Taking Notes with Moleskine

Note-taking, it’s something that I have done for as long as I can remember.  I would take notes in class, lectures, training programs, on the phone, at work in meetings, etc.  It would help me keep information as well as have a record of what was covered.

My system of note-taking remained the same from the day I started in middle school up until three years ago.  Sure, along the way I tried a few things however nothing truly improved the system.

See, when you take notes on paper it’s difficult to find that one note that you know you took, to organize, to file, to sort – you know all the features we love of our electronic filing system.

The specifics

I use two moleskines for this hack.  A red one and a black one.

Why a moleskine?  Simple.  It’s durable, has acid-free paper, has a pocket, bookmark and is easy to carry.

Moleskine Setup (both red and black)

  • Opening to the “In case of loss, please return to:” page I fill in the information; name, email, mobile number, reward amount.  I also place my most recent favorite quote on this page; and it seems more often than not it’s a quote from Tyler Durden.
  • To the left of this page, I write down the Month and Year that I started the notebook; once the moleskine is full I go back and write the Month and Year that I completed the notebook.  This provides the chronological history of your moleskines for easy review/retrieval later.
  • On the bottom right-hand corner of the page, write the page number.  This will start at page 1 and go to page 239.

Red Moleskine Setup

This is the notebook that I carry everywhere with me.  This is where all of my notes go.

The first nine pages, I use for contact information.  I write down the phone numbers and email addresses of the people who I contact the most.  Furthermore, as I meet people in my travels I place their contact info here and place their business cards in the folder found on the back cover.

Taking notes…  I only take notes on the right page (the one that is numbered).  At the top of the page, I write down the date, topic of meeting/discussion, attendees and then start taking notes.

As action items are assigned, I will write (AI) next to the note and on items that I need to follow-up with someone I write (FU – Name of the person to follow-up with).

On the left hand page, I typically keep this page blank.  However, sometimes I will put quotes or something extra special that I need to keep track of for later use.

Black Moleskine Setup

This book is where I keep my inbox (aka action items), projects, special priority and someday/maybe list.  These titles may look familiar as they are from the book Getting Things Done by David Allen.

The first 7 pages of the moleskine, I leave blank as I use this for my table of contents (Project Name – Page Number).  I also use solid 1″ post-it tabs as markers for each of these sections (using a sharpie I write the name of the section on the tab).  These tabs can then be moved to show the beginning of each section (e.g. Project #1 on pages 123-130 is closed out, therefore place your tab for projects on page 131); this will minimize the amount of pages you flip through to find the most current spot in your book.

Inbox (start on page 9)

At the end of each day, I review my notes taken in my red moleskine.  I capture all the action items as well as items that I need to follow-up on and copy them here, UNLESS a series of tasks are assigned to a project.  I keep the bookmark on the most current page  to give quick access to write any notes that come to mind.

Projects (start on page 123)

This is where I put a series of tasks that are all related (e.g. Project:  World Party Tour 2012).  When I copy over the action items from my red moleskine into a project or into my inbox, I use the following format:

  • Date
    • I use a short date such as 2-Nov.
  • Task (X)(Y)
    • This is the real task, the next step, which can take multiple lines.
    • Make sure that you leave room in the right hand column for the place to place an “X” which signifies that you are waiting on someone before you can move forward.
    • (X) This is a reference number to the page from your red moleskine this way you can refer to the notes taken where that action was spawned from.  If you do not need to reference the page number then just use (0) as the default.
    • (Y) Just how many times have you procrastinated?  This is the counter of how many times you have moved this task from one page to another; I’ll explain this in a bit.  The default is (0).
As you complete a task, simply place a check mark next to it.  It’s fast and allows you to still read the task later.
Furthermore, when you start to mark things complete and a page gets full, you may want to copy items over to a fresh page.  When you do this the (Y) increases by one.
Finally, as some projects may last for several months I usually leave several pages between projects (Project #1 may start on page 123 and Project #2 may start on page 131).  This just makes it easier on your table of contents.
NOTE:  If a task takes less than two minutes, I will not copy it over from my red moleskine to my black moleskine, I will simply execute that task and close it out.  This always seems to be faster and has you moving forward on your project.

Special Priority (start on page 225)

On this page, I list my super-high-priority, my A1, my hot-list of action items that I need to work on.  I also use this to place my quarterly objectives and goals to offer a quick reminder of what I should be working towards.

Someday/Maybe (start on page 231)

This is where I place items that come to mind of things I would like to do someday but are not crucial to a project; these could become a project (e.g. learn to rock climb, learn Russian, learn to play the guitar, etc.).

Wrap-up

The start page of the sections is completely up to you, trial and error you will learn what works best for you.  While this method requires at least two moleskines (you could have multiple project moleskines – 1 for personal, 1 for work and 1 for that super big project you are working on), I have found that I retain the information better (as I write it down multiple times) and that it is far better organized.

So, what note-taking hacks do you use?

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