A little known hack from Japan to get your notebook organized

Tools like Evernote make organizing and finding information really simple. Yet despite that, I still often find myself using the humble notebook to jot down valuable ideas, especially when I’m on the go.

However notebooks are hard to organize your ideas. You either split your notebook into several sections for each ‘category’ and end up wasting valuable pages in the quieter sections or you just write your ideas as they come along making them hard to find later on.

If this sounds familiar then you are going to love this little hack I was taught here in Japan by a friendly salariman. It’s a little messy, and not something I’d use all the time but for the right subject could come in handy. For lack of a better name I’ve decided to call it the Highfive notebook.

Introducing the Highfive notebook

The back of your notebook will act like a tag list or index. Every time you create a new entry at the front of the book you’re going to “tag” it.

For example let’s imagine you’re keeping a notebook for recipes and you just wrote down a Chinese recipe on the first page.

writing down an idea in your notebook

Next you’d go to the last page and create the tag ‘Chinese’ by writing it on the first line right next to the papers left edge.

create an index in your notebook

Now you’d go back to the first page where the recipe is and on the exact same line as the ‘Chinese’ label you just wrote you’d make a little mark on the right edge.

tag your first entry

You’d make this mark so that even when the notepad was closed the mark would be visible. After repeating this for various recipes you’d now have various tags visible on the notebooks edge.

A fully tagged notebook

Now if you ever wanted to find a Chinese recipe you’d simply look at the index, locate the Chinese recipes label and look along the visible edge to find every single page which has been tagged as Chinese. Then it’s simply a case of flicking to each page.

And of course, you’re not limited to one tag per page. You could tag a page 2 or 3 times. So if you jot down a chicken stir fry you could tag it as “Chicken” and “Chinese”. Now you can find all recipes by their cuisine and ingredient.

Spotting trends

Although I haven’t done this myself I was thinking those tags could also act like a kind of tally or frequency graph.

For instance, if you used the Highfive notebook as your diary you could monitor how you felt over the course of a month by tagging each entry happy, sad, motivated, tired etc. Then after several weeks you could look at the edge and all the accumulated tags and get a rough snapshot of how you felt.

This could be useful for tracking progress in your various goals. If you’re trying to lose weight with the 4 hour body for example you could keep a daily journal tagging things like ‘Kept to diet’, ‘Went to Gym’, ‘Didn’t drink alcohol’ etc. The more tags visible on the side the better you are doing and the more it will spur you on to stay on track and spot where you need to try harder.

How I’m using it

I’m using this tagging system to note down all the moves I learn in Brazllian Jiu-Jitsu. Moves always start in one position i.e. standing up and finish in another i.e. taking the opponents back. By tagging each move where it starts and where it finishes I can search my notebook and create combinations of moves that flow effortlessly from one into the other. Pretty nifty right?

Getting started

Because flicking pages is important for the system to work you’ll want a pad or notebook which is bound tight (glued, stapled, string bound) at it’s longest edge (like a magazine). This means spiral notebooks or using ring binders won’t work so well as they are too ‘loose’. Nor will pads which are bound at their ‘tops’ or shortest edge.

To make lining up tags with their index entry easy, you might want to avoid plain notebooks and stick to lined, dotted or gridded books instead. I like dotted as it isn’t as distracting as a grid can be when I draw but still provides guides for steady handwriting.

My favorite notebooks

I have two favorite notebooks. For important writing such as journalling I can highly recommend the Leuchtturm 1917 Notebooks. Yes that’s right, I didn’t say Moleskine.

Moleskines notebooks are great too, but as many people (and some commenters below) are starting to discover the Leuchtturm is slightly cheaper but has a better paper quality. They can handle ink i.e. fountain pens a lot better with no bleed and little show through.

Every Leuchtturm notebook’s page is numbered and they come with an index at the front so you can double the Highfive system up with the old school way of organizing notes.

The back too has a pouch where you can keep things like loose notes or a spare piece of card you can use as a rest when tabbing pages. That way you won’t dirty the page below.

For less important stuff, stuff which is likely to get messy such as recipes, I love using the Muji notebooks which are shown in the pictures above. They are not built to endure rough treatment but for everyday use are great. They are smooth to write on and hold ink well with only a little show through with my fountain pen. I buy them in packs of five so I always have a notebook to hand.

So how will you use the Highfive notebook?

Let me know in the comments or tweet me at @highfivebids

  • http://oncecoupled.com Lauren Gray

    Didn’t see a lot of use for this personally, but you provide some really great examples. Thanks for sharing Adam!

    • adamakhtar

      Thanks Lauren.

  • Elizabeth Lewis

    As a pediatric OT, I am always jotting down fun acctivities that target skills I am working on with the kids, then cant find them when I want them. This is perfect! I can tag in one color with skills and another with theme. Thank you!

    • adamakhtar

      Your welcome Elizabeth. I used to be a teacher too and know what organizing lesson materials / ideas can be like – glad you found it useful.

  • Qwerty420

    I’m a standup and this is amazing

    • adamakhtar

      Cheers Qwerty!

  • Akamatra

    This is brilliant! I make handmade jewellery and accessories and I always write ideas on my notepad and then forget where they are! I’m going to be using this from now on! Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.fullcast.co Harry Duran

    Awesome tip, and I love how it’s sometimes the simplest things that make a world of difference. Thanks to @facebook-584156988:disqus for the Leuchttherm suggestion as well, didn’t even know they existed. Most folks see Moleskin as the be-all, end-all.

  • Authora Pendragyn

    You could try it with colors instead, just pick a different spot each time so the colors don’t overlap.

  • Michael

    Will you be sharing your notes? I’d love to look at them to see how your jiu jitsu tree looks.

  • Alex LS

    Mate, any recipe including miso and mirin is almost definitely Japanese, not Chinese. That’s like saying poutine is American.

    • adamakhtar

      Yeah I see where you are coming from. Ive actually been living in Japan for 10 years now and 炒め or stirfry is quite popular and they’ve got tons of localized stirfry recipes involving miso or mirin. I just wrote that down as an example.

  • Kim Sykes

    oooO! My wedding notebook has a filing system at last! Brilliant!

  • Kelli

    You’re using the wrong ‘your’. :)

  • http://www.arianabrowning.com/ Kim Iverson

    What a great idea. I never would have thought about this. THanks for sharing!

  • Dano

    Good idea, except for the part where you call it a “hack”.

  • Greg M

    Discussion is a bit old, but somewhere I’d picked up a very small, back-pocket notebook. Moleskin. Used maybe one page, 5 out of seven days. And I used just about every page in it, carrying it in my back pocket. I’m talking jeans, not some nice dress slacks.

    So I looked around for some more of them. Big box store had them. Oh-baby!

    Gah, The first one was destroyed, same use cycle, before it was half used. I guess they went for the bucks. -shrug-

  • Wesley Brown

    oh wow great use for jitz man bravo

  • Gary Howard

    I like the idea of this. And it can help focus those with mental health problems. As the writer says you use this system to tag the pages with your mood which will give you a period of time graph. But because its also a journal you might be able to write down what you are thinking/feeling at that time. So what made you smile, what deepened your mood, etc.

    Mind I use LiveScribe pens – digital – so they record everything anyway and put it on my PC

  • Gary Howard

    Do both with a digital pen that writes on paper…. ohhh hang on

  • DJEB

    Did you know that you can change the Genesis favicon to your own?

  • bjm19047

    I use a notebook for work for each client I am working on. This will be perfect! I can also use different colored markers to color code them as well.

    I also do genealogy, I can color code and index by surname. Can’t wait to share this idea at our next genealogy meeting! Thanks!

    • http://www.arianabrowning.com/ Kim Iverson

      Using different colors is a good idea.

  • Jenny Livingston

    This is the perfect solution to my ongoing recipe book problem! I’ve been thinking of ways to put together my favourite recipes into a book. Scanning would take too long, cut and paste is just too childish, so I settled on a nice big leather bound log book, but came across this problem. How am I going to find what I am looking for?
    So happy I found this!

    • adamakhtar

      Really glad you like it!

  • Jennifer Moreau

    True, I love those notebooks. So organized.

  • TJ

    Or you could just get a computer like the rest of civilization.

  • Aicx Medina

    Definitely works! Will do on my next notebook!

  • http://www.inkablelabel.com Inkable Label Co.

    This is a great idea; thanks for sharing! We’re going to add this to our color scheme indexing on individual notebooks for clients!

  • http://www.aMemoryJog.com Steve Miller

    Love this hack, very cool. Any college students wanting a good job reference can participate in the beta testing of a new app that counts down the days to graduation or end of semester. Great references will be provided. Learn more: http://www.CountUsDown.com/Graduation

  • Melissa

    I love this idea!!!!!!! Especially tagging emotions in your journal!

  • April Cyran Robinson

    Or, could just use a ring binder… 😉

  • warhol

    except that “Chinese” recipe for Miso soup, is actually Japanese…

  • http://theleakypen.tumblr.com theleakypen

    This is actually really helpful! Thanks!

  • http://www.mcbreenmedia.com/ Craig McBreen

    Brilliant! Well more like hidden in plain sight 😉 Thanks though. Love this!

  • Simon

    where do you get your journals from as prefer those rather than dot dot dot :))