A Simple and Smart way to Take Notes

I thought I'd share my note taking system, as I've had a few people comment on it. I use this whenever I take notes using pen and paper, and using the same system every time means it's way easier to read back through a notebook to understand & action what I've written. I quickly realised my style of note taking is very similar to Bullet Journal although personally I find that system far too much effort.

The Notebook

I'm a bit of a dweeby stationary obsessive at times. The notebook in the pictures is a Field Notes Memo Book. I like this in particular as it is small enough for all pockets, meaning I can carry it with me wherever I go (literally), and it can stand the test of time. You can pick up Field Notes in the UK from The Journal Shop.

Of course the note taking system works with any notebook, although I find I stick to the point a lot more when using a smaller notebook (3x5).

Field Notes Memo Book

The System

The system uses 4 characters: a bullet, hyphen, a box and a hash.

  • Main points are written using a normal sentence with a bullet
  • Sub points to those are written using a hyphen
  • TODO actions have a small box before them
  • And things that need to be researched use a hash first

It really is as simple as that. Using this system means I can take notes quickly and efficiently, and using a smaller notebook means I start a new page for each meeting/day of TODOs/thoughts.

Keeping the system the same each time makes it much easier to scan through previous notes and pick out the important parts.

Scribbly boy writing...

Scribbly boy writing...

Why is my website design so boring?

A question a few people have asked me: why is my website so plain?

I like to focus on two things that everyone loves and has always loved: text and images. The writing on my website is there to inform or entertain folks, and images are there to support that writing. Much like a book.

And my website, much like all good books ever made; has a white background and black text. You can read it on any device, it looks clear on any device, and there is nothing to distract you. Has a white page with black text ever gone out of style? No.

I understand this alienates a large audience of online users. Nowadays the popularity of things like infographics and buzzfeed have made it clear that we are time poor and people love to see quick breakdowns of information presented to them in a cool way. I understand the importance of showing related content or a large call to action and a mailing list to keep people engaged.

I understand that my site may look a bit boring, but this was my intention. Keeping it simple, and keeping focus on information.

Pushbullet - An essential app

Pushbullet is my new favourite app

It's a handy little tool that allows you to 'push' notifications between all your devices.

Want to get a picture from your Android phone to your Mac? Just select share via pushbullet on your phone, and it'll send it over to your Mac straight away. No more emailing yourself or messing about with the cloud when you're in a rush.

Pushbullet also displays notifications from your phone on your computer, meaning you can dismiss new notifications without unlocking your phone. It even allows you to reply to messages from your computer.


The most awesome thing about it is that it works over so many devices, including Chrome browser, Android, iOS, Mac and Windows. So once you have logged into Pushbullet on all your devices you can send and receive notifications between them.

Send text and images between devices instantly

A useful example; I was researching something on my work PC using Chrome browser, and saw an address and phone number I ndeeded to use later.

I selected the text, right clicked, pushed to phone, and it was instantly there as a notification. Later on in the day when I needed it, I just copied the text straight from the notification. Lovely.

Cant my note taking app do that?

Yes, Evernote and similar programmes can obviously mean text and images etc can be shared cross platform, but the speed and simplicity of Pushbullet makes it essential.

Update: There is now a dedicated Mac app for pushbullet.


Book recommendation: The Obstacle is the Way

With the amount of articles and news pieces presented to us on a daily basis it's hard to make time to read a real book, so I've started to set myself a goal of one book per month. The Obstacle is the Way is one from a few months ago, and one that has made more of an impact on me than any other.

It is essentially a primer on Stoic philosophy, but the way author Ryan Holiday tackles the subject is by subtly applying it to modern life, and it works well. The book is a nice length; he covers the subject well without getting too intense. It is broken down into small chapters too, and is actually physically really well presented; a nice hardback that is quite a small book, which means it's a great read for when you're moving about a lot.

The title of the book stems from an incredible Marcus Aurelius quote mentioned a lot in Ryan's blog posts, and one which I think will give you an idea of whether you will enjoy the book or not.

"The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way."

It's a great introduction to Stoic philosophy, and has actually influenced me to buy more Seneca and Aurelius books from the incredible Penguin Classics range.


The Best Things I've Ever Bought

Just a few things that are actually worth spending money on

I'm fixated on making lists. This is one I've been wanting to make for a while, and I think it's due to my obsession with quality; particularly when it comes to making things that will really last - something that doesn't happen very often at all.

I won't include things that aren't really relevant or that you wouldn't want to buy now, for example if it was 2007 I'd include the incredible Nokia N95 for sure. I'll also probably (hopefully) keep adding and upgrading this list, slowly but surely. In no particular order:

Mission Workshop Vandal

The vandal really is one of the best things I've ever bought. Perhaps £225 might seem excessive for a rucksack, and I thought that when saving for it, but it's worth every penny.

Made in America with a lifetime warranty, this bag has shown no signs of wear in the nearly 5 years I've had it, including when I got hit by a car whilst wearing it. I use it every day, I've cycled in torrential rain and the contents have remained 100% dry, whilst the backbone of the bag will make sure nothing digs into you whilst wearing it, even for extended periods of time.

Kinoko are the UK stockists of this bag for life.

Howies Merino Wool T-shirt

People may look at you strange when you say you're wearing a wool t-shirt on a hot summer's day, but Merino is really special. I've bought 2 Howies merino tops now, and I wear my polo every day on the cycle to work. I've had it over 3 years and it still looks just as good as the day I bought it.

Here's the thing; it never, ever smells. Howies explain it better. Again £60 is expensive for a t shirt, but it's worth the money.

iPad Air

Not a particularly interesting or unknown product here, but I just absolutely love my iPad. It's consistently useful, it's entertaining when I want it to be, I read on it, I write on it, I organise my life with it. The hardware feels amazing to hold and the performance is ridiculously fast. It's an accessory to my life now, and I much prefer using it over my phone, and it doubles as a laptop replacement for the more simple tasks.

A Good Notebook

I try to keep as many aspects of my work life digital, and use stuff like Google Drive and Evernote religiously to organise everything and save time in the future when I need to find things. But you can't beat the productivity of pen and paper. I still write todo lists on paper, and take all meeting notes and ideas using a notebook.

When I say a 'good notebook' I mean one that is solid, has cost you a bit of money, and will last longer than your average Pukka Pad. I'm currently using a Moleskine Evernote smart notebook; really for the included Evernote subscription, and the notebook is around £15 on Amazon. There are many similar (and better) options though, if you don't use Evernote.

Yes it's a lot of money for a paper notebook, but I write everything in it, all my work, ideas, todos, etc all go in here. And it goes everywhere with me, so I never have to wonder where those meeting notes are or where I wrote that random password down - it's always in my notebook. This is why I recommend spending more money on one; because you end up taking better care of it, writing more clearly in it, and making it your own.

Gneo - Todo App Review

I've always been a user of Wunderlist for its excellent compatibility and consistency across many operating systems and browsers, but I saw Gneo on the app store at the introductory price of £2.99 and thought I'd give it a try.

Gneo was released October 30th on iPad and iPhone by Keane and Able, and its main selling point is the fact that it is gesture based. As founder Anthony Keane puts it: "we wanted to give people a way to prioritise tasks based on their relative urgency and importance" - which doesn't sound all that special; there are tons of productivity apps that do this, but the gestures and list views are what makes Gneo stand out from the crowd. And during my use, they are proving to be really useful.

the gestures and list views are what makes Gneo stand out from the crowd"

There's three ways of viewing your tasks, by date (which syncs with your calendar too), as a big simple list, or in a priority view which is a kind of grid of importance. I often find that even though I have all my tasks on Wunderlist, I'm always scribbling the days tasks down to keep in front of me at all times. The good thing about Gneo's priority view is that you can drag tasks around in order of importance on the grid, so it's just way easier to see and prioritise a big list of stuff to do. And it really works well, the gestures are awesome, you can drag stuff around all over the place, and little touches like flipping the new task card over to reveal a notes section are excellent. 

Gneo's list view and priority views

Gneo's list view and priority views

But it's early stages with Gneo, and this is why I'm sticking with Wunderlist for now. It's a beautifully designed app on iPad and has 80% of the functionality of Wunderlist, but seems a little less useful on iPhone without so much screen real-estate, and there's no Android version at all. There's also no browser or Mac/Windows client, which is a real shame as I'd much prefer to add tasks on a mac then use my iPad to view and tick it all off. One of the main reasons I bought the app is because it syncs with Evernote, and as a big Evernote user I've always been disappointed with the todo functionality. But the Evernote sync is just annoying, it creates a separate note for each individual task, clogging up your main note feed and creating a load of new notebooks if you have several task lists.

Gneo is a great app, and if you are a heavy iPad user I'd highly recommend it. But for the majority, wait until the service gets better and becomes available on more platforms.