How to set up a NOTEBOOK for a nurse.

Every nurse should carry a small notebook.
They are immensely useful for dumping information and ideas as well as keeping track of tasks.

I have tried all manner of digital task management systems. But the increased creativity, organic structure and simple joy of maintaining it, always finds me returning to pen and paper. The very act of interacting with a paper notebook and a few pens stimulates a deeper more exploratory thinking.

For me at least, events are digital.
Ideas, thoughts, tasks are analogue.
Events go into my digital calendar that syncs across my iPhone etc. This is great ’cause it gives you the option to set reminder alarms etc.

My notebook captures everything else.

  • Tasks
  • Problem solving.
  • Observations and thought dumping.
  • Lists.
  • Sketches, Drawings and Doodles.

How to set up your new notebook.

There are plenty of different systems available for setting up your notebook. Here are some of the ideas I use that you can modify to suit your own needs.

It is probably worth mentioning two obvious things here.

  1. Your notebook is NOT an appropriate place to be storing sensitive information , passwords or numbers.
    Don’t even write these things down in your notebook temporarily.
    There are now plenty of digital apps available for storing this stuff securely (I recommend 1Password)
  2. Always assume that at some point someone is going to look in your notebook. You might lose it. Or someone might snoop in it. Or people might just glance in awe at it whilst you are busy writing down that mind-blowing thought you just had. So take care.
    This is the risk of using a notebook system. Always has been.
    But that has not stopped some of the greatest minds, artistic geniuses and awesome nurses on the planet from using them.

OK. First thing to do is to write your name and some contact information on the inside cover.
The downside of having a notebook is that you will inevitably leave it lying around somewhere. If you do lose it you will want to maximise the chances of someone getting it back to you.

Then, number the pages in your notebook (if not already done). This is important as it gives your notebook an instant navigation system. I write page numbers at the top outside-edge of each page.

Next. Open the notebook at the first page and write the heading: INDEX
The first few pages will be set aside for indexing the page numbers of information you access frequently. It will grow as your notebook does.


Each week I dedicate two pages for upcoming tasks. I date the top of the page in large print.

For example: 21–27th July.

I then take a few quiet minutes to read back through the last weeks entries. New ideas and tasks are captured and parsed.
Incomplete tasks are evaluated and carried forward if necessary (see below).

nb1 An empty square is an active task that has not yet been completed.
I draw these symbols on the left side of the page.
You can arrange your own hierarchical system of subtasks etc.

nb2 Ticked box
is a completed task.
Very satisfying to go down
and tick those empty boxes.

nb3 Box with a horizontal line through it.
This is a task that has been canceled
( and no longer needs attention).

nb4 Box with a vertical line.
This is a task that has not yet been completed
but moved forward to a more recent
to-do list in your notebook.

nb7Box with circle.
This is a very important task.
I usually us a separate red pen to draw circles around important tasks.
I also use big exclamation marks next to other symbols to mark them important (see below).

Other symbols.

nb5 The eye. I draw this little symbol next to something important that I want to go back and read in the future.
OR It might be some topic that I want to review, or a piece of information I want to remember.

nb6 Box with lines. This symbol tells me that this is something I want to record somewhere else. Information that I want to transpose onto my computer, or document on another system. For example: someones contact details or an event that I need to record in my digital calendar (important events are also tagged with an exclamation mark).
Some of the stuff I mark with this symbol gets photographed with my iPhone and transferred to Evernote for long term accessibility.
I also use this symbol for ideas or quotes etc to use in future blog posts.

NB9.png Lightbulb. (just a bit of a circle with some lines underneath). This symbol precedes and idea or thought that I don’t want to forget.
Never underestimate the number of crazy brilliant ideas you have….and then forget just because you didn’t take a few seconds to write them down.
This underscores the importance of having a notebook and a pen close at hand at all times.

NB8.png The GoTo. A super important symbol that makes this analogue system so much more useful. It is simply an arrow pointing to a page number in the circle.
I use it to link one piece of information to another within the notebook.
For example, a one line task item might then link (via this symbol) to another page with more details, contact numbers, lists etc that are relevant to that task.
Some items might end up linking to multiple page numbers, which may in turn link on to other pages.

Structuring the system.

  1. Page numbers of information and reference that you think you will access frequently are logged onto the index page at the front.
  2. Use a bookmark to make it easy to open your notebook at the current page.
    You can use a second bookmark (eg a small card with ‘Tasks’ written at the top) to mark the Task management pages for this week.
  3. Evolve a system that works for you.

Log your life.

The more you use your notebook, the more you will enjoy doing so.
Carry it with you always.
Capture everything. Do not be afraid to tape or glue items into your notebook (or just leave them sitting between the pages). Remember: ideas that you think unimportant now may become genius later.

  • Use colours.
  • Mind map.
  • Be creative.
  • Enjoy the time spent reviewing stuff in your notebook.

Yes it does take up that extra bit of room and weight in your bag. But.
When it comes to an organic system of growing, linking  and embedding information, it is your opportunity to own a small slab of brilliance in the digital world of one-dimensional backlit beige.

Last page:

Finally. You could do worse than think on these words from an old notebook of my own on digital vs analogue:

Because life is not bullet points.
Life is large sweeping dodecahedron’s. Life is elegant mother of pearl tubular extrusions. Life is counterbalances and full bladders and ice cream-aching teeth.
Life is first touch. Life is last chance.
Forget bullet points.
Instead, get yourself a notebook and fill in the space with big, bold, multi-coloured art. Fill it with off the top of your head crazy poetry. Tear out a half page and stick it to another page with a booger. Scatter chocolate cake crumbs and join the dots . Smudge the pages with ripe, wet, spontaneous potato-print passion. Ink  your gratitude dumps.

Then, go and play with your dog.

Use this as your guide to get a life.
That is all.

2 thoughts on “How to set up a NOTEBOOK for a nurse.

  1. As an ‘old’ nurse with many many years experience….. This is a truly wise post!!.
    the notebook covers so many sins so many uses and so many benefits.
    Years ago, when I once had the Medical Superintendent sign a diary note, in my note book regarding serious short staffing at a period when we had no DON in a small country town. I was so concerned about patient care and safety I wanted to make sure I had the concern documented and signed off.
    I’ve also shared much blood, sweat and tears and much joy and happiness.


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