Juha-Matti Santala
Community Builder. Dreamer. Adventurer.

A peek into my pocket notebook

I’m always fascinated by how people make notes and what they decide to write about. The notes themselves are often very personal, that’s also the case with my pocket notebook. So I won’t be sharing the notes themselves either but I wanted to share a bit about what and how I write to hopefully inspire someone with new ideas.

My pocket notebook

A black small notebook with a rubber duck sticker on the front cover and an elastic band to hold it close

I’ve kept a physical paper notebook with me pretty much everywhere I’ve gone over the past 5 to 6 years. They have ranged from small, Field Notes style notebooks to A5 size hard cover notebooks and I still keep those with me too but my main notes notebook over the past 5 months has been Moleskine Classic Pocket Notebook. It’s been such a great choice that my next notebook will be the same one.

It has 192 pages which compared to Field Notes’ 48 makes it last longer which means I can revisit my thoughts for a bit longer. At the same time, it’s small enough to fit into my pocket making it the perfect companion to always keep with me. It’s durable but soft and bending and last crucial detail is that it has a pocket at the inside of the back cover.

An open notebook with a back pocket and a couple of index cards and business cards halfway out from the pocket.

At the back pocket, I keep a small stack of index cards, business cards and stickers. It’s also a great place to store receipts, business cards, stickers and other slim things I receive throughout the day.

I started this notebook on February 5th so it lasted roughly 5 months and has about 80 individual notes.

How I use my pocket notebook

For me, the pocket notebook is for my Fleeting Ideas and it holds all sorts of notes. I write into it when I sit in the train or at a restaurant or pub and have time on my hands. Rather than doom scrolling in social media or news sites, I turn into my thoughts and write.

I have three meta “rules” that I have written on the inside cover of my notebook:

  1. At the outer bottom corner of each page, I write the page number
  2. In the inside bottom corner of the first page of each note, I write the date
  3. I keep a running index of page numbers and note titles and when one page is full of indexable pages, I start a new index on the next free page.

If I write a note that relates to a previous note, I write that page number next to it so I find the other note(s).

As I’ll share in the next section, I don’t write daily journals or to do lists here and for the latter, I keep a stack of those index cards I mentioned. If something comes up that I want to remember for the next few hours or so but not really after that, I write it down on an index card, store it in the back and then throw away when I’ve dealt with it.

Those index cards are also fantastic if I need to share information with someone. Like when someone asks for an address to a party place, I could write it down on an index card and give it to them. No need to rip pages. I also use them when I get an idea for another note in the middle of writing a different note.

What have I written about lately

In my current notebook that I’m finishing any day now, I have all sorts of writings.

I have very practical day-to-day notes, however I don’t journal as such in this notebook, I use my digital system for that. When I travel for example, I make notes of my train schedules, my booking numbers, my hotel information and so on – anything that would be useful in case of running out of battery on my phone.

I also write down any schedules and their addresses and extra information if I have booked something. I write instructions on which trams or subway lines to take and which stops to get out. With a phone that’s in really bad shape, this has turned out to be such a stress reliever.

When I twisted my ankle quite bad in February, I made daily notes into one collection note about how it felt and how it was healing. It happens rarely enough that I’d never remember what’s been usual in the past so I like to keep notes from these kinds of things.

I collect great quotes, bit similarly as some people do in their commonplace books. I have quotes from movies, Youtube videos, songs, books, articles, even toots. I like browsing them through and thinking about their relation to my life at different points.

A recent favourite of mine is this one by W. Bruce Cameron

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted

that I picked up from Austin Kleon’s Keep Going.

Next, I have a lot of blog post brainstorming notes. I’m more creative in thinking when I have a pen and paper rather than a keyboard and a computer. So when I want to write something that requires more thinking, I take my notebook, head to a pub and start thinking through writing.

Some posts that I have drafted that way have already ended up on this or other blogs, like Nook of creativity, Crafting tabletop games and It's my first time at a meetup - how does it work? Others are still brewing. Some of the don’t start as blog post ideas but evolve into one through my writing.

While I don’t exactly write my daily journaling to this notebook, I do have some self-reflection notes. I’ve written down a lot of notes about my job hunt process: practical notes about interviews after they’ve happened, notes about how I’ve felt at different parts of different recruitments and one note written with a shaking hand a minute after I got a call that I got my current job.

I’ve also been reflecting a bunch lately about my impostor syndrome and I think I made a breakthrough in understanding its origins which I might write in the blog later.

I aim to write notes that remind me of the feelings I’ve had and reasoning behind some decisions I’ve made, especially when I think it’s something that I might doubt in the future once I’ve forgotten them.

I have notes about presentations I’ve seen in meetups and conferences I’ve participated in. I like making notes by hand rather than on computer when I’m watching someone talk. I feel it generates a more much humane and approachable situation where as someone sitting behind their laptop makes the speaker wonder if they are playing solitaire or making notes.

This most recent notebook will be a great insight into what I went through during this unemployment time, how I felt about life and different recruitments with companies and how I’ve struggled trying to figure out how to make the most of the time. Right now, many of those notes don’t feel that important.

In 10 years, I will enjoy the impact of those notes as I look back into my life.

I love paper notebooks

Every paper notebook Youtuber and their dog are starting their videos by talking about how a pocket notebook changed their life. I think that’s part of the hype and attention economy where everything needs to be life changing to capture the maximum amount of views.

I don’t think keeping a notebook with me has changed my life. But I do love my paper notebook and I do enjoy keeping notes and reading through them much better than doing it with digital tools.

I do transfer most of my notes to my permanent digital notes system at some point in case I want to deepen them, connect them with other notes and make sure I can find them everywhere. I also keep a Main Index in my digital system where I move all the index pages of individual notebooks when they become full. That way I can find the original thoughts from my archives if I ever need them.

One great benefit of paper notes is that they never run out of battery like every other device these days.

If you see me take out my pen and pocket notebook, you can be sure something interesting is running through my head.