How to Organize a Notebook or Journal

posted in: Organizing 7

Are you wondering how to organize a notebook or journal?

Do you you need several practical and creative ways to personalize your notebook?

At first glance, organizing a notebook or journal might seem like you’re doing double the work.

You’ve already purchased a brand-new notebook with pages neatly lined up one after another, so why should you even bother developing an organization system?

Taking the time to organize your notebook will make it easy to enter, reference, and retrieve information.

What’s more, a well-designed notebook can make data entry a fun and creative process.

You can personalize your notebook to your heart’s content, which in turn, will make it more likely you’ll actually use your notebook, instead of having it collect dust on a desk or shelf.

In this post, I offer several suggestions to help you craft an organized notebook or journal for your needs.

Please note, the below tips are primarily for the organization of bound hardcover and softcover notebooks or journals.

The tips, however, can also be applied to loose leaf or other removable page notebooks. For help organizing a looseleaf binder, see my post here.

If you’re currently shopping for notebooks, be sure to check out the end of this post for my recommendations on journals/notebooks.

Let’s begin!

Identify how you’d like to use your notebook.

You’ve got a delicious new notebook you want to organize. Where should you begin?

The first step is identifying how you’d like to use your notebook in future. Clearly defining the purpose of your notebook will help you plan the notebook’s layout and organize information.

It’s definitely worth taking some time to consider how you’d like to use your notebook. You may already have a strong preference for those wonderful blank pages, or you may merely have a general idea as to the contents.

No matter your situation, you should jot down a couple of notebook usage ideas on a separate piece of scrap paper.

Here are several questions to ask yourself as you wrap your head around your notebook’s purpose:

What’s main subject of my notebook?

For what specific purpose will you use your notebook? What subject will your notebook cover? Will it be for personal or professional use?

What are the secondary subjects of my notebook, if any?

Given your notebook’s main subject, which secondary subjects might you want to include to help support the main subject? It’s not necessary to include secondary subjects, but it’s worth some thought.

What type of general information do I want to record in my notebook?

What information do you wish to track or store in your notebook? Do you want to record dates, times, notes, measurements, thoughts, ideas, reflections, etc.?

Will my notebook be public or private?

Will your notebook be a private “for-your-eyes only” affair or will you share the contents with others? You may want to modify your content plans if information is going to be shared with other people.

How will I interact with the contents of my notebook in future?

Will you quickly scan notebook contents in a few minutes’ time or are you more likely to spend hours reviewing all of the juicy details?

Where will my notebook be used?

Are you going to take your notebook with you on your daily commute, vacation travels, or will it stay in one location such as on the desk in your home office or on a bookshelf at work?

How structured do I want to make my notebook?

Do you want a loosely-structured notebook that allows for great flexibility or would a tightly-structured and regimented notebook better fit your needs?

What is the ultimate goal of my creating my notebook?

Is your notebook born out of sheer practicality or will it be a source of inspiration for your goals?

Brainstorm notebook components.

The next step in organizing your notebook is to brainstorm the different components of the notebook itself and organize your thoughts. Notebook components can be thought of as the building blocks of your notebook. They are what will give your precious pages structure, order, and form.

A useful way to uncover which notebook components would be helpful to you is to think about the subject of your notebook and your ultimate notebook goals.

Which notebook components would help you better organize information? Which components would help you enter and retrieve information?

Here are several notebook components for you to consider. Feel free to use this as a guide and brainstorm your own notebook components!

Table of Contents

Turn to the first page of the notebook and write “Table of Contents” at the top of the page. Leave a few pages blank after this page for additional content entries from your notebook. You can enter in corresponding notebook components in this area, as well as accompanying page numbers and any other summation information you’d like.


You can create a goals page or section to help keep your dreams at the front of your mind. You can write down your goal, due date, as well as the daily, weekly, and monthly actions that will support you in reaching your goal, and the less productive actions  you’ll want to leave behind in the past.


You can create your very own calendar or calendars in your notebook in any shape or form you wish. You can create a dedicated calendar section or you can incorporate calendar sections throughout the notebook. Use an existing paper or digital planner as a date reference when you draw your calendar(s).


You can create a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly or schedule for your needs. You may wish to develop a dedicated schedule section or area or pepper your schedule throughout the notebook. You can use minutes and hours, days of the week, months of the year, or any combination of the above in your schedule.


This is a great way to keep track of recurring types of data. For example, maybe you’d like to track your new exercise routine, your daily weight, the weekly weather, the height of your children, how well your garden is growing, and so on.

Chart and Graphs

Set aside a couple of pages in your notebook behind any trackers so you can plot your data. You can make a line graph, bar graph, pie chart, scatterplot chart, or any other chart or graph you desire.

Blank Pages

Feel free to leave any number of pages blank in your notebook as a placeholder for future information. You may even choose to keep your notebook completely blank and simply fill up pages consecutively, one after the other, as you use them.

Page Entries

You can place absolutely anything on a notebook page! Some ideas to get you started include notes, ideas, inspiration, reminders, diary entries, thoughts, to-dos, sketches, drawings, and quotes.

Page Numbers

Make it easy to reference specific areas of your notebook by adding numbers to the inside, outside, corner, top, middle, or bottom of pages. If you’d like, you can write the corresponding page numbers to your Table of Contents or Index (more on that in a little bit).

Page Layouts

Mentally divide a page of your notebook with nine imaginary, but equal-sized squares or boxes. Then, start thinking about all the different ways you can layout individual components of a page. You can use nine equal sized squares or boxes, use three vertical columns, use three horizontal rows, or you can mix and match any permutation of columns and rows as you see fit. You can also use a single page or two-page spread if you’d like.

Page Variations

Who says pages of a notebook have to have the same type of content in the exact same layout? You can make page variations of existing pages for specific sections or areas on your notebook.


Physically divide your notebook into as many smaller sections as you need. You could use sticky notes, tabs, mark the side of pages with different color marker, or use the good ol’ fashioned method of folding over the top right corner of a page halfway down to form a handy divider.


This notebook component allows you to quickly capture unique instances of time. Again, you can have summaries at specific points in your notebook or scatter them throughout for a quick review of information and details.


If you’re really in the mood for some intense organizing action, flip to the back of the notebook and set aside several blank pages for an index. Mark the first page of this section “Index” and then write three letters of the alphabet to each page. As you take notes in your notebook, you can jot down specific or general subjects in this index to help you find items. You could also cross-reference subjects with dates…it’s up to you!

Organize the layout of your notebook.

The third step in organizing your notebook is to organize the layout. We’ve already talked about how you’re going to use your notebook and the different types of components you can use. Now, it’s time to flesh out the organization of the notebook itself.

You can think of this step as creating a draft of your notebook’s layout before you start to write in your notebook. This step allows you to play around with different components and pages for your notebook until you come up with a solid format that you like.

If you have past experience laying out notebooks, you’ll want to take this experience into account. Feel free to experiment with different layouts until you’ve got a couple of front-runners.

Do keep in mind: it’s best to work from the top-down when it comes to organizing the layout of your notebook. All this means is that you’ll want to get the larger notebook components in place first before you develop the layout of the individual pages.

You can use a single piece of scrap paper to plot things out, or you can use individual index cards, sticky notes, and scraps of paper to organize the layout of your dreams.

Customize your notebook.

The fourth and final step is to rollup your sleeves and start customizing your notebook. Before you start customizing your notebook, make sure you have a clear table or countertop ready so you have ample space space in which to work. You may also want to eliminate any distractions so you do your notebook customization in peace.

When it comes to customizing a notebook for your needs, the sky is the limit. Feel free to round up your favorite office supplies and art supplies. This can be anything and everything from pencils, pens, markers, rulers, stamps, ink pads, scissors, colorful tape, stencils, stickers, and sticky notes.

Then, when you’re good and ready, you get put on your favorite music and get busy customizing your notebook!

How about you? Do you enjoy using notebooks or journals? How do you go about organizing your notebooks? Join the conversation and leave a comment below!

Do you want help getting organized? I offer professional organizing services and organizing mindset coaching. Click here to learn more.

Want to get organized the easy-peasy way? My eBook, 31 Easy Ways to Get Organized in the New Year is filled with quick tips to help you bring more order to your space. Click here to learn more.

Easily Add a Calendar to Your Notebook

Spice up your notebooks and journals with our convenient printable calendars!

These fully-compatible daily, weekly, and monthly printable calendars make it easy to plan your days at home, the office, and school.

Click here to learn more! 

Love using pen and paper to plan your projects, assignments, tasks, and to-dos? Looking for interchangeable daily, weekly, and monthly calendar layouts? Be sure to check The Order Expert's Calendar Printables!


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.
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7 Responses

  1. Joe Gut


  2. Wolfie53

    Thank you so much! I will use these tips to organize my notebooks, school notebooks, journals, and basically every piece of paper I come across. I’m a little messy with my books because I get distracted and they end up with random doodles, notes, and other things. Again, thanks for all your help! From now on, I am going to re-organize my life! =)

    • Rashelle

      You are quite welcome! I’m glad you found the post to be helpful. Notebooks can be one of those tricky areas when it comes to organizing information. Thanks for reading and for your comment.

  3. Elvis

    Thanks a lot for the info. I’ve just started this English Composition class at a Dominican college and I find your post very useful for what I need to do durina the whole semester.

    • Rashelle

      You’re quite welcome, Elvis. I hope the tips help you this semester at college. Good luck!

  4. Chris

    Good article, my notebooks are full of random things and it never occurred to me to make a table of contents or an index. So simple…

    • Rashelle

      Thanks, Chris, I’m glad you found it helpful. An additional benefit to creating a table of contents (TOC) is that the physical process of compiling a TOC helps you to better remember what’s actually inside the notebook. It’s a true win-win situation. Thank you for reading and for your comment!