My many fancy notebooks for all my fancy moments

Organisation is key to keeping all the ideas and thoughts during a PhD in check. It is helpful to have everything written down somewhere to prevent everything from overwhelming you. Manpreet Kaur shares how having notebooks for different purposes has helped her to organise her PhD related ideas.

I love lists and tick-boxes. I get overwhelmed pretty quickly if there is too much going on in my head and one of the coping mechanisms I have found is writing things down. When I did the Sprint programme during my undergraduate years, this was one of the tips I learnt. If there is a nagging thought in your mind, write it down and then get on with your day. Allocate time to go back to those intruding thoughts and have ‘worry time’ to focus on those.

But not all intruding thoughts are negative. Sometimes, while sitting and staring at birds I remember an email I need to send or something I want to discuss with my supervisor. I’m not the most screen-friendly person and therefore pen and paper is what I like to turn to (and turns out I’m not alone in being this way; check out Ellie’s blog here). So, I have notebooks for several different things in order to keep all my thoughts organised.

The first notebook I have that probably many people do is a planner. I bought this one that I really like because it doesn’t have dates already printed so I only write weekdays and weekends are free (unless there is a looming deadline). There is a section for note-taking for every day where I write down what I did that day. This helps me with feeling productive as well as keeping track of days, and I can always go back to something if I need to.

The next notebook is for all project meetings with my supervisor. It is the place where I write it all down as we’re discussing things. Besides, I take notes from group meetings here too. It’s helpful to have a nice big title about what the meeting was about; it’s like using tags, but offline.

The third notebook is for to-do lists. Hand on heart, I have tried the Reminders app on my phone, given a chance to Google Keep, and Microsoft To-Do as well. However, my hands never grab my phone at times like this. I impulsively pick up a piece of paper and pen, and therefore decided to buy a small notebook for this purpose. I have a margin in the middle of every page, and jot down all my tasks in there.

Another notebook I have is a leather journal my sister got for me. It feels very serious, so I use it for the least serious purposes. This is where everything miscellaneous goes, ranging from notes from an online webinar about laboratory sustainability to the third draft of my next poem. This is also where I jot down notes from project-related online talks and conferences that I attend.

I also have a journal that I use as a personal diary. I am currently on my third one and I go for all the fancy textures for these ones. I have found journaling to be very motivating and writing helps me organise my thoughts.

With the papers I read, I like to make hand-written notes because it slows me down and helps me to think about what I am reading. I have several notepads for my reading, all papers numbered with an index page. This takes a long time sometimes, especially when I find a paper that becomes a favourite, however I remember that during my MRes I found these hand-written notes very useful when writing up my thesis. I’m doing this all in the hope that it’ll prove useful later on.

One thing we can safely conclude is that I am, despite being so passionate about climate action, an absolute tree killer. Believe me, this bothers me a lot, however, nothing else works. As much as I love fancy images of people sat in a comfy sofa with a laptop typing away, I am all for an old wooden desk, and pen and paper. I think I just do better when handwriting. Of course, there is the other stuff I do such as buying FSC approved paper/notebooks, recycling paper and stationery and using all the notebooks to the fullest. These notebooks truly help me with staying on top of things. It means that I have less to store in my head as it all rests safely in the pages.

Do you prefer notebooks or screens to keep organised? Tell us about your favourite habits around keeping track of to-do lists and monitoring your progress. Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.

by Manpreet

Manpreet Kaur is a first year PhD student in the Department of Chemistry. She has been at Warwick since 2016, and did her BSc and MRes here. Her research project focuses on the design of photoelectrocatalytic systems for the synthesis of nitrogen containing compounds. You can follow her on Twitter here and further details about her project and background can be found here.

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