Note-Taking Tips From My ‘Type A’ Sister

Kyla Bills

Say what you want about birth order, but the classic stereotypes definitely hold true for me and my older sister, Trina. Her, the type A perfectionist, and me, too laid back for my own good. My sister is extremely put together, from her grayscale closet organized from black to white, to building a computer in her free time (I guess that’s something you can do?). And I’ve maintained a perennial pile of clothing in the corner of my room.

And the neatest thing about her? Her notes. Trina’s entire life is planned and organized in perfect script in a Leuchtturm notebook. While I do keep notes and journals, they never end up being as organized as hers, and I often struggle to follow through on finishing a notebook. So, I called my (data analyst) sister to get her tips for taking notes that keep you organized and balanced throughout your work week.

A glimpse inside her main planner.

Keep separate notebooks, and a master one

If you’re going to use my sister’s advice you’re going to need to purchase a lot of notebooks—I should know, I have her Amazon password. “One has a lot of my personal things, the other notebook has all my work stuff, and then it all gets oriented into my main planner,” Trina said on a recent Zoom call. “I pick from each of those specific lists what needs to get done each day and that list goes into my main planner.”

Each of her notebooks has its own style. While Trina’s work notes come out “stream of consciousness” and sometimes in “indistinguishable scribbles,” her personal notes come to life in list format. Moving from the more purpose-specific notebooks to the daily planner is how she translates her thought snippets into fully fledged tasks, to-dos, and takeaways. Her method of keeping things in separate notebooks and then creating tasks in a main planner is an easy technique you can replicate to keep the different parts of your life organized.

You should probably design your own page framework

There’s probably not a perfect planner out there for you. Accept it! If you really want to have notes you can come back to and tap effectively, consider formatting a notebook for yourself.

While you may not need to make yours as detailed as my sister's, you will likely benefit from breaking down blank (ruled, grid, whatever) pages into smaller sections to make them work for you. Start with the date and then figure out what’s most important to you. Your water intake? What time you wake up and go to bed? A section to note how you feel every day? Start building your framework based on what really matters to you and will be most helpful to keep track of. If something doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to add or subtract from your framework as you go.

Write in a way that’s legible to you (no one else matters)

I found out for the first time while talking to my sister for this story that she writes in her own shorthand. While I’ve seen her notebooks before, out of deep respect and my inability to read cursive, I never really tried to read them. It turns out I couldn’t have anyway. “So like, this just says ‘e’ then ‘v’ then ‘ng’ but I know that means everything,” Trina explained. It literally just looked like scribbles to me.

It’s a good lesson: If no one else is going to be reading your notes, go ahead and shorten your words, use abbreviations, skip some letters. It’s all good as long as you can read and understand it later on. Especially while trying to keep up with someone who’s talking, brevity in note-taking is key.

That clip on the right is the secret to success.

Leave room to “mess up” and move on

One of my biggest struggles in adopting a note-taking system is that when I mess up, i.e. when I miss a day or take “ugly” notes, I give up. Missed one day on my monthly habit tracker? My brain, immediately: “Well January is a wash, so next month is my shot at being perfect, I guess.” Trina’s way around this problem is genius in its simplicity. By making every day of her main planner a two-page spread, if she misses a day, takes bad notes, or forgets something, she can simply flip the page and start anew on the next day.

The finished pages are clipped together and hidden. Even on her personal and work notebooks, she’s dedicated to only looking back on the pages to create lists of unfinished tasks or check off to-do boxes. “I’ve built in this clip,” she said, showing me her main planner. “This is a critical piece of my planner. I pin together all of the days of the months that have passed. I don’t want to look back at them. As soon as they’re clipped, I’m done.”

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