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6 Ways to Combine Chaos & Order in One Notebook

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There seems to be two sorts of information we put in our notebooks: that of a chaotic/timeless/free nature, and that of an orderly/timely/responsible nature. For some people, their notebooks are all chaos (drawing, collage, ramblings, ideas), and for others, it’s all order (lists, to dos, appointments)…but most of us probably have a mix of both.

The reason why I change my “system” fairly often is that it’s difficult to set one up that handles both chaos & order effectively. I’ll start using a big, bound notebook that’s great for sketching & writing, but doesn’t work for orderly stuff like daily tasks & lists. Maybe I’ve got a tiny binder that’s great for calendars & to dos…but it’s no good for drawing or writing essays in.

While having one notebook for everything is an ideal that many of us aim for, the problem with having your chaos & order together in the same place is that it can blend together into a confusing mess. A big reason why you’re writing stuff down in a notebook, after all, is so you can organize it and reduce the stress of having it all bouncing around in your head, right? There needs to be some kind of sorting process, a structure where one type of information goes here and another type goes there. If your notebook is your external brain, it doesn’t help you much if it’s in the same messy form as your internal brain. So, how do you sort it out & give each kind of information its own personal space?

Here are a few options:

1: Keep a separate, blank notebook inside your planner. It can be a good place for putting your random notes & sketches–you can go in there & make a mess without feeling like you’re trashing the nicely sorted ring-bound pages.

Pocket Field Notes book inside a pocket size Filofax. Use a rubber band to attach to back cover (grocery store produce elastics work great).

Pocket Field Notes book inside a pocket size Filofax. Use a rubber band to attach to back cover (grocery store produce elastics work great).


2: Use a travelers notebook-style cover, with different notebooks for different purposes. With this set-up you can have a separate planner/calendar, notebook, gratitude journal, sketchbook, finance tracker, etc, all under one cover.


Basic travelers notebook-style cover: a slab of tough material folded in half…


…with a few holes poked along the center.


Different notebooks are held in place by elastic bands threaded through the cover.

3: Tabbed sections are of course a popular tactic. If you’re OK with using ring-bound pages for everything, you can just divide out a tabbed section for chaos & stock it with plain pages or sketchbook paper.


Side tabs.

Side tabs.

Chaos section. Ludiculous!

Chaos section. Ludiculous!

4: Keep a daily task list on your notebook cover. This way you have a simple, small window on what you want to focus on that day, while everything else is closed up and out of sight. Helpful if you get overwhelmed when you open your notebook & have everything staring back on you all at once. Just pick a few things out of there, slap them on a list on the cover, and shut the beast.


Daily to do list attached to Hobonichi cover with magnetic page marker.

5: Use sticky notes inside the front cover of your notebook. You can use different color notes for different areas of your life, or use those tiny flag stickies with one task/idea per note.

Full-stick post it notes (cut in half) inside Hobonichi cover.

6: Mark off a separate area of each page for task lists. This works well with day per page notebooks with an open/unstructured design, like the Hobonichi Techo.

Chaos in main area, with to do list fenced off at the top of each page.

If none of these work for you, keep experimenting! Don’t be afraid to mash things together, cut things up, and create your own methods. All the variety of notebooks & tools that are out there came about from someone asking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if . . . ?”

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