How I Take Notes

Posted on December 07, 2012

In this blog post, I want to share some techniques on effective note taking. There are three things I’ve been doing:

  1. Writing Page Numbers and Table of Contents
  2. Periodically Reviewing Notes
  3. Choosing the Right Stationery

1. Page Numbers and Table of Contents

I write a page number at the top right of every page. You don’t have to do this all in one go; I tend to write page numbers every 30 pages or so.

page numbers

I write a table of contents on the inside cover and/or my first page of my notebook. Again, you don’t have to write an entry every time you fill a page. The 30 page guideline seems to fit here.

table of contents

There were some things I had to blur out but here’s a pic of my Table of Contents

In order to do this effectively, the titles in your table of contents should succintly summarize the contents of that page. Commas are a good idea here :)

Why do I do this?

Two reasons why I number my pages and write a table of contents:

Firstly, it’s a great way to keep your information organized.

The table of contents is there for when you’re looking for information you wrote down, but don’t remember what page it was written on: crack open your notebook, scan your TOC, and then flip to the page.

This is especially useful for writing quick reminders like phone numbers, email addresses etc.

What goes in the Table of Contents?

In my case: everything. Doodles, half written pages, grocery lists, an interesting quote someone said - everything goes in my TOC

2. Periodically Reviwing Notes

The second reason why I keep a table of contents is because reviewing your notes is more important than writing it down.

Reviewing your “Note to self” notes, “reminders” and “ideas for x” is when you actually learn if the notes you are taking have value. In some cases, reviewing your notes teaches you that you write a lot of unimportant things down and aren’t being productive at all. If so, it’ll help you when writing notes next time.


I actually have no idea what this spread was about

Sometimes, I extend reviewing my current notebook, to reviewing my past notebooks. This way, I can see how much I’ve improved in terms of note taking, learning what and what not to write down and seeing the evolution of my ideas.

3. Choosing the Right Stationery

I’m picky when it comes to stationery. Really really picky. I have specific pens for writing notes and markers for sketches and wireframes.

I’m so picky with my pens that I recently had to ship some pen refills from MUJI USA because I cannot find 0.3mm ball point pens at a Staples or Wal-Mart! I really like MUJI’s pens. I think they’re my favourite now - which really sucks since I can’t get them anywhere in Canada.


When it comes to general note taking, I need a ball point pen with a stroke width of no more than 0.3mm. Felt tip won’t do - I wreck them.

For wireframes, I use a sharpie marker. Thick lines help to lessen the focus on detail but on a general idea.

My notebook itself isn’t really a notebook. I prefer using 5 x 8ish hardcover sketchbooks. You can find them at Cury’s or De Serres (but not 0.3mm ball point pens? Come on!)

My Books

They’re small, tough (hardcover) and their paper stock is blank white and thick - perfect for when I press hard using those sharp pens and thick enough to prevent the sharpies from leaking through.