My 4 Essential Notebooks: How I Capture, Reflect & Improve My Thoughts

Add these notebooks to your daily routine for new insights into your personal operating system.

June 11, 2023   •   4 min read  

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This year I've made it a priority to add journaling to my list of daily habits.

In a few short months, it has become one of the most powerful tools in my personal and professional life.

It allows me to:

  • reflect on my emotions and motivations
  • capture my thoughts and experiences
  • gain insights into my patterns and behaviours

Over the years, I have experimented with a bunch of different types of notebooks and journals.

My problem was that I never gave them a specific use case or role for how they would function.

Now, after some research, I've found a few different methods of note-taking and journaling that help me organise my life.

So, in this post, I’ll share the four notebooks that I use daily, and how they each serve a unique purpose.

1. One Line A Day

The "One Line A Day" notebook is a small, compact journal that I use first thing in the morning.

It is designed to capture a single sentence (6 small lines) about my day.

I try to include the most memorable or significant thing I can recall about the previous. It can be a story, a lesson, a failure - anything that stands out for that day.

Each page is dedicated to a single day of the year, across the span of 5 years. This allows me to look back at the same date across a half-decade of entries, making self-reflection a lot easier.

I recommend this book if you want to develop a daily journaling habit but don't know where to start.

It takes less than 1 minute to fill in. For the time invested, the ROI of remembering each day is priceless.


2. Morning Pages

My Morning Pages notebook is a daily practice that I learned from Julia Cameron's Book, "The Artist's Way".

The idea is to complete three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing every morning.

I write in my Morning Pages immediately after my "One Line A Day" notebook.

Writing three A4 pages can be daunting some days, but it's a lot easier to get the ball rolling after the "One Line A Day" notebook is done.

For this, I use a simple A4 lined, spiral-bound notebook that has 120 pages. They last about 6-8 weeks depending on my ability to complete all three pages daily.

In them, I empty my thoughts, worries and anticipations. It's a place to clear my mind before starting the day.

It's a powerful tool for helping reduce anxiety and stress before the day starts to eat away at me. It's amazing to see the patterns in my behaviours and thought processes appear right in front of me in real-time.

This is by far the hardest part of my daily journaling and note-taking habits, and it never gets easier.


3. Prompt Journal

The next part of my morning routine is my Prompt Journal. It's a guided journal for me to reflect on a particular philosophy, question or topic for the day.

It helps me explore and understand my views, emotions and values.

To get my thoughts on a topic, I use a number of sources as prompts (generally quotes, questions or sentiments).

Currently, my prompts come from "The Daily Stoic", a collection of 366 stoic philosophies.

Each morning I read a new piece of wisdom and use it as a precursor to expand upon, using my own experiences and perspectives.


4. Daily Note Dump

My Daily Note Dump book is not part of my morning writing routine. It's a small pocket-size notebook that I carry with me throughout the day as my main capture device.

It contains a free-form medley of ideas, notes and thoughts, to-do lists, and anything else that needs to get out of my head.

It's a quick way to capture things on the fly before later being recorded and organised in an appropriate place on my computer.

I also use Apple Notes, but at times I prefer to have a physical notebook to write in. Having it removes the temptation of being distracted on my phone for 10 minutes after making a 5-second note.

Each of these books serves a specific purpose in my journaling and note-taking routine.

Together, they help me capture and organise my thoughts, giving me new insights into how I am thinking and acting.

Something that is impossibly hard to replicate without them.

If you're interested in starting a similar journaling practice, here are a few tips to help get you started:

  • Choose a notebook that feels comfortable and will inspire you to want to write.
  • Develop a consistent routine. Pick a place and a time that fits your lifestyle.
  • Forget about perfect grammar, spelling or punctuation. Just write freely.
  • Experiment with new types of journals or notebooks until you find what works best for you.
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