Freelancers are more likely than most people to love Moleskine notebooks. We need to keep and manage our own schedules and to-dos. We're creative, so we need a place to store and expand ideas. We need to take notes at meetings with clients--or at least look like we are. We need to appear productive and busy in coffee-shops--even when we aren't.
Moleskine notebooks rank alongside the MacBook Pro, money and caffiene on our fictional list of 'Most Beloved Freelancing Tools'. It's a shame, then, that many Moleskine owners don't realize the full potential of their little black book... much like many brain-owners don't realize the full potential of their squishy salmon-colored companion.
Don't be one of those people!
Inside this post you'll find a goldmine of mini-hacks, recommendations, visual modifications, organizational systems, uncommon uses and creative tomfoolery, all for your Moleskine(s)!
Before we get started though, have a look at our paper productivity resources, such as our calendar templates, which are a great compliment to using your notebook. We have daily planners, weekly planners, and a whole lot of various types of creative calendars as well—all fully customizable.
Now let's get into some Moleskine goodness!
It's never too late to change
If you've thus far resisted the allure of the Moleskine, remember this: it's never too late to sell-out/stop being lazy. Here's how you can fit a Moleskine into your freelance-life.
Web Designers/Developers and Code-ninjas.
I recommend the Large Squared Notebook for your needs: it's lined vertically and horizontally, which is perfect for sketching layouts and measurements, or lines of code that need to be visually organized.
Graphic Designers and Illustrators.
Many writers prefer the Large Ruled Notebook to keep their words neat and in order, but I prefer the freedom of a Large Plain Notebook. It allows me to mind-map and set up each page according to my whims.
I'd suggest the Large Squared Notebook for its flexibility. You can use the horizontal lines for writing and the vertical lines for when you need to create a schedule or mark appointments.
If you only want to write in paragraphs, get a Large Ruled Notebook. If you want a combination of order and flexibility (but less simplicity) get a Large Squared Notebook. If you want maximum freedom (and don't mind a bit of disorder) get a Large Plain Notebook, or a Large Sketchbook if you intend to be drawing more often than writing.
Putting pen to paper
The most basic function of a Moleskine notebook is to provide a surface for writing, doodling and drawing. But how, exactly, should you do this? Ask any die-hard Moleskine fan and they'll tell you that some ways are better than others.
The unofficial Moleskine pen of choice is the Pilot G-2, combining both thrift and accuracy. You'll see it recommended everywhere. If you're like me and dislike gel pens, consider turning the class (and the expense) up a notch and using your Moleskine in tandem with a fountain pen. Of course, some fountain pens work better than others when it comes to Moleskine paper. Here's a list of the best for our needs. Personally, I ignore the advice and use an Artline Fineliner Pen. Go with whatever floats your boat!
The Pilot G2 Gel Pen is highly recommended by Moleskine lovers and retails for just a couple of dollars.
The Omas Paragon: a Moleskine-friendly fountain pen.
A Moleskine notebook can be a creative outlet or an organization tool--or both. Of course, you don't need a daily or weekly diary to use your Moleskine to stay organized, sane, and on top of your work.
Turn your Moleskine into a customized GTD™ system.
If Dave Allen makes you blush this option might be for you. You could design your own system or build on the good work of others. Luckily for you, there are plenty of well-documented GTD conversions out there and all of them have one thing in common: sticky tabs!
Others who have come before you:
Czar's Pocket-sized Moleskine GTD System. Relatively simple, particularly when compared to the GTD philosophy as a whole. All you need are sticky tabs, a ruler and a pen.
Gaz's Moleskine Diary System. I have enough trouble keeping the tumbleweed blowing around my Gmail inbox, so I'd hesitate to add another inbox to my Moleskine. However, GTD fans may relish the opportunity!
gtdfrk's Pocket Moleskine GTD Infobook System. Makes use of fancy cut-outs and labels instead of sticky notes.
Jeremy's Multi-tab GTD System. Like every other GTD system, except with more tabs. Useful if you find the five-tab GTD standard too limiting.
GTD Moleskine System for Students. C. Daniel Wess shares his Moleskine system, custom-designed for the needs of the student. If you're freelancing between classes, this system might be for you.
Hyalineskies' GTD Moleskine. Very well documented construction process with photos. One of the more popular GTD Moleskine mods.
Shahine's GTD Moleskine System. Designed to easily integrate with GTD technology.
Turn your Moleskine into a PDA. I tried using a real PDA for a while but I found it to be kind of like a really expensive notebook that took ages to write in. Others seem to agree:
Kathy Sierra's Notebook PDA. Though no longer blogging, Kathy was a very busy person at the time she outlined this system (and I hope she still is!).
PigPog PDA. Perhaps the most well-known and widely used Moleskine to GTD PDA system.
Create your own system. GTD makes you go cross-eyed? I can relate. Match your individualized work routine with an individualized scheduling system. The following examples may provide the inspiration you need:
Bill Westerman's Square Moleskine Schedule. Mmm... neat and efficient looking. Go have a look: the Flickr notes are not to be missed.
Mike Rohde's Custom Moleskine Planner. Mike's adaptation of the Bill Westerman system above. Bill has neater writing, though!
AK's Diary/Calendar Hack. Uses a square-ruled Moleskine to add a monthly calendar and schedule system.
Keep track of billable hours. Gaz has shared a simple hack on how to use a Moleskine daily planner to keep track of billable hours done in any given day. The same hack would work with any daily planner.
Manage multiple Moleskines with spine icons. If your notebooks all look the same on the outside but serve different purposes inside, add a marking to the spine to quickly communicate which is which. A silver permanent marker works well for this.
Take proper notes. How do you turn your client's words into notes that you can extract meaning from later? It's a task many freelancers struggle with, but the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers has some tips for you.
Make your notes easy to find. Leslie S. Russel has produced a succint write-up of how he indexes and links together notes in his Moleskine. See the below images and quote:
As has been suggested on other sites (i.e. 43Folders.com and MikeShea.net) you can use a sort of meta data system for linking bits of information in your Moleskine. The Moleskine markup language is easy to learn; it consists of two directional indicators (← means continued from, while → means continued on), the page number, and the quadrant. In the example above the note is continued on page twenty-four, quadrant C, and it was continued from page eighteen, quadrant B.
If you looked through your Moleskine as you read this you will notice that by numbering the pages in pairs you will be left with two pages—first page in the book, and last page—which have no corresponding facing page. Here comes another mini-hack: don’t waste these pages, use them as a table of contents, a sort of home page if you will, to link together the major chunks of information using the same Moleskine mark-up that is used to link the pages. [Source]
Add-ons and mini-hacks
Solving the pen problem. A Moleskine without a writing implement is a shadow of its full potential. You can ensure Moleskine and pen/pencil are never separated again with these simple hacks: use a ribbon, duct tape, more duct tape, binder clips or nothing but the pen itself.
Make your Moleskine returnable. Imagine losing your Moleskine. Not nice, right? Though you might have contact details in the front, unfortunately, much of the world's population will not act for the benefit of a stranger unless there's something in it for them, or if it's really important. Add your mailing address and the promise of a reward to the front page of your Moleskine.
Replace your wallet. Take out the contents and transfer them into a pocket Moleskine. Here's how.
For writers only. You can print out this Moleskine-sized .PDF sheet of writing tips and attach it to your notebook. Take the wisdom of Strunk and White with you wherever you go.
For typographers and typography lovers. Add this writing template to your Moleskine and create page layouts that will please your medieval ancestors and typography-loving friends.
For artists. Here's how your colleagues are making their Moleskines beautiful. Get inspired!
The drawing above is by Braga.
For artists who want more. If you like everything about Moleskine notebooks but would prefer to use your favorite sketching paper instead, here's a how-to guide on combining both.
For sketchers. Russel Stutler is a Moleskine-sketching expert. Read his recommendations on how to create great sketches in your Moleskine.
For geeks. Here's how to make a Moleskine enclosure for a thin external hard drive.
For people who need to storyboard. Despite my suspicions that people with the need to story-board are an elite, ultra-hip and small bunch, a Moleskine can still meet your needs. Here's how to turn a Large Moleskine Sketchbook into a storyboard notebook.
Analog and digital: a match made in heaven
While some use their Moleskine as a rejection of the digital productivity and organization movement, others are excited by the opportunity to merge their Moleskines with the digital world.
iPod + Moleskine combos. This hack combines an iPod and two pocket Moleskines into one super-beast.
iPhone + Moleskine combos. I don't see the practical use in this, but hey... it's an iPhone in a Moleskine!
Moleskine notebooks are already attractive, but less is not always more. Your Moleskine could look even better.
Buy one that's laser engraved. Modofly had some really arty and affordable options with covers featuring trains, machinery, trees, L.O.V.E. and... Clint Eastwood!
Get it laser engraved with your own design. Want to put your own artwork or picture on the front of your Moleskine? It can be done, for a price.
Make a DIY Moleskine cover. Looks really neat, but some skill with fabric is needed (of which I have none).
5 Creative Uses for Your Moleskine
While a Moleskine's merits as a diary, planner and schedule are obvious, here are some other ways a Moleskine might be beneficial for your freelance career.
- Business planning. Where do you want your freelance business to be a year from now? What are your most important business aims? A Moleskine could be a good place to record your plans, ideas and aspirations.
- Mind-mapping. Nothing beats pen and paper for expanding ideas and linking them together.
- Recording ideas. Creative-types like us thrive on ideas, whether it's for a particular code function or a striking logo design. Ideas are a precious resource, so it's important to record every idea you have before it's forgotten.
- Life planning. Thinking about the future and reflecting on the past is an important part of living life consciously. A Moleskine can be an ideal place to write about where you want to go and who you want to be.
- Travel diary. Freelancing on the road is often a memorable experience, and a travel journal can help you make sense of working and living abroad.
Take a look at our Calendar Templates if you want to improve your paper productivity system. We have a large collection of daily planners, weekly planners, monthly calendars, desktop calendars, printable calendars, and more—all are quality designs and fully customizable. Check out this article on printable monthly calendar and blank planner templates for more info and examples.