While I admit I do favour my digital tools, I love notebooks. There is nothing more exciting (and maybe a little intimidating) about an empty notebook. What do you put in it? What should you use it for? What are you going to do with this one when you already have so many?
I’ve been a stationery hoarder for most of my life, so I know the feeling of wanting to buy a beautiful notebook and not knowing what to do with it. I would get them as gifts because I loved them dearly, but what on earth do you put in these things? What sort of things do you write in a notebook or journal?
The honest answer? Just about anything you want. A notebook has infinite uses and is as much a thing of beauty as it is a tool. But just in case you need a little help getting started, I’ve brainstormed this massive list of 67 ways to fill a notebook.
To make it a little easier, I’ve organized these notebook 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. Start a Journal
What better way to use an empty notebook than to start a journal? It doesn’t have to be anything specific or fancy – simply having a place to record your thoughts and experiences at the end of the day is a great way to reflect and capture memories.
2. Morning Pages
This is a very specific type of journaling and happens to be a favourite of mine. Morning pages involve journaling in the morning when you get up, and it’s a great way to prepare for your day and set the right tone and intention.
3. Gratitude Journal
Life can get crazy and stressful and it can be hard to remember the things that you appreciate and are thankful for. Having a place to jot down one or two things every day that you are happy to have in your life can really help you to focus on the good, and help bring a positive attitude to your day.
4. 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.
5. To-Do Lists
Whether it’s a task list for a new project, a checklist for a trip or a shopping list, a notebook is a great place to make lists, and track all those little tasks that need doing.
6. 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, and now you have a place to put them.
7. Movie Reviews
If you’re the type who likes to chat about old favourites and discuss the latest movies, you should definitely consider keeping a journal or review book to capture your thoughts and talking points.
8. Inspiring Quotes and 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?
9. Recipe Collection
More people are searching and printing recipes from cooking blogs and other websites, but rather than having a bunch of loose sheets or index cards, you can record them all in a notebook and keep them forever. If you’re a wizard in the kitchen, you can make notes and adjustments as necessary and you won’t have to worry about losing them in the future.
10. Reading Log
If you’re a student or an avid reader, having a place to note down your thoughts and takeaways from the books you read is great for reflection, learning and personal growth. You can also just keep a fun notebook with favourite moments or quotes or passages from books you really enjoyed. This would make a great keepsake!
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.
12. Travel Journal
Whether it’s 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. Having a physical record of your adventures will be great to look back on or to share with friends and family!
Much like a travel journal but for every day – 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.
15. 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 look up might be a good option for a page in your notebook.
16. Start a Bullet Journal
One of the more popular planning methods, and it’s really easy to do! Despite what fancy blogs may tell you, you do not need a dot grid notebook to keep a bullet journal. Grids and dot grids are certainly helpful for fancier spreads and layouts, but all you really need is a pen and a notebook waiting to be filled.
17. Mood boards
Or vision boards if that’s more your style. 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.
18. Doodle pages
You don’t have to be an artist to enjoy some doodling! It’s great for relaxation and meditation, especially if you tend to get fidgety or doodle on important documents. It’s a great and easy way to get creative and use your hands, and an empty notebook is perfect for it. A bit of zen doodling, perhaps?
19. Gaming Notes
This might be one for the more hardcore gamers, but this can be especially useful for in-depth RPGs where you want to make note of your character builds and farming locations, or for making note of collections and achievements you still need to get.
20. Exercise Log
Whether it’s weight training, cardio, or yoga, having a place to record what you’ve done, for how long, and how it made you feel can be a really good way of keeping you active and motivated. You can take it even further and track things like weight loss, water intake, measurements and so on for an all-around fitness log.
There’s nothing more annoying than remembering you saw an awesome product you want to purchase, but you can’t remember where it was sold or what it was called. You could keep a running list of all the things you are interested in buying throughout the year, and when someone asks you what you want for your birthday, you have a handy list. It’s also a great idea to keep track of things that other people might mention wanting to buy and record it later for holidays and birthdays.
22. Course Notes
Writing notes by hand has been proven to be more effective at information retention than typing on a computer, and while it might not work for everyday notetaking, it can be used selectively for studying, reference notes, making recaps or test prep.
23. Dream Journal
If you have vivid and memorable dreams (or even if you have really mundane ones, like me!), it could be fun to record them in a notebook.
24. Create a Commonplace Book
You may have made one of these in school, but a commonplace book is pretty much a catch-all for any ideas, information, quotes and more. It’s just a place to collect anything written that you find notable, interesting or worth revisiting.
25. Contact List
Might not seem so useful when we keep everything on our phones and computers but just in case of power failure or computer crash, it might be a good idea to have a hard copy.
For the Productive
26. 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.
27. 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.
28. Future Planning
Another concept from the bullet journal method, but you don’t necessarily have to have a bullet journal to implement this really useful tool. A Future Log is quite simply a log of upcoming events, typically separated by month. Looking ahead is important, regardless of where you are in your life. Big trips or major events, like weddings and birthdays, can be made note of, so you have a handy reference of all the events in your year.
29. Event Planning
If you’ve ever had to plan a big party, or bridal shower, or something to that effect, you know that it is a lot of work. The 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?
30. Financial Tracking
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 – just make sure you remember to refer to it from time to time.
31. Goal Setting and 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 publishing a book 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 Content Creator
32. Blog Post 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.
33. Growth Tracker
Even if it shouldn’t be all about the numbers, we like numbers. We like looking at stats, and we like to see the very obvious signs that we’re growing an audience and seeing our content enjoyed and appreciated. It’s also a good sign that what you are doing to promote or market your content is actually working. And if it’s not (or you hit a plateau), it’s time to change things up. Just remember that it can be as disheartening as it can be motivating.
34. Posting Schedule
Not just blog posts but Youtube videos, podcast episodes, social media posts, newsletters. There are tons of things you have to schedule and plan for, and a notebook is a great place to keep track of all that. You can figure out when something needs to be recorded or drafted, when it needs to be edited, when it gets published and so forth.
35. Website Layout and Design
Whether it’s an in-depth sketch of how you want your website to look or some chicken scratch about what you want and where, it’s not a bad idea to plan ahead of time. It can be really helpful when you sit down at the computer to give your website or blog an update if you have a rough idea of how you want it to look.
36. Post Ideas
The most important part of running a blog is the content you’re going to be creating. An empty notebook is a perfect place to list out post ideas, but also 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 an outline, especially if you’re writing evergreen content. It’s helpful to keep a running list of ideas for when you do need to fill your calendar.
For the Artist
Whether you use pens, paints, 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 paper.
38. 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.
If you’re working on a graphic novel or in animation, an empty notebook is a perfect place for sketching out the visuals. It could also be really useful for making videos – any sort of moving medium can be drawn up.
40. Portrait and Figure Studies
Notebooks are great for getting in some practice, especially if you’re working on a piece and you aren’t sure exactly how to draw or paint a certain aspect. Open up an empty notebook and figure it out (no pun intended).
41. Contour and One-line Drawing
These can be a really fun challenge to stretch your skills as an artist and to focus on the lines and shape of a piece rather than the minute details.
42. Calligraphy and Lettering
If you have an empty notebook with graph paper or dot grid pages, that could be perfect for learning to letter, and the grids will make it much easier to keep your letters even.
43. Small paintings and illustration
Whether for fun or as a proof of concept for a much larger piece, creating small paintings or illustrations in your notebook gives you a chance to play with colour and composition beforehand. Especially since canvas and heavier paper can be expensive for use with experimenting.
I 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 Author
45. Word count tracker
It is so important to track your word count as a writer. While you don’t need to write every day, if you want to write professionally, it’s important that you develop good habits. 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 learn how to take advantage of this information. It’s not just for NaNoWriMo!
46. 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.
47. Guides on plot structure
Having a hard copy reference of plot structure can be really handy to have as you outline your novel. This is especially true if you like to work away from your computer. It can be as simple or as detailed as you’d like it to be.
48. 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. It’s a great way to practice your voice, and if you’re interested in publishing one day, it can be used as extra material for marketing and newsletters!
49. Revision notes
I cannot recommend enough that you have a place for revision notes – one place to dump all of your ideas, both during the drafting process and after the fact. It’s especially good, during events like NaNoWriMo, that you have a place to leave those stray thoughts and ideas to keep you focused when writing, and gives you plenty of material to help you when you go back to edit.
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 frequently go out to write, you’ll probably want to carry a copy of that outline somewhere so you can refer to it.
51. Short Stories
Writing with a keyboard is much faster, but there is something special about writing by hand. It might take more time, but you can be more deliberate and thoughtful about what you write and the words you choose. It’s a more intentional process, and while writing an entire novel might lead to many hand cramps, a short story is a great way of using up space in a notebook.
Much like 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. There’s nothing wrong with writing poetry on a computer, but you can’t deny that there is something more 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 the main points in your notebook so you always have them handy, and it’ll help you recall them later! It’s great to include your research with your revision notes so you can refer to them when you get to that stage.
I’m a huge fan of having a place where you can just explore ideas in more depth, and sometimes you just need to do it with a pen in your hand.
55. Setting sketches and images
Much in the same way you want to get a better handle on your characters, having a place to detail or even draw the setting, can be really helpful for getting a clearer picture in your mind, and isolating those key details that are likely to be noticed by your character.
56. Sprint Tracker
If you enjoy writing with sprints, they can be a great wealth of information about your writing habits if you track them long term. It’s super easy to set up a table and start filling it out, and with time you can figure out your best length of time to sprint for, when it should be, and at what point your writing efficiency starts to drop.
57. NaNoWriMo journal
National Novel Writing Month happens every November, and there are all kinds of events happening and of course, you are spending that 30 days to write a novel. Having a dedicated journal with a calendar and a place for references or story notes can be really helpful, and is a fun way to commemorate the event.
58. Livestream calendar
There are tons of authors and writers on both Youtube and Twitch that run writing livestreams to create a community and help get everyone writing. They’re a lot of fun, but they can be a real hassle to keep track of. Having a place to track them all will make it easier to join, make some writer friends, and get some writing done.
For Freelancers & 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!
60. 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.
61. Time Tracking
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. Having a place to consolidate your brand can be a great reference for you when making updates or working on your content, and making sure it aligns with what you’re trying to create.
63. 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 spread for your notebook if you’re a small business owner.
64. Expense Tracking
It’s 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.
65. 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.
66. Social Media Calendar
If your social media presence is a part of your brand and your marketing, it’s important to keep it updated and to post there regularly. It can be especially helpful when planning around seasonal events such as summer vacation or the holidays. 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.
67. Order Tracking
Whether working on a big order for a client or sending products to customers, it’s a good idea to have a record of when you work on them or when you sent them through the post. It’s also a good idea to keep track of all the things you are ordering for your own business just so nothing slips through the cracks.
What do you use your notebook for?
I’d love to keep building on this list! Do you hoard notebooks like I do? What do you use them for? Share your notebooks with me in the comments below!