Writing it down
As a young kid, I always loved journeys to the office supply store. It felt very grown-up to buy your own pens and paper. When I went to art school, Pearl’s was my favorite spot. That’s where I fell in love with Pigma Micron pens and gouache paints.
Starting at a very early age, I always had those small pocket notebooks close by. My grandfather on my mother’s side worked for a railroad company and he used to share his Weights and Measures notebooks with his grandkids. My grandmother worked for the US Gypsum Company as a typist(!!!) and brought home all sorts of paper pads, forms and those small pocket notebooks, too.
My father always carried a pocket day planner with him and I got myself one sometime in high school. I went through every format over time and eventually got way too into the Franklin Planner. For a few years, I was obsessed with keeping up my Franklin Planner, always trying to do the most important work first, and never missing an appointment. This was several years before there were online calendars, so it seems a bit silly now, but I could never figure out how anyone got anything done without a Franklin Planner.
I eventually turned my time management obsession toward other frameworks… GTD, Kanban, Pomodoro. I eventually realized that this obsession was more about the idea of efficiency, not the actual work I was trying to accomplish. I drifted. Then I read Getting Real by 37Signals, the first real book I’d ever read on building products.
So what do you do with all these requests that pour in? Where do you store them? How do you manage them? You don’t. Just read them and then throw them away.
Holy shit. This was incredible to read. The next paragraph suggests that if something is important enough, you’ll be reminded of it often. No need to manage some nasty product backlog. It hit me that if this worked for products, it probably works for your own tasks too.
By then I had already started using Moleskine notebooks to jot things down in. I still have some of the elastic-banded notebooks my great-grandfather used when he traveled around the States in the 1920s. He kept notes on mileage, gas, and oil details for his Model-T and meticulous budgeting for food and lodging during his multi-year road trips. Perhaps because of how much I was in awe of his notebooks, I treated my Moleskins with a similar sense of awe. Basically, I didn’t use them much because I felt most of what I wanted to jot down wasn’t worthy of them.
This is when I discovered Field Notes. Back then 37Signals shared an office with Jim Coudal, who teamed up with the amazing Aaron Draplin to make these amazing pocket notebooks, just like the ones my grandfather used to give me. They were small and fit in your back pocket, meant for scribbling things down, getting beat up, and getting shit done. Watch this, this and this and I bet you’ll be hooked too.
Today, while technology has seeped into every cranny of our personal and professional lives, when a thought comes to me, when I want to remember something now, when I need to draw that sketch of an idea, or make yet another list of lists, writing it down in a Field Notes notebook is essential to how I get shit done. It’s not a planner, it’s not a todo list, it’s not the sacred keeping place of everything. It’s a simple tool that captures the ephemera of life and work, freezing ideas in place, for just a little while. Every day I scan through my scribbles and evolve them into Issues or Pull Requests on GitHub, emails, or just let them percolate a little longer on paper. Many ideas and notes don’t go anywhere, and that’s ok.
As I’ve relied more and more on my notebooks, I started caring a lot more about what pens I use. I still love those Pigma Micron pens, but I wanted to try something new. I scoured every review on sites like Pen Addict and re-read Rands’ Gel Dilemma a few times and took a gamble on a new pen this year. I am now incredibly in love with The Bolt by Karas Kustoms with a Pilot G2 0.5mm refill.
These little pocket notebooks feel like home. Comfortable, reassuring and personal. It feels like what I’d always been looking for in those dusty old office supply stores. Maybe you actually can go home again.