My mind often feels like I have two dozen “open tabs” at a time. At any given moment, I’m composing a reply to an email, planning my grocery list, checking the new shows that dropped on Netflix, comparing reviews of dog shampoos… and that doesn’t count all the random private thoughts and feelings, or the articles I stumble on and tell myself I’ll read later on.
That’s why I started keeping a catch-all notebook. It helps me keep track of everything, and has even helped me manage my stress and develop my creativity and intuition.
Table of Contents
What is a catch-all notebook?
A catch-all notebook is a notebook where you write down all your notes. You just put the date of your entry, and from there, it’s a free-for-all. Whatever happens that day, from your shopping list to meeting notes, goes right into it—no editing or attempts to make it “perfectly organized.”
What can you use as a catch-all notebook?
Any notebook can be used as a catch-all, from sturdy hardcovers to cheap spiral school notebooks you can find at a dollar store. If you’re not sure what to get, this checklist can help get you started.
- Do you want durability? Look for a very thick cover and relatively thick paper which won’t rip or wrinkle if you accidentally spill coffee on it.
- Do you want inspiration? Some people like a “pretty” notebook because it will inspire them to use it more often. That’s fine too, as long as it’s not so fancy that you feel compelled to write neatly or coherently.
- Do you want customization? Get a binder-type notebook that accepts refills. You can then add dividers, and then pick the paper format that works for you: lined sheets, blank sheets, graphing paper, dotted grids, or tables for keeping financial records.
- Do you want portability? What size bag or portfolio do you usually carry around? Look for a notebook that can comfortably fit into it, and still leave room for your wallet and other essentials. Or, get a small notebook that can fit into your jacket pocket.
- Do you want to archive them? Try hardcover notebooks that come in different colors, like this set from Paperage. You can then use a color-coding system for each year, or label the spine with a sticker.
- Do you want it clean and simple? This set from Simply Genius already contains 20 notebooks. Pick from classy colors like navy blue, maroon, black, gray, etc. The monotone look is perfect for people who have a minimalist aesthetic.
- Do you value tradition? Moleskines have been beloved by great writers and thinkers for generations. Aside from the classic colors, they even have limited edition designs with favorite characters, artist prints, and paintings, or graphic patterns.
What are the benefits of a catch-all notebook?
As a writer who also loves to do journaling and sketching as a hobby, I often use 5 or 6 notebooks at a time. For example, I have a small bullet journal just for tracking my year’s goals, and an art journal for drawing and writing personal thoughts.
Before, I would switch between these notebooks all the time—but that led to a cluttered desk and a very heavy bag. Sometimes I would lose a creative idea just because I didn’t have the “right” notebook with me.
Once I used a catch-all notebook, my life got a lot easier, my thoughts became clearer, and my notes became more useful. I still use my other notebooks, but usually only when I transfer relevant notes from my catch-all into the appropriate notebook.
- Simple, fast note-taking. I can carry just one notebook with me the whole day. I can scribble notes quickly, so these are more accurate and complete. I’ve also stopped the bad habit of writing something important like a phone number on the first loose paper I can find and then losing it.
- Clear record of each day. When I look back at my past notes, I see everything that happened that day, from what happened at work to what I ate and how much I spent on cab fare. It’s great for record-keeping and identifying patterns (like how stress can trigger overeating, etc.). It also serves as a snapshot of your life, which is fun to look at years down the road.
- End-of-day synthesis. At night, I transfer important notes from my catch-all notebook to their respective notebooks. This is my chance to review my day, organize my thoughts, and plan what I have to do the next day. Since I started this habit, I noticed that I have better notes, deeper insights, and more efficient time management.
- Better intuition and insight. A catch-all notebook lets you write things without any filters. This frees you to think out of the box and write down even your craziest ideas. As you “dump” these seemingly random thoughts on the page, your unconscious mind can make more connections and eventually arrive at insights that your conscious mind wouldn’t be able to see.
Tips for making the most of your catch-all notebook
There are no rules for a catch-all notebook, and you should feel free to do whatever works for you! However, here are some tips from other people that you may find useful or practical. Choose only what resonates with you.
- Use tabs. Small sticky notes or paper tabs can help mark important pages. You can even use a color-coding system to help you quickly find references or important information.
- Use the Cornell system. The Cornell method of taking notes leaves the left column and a small space below each page for keywords, abbreviations, and additional comments or references. You also add a summary so you can quickly skim through the notebook for important points.
- Get a notebook cover. Buy or make a notebook cover that can fit over a standard notebook. It can protect your notebook and have pockets where you can insert receipts or sticky notes. Bigger covers can also hold a pen, ruler, and other office supplies. You can also use attach bull clips to the cover to secure any loose sheets of paper.
- Get different kinds of pens. Aside from making note-taking fun, different pen colors are useful for organizing your notes later on – just highlight, underline, mark tasks complete, or scribble additional notes.
Control your day with a catch-all notebook
A catch-all notebook is one of the best ways to manage your time, organize your thoughts, and encourage self-expression. Try it now, and catch your ideas as they happen.