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It’s the holidays, and let’s be honest, sometimes brainstorming great gift ideas is hard. But there is one item that comes to mind every year, something I’ve received as a gift myself a few times. It’s super versatile and can be enjoyed by pretty much anyone.
And that item (if the title hasn’t already made it clear) is the notebook. That’s right. Those sheets of paper bound together that hold all your ideas and creative thoughts.
I recently finished my digital notebook experiment and it’s really reinvigorated my love for notebooks and stationery. I firmly believe that notebooks make a really versatile and reliable option for gifts. So I set out to brainstorm how many ways you could use them to prove that very idea.
Not only are there dozens of ways to use a notebook, but there are also hundreds of different notebooks to choose from. No matter who you are, there’s a notebook out there for you:
- Wide range of prices: Even if you don’t want to break the budget there are still some great options in lower tiers. High-end notebooks are nice, but I’ve found some great ones at my local dollar store.
- Spoiled for Choice: Lots of brands have different sizes, colours, patterns, thicknesses and paper weights so you can pick the one that appeals to you (or to the person who will receive it), You can get it in leather, or spiral-bound. You can get it with a dot grid or heavy watercolour paper. There are so many options out there.
- Personalized: Lots of the higher-end notebooks allow you to monogram the notebook, but you can also do it yourself with stickers or something like the Foil Quill.
- Easily Accessorized: Pen loops, notebook covers, post-its, fancy bookmarks. There are plenty of fun and useful additions you can make to your notebook (or someone else’s).
How I Use A Notebook
I always used to carry a sketchbook around, but it’s taken me a few years to open up my mind to the idea of using a notebook or sketchbook for…well, pretty much anything. I used to be too precious with them, and I would get frustrated if I made mistakes. I thought they were meant to be perfect, and I strived for that perfection instead of letting it be the tool that it was meant to be.
I’ve mentioned before that I use a loose interpretation of the bullet journal system. I use month-at-a-glance and year-at-a-glance spreads and bulleted task lists, but I dislike migrating tasks over and over again, so I don’t use it as a daily planner.
It’s also become something of a dumping ground for any and all ideas I have. Sometimes I’m plotting a novel, or designing a piece of jewellery, or working out a blog post. I might be attempting to write copy or sketching a character, or jotting down research I’ll use later. I use it for a bit of everything, and my notebook is a catch-all for all those thoughts and ideas I don’t want to lose.
It has honestly changed my life to use a notebook so regularly, and I highly recommend it, whether you use the standard pen and paper or if you figure out some sort of digital notebook alternative. It’s become an essential part of my life and my creative process, and I don’t know where I’d be without it.
My Recommended Notebook & Supplies
Since I’m gushing about how much I love notebooks, I should probably tell you about some of my favourites, huh? This is stuff that I habitually use and more importantly, repurchase. That’s how much I enjoy them. And maybe you will too.
This is my absolute favourite notebook, and I’ve tried quite a few. I love the softcover, I love the quality and colour of the paper. It’s extremely well made and I’ve taken mine everywhere with me. There are plenty of other notebooks that will do the job just fine, and are far less expensive, but Moleskine has won me over with their quality. If you’re willing to invest a little in a high-quality notebook, the Moleskine comes with my seal of approval. It’s also the best softcover notebook – nice and floppy.
I recently purchased erasable pens after my digital notebook experiment because I loved being able to erase things and I wanted to be able to do that in my notebook without using pencil and getting graphite smears all over my pages. I haven’t been using them as long as the other items on this list but they have changed the game for me. They are incredibly fine and erase really easily without leaving anything behind. Now I can make plans and changes to those plans without having to worry about using whiteout. The ink is a bit on the faint side, but it’s still a lot more visible than a pencil line, and I don’t have to worry about smearing or fading. And the ghosting is practically non-existent.
I am a recent convert to the mildliner, and I prefer it over other highlighters for 3 reasons. The first is that they come in an assortment of colours, including lots of lovely pastel ones and even a grey one. The second is that they are quite light and not overly saturated so they work well on thinner paper and don’t cause a lot of ghosting. And finally, they’re double-ended for more versatility. They are expensive, but I far prefer to use these guys in my notebooks and bullet journals than their super-saturated neon cousins.
My tried and true pens I used before I found the frixion pens. They’re super bright, come in superfine points and have a really slim profile so you can stuff your bag or pencil case with a bunch of them. Moleskine pages are quite thin, so there is a bit of ghosting, but it’s not so noticeable that it’s distracting. They’re pretty comfortable to use as well, as sometimes a fine point can feel a little less smooth and a little more like you’re scratching lines into paper. They also come in an absurd number of colours!
Honorary Mention: Sharpie Fine Pens
I love these pens. They are so bright and smooth, and if I used a notebook with a thicker paper then I would probably use them a lot more than I do. Unfortunately, the ghosting I get with them is just too much and makes it too hard to see what’s on the next page. I still use them for accents or when I want a bolder line than my stabilos can provide, but they aren’t very compatible with the classic Moleskine, sadly. Would highly recommend if you happen to use a notebook with a paper weight higher than 80gsm.
One Notebook, 50+ Ways to Use it
So, whether you’re wondering if a notebook will work for a gift, or if you’ve received a few yourself and don’t know how to fill them, wonder no more! I have a massive list here of 52 ways to fill those empty pages and put that notebook to good use!
To make it a little easier, I’ve organized these ideas into categories, but theoretically, you could use anything on this list. There are no limits to how you choose to use your notebook. That’s the beauty of them – no rules, and unlimited possibilities.
1. Journaling or Morning Pages
What better way to use your new notebook than to start a journal? Whether you do it at night or in the morning, there is nothing like a bit of reflection to bring some focus and clarity to your life. It’s a great way to ground yourself, to prep yourself for the day and to capture important moments in your life.
2. Daily Planner
If you like the freedom of designing your own daily or weekly spreads, a blank notebook is a perfect choice for a daily planner. Keeping yourself organized doesn’t have to be fancy. Any notebook and pen will do.
3. To-Dos & Checklists
Whether its a task list for a new project, a checklist for a trip or a shopping list, a notebook is a great place to list, and track all those little tasks that need doing.
4. List Collections
Not all lists are goal-oriented. Sometimes we like to make lists for the sake of making lists. It’s why list posts and top tens are so popular – we like to sort and rank things. So why not keep some of them in your notebook? Favourite restaurants, favourite pens or notebooks, a wishlist of things you hope to buy one day – you can think up a list for pretty much anything.
We consume a lot of content, and I think it’s a good idea to be critical of said content. You don’t need to have a blog or a Youtube channel to write a review on something. Whether its a book you’ve read or a movie you watched, your notebook can be a place for you to jot down your ideas and impressions, whether you liked it or you didn’t. It can also be fun to go back and revisit those reviews to see if you still feel the same later on.
6. Inspiring Quotes and/or Lyrics
It’s nice to collect quotes that have some meaning to us. What better place to look to for inspiration and reflection than a little notebook filled with them?
7. Recipe Collection
Maybe it’s because I don’t like clutter, but the idea of holding on to a bunch of cookbooks just doesn’t sit well with me. And now we have the internet and Pinterest – there are recipes all over the place and it’s easy to lose track. Why not store them all in a notebook?
8. Books, Movies and Games
You might be wondering why I didn’t just lump in your list of books to read or games played into the list portion, and I have a good reason for that. Stats. I happen to love looking at the statistics once I get to the end of a year to see what sort of things dominated my tastes. How many rpgs did I play? How many console games versus handheld? How many fantasy books did I read versus science fiction? What was the average number of pages? I guess you could call it an advanced list, and include the sorts of details that you find interesting or that might better help you understand your tastes.
This is primarily what I use my notebooks for and it’s probably my favourite. When I have an idea in my mind, I turn to an empty page and I just keep writing until I’ve gotten out everything that was in my brain. Braindumps are perfect for capturing ideas you don’t have time to get into and they help get you focused on what you should be working on.
10. Travel Journal
Whether its journal scraps or photos you take, stamps, or bus tickets, a notebook is a great way to store and chronicle all the little things on your journey.
Much like a travel journal but for everyday – a place to keep all those little memories and reminders of special occasions in your life. Movie tickets, restaurant receipts, a little sketch by a family member when you were sitting on the bus. Any notebook can be turned into a scrapbook with a bit of time and some glue.
One of my favourite ways to brainstorm and sort my ideas after a straight-up braindump. A larger notebook is obviously better suited, but with a fine pen and some determination, you can mindmap in almost any notebook. Or you can split them up into smaller ones. I personally have a massive sketchbook that I use exclusively for mind maps and it works great!
13. Reference Pages
Maybe it’s baking information or measurement conversions. Maybe it’s the dimensions for social media images. Any piece of information that you find yourself habitually having to lookup might be a good option for a page in your notebook.
14. Bullet Journaling
The new hotness of the planner community (which I say with no small amount of love – I also use the bullet journal system, or at least an adapted version of it). Despite what fancy blogs may tell you, you do not need a dot grid notebook to keep a bullet journal. My first bullet journal was in a little blank Moleskine. Then I used a standard 5mm grid layout. Both worked just fine. Grids and dot grids are certainly helpful for fancier spreads and even layouts, but they are not necessary.
15. Mood boards
Or maybe you prefer to call it a vision board, but I absolutely love seeing these. Whether you do it digitally or decide to hand-pick some nice pictures to put in your notebook, there’s nothing like a mood board to get you inspired and focused. I love using these for my writing projects, but they could work for anything – a vision board for your brand or business, one for a healthy semester at school, or a book that you loved.
16. Doodle Pages
I am a chronic doodler. I don’t have any old workbooks from high school, but the margins (and sometimes entire pages) were covered in doodles. If you want to keep your notebook clean and your itchy doodling fingers happy, keep some pages free just for doodles. A bit of zen doodling perhaps?
For the Productive
17. Habit Tracking
While this has become a staple of bullet journal spreads, it’s not technically a part of the bullet journal system, which means you don’t need a bujo to make use of a habit tracker. If you don’t know what it is, it’s fairly simple – you pick a habit you want to keep, like daily exercise or going to bed early and you set a length of time with which you want to keep that habit – a week, a month, a year. And then you track how often you actually do that task in order to build up a habit.
18. Meal Planning
Figuring out what you’re going to eat saves you time and money, but it’s not easy to keep it all in your head. So why not whip up a quick calendar and plot out your meals for the next week? It makes shopping easy and prevents food from going to waste.
19. Future Planning
Another bullet journal idea, but not one that I think has to be limited to the bujo. Looking ahead is important, regardless of where you are in your life. Big trips or major events, like weddings and birthday parties, should be made note of. It’s just helpful for planning in the long term.
20. Event Planning
If you’ve ever had to plan a big party or a bridal shower or something to that effect, you know that it is a lot of work. Venue, food, music, entertainment, guest list – it’s a lot to wrap your head around, so why not use a notebook to keep track of it all?
21. Financial Tracker
This is not an easy one, because you might be surprised (or horrified) by how much and how often you are spending, but I think it’s important to see where you’re money is going, what you might be overspending on and where you might need to budget. Knowledge is power, and it’s so easy to turn your notebook into a money tracker.
22. Goal Setting & Tracking
Setting up monthly or quarterly goals can be really helpful for keeping you on track, especially if you have something big in mind like a novel getting published or a house move. Breaking it up into smaller, manageable chunks can get you there in a more organized, and less stressful fashion. It’s also a good opportunity to reflect on what you did achieve, and what you didn’t so you can do better next month/quarter/year.
For the Blogger
23. Content/Editorial Calendar
An essential for anyone who wants to take blogging seriously. You have to know what you’re posting ahead of time, so you’re better able to write the content and can organize it in a way that makes sense. Maybe you have a themed month or a set of posts leading up to a big giveaway. Having an up-to-date content calendar takes out the guesswork and helps you focus on the actual content creation. Trust me.
24. Growth Tracker
Even if it shouldn’t be all about the numbers, humans like numbers. We like looking at stats, and we like to see a very obvious sign that we’re improving, and you can get no more obvious than with a numerical value. And while it’s not a good thing to focus on them too heavily, it’s still important that you track your progress and the results of any changes or new ideas you introduce to your system.
25. Website Layout Design
Whether it’s an in-depth sketch of how you want your blog or website to look or some chicken scratch about what you want and where, it’s not a bad idea to plan ahead of time. As of writing this, I’m doing something of an overhaul to my own blog and you can bet that I’ve got some notes down in my notebook.
26. Post Brainstorming & Development
You’ve got your shiny new website design and enough content planned out for the next three months, but now you actually have to write. You have to brainstorm titles, think about tags, consider what resources you’re going to use, and what you might need to prepare. You might write a few paragraphs or create an outline, especially if you’re writing evergreen content. It’s also helpful to keep a running list of ideas when you do need to fill up that calendar.
For the Artist
27. Colour Swatches
Whether you use paints, or copics or coloured pencils, you can create a colour compendium in your notebook to see all of the colours you have, and more importantly, how they look on the paper you’ll be using it on.
28. Warm-up Sketches
Before you start up a new painting or illustration in your sketchbook, do a few warm-up sketches in your notebook! Loosen up and let yourself make mistakes. Experiment with new pencils and pens or new styles.
29. Concepts & Ideas
I’m not as much of an artist as I used to be, but I love graphic design and designing jewellery, so I still find myself drawing up rough ideas and loose concepts for me to work on later. Much like a braindump, it’s nice to get those looser ideas out before they disappear.
This is not something in my wheelhouse, but whether you’re animating something or planning a video, getting a handle on the visuals seems like a super useful tool and another great use for a notebook!
31. Portrait and Figure Studies
Notebooks are perfect for getting in some practice. When I drew more often than I do now, I would have tons of pages for head and hand practice since I always struggled with them. It was nice to go back to them as well as references and to find places where I could improve.
32. Contour & One-line Drawing
I have always found these fascinating, and great for practicing lines and shape. They’re also fast and fun!
33. Calligraphy & Lettering
Especially helpful when you have a grid or dot grid system to help you practice and keep your letters the same size. I also really love typography and playing with lettering in my designs.
34. Small Paintings & Illustrations
Could also be a proof of concept for some of your ideas, and gives you a chance to play with colour and composition beforehand. Depending on the paper in your notebook, your mileage will vary, of course.
I really love seeing the mixed media collages that you see in some art journals. It’s a great way to use old photos and scraps of paper and those things that you like but can’t find a use for. Put them together and make something beautiful!
For the Writer
36. Word Count Tracker
It is so, so important to track your word count as a writer. It tells you what time of day you work best, and for how long your chunks of writing time should go to maximize your efficiency. It’s a record of what you’ve been working on and for how long, and it can make you a better writer if you take advantage of this information. It’s not just for NaNoWriMo!
37. Query Tracking
What better way to keep on top of all those queries and short stories you’ve submitted than by tracking it in your notebook! There are of course things like Querytracker, but it’s always good to have a physical copy available that you can refer to.
38. Notes on Plot Structure
I have notes on scenes and the 3-act structure that I use virtually every time I’m outlining. It’s nice to have that hard copy handy to refer to, as I tend to like outlining with a full screen so I can see as much of the outline as possible. I keep the notes open in front of me and it makes for an easy reference, so much so that it’s a spread that I carry from one notebook to another. I would highly recommend.
39. Character sketches
Whether they be small stories, descriptions, or actual sketches, a notebook is a great way to get to know your character through little exercises, and you can even keep vital information about them stored away to refer to when you get to revisions.
40. Revision Notes
I cannot recommend enough that you have a place for revision notes – one place to dump all of your ideas, while your drafting and after the fact. I don’t personally keep mine in a hard notebook, but I know there are some who do, and I can definitely see the appeal. As I like to do my first round of revisions by hand on paper, it might not be such a bad idea to include this in my notebook, too.
Whether you’re using it as a reference or telling yourself the story, it’s super helpful to have a copy of your outline in your notebook. Not only is it helpful for edits, but if you write by hand or you write with something other than a laptop (I’ve recently purchased an Alphasmart Neo2), you’ll need to carry a copy of that outline somewhere so you can refer to it.
42. Short Stories
Writing on a computer is fast, but there is something a lot more deliberate and careful about writing by hand. It takes more time, and you can be more thoughtful about what you say and the words you choose. I wouldn’t recommend it for a full novel, but a short story is a perfect length for a notebook.
I’m not much of a poet myself, but it’s the same as a short story – when every word is important, you’re more careful about what you write. It’s much easier to play with the layout and format of a poem when it’s written down, and it’s that much more meaningful. There’s nothing wrong with writing poetry on a computer, but you can’t deny that there is something romantic about writing it in a notebook.
It doesn’t matter what kind of writing you do, at some point you will need to do some research, and the best way to help you remember it is by physically writing it down. If you have a lot of notes, consider writing down main points in your notebook so you always have them handy, and it’ll help you recall them later!
For Freelancers and Creative Entrepreneurs
The project details, what needs to get done and by whom, the deadlines and resources – all of that can be organized into a notebook!
46. Client Information
If you regularly work with the same clients, it can be really helpful to keep important information on hand, like where is best to reach them, how soon they get back to you, how quick they are with payment, what sort of preferences they have, etc.
47. Time Tracker
When someone is paying you for your time it’s crucial that you track that time effectively. It’s easy to set up a time tracker in your notebook – just make sure you keep it updated!
Maybe you’re working on a slogan for your website, or colours for a logo. Maybe you’ve put together a brand board that captures the sort of look and feel of your brand. You could even write up a list of keywords or a mission statement that captures the sort of image you want your brand to have.
49. Products/Services Catalogue and Pricing
Having a comprehensive list of everything you offer can make for a great reference sheet as well as a record of what your prices were in a given year. A super handy insert for your notebook if you’re a small business owner.
50. Expense Tracking
It is so important when starting any sort of business venture that you track how much you are spending. Not only is it good for tax purposes, but it helps you calculate the cost of the product or service and should hopefully keep you from overspending.
51. Revenue Tracking
Just as you need to track what’s going out, you’ll want to track what’s going in. This can be especially useful for expanding or focusing your efforts later – you’ll already know what your best-sellers are.
52. Social Media Calendar
This kind of goes along with blogging as well, but I put it here because the marketing aspect is more broadly applicable to entrepreneurship and business than it is just blogging. It saves you a lot of time and a massive headache if you can figure out what you’re posting to which social media and when. There’s software like Buffer, Later and Tailwind that can automate that sort of thing, but it doesn’t hurt to have a calendar you can look back on. And if you’re just starting out, a notebook is free.
I’m sure with time I could add even more to this list, but I think you get my point. It doesn’t matter who you are, or how old, there’s a reason out there for you to use a notebook. Or to give one to someone else. As much as I love the holidays, you don’t always want to be given a heap of stuff you’re not likely to use. But a notebook has infinite uses and is as much a thing of beauty as it is a tool. I can’t sing the praises of them enough. In many ways, it’s the perfect gift, whether for someone you love or for yourself!
What do you use your notebook for?
I’d love to keep building up this list, and give people more reasons to pick up a notebook! It truly has made a positive impact on my life and I want to know if it’s done the same for you! Let me know if you keep a notebook and what you use it for!
and of course, have a happy holiday!