How to Organize a Notebook for Work

posted in: Organizing 14

How to Organize a Notebook for WorkDo you use need help figuring out how to organize a notebook for work?

Are you looking for a few methods to organize information quickly, and easily when it comes to taking notes and planning projects?

As much as technology is used in the work environment, there’s something extremely satisfying when it comes to using a notebook for work.

A plain notebook allows you to take a step away from screens and devices and focus on one thing: getting your thoughts, ideas, and notes out of your head and into a notebook.

Notebooks allow you to organize information in countless ways, easily, and quickly, with a plain old pen or pencil.

But, this isn’t much help if you don’t have the time to figure out how to section, divide, and maintain your notebook.

That’s where this collection of organization methods comes in!

In this post, I offer five different ways you can organize a notebook for your work.

You can use the following tips with any blank notebook of your choice; be it lined, plain, graph, wide, or college ruled.

Simply pick and choose the components that interest you the most, and start building your notebook.

You can use any combination of these organization methods for your needs when it comes to organizing items and information.

If you’re looking for even more instruction in notebook organization, be sure to check out my post, How to Organize a Notebook or Journal, by clicking here. 

Organize a To-Do List Notebook

This is an easy way to create a compact to-do list at the office. With this method, you’ll be able to review your projects and tasks at the beginning and end of the day. While you will have to write information over again each day, you may find the act of rewriting will help you to remember the status of tasks and projects.

Here’s how to create a to-do list notebook:

1. Write down the date at the top of a blank page in your notebook.

2. Next, write down the name of one of your work projects. Skip between 5-10 lines, then write down the name of another one of your projects, skip 5-10 more lines, and write down your third project.

3. Starting with your first project, write down three relevant to-dos. Fill in to-dos for the other three projects.

4. Check off, or cross-off to-do list items as you complete them.

5. At the end of each day, start a new page with tomorrow’s date and project titles, and transfer any unfinished to-dos to the next day’s page. Add to-dos as needed.

Organize a Note-Taking Notebook

This method is perfect for taking notes at meetings and brainstorming sessions, or for planning, writing, or recording data.

If you’re so inclined, you can designate this your “Meeting Notebook.” You’ll have everything you need for your meeting in one convenient location.

Here’s how to create a note-taking notebook:

1. Write “Table of Contents” at the top of the first and second pages in your notebook. You’ll use these two pages to create a convenient, you guessed it, Table of Contents.

2. On the front of the third page, write the number “1” in either the upper or lower right-hand corner. Turn the page, and write the number “2” on the upper or lower left-hand-corner. You can continue to number the pages in one sitting, or you can number the pages as you use the notebook.

3. When you’re ready to take notes, turn to page “1” (remember, this is the third page in the notebook). Write down the subject of your notes, and the date. Take notes as necessary.

4. When you are finished with your note taking, write down the subject and the corresponding page numbers in the Table of Contents at the front of the notebook. Continue with this process for each new entry.

Organize a Notebook for Meetings

This method works great for a recurring weekly or daily meeting for a single ongoing project. It holds your thoughts, points discussed, and the steps you’ll need to take after the meeting.

Here’s how to create a notebook for meetings:

1. Write the name of the meeting and the date at the top of the page.

2. Underneath the meeting name and date, create a section called “Prep.” Use this area to jot down any ideas, information, thoughts, or points you want to present, discuss, or make note of at the meeting.

3.  Next, create a section under “Prep” called “Notes.”  You’ll use this area to take notes of information and facts presented at the meeting.

4. Under “Notes,” create a section called “Next Steps.” Use this area to write down the individual tasks, or to-dos you’ll need to take care of, post-meeting.

Organize a Project Notebook

This organization method works well if you are juggling several projects at work, and need a single, convenient location to store your notes.

Here’s how to create a project notebook:

1. Write down the names of your projects on a piece of scrap paper. Count up the total number of projects.

2. Divide your notebook into equal sections depending the total number of projects. If you have three projects, you’ll divide the notebook into three equal sections; if you have five projects, you’ll divide into five equal sections, and so on.

3. At the beginning of each section, fold the top of page downward to form a triangle, and write in the name of a single project. Continue until you’ve created a section for each project. You can also use sticky notes or flags to conveniently mark the project areas.

4. Take notes in the project areas as necessary.

Organize a Reference Notebook

This method allows you to write-in and store factual information in a single notebook. It’s an easy way of keeping information ready and available for you to use.

Here’s how to create a reference notebook:

1. Divide your notebook into four equal sections. At the front of each section, label a page as follows: A-F, G-L, M-R, and S-Z.

2. Divide each of the four notebook sections into six more sections. You’ll now write in the corresponding letters of the alphabet. So, for the first section, A-F, you’d divide it into six more sections, and would label those, A, B, C, D, E, and F.  Continue until you’ve completely divided up the notebook.

3. Write information or notes into the corresponding sections. Update your notebook as necessary.

How about you? Do you use a notebook at work? How do you like to organize your information, ideas, and notes? Will you give any of the above organization methods a try? Join the conversation and leave a comment below!

Want Help Organizing Your Notebook or Journal?

If you want help organizing your notebook or journal, I offer professional organizing services and organizing mindset coaching. Click here to learn more about how to work with me. 

Follow Rashelle:
Rashelle Isip is a New York City-based professional organizer and productivity consultant who helps people get organized so they can stress less, have more fun, and be happier at home. Her work has been featured in Good Housekeeping, Fast Company, Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, Business Insider, and The Atlantic. Get access to her free guide, 10 Simple Ways to Make Your To-Do Lists More Effective, by clicking here.

14 Responses

  1. Erin

    The use of notebooks both physical and digital is a topic that looms large for me both personally and professionally. I am a research scientist by trade, and we live by our notebooks – laboratory notebooks, research journals, giant digital slide decks are all part of how we do, preserve, and document our work. Outside of work, I am a writer, crafter, amateur herbalist, and student of many languages. I use notebooks for everything, so I think a great deal about the best and most efficient ways to use them.

    The conclusion I’ve come to, at least for now, is that there are two fundamental approaches to handling written information for subsequent use. You can either change how you enter information (like what you suggest here, creating physical sections for different kinds of info), or you can change how you access information.

    The frustration that I’ve always had regarding “setting up a notebook” for a stated purpose is that I almost always guess wrong when allocating space for a given purpose. If I have 5 projects and allocate equal space for them, I’ll inevitably wind up with 2 projects that run out of space and 3 that are less than half full. So then what? Start a new book? Spawn off random satellite sections? Add to that the fact that my note-taking is rarely as homogeneous as a well-organized notebook or stack of notebooks would best accommodate. When I’m taking notes in a meeting, I’m likely to get project notes, action items for my to-do list, and reference items all together in the space of an hour. I don’t particularly want to bring a stack of notebooks to every meeting, so that means I need another approach.

    Instead of sectioning off notebooks, I’ve adopted a system that lets me take all kinds of notes, all in one place, without being horribly disorganized and useless for future reference. There are 3 essential elements that I use:

    1. Maintain a proper table of contents. Every notebook I use has its first couple of pages devoted to a table of contents. Every page gets a line or half a line or whatever makes sense. When I devote (most of) a page to something I’m likely to need later, I record the subject in the TOC.

    2. Use small “icons” in the margins (also called signifiers) to mark important kinds of information. This practice borrows heavily from Tyler Carroll’s Bullet Journal system. Action items get a checkbox in the margin. Topics requiring further research get an eye drawn next to them. Deadlines and time-critical information get red exclamation points. When I go back through my notes, I scan the margins to find important and actionable items.

    3. Use an ingenious Japanese notebook hack to quickly and easily mark pages as containing information pertinent to specific projects.
    Links: |

    This system lets me take notes however the information comes at me while still allowing me to access it later in organized fashion.

    • Rashelle

      Wow, what a comprehensive comment, Erin! Thanks very much for sharing your method. It certainly looks like you’ve perfected your technique over the years. I am familiar with TOCs, the Bullet Journal System, and that particular highlighter/marker technique. You are certainly prepared for information gathering and reference!

      Yes, I completely agree with you when it comes to organizing notebooks. There is something both equally wonderful and puzzling when it comes to using a notebook. Namely, because a notebook is a finite amount of space, plus, as you mentioned, we have to figure out how well we jot down information, refer to, and process/access it later on. I hope people will give our tips a try at least once. I think a big part in organizing a notebook is knowing yourself; that is, knowing your personal preferences and habits.

      I see you are a research scientist. What subject do you study? I majored in biology in college. I was mostly Big Bio, behavioral ecology/animal behavior. I did a lot of note-taking and notebook updating then. One of my more fond notebook memories was of copying over our field notes into more polished, finalized notes at the end of the day. In a way, it seemed like we were doing double the work, but reviewing and copying over notes forces you to remember and think about what took place that day. I also remember preparing our chemistry notebooks before our labs. Again, it seemed like double the work, but it did help make the lab session run smoother, when all was said and done.

      Thanks so much for your comment and for reading the blog!

  2. Marcie Lovett

    I agree that keeping notes easily accessible leads to greater productivity. In the spirit of simplifying, I recommend taking these ideas and creating word documents. You can keep the information on the computer or print the pages as you need them. They’re easy to email to colleagues, too, if you need to share the information.

    • Rashelle

      That’s a good suggestion, Marcie. You could also create some template Word documents to share with others, too.

  3. R.Stephen Ilango

    Hi Rashelle,
    It’s nice to read your ideas. I’m a person involving in a lot of activities right from service to my profession.
    I also tried and still trying to improve my efficiency in maintaining records. I always take a lot of notes when reading a book, listening to a speech or while attending a training / meeting.
    I put seperate note books for different topics, I use 5 subjects / 7 subjects note books etc.,

    But my problem is I am not able to kee them properly and at my reach. It’s mainly because I am often travelling. I have a mini office at my home and 2 personal offices for my profession in 2 different towns.

    Anyhow, thank you very much for confirming few of my methodologies as right ones.
    God bless you as you are guiding people.
    Stephen Ilango

    • Rashelle

      I’m glad you found the post helpful! Thanks for your comment.

  4. Juanita

    I have a planner which is not 8×11. It’s 5.5×8.5. I am trying to keep everything in one place, my planner. But the notebooks I use are 8×11. I don’t want to carry two notetaking books. What would you suggest? I think my problem is, I feel I have to conform to what I see other employees using– 8×11 paper notebooks. However, for lectures, I do print out slides on 8×11. The slides would be too small if I used 5.5×8.5 paper for my planner. I also do not want to move to an 8×11 planner, it would be too bulky to carry around.

    • Rashelle

      Thanks for your comment, Juanita. How about purchasing lined notepaper that is 5.5×8.5 and place the paper in the back of your planner? That way, you could take notes and have access to your planner. As far as the printouts go, you could place your slides and printouts in plastic sleeve protectors and carry them in a soft, flexible plastic binder or folder. Plastic sleeve protectors are far lighter than carrying around a full 8×11 planner, plus they protect your notes from moisture and damage, and can be rolled up, folded, etc.

  5. Kim

    One of my dilemmas is whether to use a spiral notebook with dividers, or a 6- / 7-ring planner binder.
    What do most of you find better?


    • Rashelle

      Hmm…well, I’d say it really depends on your personal preference and how you are going to use the notebook. I’d suggest you give some thought as to how you need to take notes during the day, as well as to how you will use your notes afterwards.

      There are benefits and drawbacks to all types of notebooks. For example, a bound spiral notebook keeps information contained, while a ring binder allows you to remove individual sheets of paper. The best thing to do is to find a notebook type with more benefits for your particular situation. I hope that helps!

      • Kim

        I don’t really have a need to remove papers, but I do need to take notes at meetings. I have To Do lists, and need to have Notes divided into my 2 products I manage, as well as an area to jot down ‘tips/tricks’ (things not necessarily related to a specific product but that I will need to refer back to from time to time.

        • Rashelle

          Thanks for the further details, Kim. I have two suggestions for you.

          The first is to create separate sections in your notebook for your to-do lists, notes, and tips/tricks. That way, everything would be contained by use. The second is to create three separate sections on each page for lists, notes, and tips/tricks. This way, you can contain items by date.

          I hope these two suggestions give you some food for thought. Remember when it comes to organizing a notebook, the sky’s the limit. How about sketching out and experimenting some notebook layouts to see what might work for you?

  6. Kim

    Thank you, Rashelle, for the good ideas on uses for the different types of note taking.

    • Rashelle

      You are quite welcome, Kim. I’m glad you found the notebook ideas helpful.