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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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