The Task Notebook

Though my whole professional and personal life seems to exist on my laptop, I will never be a completely paper-free individual. My to-do list has always existed on paper. And it always will.

Not only do I have a fond affection for writing on real paper with a real pen, there is also a subtle sense of gratification whenever I draw a black line through an accomplished task. A gratification that I don’t get when clicking on a check box or tapping the delete key.

Using a paper based to-do system is not the “greenest” thing I could do (don’t tell Al), and is starting to feel old fashioned in this PDA GTD world. So why am I still carting around my notepad?

Being organized is a learned behavior.

I sometimes teach a class to new staff members around here about how to manage their time. After the first couple hours of groundwork information (you’d be surprised how many people don’t have an idea of how to schedule their time), I emphasize what – in my opinion – is the greatest advice of all time for time management and organization: do what works for you.

This advice goes for all sorts of organizational efforts. Such as keeping your email inbox manageable, and making sure you don’t miss that important date.

We all think a little differently, and we all have unique quirks that make us who we are. Therefore, how we structure and organize our life should fit . . . our life.

Needless to say, I have been through a lot of notebooks in search of the perfect to-do list tool.

Not only do I need something I can write my task list on, I need it to take notes too. I need to draw in it. I need to cram excessive amounts of loose leaf paper in it. I need it to have character.

Necessity Necessitates the Necessities

For the first 25 years of my life my to-do list existed on my left hand. If something came to mind that I wanted to get done, I’d write it on my palm. (I wasn’t too busy in those days.)

Last February I built myself a bonafide Moleskine PDA notebook. It’s sole purpose was task management. And I swear, just the fact that I owned a task notebook made me busier. (It is amazing how many things you realize you need to do when you have a spot to write them down in.)

That small Moleskine was fantastic. It worked perfectly for over a year. It was handy, cheap and had grid-paper: the three most important elements in any good task notebook.


If my task notebook isn’t handy, it’s no good. Convenience is everything when you’re using something every day, everywhere. It’s a common misconception that size dictates handiness, but that’s not true. Handy means useful.


I’ll never be able to use a notebook without lines. My handwriting inevitably starts to lean down to the bottom right corner of the page if I don’t have some pre-printed help.

But standard college ruled won’t do.

In seventh grade science I got hooked on grid paper. It has no top or bottom or left or right. You can turn it sideways or longways and it’s still right-side up. It’s fantastic.


Cheap may be the least important, but it is never to be overlooked. You’d be surprised at how many folks get a nice, quality journal only to never use it in fear of wasting its pages. Now that is a waste of money if I ever saw one.

When looking for a task notebook you have to recognize the very nature of the notebook will necessitate throwing paper in the recycling bin.

Every hour or two I’m scratching something out. I’m constantly doodling notes, and tearing out sheets of paper to give away. If I hear a cash-register cha-chinging every time I do that it’s no good. If I feel like I’m robbing my notebook of all its character when I rip a page out, then it’s no good.

The right notebook must be guilt-free to destroy.


About 3 months ago the Moleskine stopped being handy. Yes, it was small and portable, but no longer handy.

I’m a visual thinker and a verbal processor. Translated: the best tools for figuring out a solution to a problem is a person to listen while I draw on a white board. But if a white board isn’t around I need a sketch pad. Therfore I upgraded to letter-sized.

I started with a generic yellow pad like everyone else I see in management around here used, but it had one major flaw: it wasn’t grid.

I found a better solution at Walmart. A 150-page gridded goodness pad which has worked for the past month. However, the useful :: frustrating ration is quickly becoming exponential.

This pad stopped being useful once my to-do list was no longer able to be on page 1.

After I sat in a meeting and took some important notes on page 2, the next time I re-wrote my to-do list it had to be on page 3. Now it’s on page 11.

Time to find a new notebook.

Today I ordered a Levenger Circa Notebook. These guys may very well make the best day-to-day usable stationary in the world.

The Circa is a brilliant knock-off of the age old 3-ring binder idea. It comes with 100 sheets of letter-sized grid paper, on nice 60# text stock. It feels good to hold, and is a dream to write on.

What else is so gorgeous about the Circa is that my to-do list will always be on page one, and I won’t have to fold pages over the top binding to get to the page I want. It even folds over itself, and is infinitely accessorisable.

Will this be my final task notebook? I doubt it.