Open Thread: The Best Notebooks

2017 Update: We still think this is a great discussion of the best notebooks, but you may also want to check out our latest discussion on our favorite office supplies.

When we talked about the best pens a few weeks ago (which I’m still in the process of trying out — many of the ones mentioned by the readers were subsequently sent to me by Jet Pens, so thank you! — others I’ve bought myself) some of the readers noted that we should also talk about notebooks. This took me a wee bit by surprise, I realized, because I feel so strongly about my notebook choice — so I’m really curious to hear what the other ones that people love.

best notebooks: Mead Composition notebookMy favorite notebook is your simple, cheap, Mead Composition notebook, at least for use at my personal desk. I like how the pages stay together no matter what, and how the book can take a beating and still hold up. I’ve spilled coffee on these notebooks, doodled on them, ripped out pages, photocopied them — and they still hold up incredibly well.  I’ve used them for years to keep track of personal things — I still have the notebook containing my budget from back in my lean days, right out of college! — but when I switched jobs from a big firm to a small not-for-profit I rediscovered my love for this kind of notebook because I think it’s great for when you have multiple small projects going on and you just want everything in one place.  I tend to only have one notebook at a time — the front part of the book (at least the first page going forward) is for business stuff, and the last page going backwards is for personal things.  I’m also incredibly ADD when I get on phone calls, whether for business or personal matters, and I find that it helps me to focus if I’m “taking notes” during the call, even if it’s something as simple as arranging a furniture delivery.

I’ve used the Mead notebook for professional purposes as well — taking notes at some small meetings and big conferences — but I’m undecided on whether they look “professional” enough to actually be used for this purpose.  For example, I remember taking my battered Mead notebook with me to a big Style Coalition/Elle meeting last year and feeling like my notebook was somehow too shabby and out of place among all the sleek, lovely notebooks the other bloggers had.  To be honest, I would probably just grab a clean pad of paper the next time I had to go to such a meeting (if I knew there would be too many notes to take them on my phone).

Other systems I’ve used over the years:
– In college and law school (although I got a laptop by January of my 1L year), I preferred to use looseleaf paper, which I would eventually bind in one of those slim folders with binder clips in the middle(usually at the end of each day, but at least once a week).  I just carried around a clipboard full of about 50 sheets of loose papers, and when I finished a class or seminar move the pages I’d filled to the back of the clipboard.  This saved me from having to take notes for Class X in Class Y’s notebook (let alone notes for Club Z — the horror! can you imagine?) and also allowed me to start drafting homework assignments, letters, and even some creative writing attempts without impinging on anything else’s space.

– At the law firm, I found that I preferred to have one legal pad per case.  I would take notes from reading the papers and filings in the notepad, grab it to go with me to meetings, and file it with my other case notes and research.  This turned out to be helpful a few times when a major case would “die,” only to rear its ugly head a few months later (long after I’d expunged all thoughts of it from my head).  For a while I tried to adopt a system where I had a nice leather-bound “Trapper Keeper” kind of thing that I took with me to longer meetings (particularly handy because I could “stock it” with Post-It Notes, tape flags, business cards, and even lip gloss), but ultimately I just preferred the simple yellow legal pad system.

– For my personal diary or journal, I’ve always tried to buy pretty books that have meaning to me; they’re usually cloth or leather-bound.  I’ve bought them anywhere from museum shops to open-air markets to specialty stationery shops.  I like how they’re all different.

I’ve tried other brands and systems — such as keeping a Moleskine in my purse for on-the-fly notes — but I’m just never impressed with how they hold up, so I prefer to  take on-the-fly notes in my phone (such as during my recent fun with 5 sessions of a Lamaze class) usually either synced through my calendar or with my new “notes” application, B-Folders.  (I know a lot of readers sing the praises of Evernote, but I prefer to keep personal things out of the cloud if I can.)  Spiral bound notebooks I have completely forsaken — I hate the way the pages get harder to turn as you fill up the notebook, I hate the way the spiral doesn’t hold up (and frequently gets pokey in a mean, aggressive way), and I hate the way they don’t pack flat (and “dent” other papers, folders, and books) if you’re packing them away in boxes.

Readers, what do you think are the best notebooks? How do you use them? 

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  1. I tend to gravitate towards legal pads because, well, I’m a lawyer. But it drives me crazy that you can’t (effectively) use the back of the page while it’s still in the book. But, on the other hand, I need a notebook so much that I’m not willing to just buy my own, so I’ll use whatever my employer offers (as opposed to pens, which I pick out and bring my own).

    • Me to. I also refuse to buy notebooks, execpt that I did until recently use my day-runners, but then I went to the Google Calendar which I can access from any PC or Tablet, and that is good. I used to loose pages from the day runner and then I got mad, but now, since everything is in “the cloud” I can’t even loose it if the machine is lost!

      I recomend the Google Calendar for anyone interested in keeping track of things from the Cloud.

    • I use these spiral legal pads because you can write on both sides while it’s still in the book:

      And I picked up a couple of these when I was at Staples the last time:
      I need to go back and get more.

    • I use a legal pad for each deal. I keep it with my unofficial working file, and then once the deal is done, tear off the pages and put in the official files. If the deal died early on, then I will just tear off the pages and use that notepad for a new deal. I think a notebook would be wasteful in this regard because you would end up with a lot of blank paper that never got used.

      Some attorneys I work with, especially partners, use those black book styled notebooks. I never understood how that works, because don’t they need to separate out the notes from the different deals and file them away?

      In addition to my notepads for each deal/case, I have a small notepad that I keep between my computer and phone where I track my time and jot random notes and phone numbers, and I have sticky notes in various sizes there as well. I use these if I get an unexpected call and don’t have time to grab the relevant notepad (or if it’s something new that doesn’t have a pad). That way I can put the sticky on the notepad later and keep all the notes together.

      Notepad preference: must be white, must be 8.5 x 11. I just use the standard ones the firm provides because I don’t want to pay out of pocket, but when I bought my own pads and notebooks in law school, I liked to get the graph paper ones.

      • I see I’ve found my notebook twin- white paper, 8.5 x 11. I used to use Cambridge graph paper pads in college.

    • My comment’s been stuck in moderation for over 4 hours. So I’ll just say I use yellow Mead Cambridge spiral bound legal pads with perforation. They solve the problem of being able to write on the back while it’s still in the book and they tear out easily if I want to remove them.

      • Love them! I use the smaller size for phone calls and the letter size for discovery and working notes. They each have a reusable cover/portfolio with a place for a business card and some other items. The cover protects the wire binding. I work on over 150 different litigation files so the perforations work well as ultimately the pages will be torn out and filed knee I have dealt with them.

        Can I just say that I love the fact that there are others out there obsessed with stationary the way I am! My real passion is post it notes….

    • Yellow legal pads are great. I started using them as scratch paper for assignments in college; perfect for when we didn’t get work back before an exam. I use them now for to-do lists and tracking program charging hrs. I have to say that I hate the perforated type: gummy binding all the way! It lets me use the back of the pages easily and I don’t have to worry about feeling perforation-challenged bc the sheets rip off clean most every time.

  2. Diana Barry :

    At work, I usually do the same thing as Kat and have one pad for each case, particularly for large clients and research projects. If it is a smaller client’s case, however, I will take notes, rip off those sheets, and then keep the notes in the partner’s file (we usually have only one ‘official file’ per client). White paper only, not yellow!

    I keep other notes on post-its and then throw them away when I’m done. For personal notes and lists, I have a lot of half-sheet pads left over from my big firm days (personalized!) and I use those for making lists. I have never used a portfolio pad with cover.

    We keep our budget, notes on home renovations, etc. on shared files on one of the many home computers.

    My DH makes far more notes and drawings than I do, and he likes large (at least page-sized) notebooks with hard covers and unlined paper inside.

  3. I use a spiral-bound, 1 subject notebook for each case or matter I have. I like to use them because you can write on both sides of the paper, and I find that legal pads get annoying when you are closer to the end of the pad. (I do feel like a student sometimes at meetings when almost everyone uses legal pads.)

    Sometimes I use the mini legal pads to jot down to do lists or notes while I’m on the phone. I always carry around a mini notebook in case I need to jot down a grocery list while on the metro. For example, something similar to this:

  4. So, I am a notebook snob (like I am a pen snob). I frequently use Moleskines, although their paper seems to have become thinner, so pens show through the page more, which is frustrating. That said, I would not survived 3L last year without my graph-paper Moleskine – I took notes on clinic work, law review work, or moot court work I had to do, as well as phone calls, and knew that at worst I just had to flip through the notebook and the notes would be there. It kept everything in one place and fit in any of my bags. (My clinic director even commented on the usefulness of this system.)

    I love Clairfontaine paper, but the lines in their notebooks are too wide (I need narrow-ruled paper). Miquelrius notebooks are quite lovely, too, though.

    Pre-law school, I used Levenger’s Circa notebooks a lot – I liked being able to rearrange pages without destroying them – but the plastic discs do sometimes get in the way and can be annoying in a way similar to spiral notebooks (which I also hate).

    I have to admit, though, that for actual legal research when I’ve had actual legal jobs, the individual legal pad per case thing has worked as well as anything else. If I have a choice, though, I prefer yellow paper, and again, narrow ruled. The biggest problem is that the paper quality is usually not very good – kind of rough and thin, so fountain pens bleed through a lot. (Last year, in a class that forbid laptops, I was actually anal retentive enough to print my own “notebook” paper – I made narrow ruled lines with margins in Word and printed it on decent copy paper, so I could use pens that I liked. Yeah, I’m a little disturbed.)

    Oh, and if it’s a notepad (bound at the top), I prefer 8.5 x 11, but if it’s a notebook (bound on the side) I prefer 5 x 8.5. (Really, I have spent way too much time thinking about these kinds of things!)

    • Anna D., you are not alone, promise. In college, I used exclusively the clairfontaine notebooks with colored graph paper.

    • It was one of my dreams in high school to have a Circa notebook. Sadly, I could not justify the expense as a obsessive note-taker with almost no income. I spent what income I got on pens instead. No joke.

    • I love Clairefontaine paper as well.

  5. While we are on the topic, can someone explain to me why legal pads are traditionally yellow?

    My favorite notebooks are the A5 size, spiral bound, lined notebooks from Muji. Small enough for me, nice quality paper, and do not reveal how much I care about my notebook as much as some other choices might. I use these for personal notes about jobs/internships, like administrative paperwork and keeping track of assignments. For substantive work and meetings, I use white, letter size legal pads. I like to stick them in a plain manila file so I don’t look silly carrying them around.

    • According to a very unscientific google search, yellow is easier on the eyes than white which is also why post-its are yellow. I like to take notes on yellow legal pads because they stick out easier in a file.

    • They will also stand out in the file from your other paperwork. I had a boss that would buy notepads in blue and purple paper so that she could find her own notes and meeting minutes among the other documentation in the file.

    • Huh. Interesting.

      • I was told by an older attorney that the size, shape, and color of legal pads are all features to make the pad stick out in a mess of paper at the counsel table during court. However, I know that old-school traditional legal forms are the same size as legal pads, so I think that’s where the size comes from at least.

  6. Lana Lang :

    I have a dual system.

    I have a counsel’s notebook (A4 bound soft-cover lined notebook, ubiquitous in English law firms) for each transaction and then a ‘fun’ notebook which is for random scribbles, general notes etc.

    If I have a conference call or a meeting on a matter, it goes in the counsel’s notebook. If a client/partner phones and asks me to do a task, I write the instructions down in the general notebook and the task on my to-do list. If the task involves making notes on something e.g. reviewing a contract, then the notes go into the relevant counsel’s notebook.

    • I used this exact system when I was in BigLaw and busy enough to warrant it.

      Now that I am not very busy and my files are a lot smaller, I find myself just using legal pads.

      I preferred the days when I needed the counsel’s notebooks.

      Can you tell I am feeling bitter about my job these days? Sigh.

  7. I’m a big fan of the spiral notebooks by MiquelRius. The pages are separated into six subjects by the color of the page’s edge for easy organization and have perforated edges for clean removal.

    You can find them instore or online through Barnes & Noble:

    • I absolutely LOVE those!

    • Those are my favorite, as well! I love the pop of color to help differentiate it from other papers in a stack, and the quality of the paper is great.

  8. AtlantaAttorney :

    I use a separate legal pad for each project. Very picky about my legal pads, my secretary special orders them for me. Must be narrow-ruled and have a hard back.

    For day-to-day, my paper calendar has a “notes” section, and that’s what I use if I need to make lists or take notes about something.

  9. I may be an odd one in this, but I love ledgers as notebooks. Right now I use Office Depot brand column Record Books. They are a nice size, not too big, and slim which makes them light-weight. Also the lines are very close together in ledgers (I loathe wide lines) and the columns form a kind of grid for graphics and sketches. The Office Depot brand are hard backed so I can write in them without a desk and use them as a mouse pad in a pinch. I’m a writer who works remote in coffee shops and libraries, so these features meet my needs.
    ~ Gail

  10. One legal pad per case!

    Also use a steno pad to keep my “to do” calendar. Write dates at the top of each page, put work “to dos” on left side and home “to dos” on right side. Helpful in going back to figure out what I did (or intended to do) on a particular date (timesheets). And in keeping track of items that have not been checked off the “to do” list. Use the back of the pad to keep running lists (e.g. holiday gift ideas; clothes items needed, and all the other things I think of that then quickly drop from my mind). Can fit in a large purse and stand in for a legal pad in a pinch.

    • AgencyCounsel :

      I also use a steno pad, but I use it for keeping track of phone calls. I’ve been saving them for 9 years. This came in handy recently when I was called as a witness on something that occurred 4 years ago. I agree that they are very handy to use for taking notes in a pinch.

      Otherwise, I use a regular pad of paper (it says Docket on the top left and Tops on the top right) for everyday notes. The pages tear out easily and it has a hard back.

  11. I love legal pads, especially the kind with spirals on the top that you can flip over and write on both sides. I hate traditional notebooks that flip sideways. I also have a strong preference for writing on colored pads (yellow, pink, green, whatever). I have no idea why.

    Can we have a thread about post-it notes? Because holy cannoli, do I ever love post it notes.

    • Oh, and only small legal pads. Full-size ones are too big.

    • Always a NYer :

      I second the request for a thread on post-it notes =) Starting in college my love of them grew, my planner would be covered in them – the cover, the inside covers, and the different days. Even now, I’ll have them scattered throughout different pages for work when I want to add something and have it stand out. I could go on but I’ll wait to see how obsessed everyone else is first =p

      • They come in different shapes and sizes! And colors! And with lines! And without lines! And you can stick them on things!

        OMG, postitgasm.

        • Always a NYer :

          Postitgasm, awesome!!! I want you to know that I’m in my cubicle desperately trying not to laugh out loud, that definitely put a smile on my face, LOL!

      • I have post-it notes stashed all over my office, home, car, laptop case. I love the bigger ones with the lines best.

    • I hate the extra-long pads, too. And I love post-it notes. One of my favorite things is to write out my to-do list on separate post it notes and stick them all somewhere (back of the door, on the side of my desk, etc.). Then I can throw them away as I finish a task- so satisfying!

      • I do that too. I put post-its along my computer monitor and love to take them off when a task has been completed.

      • At my old job, I got one of those easel-style document holders for this exact purpose. All it did was sit next to my computer holding a whole bunch of post-its. Each task goes on a post-it. The post-its are bunched and organized according to timeline of when they must be done. They can be moved around easily when a new project takes priority. They are thrown out when task is completed. So simple, so perfect!

        Unfortunately, my new employer provides document holders that are ridged and so post-it notes do not stick. I have resorted to using Outlook Tasks, which is far inferior. One of these days, I may suck it up and go my own document holder to re-implement the post-it system.

        • Anonymous :

          When my old desk had a wire-mesh style document holder and post-its wouldn’t stick, I just taped a piece of paper over the front and stuck the post-its to that. Maybe that could work for you?

    • I hate the side-bound notebooks too. The binding or spiral is really obtrusive for a lefty.

      • I’m not even a lefty, but I hate them because the binding’s annoying for a righty when you flip it over to write on the back of the page. They’re equal-opportunity PITAs.

    • Completely support a thread about Post-It notes, they have so many uses and you can get them in such a large variety. I am a member of the Post-It Perks club, and find out about new products and get coupons via e-mail. (I’m also a member of a similar club for Scotch tape, but that is a different story.)

      • I actually type my Post-It note comments in Word, stick the note to a sheet of paper and run it through the printer so that my stickies are nicely typed. So, @Ruby, I think we are fairly even on the Post-It note obsessiveness! :)

  12. I’m currently using a Levenger 8 1/2 x 11 circa notebook for my work. I use it to schedule OR cases, keep track of patient’s I’ve seen (so I can bill), take notes on patients (things are dictated into the medical record but I take notes as I talk to the patients so I don’t forget). Everything on my calendar (unless I’m jotting so I won’t forget what I’ve already done) has to be written in pencil, since things change and crossouts make me crazy. I like the heft of their paper and the tidyness of how it looks. It’s a new system for me so I may adapt as I go on.

    I like Moleskine for project specific issues — such as studying for oral boards. But I think of those as more disposable than permanent, and use them for notes I don’t need to keep.

  13. Annon for this :


    Sorry, but man is that a boring, completely useless post. Up next, what type of toilet paper do you use, share your thoughts.

    • It’s boring to you because you’re not a pen/notepad junkie like the rest of us. I also love tabbing things.

  14. I’m a huge fan of composition notebooks. Sadly, I only found this out the last year and a half of my school career, and used those darned spiral notebooks all the years before then. Never filled a spiral notebook with one class, K-12 grades and university quarters alike. The unused pages at the end mildly disturbed me, though my stringent OCD mostly prevented me from ripping pages out of the spiral. Composition notebooks were perfect for a course!

    I continue to use composition notebooks for work; one per project I’m on and a separate one for meeting notes in general. Styling tip I used in college: buy pretty scrapbook paper and glue/packaging tape-laminate them it on the covers of the notebook :) You can use decorative tape or fun duct tape to ‘recolor’ the spine tape color if coordination requires it, too! This helped me distinguish one course’s notebook from another at a glance.

    Sale tip for US composition notebook fans: Mead has fun colors/cover patterns in their back-to-school section for only $1 a piece! College rule/90 sheets.

    • Anonymous :

      Link for sale tip please? My mad internet skillz seem to have left me today.

      • It’s not really a weekly ad type sale, but the price in the Back to School area set up inside Target stores right now, where they have seasonal stuff. You’ll see bins and bins of school supplies, among them spiral and composition notebooks. So the seasonal price is $1.

        I did find one of the designs pictured online:

        I hope you have a Target on the way you commute back home :)

  15. I’m a little obsessed with the Ampad® Gold Fibre Wirebound Project Planner Notebook. They’re amazing for project management, meetings, conference calls, etc. Basically anything that will result in a list of action items for me, because there’s a great margin to summarize those actions, and a header to remind me to put the details of the call/meeting/whatever it is.

  16. Recent law grad :

    My comments keep getting stuck in moderation, so I’m sorry for the off-topic, and probably duplicative, comment, but I’m hoping some experienced Corporettes can help me! I’m a recent law grad and I’ve just accepted an associate position doing employment litigation. I’m really excited about it but I don’t have any experience with employment law, not even a class in law school. Can anyone offer any advice on how I can get some quick background or point me in the direction of some good books? I start in two weeks so I don’t have much time to get up to speed. While the partners are aware of my lack of background, I’d like to demonstrate my commitment to learning about EL and my excitement for the position. Thanks in advance!

  17. I’ve recently become a huge fan of the “Plan. Write. Remember” notebook from At-A-Glance.

    It has a calendar option on the side of each page, so you can record which day you’re taking notes. Then, you can record that in the Index in the front. I find it extremely helpful because so many times I’ll look for “notes from that meeting” and not remember anything except the date (being able to look back on my Outlook calendar). then, I can find the notes by date. Super easy. I love having a chronological order of notes.

  18. I’m looking at the row of old Mead comp books in my bookcase and now thinking maybe I should go back to my old system of having one per project/paper. I would tape relevant stuff into them and found them very useful for keeping track of ideas. I used to use Levenger’s Circa and have about 6 years of old calendars from there filed away in case I ever need a phone number or something from them.

    I desperately want a good tablet that I can write, not type, notes on and have them transformed into text. Would love to hear any ideas on hardware or software for taking notes by hand.

    • my classmate used a Livescribe SmartPen-style pen (forget the exact brand) with the accompanying dot-array notebooks. He swore by them, esp since it allowed him to keep his original hard copies of class notes, and have a digital backup that was word-search capable. Not sure if that’s exactly what you’re looking for, but I have seen it in action and can vouch for it :)

  19. LadyEnginerd :

    I find that because technical people (myself included) tend to communicate in pictures, so I need to use graph paper so my diagrams look pretty. I have two favorites. In college, I love love loved pads of loose-leaf green engineering paper (the grid is on the back side of the paper and faintly shows through). Easy on the eyes, handy as loose-leaf, and the grid lines disappear in photocopies! Your writing and drawings suddenly look so neat and precise!

    Right now, I’m using pads of half-sized Doane paper as my main notebook for meeting notes and to-do lists. It seems to work better than standard graph paper for me keeping my notes neat, and anything important gets transferred into my computer. Yes, it’s somewhat excessively specialty and expensive, but I’m really happy with it.

    • Oh the green engineering paper pad, those are amazing. They made any assignment look quite crisp, and lent for orderly equation/note sheets for exams. Thanks for the tip on Doane paper, those ingenious, albeit pricey, and solve my 5×5 grid or college rule debate :)

      • LadyEnginerd :

        Glad I could help! Thrilled I have a paper twin :)

        Just writing about engineering paper is making me nostalgic. I’d take notes in pencil so I could refer back to the book and erase/correct mistakes, and then photocopy. Presto! Clean, neat archiveable notes that don’t smudge like pencil.

        • I still use that green engineering paper AND love the Doane Paper meeting notes, too. Both are expensive but SO worth it!

  20. Maggie Dixon :

    Kat — I had exactly the same problem you mentioned: is the Mead Composition book sufficiently professional-looking for BigLaw? I solved this problem years ago with a monogrammed, black leather cover from Levenger that fits the Mead notebooks. I bought mine many years ago, but Levenger still has something which I think is similar:|Level=2-3|pageid=6060

  21. I am obsessed with A4 paper. Its the perfect size. I love the notebooks I pick up in the UK. They are often hardbound and they just make keeping notes so much easier. I feel a bit like a crazy person buying tons of notepads whenever I’m in London, but I simply feel better taking notes in A4 notebooks and they are difficult to find in the US.

    • So, I traveled a lot to the UK as a kid (to visit family), and I ALWAYS bought notebooks there (and pens, too). WHSmith was one of my favorite things about the UK!

      • I usually go into Ryman whenever I’m in the UK, and pick up a couple of writing pads and some pens.

        Their writing pads are the best for me, a bit narrower between the lines than the standard, which lends itself well to my handwriting.

    • Japanese stationary stores have A4 paper. Of course, this only helps if your city has a Japanese stationary store ;)

      Actually MUJI might have something:

      • You don’t happen to know if there is a Japanese stationary store in Chicago, do you?

        I don’t understand why the US insists on its stodgy 8 1/2×11 paper or its unwieldy legal size paper. A4 is the perfect size. And its dimensions just look so nice…the rest of the world uses A4. Why don’t we?

        • Japanese stationary stores tend to happen in conjunction with chain groceries; search for Mitsuwa or Nijiya marketplaces.
          According to the intertubes, it looks like there’s a Mitsuwa at:
          100 E. Algonquin Road,
          Arlington Hts., IL 60005
          TEL: (847) 956-6699

          There should be little knick-knack, beauty, clothing, and stationary/book stores inside the market itself.

          There’s also www[.]jetpens[.]com for all your Japanese writing utensil and notebook needs!

          • ahh thanks! That’s a bit out there, but if I’m out that direction, perhaps I’ll swing by. Its a lot closer than London! I’m going to be in NY in 2 weeks for work — not sure I’ll have time, but perhaps I’ll swing by MUJI (but my choice may be that or running the Brooklyn Bridge and I do love the BB)

  22. For my purse I like FlipNotes from Wellspring. It has a metal case so the paper doesn’t get destroyed and the pen fits into it, so there’s always one handy. It works better for me than the computer because sometimes, I want to write something and give it to someone or just make a quick list while I’m waiting at a restaurant.

  23. Yankee-Peach :

    Bob Slate Stationers in Cambridge, Mass. (RIP, sniff) sold the best composition notebooks in the world ever. I would buy them by the dozen whenever I walked by that store. Hard covers, narrow ruled, easy on the eyes greenish color. In law school I used one per subject and I was using them at work until I ran out. Now I use one per topic or one per case of similar, but not as awesome notebook style.

    I like a notebook because everything is in one place. I’ll type up notes for the file, but nothing ever leaves the notebook. I am also a big fan of the postit and the page tab. I love page and index tabs. I tab everything, color code everything, postit everything. Seriously, Sephora and Office Depot are my two favorite places in the world.

    • Can I just say I’m glad there are others who get unnaturally happy about office supply stores :) Those places are like candy shops for me.

      • Me too! And I am unnaturally happy about your posting name, too. I miss the X-Files. . . .

      • Blonde Lawyer :

        Ditto. You know those bumper stickers that say “Home Depot, My Toy Store?” Well my husband and I were in Staples recently and I got so excited and said “this is totally MY toy store.” I am a huge supply nerd.

  24. spacegeek :

    Used to use Meade notebooks–one for each project. Occasionally though, I’d find I needed to take notes on a different project than the notebook at hand.

    I now use my ipad exclusively for taking notes, and just use the Notes app. I’ve heard great things about Evernote but haven’t switched.

    What I like about this system better is that I have all my notes in one place, but can easily flip to a particular topic, so it is like having one notebook again with different projects/tabs. But it is also searchable and easy to find topics rather than flipping through pages and pages of notes–I used to leave little tabs in my notebooks for key info that I’d use often. No need for that anymore.

    I have a tiny keyboard that I bring with me, although I’m thinking about finding one of those infrared projection keyboards that allows one to make a keyboard out of any surface. (Used to have one for my palm pilot but that was years ago.)

  25. Sometimes when I read about how organized Kat is with EVERYTHING, I think, this person cannot possibly be real! :)

    • A Regular Lurker :

      I know, right?! Can we have a thread on organization for dummies?

  26. anonx1000 :

    I am sitting here reading these comments and wondering why it has never occurred to me in 5 years of practice to allot a separate legal pad per case. OMFG.

    My favorite legal pad is a white, college-ruled (HATE wide ruled) “evidence” pad with a hard back from Ampad. I discovered these while studying for the bar and they are my favorite. They are 3 hole punched and nicely perforated for easy tearing out. But now I want to buy lots and lots of some of these other pads out there…

    • Anonymous :

      Lol…me too! In just over 6 years of practice, it never occurred to me to alot a pad per case! But I will henceforth as it sounds like a good idea…

      • Is it just me or how do you actually do this? Do you put stickies with the case name to the side of each page of each notebook? I end up having so many yellow pads and then I forget which one goes with which case and then I end up with notes for a case spread across various yellow pads.

        • I used one pad at a time (rather than one per case), and tore out the relevant pages as I used them and put them in a case file (with the two hole punch at top). It never occurred to me to do anything else. Of course, my compulsive filing was key to making this work. If I was pressed for time, I’d paperclip the section of notes together and label it with a post-it for my secretary to file.

        • Write a label with a sharpie on the top part of the pad. For extra credit, make a label with that label maker that lives on your desk at all times.

        • Sometimes I label them at the top, but usually not since once I flip the top page over, I can’t see the label any more. Really what I do is keep them with the others papers I have in my file for that case/deal. So when it’s time to work on that project or that client calls or whatever, I just grab the pad out of the file. The files for the cases/deals I’m working on are all in a file holder on my desk. I don’t like to tear the notes out until the deal is done because I like being able to flip back through them and have them all together while I’m in meetings and on calls.

        • I’ve gotten out of the habit of this, which I’m mad at myself for, but I use hard-backed notebooks (mostly) and use a sharpie to label it. I also write it on the first page. All my notes are then together and, when I fill out a notebook, it goes in the case file

  27. I am completely OCD about paper and pens (office supplies generally), so I buy my own notepads. They have to be Tops Docket, narrow ruled, 8 1/2″ x 11″, three-hole punched, perforated at the top, and very hard-backed so they can stand on their own if I’m not writing at a desk. I go through phases between all yellow or all white. I tend to buy these online in packs of 12 at a time to try to get free shipping, because none of the local places (neither Office Depot, Office Max nor Staples) carries them in brick and mortar stores. I find it very difficult to have to write on something unruled or wide ruled. Gah!

    None of these stores carry Plastiklips either. Grr. Because I got addicted to Plastiklips at my last job (though not the mini ones — I hate those), I ended up ordering these for myself online as well. They’re made by Baumgartens, in Germany. !!!

  28. I am an architect and we are slightly insane about paper. I generally have two moleskin sketchbooks (blank, thicker paper), one the full size and one smaller. One or the other, usually the small one, lives in my purse at all times. The only one that ever suffered from the wear was about two years old at the time. I love the pocket inside. I also found a similarly sized notepad from Rhodia with a dot grid pattern, and I love it. I also have a government-issue ruled flop-flip notepad with wide lines and a line down the center that has unexpected appeal for jotting temporary notes down.

  29. I use something like the mead notebook but European – it is red, relatively small (3/4 size maybe) and with a grid pattern. I fold pages in 1/2 to plan my days – one side “to do” and one side “schedule” (with the date in the upper corner). I also use the pages to take notes in meetings, so that all I have to do is flip back to around the date. Love it.

  30. I have to use yellow college-lined legal pads – by firm doesn’t buy them, so I spring for my own. I’ve tried the one notepad per case but then I usually end up with like 50 notepads all over the place, so I just use one. Then about once a week or so I rip the pages out and stick it in the “notes” folder of each red rope.

  31. CPA2Stars :

    The like the Arc customizable notebook system from Staples. It’s a cheaper alternative to the Levenger Circa system. I use the Arc black leather notebook, but prefer the Levenger circa paper. They are much classier than a 3-ring notebook, but you have the same flexibility.

    Staples –
    Levenger –|level=2|pageid=1749

  32. My notebook of choice is found in the art section of most big box craft stores…blank, medium-sized, spiral-bound sketching notebooks. I work in corporate communications and am always brainstorming, so the blank sheet is the perfect canvas for scribbling notes, making lists or drawing (and my brain doesn’t get distracted by line width!) The paper is also thicker so I can write on both sides without the ink bleeding through. I only wish the notebooks had more stylish covers since I love fashionable office products, oh well.

    Love this topic, Kat!

  33. Sarah Carter :

    Levenger Circa notebooks in various sizes. Seriously – I am addicted. I have tried everything and I’ve been a Circa loyalist for three years.

    • Styleosophy :

      I use the Levenger Circa Junior and Letter notebooks also for all my personal notes.

      At work, I just use a steno pad. Small enough to walk around with, and it holds all notes I take while on the phone. I like having all my thoughts in one place.

  34. I curently have 2 favorites.

    One is a Cornell Note B5 Notebook with a layout that makes it easy to take notes using the Cornell notetaking method.

    My other favorite is the Kokuyo Campus A5 notebook with a Muji denim tag notebook cover.

  35. I have a multi-notebook system. At work I have a plain legal pad sitting on my desk right next to my mouse so I can scribble things down while on the phone or when I’m in the middle of something or when I just need to doodle during a really long conference call to keep from drifting away entirely. I normally try to scan this at points during the day to transfer anything important to my digital systems (a mix of outlook meetings/emails, evernote and things for mac.) I also have a medium sized moleskin to take to meetings because I think it’s a little nicer looking. Plus I *refuse* to take a laptop to meetings because it almost always distracts me (emails, IMs, tweets and the like.) And like the author, I find I focus more when I’m writing things down as I go. I always go for the softcover moleskin because I like the way it starts to wear in as I go. I also like the pocket in the back for stashing business cards. Again, when I get back to my desk I filter information I capture back into my digital systems which are easier to search and bring to mind later.

    For my personal life I always have a small, softcover moleskin on hand. It goes in my purse and when I come home it comes into the living room with me. I started this habit about 2 years ago when I was going through a painful breakup and I had all these snippets of things I was feeling or wanting to say to the person but trying to resist that temptation. I started writing it down. And I discovered that the simple act of writing something down made me feel like I’d moved it out of my head and I was free to think of something else. So long after I’d healed that particular wound I kept up the practice of having a notebook. Trying to remember my grocery list? Goes in the notebook. Trying to remember things I need to do? In the notebook. Worried about an awkward conversation I need to have with a friend? Draft in the notebook. Hear a line from a song I like? In the notebook. Cheesy thought? In the notebook. Someone made me mad? Yell at them in the notebook. Stressed about a big personal project – like a move or selling my car? Set down all the info and steps and notes in the notebook. I can’t live without it now. It helps my type-A, prone to anxiety, personality keep a hold of things and stops me from feeling overwhelmed. Everything I write down feels like a relief. Like I don’t have to constantly think about it anymore and I can free my brain up for other things.

    I saw the author wasn’t really into moleskin but I’m a diehard moleskin fan. I love the leather cover, I like the weight (not too heavy, but feels solid) I like the softcover to fold back and wear in. And recently they started these bright colored ones and they have the small size with only 80 or so pages that come in packs of 2 or 3 and they’re perfect for my purse. I used to use the 180 page one and keep it for about a year, I go through the 80 page ones faster but I carry it with me more because it fits into my smaller bags easier, like on weekends. I also found that I didn’t really need the long term record. I was using it so much just to get things down and out of my brain, and only went back to to-do or shopping lists and those date themselves pretty quickly so quickly going through smaller books and switching them out isn’t really an issue. Of course I save all of them in a little box in my desk :)

    Love this topic!

  36. I love the Second Nature recycled legal pads. The paper is high-quality stock and my favorite pen, the Pilot G2 Bold in black, writes beautifully & smoothly on it. I have a pen and paper fetish. :-)

  37. The Meade notebooks are sturdy. I have also spilled tea, coffee or water on them, dropped them and they survived. Love them.

  38. I wind up with too much paper to use 1 notebook per project, so I use 1 spiral bound steno pad at a time. Primarily for meeting notes – the project contract number and the date at the top of the page, anything I have to do gets a star.

    My project files are all color coded, 1 color per project and no duplicates while the projects are active.

    My own observation – I save the pink folders for when I need a guy to do something. For some reason, they hate pink folders on their desks.

  39. I’m obsessed with Clairefontaine notebooks. They are French and a bit more expensive than the average notebook, but you can get good deals ordering in bulk online. The paper quality is amazing, so you can use both sides. They come in ruled/French ruled/graph/blank and tons of sizes.

  40. I use hard bound moleskine, quad ruled. I keep all my random notes in it and start a new one when I fill it up. I prefer handwriting outlines and anythin with a more visual structure. More substantive notes, meeting notes, rough drafts, etc, I’ve been keeping on my iPad using Evernote, one notebook per project. Before this I often emailed notes to myself. If I might type it at some point I tend to just start by typing it.

    I have a huge collection of notebooks, many of which only have a few pages written in them….I stopped buying them a while ago! He moleskines are the only ones I fill up.

    I love Kat’s idea of business from the front and personal from the back – I may adopt that.

    I know this is another thread, but my favorite pens are pilot precise and the felt tip marker pens. I have moods where I prefer each :)

  41. I all the time used to study article in news papers but now as I am a user of web thus from now
    I am using net for articles, thanks to web.

  42. I love reading about what notebooks you’re using successfully! I’ve gained some useful tidbits from reading everyone’s comments, so thanks for sharing.

    I use one composition notebook for all of my meetings and a yellow 8 1/2 x 11 pad for writing down to dos as they come up (yellow sticks out on my desk so I can find the pad quickly) until I can get them on my calendar. My office uses Outlook and I take full advantage of my calendar to keep track of EVERYTHING (deadlines, calls to make, conference calls, personal appointments (marked private so others can see I have an appointment but not the details), meetings, travel, recurring tasks, delegated items, and more). I created categories and color code things like deadlines, calls/conference calls, travel, and private appointments so they stick out. Each Friday, I preview the next week so I know what my schedule looks like and what I can expect.

    I also have a steno pad on my desk. I draw about a 1″ line to create a margin on the left on each page, which I use to write dates/times of meetings once I get them scheduled or a check mark next to a note for something I’ve completed. I write the date each day on the right and take notes for the day (e.g. if someone stops by to give me an update on a project, the boss provides info). Then I skip a few lines and write the next day’s date; repeat. One steno pad lasts the whole year and creates a great record.

    I keep to these three notebooks, which are all provided by my office, for simplicity. I know what I’m looking for and where to find it.

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