Use a giant notebook to think better

Having a space to write things down frees up your mind — specifically, your executive system — from the task of holding things in working memory, so you can focus your attention on generating new thoughts instead of looping on your most recent ones to keep them alive. Writing down what’s in your head — math, plans, feelings, whatever — can start paying cognitive dividends in about 5 seconds, and can make the difference between a productive thinking day and a lame one.

But finding enough space to write and draw in rapid alternation is tricky. If you’ve ever done that sort of planning or research, you know what I’m talking about. You start out with several sheets of paper laid out in front of you. Then you’ve gotta pack up the papers to clear your desk or move somewhere, so you put them in a folder… oops, now you can’t remember the order the sheets were in, so you start using a notebook to make that easier… but now you’re running out of space on the notebook pages, so you switch to a whiteboard… but then you’ve gotta erase that… blah blah blah.

Anyway, I’ve solved this problem.

I’ve already solved some math problems on my giant notebook that would have been annoyingly hard to cram onto a small sheet of paper, and maybe I wouldn’t have solved them otherwise. And since a half dozen people have already asked me to send them a link to where I got it, I figured it was time to write a blog post. Here’s the particular notebook I purchased:

I selected it for the nice properties that

  1. it was the cheapest per-page for its size,
  2. it fits in a (checked) suitcase, and
  3. it’s not annoyingly heavy to carry from place to place.

(And yes, I have no affiliation or contact with the makers of this or any other products discussed in this post. I find good purchases for research productivity fairly hard to come by, and I’m sharing this because it actually took a fair bit of searching to find a notebook I was satisfied with, and several of my friends have started using them, too.)

I experimented with various pencils and erasers to find what worked with the paper, and settled on these:

I was also planning to make a special bag for carrying it around, but that also already exists:

Anyway, that’s it. Go get some big notebooks and think some big thoughts already 🙂

Added 2016-02-21: At first I had a treat-my-Big-Notebook-nicely instinct that was preventing me from tramping around with it and having more Big Notebook thoughts. I realized within about 5 minutes of owning it that this was dumb — thoughts are more valuable than my notebook’s appearance — and the only well-calibrated concern was that the pages might fall out. So, I reinforced the binding with a strip of duct tape on the front and back, and resolved to subject my Big Notebook to a fair bit of physical trauma by carting it around and thinking with it a lot:

I probably should have included this pic with the original post.

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