Its been just over 2 months since I’ve started carrying a small moleskin notebook everywhere I go. I have it on me at all times to record ideas, thoughts/themes I want to remember, and action items. This practice has been profoundly enriching and I’m proud to say I’ve devoured 2 1/2 full books over this time period. In the process, I’ve made a few observations about the practice that I’d like to share:
Creating Room to Think
One of the amazing things about using a moleskin to capture fleeting thoughts, is that you give yourself permission to stop focusing on something. Often we think of something that we don’t want to forget and spend an unnecessary amount of time focusing on remembering it. This is an ineffective use of mental bandwidth. By tucking it away in a repository, we give our minds permission to move on and think about more important things.
Writing = Mental Stimulation
I’ve found that the act of writing can stimulate your mind. When we take the time to write something down, it requires us to spend a few extra moments with that specific thought at the top of our mind. By hanging on a mental moment, it helps me crystallize my thoughts, as well as explore new ones. I feel confident that the act of writing has taken me on cognitive roadtips I might have never taken, often times unearthing insights I’m grateful to have.
Observation and Measurement
My moleskin has helped me to be a much more astute observer of the world around me. It allows me to more efficiently recognize patterns. I can optimize around the insights extracted from these patterns. Offline interactions, just like splash pages, can be a/b tested. And guess what, they have conversion rates too.
I’ve created some workflows that have helped me get more out of this practice over time:
For starters, writing things down in a moleskin, like taking notes of any kind, is far less useful if you fail to take the time to revisit it. This type of “mental content hoarding” often makes us feel good, but doesn’t unlock the same level of power many moleskin yodas experience. I’ve found that reviewing and reflecting on my most recent notes every to every other night followed by taking action (which often means archiving) when appropriate to be extremely effective. This requires giving yourself permission to spend time doing this.
It can be difficult and time consuming to remember where in your moleskin is the seperation between new notes and ones that you’ve already reviewed. In order to differentiate, I earmark the page each night of where I stopped reviewing and add a star on that last note. This has definitely saved me a lot of time.
The immediacy of my thoughts and the ensuing action steps varies. I’ve found it effective to write from the back of the book moving towards the front items that require immediate action. Just remembering I need to send someone an email while walking to the subway is a good example of this.
From the first page moving towards the back, I use the pages for more of a long-tail brian dump. Most of these thoughts are observations, resources, and ideas I want to remember, but don’t require any immediacy. Honestly, this is the source of pretty much all my blog posts.
Lastly, I think its important to have a moleskin that can fit into your pocket. You want to create the lowest barrier to actually using it. If it’s too big for my pocket and I need to reach in my bag each time I want to record a thought, odds are I’m not going to use it. Set the conditions for success.
Make no mistake, if you decide to engage in this practice, you’re creating work for yourself. It’s extremely time consuming to write things down, reflect on them, and take action when neccessary. Personally, I feel like it has been an excellent use of my time given the improved clarity in my thoughts and higher level thinking and productivity I’ve experienced. But like all things, this is not a one size fits all practice. It’s not for everyone and may yield varying levels of effectiveness.
I’ll close with this thought that made it into the moleskin ranks over the past two months:
If life is our greatest teacher, why do so few people take notes?