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Note-taking techniques II: The Everything Notebook method

A couple of people have told me that they feel uncomfortable using index cards for their note-taking process. I completely understand, even though I love writing index cards and I use them to take notes too. Nevertheless, I also use other note-taking techniques. One of them is using just ONE notebook for absolutely EVERYTHING. That’s how I came up with the idea of my Everything Notebook – it literally stores everything.

Everything Notebook

How do I assemble an Everything Notebook?

I have created “Everything Notebook Starter Kits“, where I include the following items:

  • A 200-300 pages notebook, preferably with rigid covers. You can use whichever brand you prefer.
  • A set of rigid plastic tabs (1 inch long).
  • A set of highlighters.
  • A set of coloured fineliners/pens.

I often give these away as raffle prizes or simply to my colleagues, like I did for my fellow professor Dr. Elizabeth Perez-Chiques.

Each item has its purpose within the Everything Notebook process, as I describe below.

  • The long rigid plastic tabs create a physical separation between different sections of the Everything Notebook”
  • I write with different colours so I need a set of coloured pens. I use fineliners (0.4mm) instead of actual pens.
  • I highlight text in articles in at least 6 different shades (yellow, orange, pink, blue, green and purple) so I need at least that many highlighters.
  • I have used different brands of notebooks, but since I live in Mexico, I’ve settled for Norma’s Unicampus (as shown in the tweet above)

When do you write in the Everything Notebook and when do you use Index Cards? When do you use entirely digital methods (Synthetic Notes, Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump, memorandums, Evernote)?

This is a complicated question, which I luckily answered in a Twitter thread.

I do travel everywhere with my Everything Notebook, or at least, almost always, and I do always keep my Everything Notebooks from previous years, at my campus office or at home, but always handy.

Can I combine the Index Cards Method with the Everything Notebook Method?

Obviously yes. YOU DO YOU. You choose what works best for you.

Why do you keep your To-Do Lists with all your project and field notes in the same Everything Notebook? Don’t you get confused?

No, because as I mentioned, I need to carry just ONE notebook everywhere. I use my Everything Notebook as a daily planner, as a calendar keeper, and as a note-taking device.

Synchronizing To-Do lists

How do you use your Everything Notebook for note-taking?

Glad you asked. Here’s a Twitter thread of my processes and the instances when I use it and how I use it.

What happens when you finish one Everything Notebook and you need to move to another one?

I link them both. I also generate a table of content for the Everything Notebook I just finished.

I usually keep my last 5 years’ worth of Everything Notebooks at my office, because you never know if you’re going to need some random piece of data from fieldwork you did 2-3 years ago. Yes, of course, this all can be done digitally (OneNote, Evernote, ask Dr. Ellie Mackin about this.

What happens if you leave your Everything Notebook at home when you travel?

I write on loose leafs and staple them to my Everything Notebook upon my return. See below.

The idea and process of having just ONE notebook to write your notes and To-Do lists may not work for everyone. But I can assure you, A LOT of people have adopted my system and adapted it and it’s working for them. Obviously it works for me. I always try to bring it with me EVERYWHERE I GO for the reason shown below.

You may be interested in my other posts on taking notes, which you can access by clicking on this link.

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2 Responses

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  1. Ana says

    Professor, why do you use different color for underlining ideas in a book? do you have specific categories?

  2. Raul Pacheco-Vega says

    I don’t underline books (at least the physical copies) but I do highlight photocopies of articles and book chapters. I have a specific colour-coded highlighting and scribbling scheme where the most important ideas are coded yellow, then orange, then pink, then blue or green, then the really key ones are coded as purple.

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