The Advantages of Keeping an Analog Work Journal

Today's Guest article, by Dave Terry, got published in the forums. It's now been promoted to where it should belong, on the front page. So now, with a proper DIY welcome and introduction... here's Dave!

Dave has spent 25 years in the computer field programming, planning, and designing small and large systems. He grew up in California, then moved to New York City where he learned computer programming. He started his own computer consulting company in Hawaii while raising his family. He holds several patents connected to his short stint at a pre-IPO California company writing VOIP software. He now works as an Enterprise Software Architect in some big Enterprise.

He balances all this electronic stuff with his hand written journals and sketches.

I've tried keeping all kinds of electronic journals. I’ve kept journals on minicomputers, microcomputers, portable keyboards and every version of the Palm. In the end, the pen is mightier than the computer.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. I used all kinds of electronic methods and formats. I used colors to help me identify key categories like: meetings, dates, bugs, ideas, and techniques. I once kept a color coded Microsoft Word document on my hard drive and then moved it to a USB drive for portability. When we started developing in UNIX (Sun Solaris) I switched to simple text files and used VI tags for highlighting. When the Palm came out I sync’d all my notes into it. Cool to read, not so cool to write even with the folding keyboard I bought.

Of course, over the years I’ve learned, who knows, maybe seven different software editors. But maintaining the integrity of my files while moving them between various file formats (EBCDIC and ASCII) and file systems (DOS, all versions of Windows, and UXIX) was problematic at best. But my journals are more than words. They also contain sketches and drawings.

Because of the nature of my work I’m always sketching diagrams. I draw them on the white boards, the back of napkins and envelopes, scraps of paper, and even windows -- whatever flat surface is within easy reach. (You can always identify the software architect in the room. They are the ones that can’t talk without a whiteboard.)

Eventually though I moved to a book-type work journal for several reasons:

  1. I have more immediate access to the contents in meetings.
  2. I can draw diagrams, system flows (pictures) AND write text on the same page.
  3. I can write or draw in any direction on the page.
  4. My drawings are easier to share with others on the team.
  5. I never have to recharge it.
  6. I can quickly scan weeks and months at a time, just by the flick of the wrist.
  7. Analog is a memory aid. Drawing help me remember even if I never look at them again.
  8. I can draw big diagrams in any meeting using the full spread of the open book. (17 x 11).

I’ve always thought that an 8.5 x 11 slatebook with WIFI and bluetooth for Internet and keyboard/printer would be the ultimate architect’s tool. But I’d still have problems with #5, #6, #8 above.

Over the years I've perfected how to find stuff in the journal even though there is no electronic searching ability. (Of course you could always take digital photos and tag them on import but that is far too much work.) Before I tell you the methods I use for indexing let me explain the reason I moved to keeping a hard copy journal at work.


I was working in a startup located on First street in San Jose. (Now that I think about it, how appropriate, it was First Street. Did I mention it was a start up?)

We rented half of the building from the Hondai Company. We would receive various visits from some of the lawyers of the investors to instruct us about copyright and patent laws. The lawyers said that in order to back a patent in a court of law, the idea needed to be recorded. He strongly urged us to purchase a lab book with pre-numbered pages. I found a Record Book by National Brand (56-231) with 300 pages. These pre-numbered books and their acid-free paper cost about $30 each; but last about two years. (To make this hold up in a court of law you need dates and signatures. But that’s not what I use my work journal for today.)

What’s on the Page

  • I stamp today’s date using a date stamp from an office supply store.
  • I write in the day of week and the starting time.
  • I write the Todos for the day with a checkbox to the left of each one.
  • At each meeting I write: the starting meeting time and key attendee names. Sometimes I write the names around a draw square representing the table. I put an X where I’m sitting. I generally use this method when I’m visiting a vendor’s site and don’t know all the players.
  • I draw sketches related to the meeting and I write down my action items. I copy into the book any sketches on the whiteboard. Sometimes people send me the meeting minutes afterward and I just paste that into my book. The book is for drawings mostly with notes providing some details.
  • Add an index entry at the back.

The Index

The real power is the index I create in the back. It's simply a list of major meetings, events, diagrams, and conclusions and their corresponding page numbers. I use key phrases so that if the subject comes up again I place a coma after the page of the first entry and add the additional page number. This is my "quick search" feature for the analog journal.

I’ve included some snapshots of my actual journals but here’s what the index might look like:

Topic Page
Adaptive hardware infrastructure 2,4,35
Federated Login and SSO 4,12,102
SAP visit 13
OrgCharting assessments 14,15

I start the index at the back page and work toward the front of the book. This way I can add as I go without the worry of running out of space.

When do I make these index entries? I make them monthly or often the same day. It really doesn’t matter. The important thing is to get the main issues, ideas, solutions, or whatever into the index itself.

Work Journal with Index

I also keep a few other lists in the end sheets of the book. I keep track of my taken vacation days and key contact vendor information.

Sometimes it makes good sense to link the journal entries, when the index fails. Mostly the index works fine. But if I need to link two entries in the book pages I simply put the forwarding page number on the earlier entry and the back-link page number on the last entry. A circle around the number and an orange highlight helps it stick out. (See description of the color codes I use below.)

Highlight Colors

There is one more thing that helps me a great deal. I highlight key categories in different colors. Similar to the way I used color in my VI file I mentioned before, I use a highlighter to mark categories of information. Here are the color codes I use:

  • Green – Meetings & the start of each day’s date stamp and written day of the week.
  • Purple – A great idea, solution to a problem.
  • Yellow – General key information such that I might highlight in a manual or book.
  • Orange – Don’t forget this!
  • Blue – Follow up or Todos.

Your colors may vary but these are colors I’ve stuck with for years and they work for me. They are easy colors to get in a six-pack at your local office supply store.
Lookie the Colors!

Other Tools

I use a simple self-inking date stamp for each day’s date. I could write the date by hand but the stamp makes the page look more official. I hand write the following information after the stamp: day of the week right, begin and end times. I add begin and end times for the day out of habit from my contracting days.

Although I’ve always purchased the 300 page Record books with pre-printed page numbers, this year I bought an 8.5 x 11 art book for my Work Journal. I went to this method because:

  1. Far less expensive, $7 vs. $33.
  2. An 8.5 x 11 size allows me to glue standard size paper into the journal.

I really like the 8.5 x 11 size. Sometimes I get an email that relates to a key diagram that would be helpful to add in that page. Often I Visio a hand drawn diagram from my journal and now want to glue it where the hand written one used to be.

Since the art book doesn’t come with pre-numbered pages I went out and bought a self-inking, auto-incrementing number stamp. (The numbers are useful for the index in the back.) Now that I have the auto-number machine, I use it for all my journals, including my Moleskine private and sketch journals.


That’s it. It’s a simple process. I never put stuff in the journal that I’d be afraid to share with anyone in the Enterprise. I do keep a personal journal and have toyed with merging the two. But they are very different and I keep them for very different purposes. I keep the Work Journal at work and my Personal Journal at home.

I've got about eight years worth of Work Journals now. I rarely reference one older than two years. It is amazing how, paging through the diagrams, I remember so much of the circumstances and events of the time. That’s one of the great reasons I like to keep analog journals either for work or private. In preparation for this article I scanned some of my old journals and even remembered details from the pre-IPO days. You can read about it here called: The Team.

Additional References

Inventor's Notebook
Lab Notebook
Scientific Electronic Notebooks (SELNs)
ELN (electonic lab notebook)

da Vinci's Journals

The Record Book 56-231 Account book. The one I’ve used for years.

There was an interesting discussion on keeping a Work and Personal Journal at Slacker Manager.

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Great article. I do much the

Great article. I do much the same thing. And I love the Oscar Wilde quote.



I really enjoy quotes, but only short and witty ones.

I once wrote a program that attached a random quote to my email each and every time I created a new one. I built a small editor but I also could point the random quote generator to any text file. What was strange was that often the quote would match the subject of the email. Yet in fact it was really random. I often got more responses from the quotes than the email. Which give me a good indication of my relative value.

I mix my own water. Two parts H, one part O. I don't trust anyone. - Stephen Wright

insomnia cure

Appreciated your comments -- I concur.

I like paper and ink. I use a thin moleskin composition sized notebook for my GTD "in-box" -- meeting notes, telephone notes, voicemail notes... everything goes into the book. I used to use a regular school type composition book, but like the moleskin's thinner size, and especially the nicer paper.

When taking notes (from whatever source) anything that requires an action I put a check box by -- when it is done (if "less than two minutes") or transferred to a task list, it gets checked.

I like the color idea -- I may try that, it could be useful. I have tended to only use yellow for key facts (mainly because it is the only color highlighter I tend to have with me).

I too have drawn tables and put names around them -- it enables me during the meeting to call people by their given name -- and enables me to latter picture a face with the name. I commend the practice to others.

The Passionate Pilgrim
-- Excellence through Simplicity

Auto incrementing rubber stamp

Anyone have a link to this? Google was not helpful.

auto numbering machine

Here are a couple of sources:
auto numbering stamp
bates numbering machines

insomnia cure

numbering machine

Just on a lark I tried eBay and keyed in "numbering machine" and got all kinds of stuff. You might try there too.

Here's the link to eBar numbering machine

insomnia cure

Great Article.

I am 26 and have been a technology early adopter since i was 8 years old. And I, too, have tried every kind of digital data planner out there. But it was not until i found the Levenger's Circa System in May that my life began to have true order.

I work at a wine shop and after trying everything i could to keep notes even digital notes, nothing worked like a paper journal. Circa works for me because i can take notes on the road or when I taste at home and just pull the paper out and add it back to my main wine journal. I have EVERY wine I have tasted since May logged and marked, thats something like 100 sheets and 6 to 10 wines per sheet. Unlike my co-workers or even my bosses i can find any note with the flick of a wrist, pull it out so that it can be shared and viewed by others and then quickly return it to its proper place.

Organization verses Accountability

The journal you describe (excellent write up, BTW) is geared toward the accountability necessary for the legal workings of patents and intellectual property. If ever I set out on that type of project, I will keep a meticulously detailed journal.

The flip side of "the coin" is organization of the same information. While my official journal will be detailed, I cannot guarantee it to be organized.

What I might try would be to keep two documents in parallel: First (and slightly more important) would be the journal as described, since it directly impacts the process of converting ideas into money :) The second document would be an organizational re-work of the first. This second document could be bound in a way to allow insertion/removal/rearrangement of pages. Where the first doc is of value to the Legal Eagles, this second one would, I think, be more valuable intellectually as it would be more organized. Think of it as a work-in-progress textbook version of the first doc, meant to explain and describe the work.

Just my thoughts.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Digital Ink

Sorry to buck the trend but I'm on my 3rd tablet PC, and ever since the first I've been hooked on digital ink.

A tablet PC with OneNote does the stamping, the indexing, highlighting, and full text search for you. Try inserting digital audio in-line with your paper journal.

When my tablet PC is docked I add journal entries with my keyboard and when it's with me in a meeting, the entries are hand written with sketches.

I'm sort of a journal nut, and I still have stacks of my paper journals around before my conversion about 4 years ago.

Physical journals are a thing of my past. For me, a tablet PC is like TiVo - I can't imagine life without it.

Tablets are definitely the

Tablets are definitely the way to go. You can still write your notes just like you have in the past, but with the added benefit of being able to search them, move them around, print them, and keep them backed up. You won't have to lug giant notebooks around in order to find something from the past.

Digital Ink/Tablets and Patents ?

Sure, tablets and such are great, but will they satisfy the legal-schmeagel requirements described above ? A digital document has one major disadvantage over a paper one -- it can be altered far easier.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)


You might be very interested in LiveScribe:

What they call a "Paper-Based Computing Platform"

Kind of a more advanced FlyPen:

LiveScribe / FlyPen comments

My son won a FlyPen in a school raffle.
I tinkered with it a bit. Very nifty gadget, but it relies on THEIR paper which has a teeny dot grid printed on it. I choked when I priced filler paper. It makes papers like Clairfonte seem inexpensive -- especially the way I can go through paper when brainstorming :)
Last note: The FlyPen has been idle ever since. After the initial thrill of something new and different, my son got terminally bored with it.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Great article

Which was linked to by today too!


"It's better to be a pirate than to join the Navy." -- Steve Jobs

Can't quite get to all-electronic

I used to be a die-hard Franklin planner paper organizer 15 years ago. Over time, I have wholeheartedly migrated to electronic on Calendar, Contacts, To-do list, even reference notes. The one thing I can't seem to make work is an electronic version of journaling. I've tried using text files, which allows search capability, but I found that I captured much less information, because it didn't seem to be as natural as pen and ink. I still prefer paper for most of the reasons in the articles, particularly the seamless switching between text and graphics. I've never tried a tablet PC, perhaps that would truly be the best of both worlds. For now, I think I'll stick with the paper. Your system of organization is much more thorough than mine. I will try the index concept to aid in writing monthly highlights and finding previous details. Thanks for the article.


I do the exact contrary to you. Journaling: online. Professional writing: computer. Fiction: paper, then computer. Everything else: paper, paper, paper.

"It's better to be a pirate than to join the Navy." -- Steve Jobs

On line journaling

Salut Caro

Could you please share what you ae using for your on line journaling app? Is it Google Notes? If so, how are you dealing with privacy issues?

Thanks a zillion for your reply


hybrid here

I use a hybrid form - not for my calendar (my little phone's calendar is enough to handle the appointments I won't be able to remember) but for my writing.

I wrote a post about it on my blog:

It isn't very complicated, but it's been working for me.

What type of notebook are

What type of notebook are you using in these pictures? I love the way they look!


The pictures you see are Record Books.

As I mention in the article, the 8.5 x 11 Art Book is my current journal. The one I bought is from Binders in Atlanta. It's similar to this one from Jerry's.

insomnia cure

Mobile working

I'm a mobile worker (Change Consultant) and I carry my office in a briefcase and laptop backpack. In the past I have used a series of palm organisers, synced to PCs. However the problems of syncing to locked down PCs in different corporate environments made me switch to paper and I must say I am very pleased I did.

I ran with a Filofax for about a year, before getting fed up with the limited amount of notepaper I could carry and switched to a Moleskine reporters notebook for my GTD capture and meeting notes. I use a larger Moleskine daily planner for my diary and travel itineraries and then an A4 pad as a scratch/work pad. You can see a picture at

The small pad is private to me, whilst my colleagues are free to look in my itinerary book or scratch pad. Because I have to share my diary across multiple organisations I use the Google Calendar, updating that via Sunbird every morning. I also use the What's Next Application from to track my GTD lists. I run this across my laptop and my desktop at home, using gmail to store a backup I can access from anywhere.

I frequently need to be able to access my notes somewhere I can't rely on having a net connection or space to lay out my desk which why I think the small notebook is ideal.

Finally I keep my contacts in my mobile phone (HTC Touch) along with some key documents (CV, travel itinerary, personal info like card numbers and the like, encrypted of course). I have a personal wiki (tiddlywiki) for storing large files I keep on a USB stick. This holds all the reference material, manuals and the like I need to refer to on a regular basis, as well as useful template documents for my work with clients. I find this is useful when on secure client sites where I am not allowed to take my laptop or phone.

I find that I use the 3 paper notebooks throughout the day.. The what’s next app is open whenever I have my laptop open and I normally update it at the start and end of the office day, the google calendar gets updated every morning and I normally do a GTD style review every Friday PM.

Have you ever thought about using Quad/Graph paper

I often like it - but struggle to find a good quality set of Graph paper notebooks.

Best of luck!

What's your criteria..

For "good quality" graph paper?

-- Coffee and Books, the pleasures of life

messy logs


Great article!
I'm a big paper fan also and have accumulated 5 years of professional notes from meetings, todo lists, sketches etc. in my paper logs. I'm very a methodical worker and want despise errors in my notes. Regrettably it is almost impossible to draw up everything correct in your logs correct the first time. This is an easy task with a digital log but not a paper log. That's why I switched to use the old fashioned pencil (mechanical) wich keeps errors to a minimal. I also use a tool called a "Wipeoff" (a strangely looking transparent and reusable pvc sheet) (look at to make instant changes to my notes and drawings. After the meeting I can quickly use this sheet to make permanent changes for my log. Using a pencil and a set of wipeoffs kept my journals finally nice and professional looking.

BTW: I keep my personal notes in A5 format and my work notes on a A4 format (easy for attaching printed out emails.

Thanks for the article props!

Thanks for the kind words on my article over at Slacker Manager. I'm still using my dual notebook system and them more I do...the better I'm finding it working out. I'll drop you a line when I write the next part of the series about the choices of notebook and their pluses and minuses.

Can the Rediform 56231 lay

Can the Rediform 56231 lay flat when opened so that it is easy to write on?

Great post!


The 56-231 is a stitched book so it lays mostly flat. Not as flat as a Moleskine though.

insomnia cure

Great article, you have some

Great article, you have some really good tips even for people, like me, that already are using a paper notebook.

The Advantages of Keeping an Analog Work Journal

Yes ... an analog journal is indeed better in many ways. The only exception in my case is when meeting notes are going to be typed up for circulation, and then I use a Z88 instead of a pen.

... But what about ....

I'm a big fan of pen-and-paper, but electronic devices provide much more in the way of things like backups, searches, re-use, distribution of material.

How would the Black Belt Analog-ers cope with a lost notebook ?


The flip-side

But electronic devices are just as likely to get lost. PDAs aren't large. They can fall out of one's pocket ... or be stolen. The more state-of-te-art the more at risk your electronic devices are.

And as for backups ... you may do them but where do you keep them. Fire-proof safe? Off site? So if your home/office were to burn down you'd still have your data. And what's the media degradation like?


I love the Palm. It was the end-all of PIM devices but...

Backups were a pain between work and home. The work machine didn't have the right sync software, sometimes it would get confused, other times it simply stopped working. Meanwhile, my MAC sync'd some of the elements of the Palm but I didn't get the notes to sync correctly. And cost, the Intelisync software was a third of the cost of the device.

Analog has made my life simpler.

insomnia cure


Usually for distribution I remodel the diagram using Visio if it's for publishing to the teams. Otherwise I'll just take a digital picture.

insomnia cure


IMO phones, laptops so on are more likely to get lost or stole and FAR FAR more likely to get returned. I have had ipods, sidekicks, cameras and more stolen. But since moving to paper, I have seen and experienced people going out of their way to return and keep my leather circa note books safe.

that said, it is sad to not be able to search but good organization can make looking up analog fairly easy.

Very true

I've had my lost/forgotten leather Daytimers returned more than once, but _never_ one of my lost Newtons. (haven't yet left my Palm behind or lost it)

BTW, anybody following this week's Cathy comic? My wife's almost _giddy_ over how much Irving is like me when I've lost my Newton! ;-D


I *think* I've found balance

I have struggled for so long between electronic and analog, but think I've found balance. When my cell plan was up for renewal, I switched to sprint with the SERO plan which includes 500 minutes & unlimited data for $30/mo and I bought a moto q for $99. Considering the savings, I was able to justify a hosted exchange account through my hosting provider (1and1) for $7/mo. All my calendar items, contacts and tasks are entered on whatever device is handy (the qwerty keyboard on the q helps greatly) Since smartphones do not sync notes I was not tempted to use digital notes, instead I found a very cool notepad called America's Finest Wrinting Pad by ampad (Since 1888, the logo brags) 8.5 x 11.75 lined rule on the front, quad ruled on the back and micro-perfed pages. It has sturdy covers and pages with Date and Topic lines at the top of each 20lb ivory "gold fiber" page. I wish the paper was slightly heavier, but I can deal with that. Here's a link for Staples, although they charge almost twice what I pay for mine at Kroger.

(Edited: linkified)

I use the ampad for meetings, daily notes, etc. and transfer the essential bits to the exchange server during my weekly review. So far, so good.

Just started paper journaling

You can drop a paper journal with no data loss or breakage ! I was a Pocket PC freak for years but undigitized much of my life in Oct. of '07. I JUST started business paper journaling last week. My gripes, thoughts, dreams and other personal stuff goes in a laptop digital .TXT file encrypted by WinZip. Backed up to and a thumb drive. Zero loss risk, zero security risk. Great article, & thanks !

Care and feeding of paper journals

You can drop a paper journal with no data loss or breakage...

Um, not so sure of that. See my earlier post about dropping my filoFax organizer in the church car park. Luckily for me it was not raining that day otherwise there would have been both data loss and breakage on pages that fell into puddles. Thankfully the ground wasn't wet and the wind not blowing. The results were benificial though; things that I had been carrying around for months were relegated to the archive box where they should have been all along.

The moral is that any journal/orqaniser, whether paper or electronic, needs to be backed up.

This ought'a be front page

Could this be placed as a front page article ?

Look at the date

The original article is almost a year old. Once upon a time, it WAS on the front page.

Besides, adding comments pops this topic to the top of the "Recent Posts" page, and in many cases, that is better than front page.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Recent better than front

adding comments pops this topic to the top of the "Recent Posts" page, and in many cases, that is better than front page.

Wholeheartedly agree. I don't use the front page any more instead my browser has the recent posts page open all the time. I refresh the page several times a day to catch new posts and comments as they happen.

Only time this reliance on recent posts becomes an issue is when spammers post their turds to every thread in the system (as they did over night) and I have to wait for one of our hard-working moderators to clean up after the vandals.

seconding the kudos to our moderators

Just wanted to add my thanks to the moderators for cleaning up after the spammers.

I really enjoy this site, and appreciate all of the gratis efforts that the Admins put in to keeping it running.


You are welcome

he said, putting away the Spammer-Hammer and Dustpan
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Another problem

seems that sometimes new user-templates don't show up on the tracker page. I don't know if they only show up if somebody comments, or what, but sometimes, I've missed new templates as well.

But otherwise, the tracker is always open, and, like reep, I refresh it frequently enough. I just haven't had much time to post lately. :-(


Isn't it for review

I've always taken the late appearance of templates on the recent posts list to be because of the review that our hard-working moderators put the uploaded files through. Occasionally, usually after a spamming event such as the recent one, I'll go back through a few earlier pages of the list tomake sure that nothing is hidding.


Hey Dave,

I have read and re-read this entry so many times I'm not sure I could count them.

The one thing I'm having trouble wrapping my head around is the index. Is there more you can expound on this? I can't even seem to formulate questions around it - but I just am not sure how to actually format it and make it work.

I don't do any sort of creative or development work, but I do manage multiple projects and I like to keep everything as simple as possible - which is why your journal concept interests me so much.

I will probably be using a Circa/Rollabind for my journal - but want to adapt much of what gleaned from you. (c:

Let me try...

If you use Circa or other setup that allows for insertion/rearrangment of pages, you do not need an index as you can add new pages to each topic as necessary.

The index is for when you use a bound journal with pages in a fixed sequence.

You start with project one on the first two pages.
Project two takes two pages
another page for project one
project 3 - 3 pages
2 more for project 1
2 for project 2

OK ?

Now, your index would look like this:
Project One : 1,5,9
Project Two : 3,11
Project Three: 6

Each line having a list of page numbers associated with each project.

How'zat ? Clear as mud ?
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)


Thanks Ygor.

To explain - I like the idea of an indexed journal as I'm a remote project manager, and I manage multiple (sometimes up to 15) projects at one time. The constant back-and-forth of files causes me a lot of headache.

What I do is I keep main project documents (project plan, SOW's, project timelines) in a project section - but I have so many meetings, phone calls, IM sessions (ugh!) and e-mails throughout the course of a day, that I find myself getting lost if I try to switch folders or sections for every little thing. For example, say I've been on a conference call for the last 3 hours (yes, really). I may have 7 or 8 phone messages at the end of it that need my attention and not all for the same project.

Plus there were my notes for the meeting which probably won't take up a full page (sad for a 3-hour meeting, huh?), but there may be a discussion of the new on-line training tool and its URL, generic user name and password as well as information about the upcoming new 'strategic initiative' that I want to remember.

The way my mind works I'll remember "Oh, I want to work on that mandatory training now. Where's the log-in info for that? Pete mentioned it in last week's process meeting." I just want a quick way to find "mandatory training" "process meeting" and maybe "Pete" if I interact with him often enough.

I've tried separate phone logs for calls and a Franklin-type, but those didn't work for me too well either - there was either too much or too little note room in the planner and the phone logs just ended up getting lost. The more places I store info, the more discombobulated I get. To use some geek-speak, I don't do task switching very well, so if I can avoid the physical upheaval of turning to another page (or grabbing another folder) then I'm that much better off.

Currently I have a master to-do list and a journal/daily record, plus my daily calendar and must-do's that I write out every morning.

Combobulation is my goal.

Thanks for explaining, though, I think I'm getting a better sense of how to do the index.


Here is how I use an index...

First number every page of your journal (even if you end up ripping some of them out at some point).

List the pages 1-? in a column in either the front or back of your journal.

Next to each page # in the index, write a word or two that explains what you want to remember on that page. Maybe some pages have nothing to look back at, so don't write anything in the index. An example is below. I will use projects that I am naming ABC and DEF...

1 ABC contact info; check deposits
2 ABC photo
3 Christmas wishlist
4 DEF Phone #; Mom's List

So, the point is, when you have questions on what you have done for the ABC project, you can quick look at your index and see all things pertaining to ABC and what page the notes are located on.

I hope this helps... If you have more ?'S just let all of us know.

nay nay

Very helpful!

Thanks nay nay! Both you and Ygor have provided me with some basis for visualization on the indexing. I really appreciate it.


indexing the analog journal

I do the reverse. I list the subjects on the left and the pages they appear on at the right separated by comas. Since the book is chronological this makes more sense to me.

For example:

I'm in a meeting and create a drawing in my book for "Project #1 Environments"

At the end of the month (that's when I update the index) I write in the index "Project #1 Environments" and the page number to the right.

At the next meeting (sometime later) I discover more details and meeting minutes about the "Project #1 Environments" and record more details on the current page.

At the end of the month I don't write a new entry I simply add a coma after the previous number and write the next number next to it. Optionally, I may note (based on the index) that I have drawn a diagram on a previous page. I might then go to that page and draw more detail.

That's it.

insomnia cure


I love it. Separated by 'comas' ? Reminds me of my work meetings.


Bwa-ha-ha-ha !!!
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

comas vs. commas

heh, heh...

Always insert comas between commas at business meetings.

(I don't need a spell checker, I need an AI inference engine. But then again, based on the subject it may have come up with the same word.)

insomnia cure

Lab Notebook Update

Hi, DaveTerry!
I just found this thread and wanted to ask if you're still using this system.
I like the idea of it b/c it's simple.
Do you keep a separate 'to do list' or do you just highlight things you have to do in blue?
Thanks for clarifying and appreciate this post!

still using it after all these years

Yes, I still use this method after all these years. I've adjusted it some in that I use a smaller pocket book that is easier for travel. I'm living in China now and often use my motorcycle to get to and from class so a smaller book works better for me now.

Here are some scanned photos of my original work journal out at

It might provide some additional ideas for you.

Thanks for reading.


Holy crap that is the neatest work journal I've ever seen

I have envy on all sorts of levels. Neat handwriting, cool drawings, should I go on?

Thanks, DaveTerry!

Thanks for posting those pictures. They are super awesome!
However, I have additional questions:
1. What pens do you use--for the writing and the accent colors?
2. What type of notebook is that? Is it an 5.5 x 8?
3. If you have the time and inclination, I'd love to hear about your tweaks=)
I hope you enjoy China. I'd love to live in a foreign country some day!