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Spaced-repetition, the final frontier.   To boldly go where no samurai notebook has gone before.

I’ve used notebooks for a long time.   For a while, I was doing “morning pages”, a method popularized by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way.  (I highly recommend it.)   Using this method, I would get up and write three handwritten pages of whatever flowed out in the morning, whether it was complaining, nonsense or whatever.  Morning pages are a great bridge between the dream mind and the rest of your day and your life. Cameron actually suggests waiting a while before reading these rants, etc and I have a few boxes of them somewhere, waiting to be read, mined, and discarded.

I think it’s really important to have a space or page where you rant, complain, dream, etc to yourself.   I have a space on my laptop called morning blurts, where I complain and brainstorm if I am not inspired to write on a specific topic.

However, my “Samurai Notebook” is a little different.   First of all, it is a physical notebook.   I  like Japanese notebooks because they are light, sturdy and stand up to punishment.   More importantly, a samurai notebook should include mostly forward-moving stuff, though there maybe a few rants here and there.

My notebooks look a little beaten up from heavy use. These pages have curriculum planning ideas and some Japanese text I liked and copied. In the bottom left corner you’ll see some “Chandler Circles.” I draw four circles and I quickly brainstorm what I want: for my life, one year from now, one month from now, and today. It’s nice to come upon these during reviews.

A random dissection of the last month’s notebook reveals:

  • Steve Chandler’s Four Circle Time Management Circles
  • Random ideas that came up while I was working on other projects
  • Kanji flashcard practice
  • Quotes from “The Making of Modern Japan,”  “Zen and the Art of Making a Living
  • Sentences from my Japanese flashcard program
  • Random observations:  “Mei (my one year old daughter) just tore the title page of “The Spirit of Tao” in half and presented it to me.  Is she trying to teach me something?”
  • Copycat sprints–copied out sections from Japanese books I like and want to learn from.
  • A running list of things and experiences I want in my life

The content of my notebooks change depending on how much time I have and what my current focus is.   However, for my Samurai notebook there are two requirements:   it’s mostly forward moving stuff and I review it using an adaptation of  little nifty technique called spaced repetition.   For more information, see my post, “Spaced Repetition Systems:  How to Forget About Remembering.

In short, I go through my notebooks regularly, and kind of on a schedule.  In a perfect world, I would read my entries on the following schedule:

  • one day later
  • two days later
  • four days
  • one week
  • two weeks
  • one month
  • two months
  • four months
  • eight months
  • a year , two years, four years

A “review” doesn’t mean some serious academic examination.  It could involve just a quick glance.  After I review the entry, I date it and label what kind of review it was:  2D for two days, 1W for one week, etc.   If there is an old idea I want to keep current, I place a note to myself to myself in my most current notebook so it stays current and in the mental mix.

I like buying Japanese notebooks because they are cheap and have a nice binding that stands up to constant review. (But don’t get hung up on what kind of notebook to get.) I got these on my trip at a $.99 store (100 yen) shop. The motto is “Various names consist of the alphabet.” Consider it a haiku.

Why do this?

  • The scheduling aspect keeps review from being overwhelming.
  • Since this notebook has your forward moving ideas and plans and murmurings, it gives you control of your mental channel.  (BTW if something stops being interesting to review–put a big X on it.)
  • It is a great, organic tool for continuing to work on big, life projects in what David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, “reminders of of the outcome and the action required in a system you trust.” (p.15)  Allen explains that it is key to have a Weekly Review because, “everything that might potentially require action must be reviewed on a frequent enough basis to keep your mind from taking back the job of remembering and reminding.”  (p.46)
  • It’s fun and requires no batteries, upgrades, or monthly payment plans.