reading is very on/off affair nowadays so I usually just have to read a ton of older articles to catchup :) I don’t think the helsinki subway sketch group is alive anymore, the most active ones are over the atlantic. But I’ve been sort of thinking about it especially now since I take the tube down to work nowadays. I’d just have to replace my love for reading books while travelling to sketching :)

  21. Matti, sorry I missed you when replying to comments. I’m not sure about the brand of my notebook as it doesn’t have any text on it.

    I’ll go to Suomalainen Kirjakauppa to get a new one today so I’ll check if the wrapping has some info on it…

    My pen is a Pilot G-2. Currently I’m using a blue one although a black pen was better with my clothes ;)

    Reko: That’s a tough decision to make. Books or sketching. I’d pick books, but that’s just because I’m not “quite” as artistic as you are and enjoy reading more than drawing…

  22. Hi Jarkko. Fun post. I noticed your comment on my soup toppings post on Wise Bread and thought I’d visit your space. My husband and use the pad and paper thing traveling quite a bit. When charades don’t work communicating an idea in a foreign country, picturionary seems to work every time.

  23. Thank u! You know, the second one is about me. It helps me to keep ideas for my next stories, when I was a child I had such special box with cards and put my ideas on them. But now I just use notebook and I like it.

  24. I have lost a lot of ideas by not carrying a notebook. I find it carrying a notebook helps me with articles I am writing for my blog, I drive a lot and ideas come about in some strange places.

  25. Hi Steven! Couldn’t agree more – ideas certainly come in strange places.

    What do you usually do when you get an idea while driving? Do you stop and write it down, or do you try to memorize it until you stop the next time?

  26. I’ve been keeping notebooks since I was in grade school. The only place you can’t take one with you is into the shower. But other than that … yes, the car. I will pull the car over or turn into a parking lot and then write down the idea. The ideas fly by so fast, that if I don’t catch them right away they are often gone forever.

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