Earlier this year, there was much appraise and raving reviews on several stationery related news sites that I follow for a mook (magazine book) written by Takahashi Takuya, who is the editor of a Japanese web magazine called 「毎日、文房具。」(“mainichi, bunbougo”, translated “Daily Stationery”, also referenced online as “Mai-Bun”). This mook is titled「時間をもっと大切にするための小さいノート活用術」which loosely translates to something like “Practical techniques for using little notebooks to redeem your time.” The literal phrase used is “to treasure (not waste) your time/days”, which is the focus of the mook.
The premise is that we spend a lot of time thinking - we come up with ideas, muse on things, plan or wish to accomplish something while we are occupied with something else (like commuting to work, or sitting in a meeting, at work/home) - that when we finally have time to take action on it, we never do because we no longer remember it or its details.
Mr. Takahashi opened with a short preface about his hectic years as a working professional trying to accomplish all the “things I have to do” (responsibilities at work, as a parent, as a husband, etc) that he cannot seem to have time to do the “things I would like to do”. He ended up writing about them in a little notebook, filling it all up. Initially, it started off as a TODO list, which he carried it everywhere he goes crossing off items when he is able to find time to do them.
Eventually, he expanded that little notebook to include notes from client meetings, project ideas that came to him, questions he would ponder about, and even an outlet for complaining when a certain co-worker bothered him.
Before he knew it, three years had passed since he started using a little notebook and he feels that he has accomplished way more than if he hadn’t owned and used one. This mook is a narrative on why you should consider having a little notebook, how to start one, and how to practically use it in your daily life.
Why a Little Notebook?
We all have many different facets in life. For example, I am a programmer, a gamer, a fountain pen enthusiast, an avid system techo collector, a sister, a daughter, etc. During the course of a day, we are constantly bombarded with different trains of thoughts, course of actions and reponsibilities that require time and prioritization to tackle. There are many times when I would have a stray thought in a middle of a task that cannot be interrupted. Or even something as simple as eating lunch in the kitchen while scrolling through Instagram when I suddenly see this new line of merchandise that I want to research further when I am back at my work desk (or more appropriately, save it for the evening when I’m off work but let’s be honest here!).
Wouldn’t it be handy if you had a little something with you to write it down so that it can be addressed later? Or a moment of inspiration pops up in your mind but you are sitting in a meeting and you wished you could capture it to be able to muse on it later?
If you had a notebook to write it down, you can redeem these thoughts for later consideration at your leisure. It also frees your mind from dwelling on the fact that you are unable to take action on the “brilliant” idea because you are currently focused on a different responsibility.
It should be small
There is no exact definition of what exactly “small” is as it differs by person. The ideal is one that fits into the pocket, is not obstructive, and lighter than a cell phone. In short, it has to be something you’d be willing to carry on your person daily.
This is not a posession meant to be taken out and set on the coffee table for leisure writing. Rather it should fit preferably in one hand and able for you to write in it and then safely tucked out of sight after.
Some may say that they prefer to take notes in a mobile phone since you do have it on you at all times. Consider the time you need to wake up your phone, unlock it, select the application, click on a new note and then start typing it in. By the time you’ve found and open your note application, that fleeting thought of yours has long passed!
Anyone who uses some form of notebook will tell you that there is no comparison to a simple notebook that you just flip open and start writing. By jotting down your thoughts in the heat of the moment, you can capture the moment more faithfully and cleanly than waiting for the moment to past and recording it in post-memorandum. Be it to take action as soon as possible or not, you won’t need to be flustered in the present moment to address it immediately, but save it so that it can be attacked or pondered over it when the time is right.
That’s the charm of having a little notebook at hand.
A little notebook also means a small area for writing which gets filled up quickly. The result of that is a sense of accomplishment that you’ve “filled” up the page and ultimately, a notebook.
In the Japanese culture, there is a concept of mottainai (勿体無い) which is to be not wasteful. Having a small area of space to write on allows you to easily fill it up and produce less guilt when you can’t fully utilize the entire sheet (since there wouldn’t be much “left”). If you’d end up with a larger, more typical sized notebook like an A5, you’d be struggling to fill up the entire sheet which one may end up filling it with pointless jabber just to fill every part of the paper.
If you work with a smaller sized sheet of paper, you can guiltlessly start a new sheet for each topic or list as filling it up won’t be much of a hardship. This also allows one to funnel everything into one notebook where it can be convenient to retrieve what you need when the time is right. Instead of worrying about trying to organize its contents, it is actually better to not complicate things as it will only serve to interrupt the thought process. There may be some folks (like me) who prefer separate books for different types of contents but that would just serve to increase bulk, eventually leading to one simply abandon some books at home due to lack of use. Or the horrible feeling when you start a brand new notebook and cannot fill up more than 1-2 pages of it.
At the end of the day, you want to keep things simple, low barrier without adding bulk to your daily carry.
For Your Own Eyes
This little notebook is also not meant to be posted on the social media platform. That in itself requires one to spend time and effort to maintain, be it to stage the picture or to obfuscate its contents. Purusing it would eventually drain your motivation of maintaining the notebook which is something we want to avoid at all cost.
Since it is not meant to be shared with anyone else, it doesn’t matter what you write in it, or how you write it in. In my experience, my notebook is usually filled with scrawls that can only be read by me.
Find Your Own Style
If there is one rule about the little notebook, it would be that there are no rules.
There is no right size or right way to use it. There is no one notebook that everyone should buy and use or a fixed set of templates to follow. We all differ in personality, lifestyle, culture, upbringing, even usage and financial limitations. You have to find what works and what does not work for you, and expect to iterate until you find something that fits your needs. If you find that something isn’t working out for you, abandon it and try something different.
One of the things the author stresses on particularly is to use the examples in the book as a starting guideline rather than seeing them as the way to do things. There is no fixed template because it all depends on your personality (maybe you’re not a succint writer), lifestyle (maybe you often write on-the-go and don’t always have a flat surface to use), culture (Western languages tend to use more characters than East Asian languages, making larger sheets of paper more comfortable to use), etc. There are so many factors that make us unique and it is important to recognize that one solution does not fit all.
The latter half of the book focuses on examples from Takahashi-san’s own notebooks. They serve as starting points, or idea-generating on how one could approach using their little notebook.
Not a means to an end
What is being proposed is not to start a life tied to a notebook, but rather use it a a supplement or companion to your daily life.
My Little Notebook
As of 2019, I work fully remotely so meeting with clients and co-workers became a thing of the past. Since I’m stuck to my desk most of the day, the need for a little notebook became less and less prominent.
Hence, my approach to the little notebook is slightly different. Takahashi-san catalogues and stores away his completed notebooks. I generally discard them as this is one of the perks of using a system techo which allows me to remove and/or rearrange pages as needed – unless they were notes that I wish to archive for future reference or as part of a subject matter than I’ve been compiling. An example of that would be the notes I wrote down as I read through this mook – the presented ideas, thoughts and utterances can be reused in other contexts so it is always worth storing away as fodder for future entries.
Since my college years, I’ve also established my own little system of checkboxes to indicate how “done” a task as I tend to mix all my TODO items in the same checklist which includes things that are not an action item but just needs to be acknowledged as reviewed/seen on the day. They are meaningless beyond the day so there’s really no reason for me to keep them around. This is why using a system techo can be truly handy for folks like me who dislike carrying obsolete and/or irrelevent content in my notebooks, or mixing topics but prefer to have the ability to arrange them in a particular order when desired.
The mook eventually concludes with a simple advice from the author reminding us that “The important thing is the little notebook should be comfortable to travel with you and kept on hand, and easily accessible. It’s not meant to be seen by others, so it doesn’t matter how to write in it or if you write well or not.”
The point is to keep iterating and writing. Don’t be afraid to interate by trying out new sizes or layouts and organization ideas. Anything you feel like something isn’t working out, muse on what you can change and mold it to something you can make effective in your daily life. It won’t be long before you will find that you actually do have time to accomplish the things you’d like to do in your life!
This post is essentially a summary of the contents of the mook (can be purchased from Amazon Japan) which I had hoped to present to an English-reading audience so I take no credit for most of the ideas presented in this post. A second edition was also published in 2021 which was largely a compilation of readers’ sharing their little notebooks.