Why You Need A Notebook

Ever the obsessive-complusive and lover of consistency, I have a system for my pockets… obviously. My left trouser pocket must contain my phone and my right trouser pocket must contain my keys along with my slimmer-than-slim wallet, nothing too unusual there, but it’s also the case that the right breast pocket of my jacket almost always contains a notebook and pen. In 2016? Yes. Absolutely.

It seems a completely anachronistic trait, out of step with the other facets of my personality which embrace technology at every turn and reject accumulation of extra “stuff” to a near fanatical level. The fact remains though that I love notebooks and have an ever increasing reliance on them. One comes with me whenever I leave the house, two sit on my desk at home, three fresh ones get packed every time I travel, and four adorn my desk at work. I seem to be constantly writing things down and it’s for the exact reason contained within the tagline of my favourite brand of notebooks Field Notes: “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now."

I have an awful memory and I assume that you—dear reader—are a human, so I know that you do too. Before you start howling about how great your recall is and that people rely on you all time to remember things because you’re so good at it, you may also want to consider the number of times over the years that you’ve forgotten something important. I’m willing to bet it’s a non-zero amount, and those are only the incidents that your useless memory can recall, there will be more hidden away in there somewhere I assure you. Add to that all of the trivial things you’ve forgotten over time and it should begin to become painfully clear that your memory—whilst almost certainly better than that of yours truly—is pretty rubbish and painfully unreliable. At the very least you will surely admit that it isn’t really up to the rigours of everyday reliance. To top it all I haven’t even mentioned how often our minds play tricks on us, recalling events one way, when in fact they went down a completely different way.

None of this is our fault, our brains are painfully useless tools when it comes to the sport of remembering, and it may even be by design. Our squishy meat brains are great at analysing and solving problems, making decisions, filtering information, and a myriad of creative tasks, but time machines they most certainly are not. This makes relying on your brain to remember meetings or what to buy at the supermarket for example, completely silly notions. At some point during our evolution we acknowledged our brains shouldn’t be solely relied upon for these tasks and so we developed tools to help, in these cases: the calendar and the shopping list. My question is: Why stop there?

The trusty notebook is the swiss army knife of a memory tool: compact, versatile, and yet so simple. You can make lists, sketch, draw flowcharts, take down personal details, record events, jot down blog ideas, make a note of links for podcast show-notes…. OK, maybe I’m skewing a little to my personal use cases now, but you get the idea. I’ve tried a thousand note-taking apps for the iPhone and none come close to the usefulness of a pocket-sized notebook and pen. Apps fail at taking down text faster, you have to locate the app on your phone, you have to remember to look through it from time-to-time, the options for what you can enter are much less varied than pen and paper. Don’t try and rely on an app, even the good note-taking apps haven’t been good enough to hook me in.

If there's one bit of advice I could give in life it would be to always carry a notebook and never stop using it: make lists, plan things out, take details, record memories. Whatever it is, your life will be richer and less complicated because of it. Start carrying a notebook now.