BLUF:  As mentioned in the podcast "Following Up", which notebook/binder should I purchase to have with me at all times?

Background:  I'm an early career professional (engineer) in a company.  I always take a notebook to meetings and jot down notes, action items, etc.  I have found that many of the suggestions in previous podcasts about looking professional and dressing appropriately to get noticed by higher-ups have struck home for me, and I have been trying to upgrade myself in these areas.

I am already a high producer, but I think these additions would help me to give a better impression of my aspirations and competence.  I currently carry around small yellow notepads from Staples, and I think that this is one area that I could specifically improve.

I was wondering which products to buy or consider to buy.  I am not currently too concerned about price point, because I've set aside funds to "professionally upgrade" myself.  Any suggestions would be appreciated.  A few options would help, so that I can choose the one that would suit my style.

Manager Tools, thank you again for all of the advice that you've provided for me through the blog, podcasts, and forum.


All the best,


melissas's picture

My personal favorite: Dodo Pads!

I like a weekly planner so I have a good timeline built in to my history. Moleskines work really well too, and have a nice professional look to them. I get away with Dodo Pads as the house artist, but I dress it up with the leather cover, too, so it has a nice clean look on the outside. 

Moleskines are easy to pick up at most nice bookstores or office supplies, but Dodo Pads are best found online.


tedtschopp's picture

 I work as a Senior IT Specialist / Engineer for a Fortune 200 company and I use the following:

For Paper I use:

For a folio to carry them in is a leather / carbon fiber Swiss Army folio that has a compartment for 3x5 cards, business cards, and a place for said paper.  I know that I could upgrade this folio, but I am Swiss and I have yet to find anything I like that is both swiss as well as professional.

I use the paper for taking note.  I use the 3 x 5 cards to write down questions that I will want to ask later as well as notes for co-workers.  The business cards are for people I am meeting for the first time, I have been working at said company for over 10 years and I am weekly meeting new people who are also employees of my company, not to mention vendors and suppliers.

I have tried to use Moleskines in various flavors.  I have tried to use formal organizers. I have tried to use several different pieces of technology that record what I'm writing.  I have tried to use tablets.  I have tried to use PDAs.

The best thing that works for me is this paper.  When a meeting is done, I return to my desk to action my notes into the margins.  I do this by transferring any action items I have from the meeting, which I have marked with a box in the margins.  I realize that I have a whole system of marking in the margins while in the meeting.  Boxes are for action items.  Question marks are for parts I misunderstood and need to follow up on. Explanation marks are for key points.  Anyway, I then follow up with any outstanding question marks that I didn't get answered in the meeting.  I will summarize my notes in the margins and on the reverse side of the paper if needed (I only take notes on the one side of the paper in a meeting).  I will then take my notes and staple them behind any official handouts for the meeting.  

At this point I will place each action item into my tracking system on my computer, which syncs with my cloud storage system and ends up on my computer at home and on my iPhone.  The physical notes are then placed in a nice stack related to the project at hand on a table in my cubicle unless the notes or the project contain confidential data, then they go into a hanging folder in my desk.  

At the end of the week I will then place each of these stacks and summarize them into a hanging folder or into the trash.  

My goal is to get all my stuff about a given topic into one place and make the information findable.  If I have too much data, I can't turn it into information.  If I have too much information, I can't make a decision.  This is why Moleskines don't work, they have pages and pages of data you have recorded from a meeting and a week or three later most of that data is no longer relevant and shouldn't be around to clutter your mind.

Ted Tschopp
เท็ด ชอปป์  - टेड चप - ثڍودور تشوب - Թէտ Չըփ - Ted Çeöp - தெட் த்சப்

jclishe's picture

I'm also a big fan of Levenger paper, and I use their Circa binders as well. Actually I have quite a few Levenger accessories. The nice thing about Circa is that you can tailor it to suit your needs. I have the Bomber Jacket style and I always get comments about it. (in a good way :) )

Now that I'm thinking about it, it was one of the early MT podcasts that turned me on to Levenger paper, I think the note taking cast.


MMedina's picture

 I have found the Emergent Task Planner, from the PCEO series, the most effective for me. It allows to plan my day ahead, but affords me the opportunity to capture those unexpected tasks that pop-up day to day.

I find the timeline on the side useful. I track where I spent my time throughout the day to see if I have prioritized correctly.


stevesim's picture

For all of my work related note keeping I use a modified Boorum U& Pease 21-150R record book which is a hardcover 150 page notebook with pre-numbered pages and a cloth ribbon bookmark.  In the past some others that I work with were called into regulatory investigations and having well documented notes in a tamper resistant notebook is a great benefit.  I have modified to make the notebook more Moleskine like by adding an elastic closure, additional cloth ribbon bookmark and and expandable inner pocket.

For an Engineer the Boorum & Pease L21-150R might be a good choice.  It is a 150 page Laboratory Notebook (labeled as such with gold lettering on the front cover) with pre-numbered pages. 

For personal notekeeping, including my Manager Tools notes, I use Moleskine Large Harcover Notebooks.

Steve Simmons

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Since it's hard to make an exact recommendation, I can make a broad one that will work for almost everyone.

I recommend moleskine notebooks.  They will work for virtually anyone in any situation.  I recommend the large size, NOT the picket size.

If you want something more upscale, perhaps with some leather (leather is widely seen among executive notebooks) there are some at Levenger that look good.  If you really want to spend way too much money, buy at Smythson (British outfitter to the queen).  That's what I use, because of the image I have to project with senior executive clients, and I'm an Anglophile.)

I have to say the Dodo pad idea shocked me when I googled it, but if you're the house artist, probably okay.  ;-) Everybody else: NO!  :-)))

Find something that says: professional.  Moleskine is a good start.



Edwin's picture

Is this notebook good enough?

A couple of years ago, I made my own notebook because I could not find what I wanted.

I made a Cornell Paper with the margins that made sense for me.  Also, I put some DISC crosses on the upper left hand corner.   I really like it. There is not too much wasted space.  I have received compliments on it :).

I got the highest grade binding at Staples (hardcover), but it does not look as good as a Moleskine.  



kima's picture
Training Badge

Love the Levenger Circa system!  And I've tried MANY systems, note cards, etc. over the years -- but I always end up coming back to circa.  The pages are interchangeable so you can easily move them around -- even different sizes.  I have a letter size folio that is my "everyday" book.  In it I put a section for my ToDo list, another for 1-1s (by person), one for my running notes log, another for project tracking.  Then I have a separate circa folder for each direct.  As my everyday book fills up I just move their oldest 1-1 notes into their individual folder and when it is time to do reviews or quarterly updates, everything for each person is in their folder.   I have a smaller circa notebook that I can take into meetings where space is an issue and when back at my desk I just move those pages into my everyday book. 

One suggestion though, is to think through your own style before spending a huge amount of money on a high end folio.  Even with Levenger, I've had several fancy ones over the years, but I always end up going back to the simple two-cover style.  Why?  Because I can fold the cover all the way back and take notes on a single page.  Can't do that with a high end folio that contains lots of pockets and doodads.  Levenger makes a leather cover that looks good but folds all the back on the circa rings so it looks good but is functional.


GlennR's picture

I've used the Moleskine Journal that Mark mentions for four or five years. Advantages: It boots up faster than a PDA or computer and it has no battery to run down. It's also extrememly portable and very professional. I walk into a meeting with a Cross pen and the Moleskine. In meetings I used the Cornell note taking system. For daily work, I write the day and the date drawing a line to separate it from the previous day. I draw a square around the names of people I meet. I do a GTD weekly review and highlight my note that I did it.

I do not use it for O3s. I found it too much trouble to hunt back to the last visit. For those, I use regular legal pad paper.

The Moleskine has a pocket in the back. I keep a few business cards and a few post it notes for when I need to write something down and hand it to someone else.

To borrow from the beer commercials a decade or so ago: "Tastes great; less filling.

Moleskines can be bought at Barnes and Noble, Borders, and online. I think mine costs about $15USD. It usually lasts me about a year. They come in lined and unlined. I find the unlined allows me to be a little more "brainstormy" than the lined version.

ChrisH__'s picture

I found using a single notebook for everything actually complicated things, as i could never look at all the notes for a single project in one place. Also, over time you end up with a stack of notebooks

I use a regular ruled notepad that can be slid inside different folio cases depending on what i am doing - i.e. an expensive leather one for important meetings or a tougher rubber one if i am travelling.

then i use this pad for everything - meeting notes, 03s, personal stuff. new page for each set of notes.

After each meeting or once a day i input to-dos or other peoples deliverables into outlook or project software. then i tear out the pages, scan them and drop the scans into evernote with tags. Then i file the pages into cardboard folders - one for each project.

If im in the office, i can grab the folder for any one project and see all notes together.

If out of the office, i can pull up all scans of the pages in evernote on my laptop.

If away from my laptop, if can see the scans on my phone, if there is wifi.

If you write neatly enough, evernote can even search through your scanned notes to find handwritten text on certain pages.



pb1495's picture

I've been using the recommended Moleskine notebooks for some time and recently stumbled across a US-made version.  Check out (yes, for a new Detroit-based company that's making, among other things, a very nice journal that's comparable to Moleskine.  I just purchased two... prices are comparable to Moleskine (at, quality seems comparable, and I'm supporting a worthy Michigan-based effort.