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My biggest gain productivity (and reduction in stress) came when I embraced the idea of writing everything down. (Thank you, David Allen!) The hard part is managing to always have something handy with which to do the writing.

My Field Journal Notebook works great when I'm at my desks, in a meeting, or even out to dinner, but it doesn't work as well for the odd bits of time during the day when things inevitably occur to me. It's too big to use when I'm standing on the bus during commute and it takes too much time to pack it up for transport when I'm just running to the restroom or stepping across the hall to ask a co-worker a question (and then unpack it when I get back).

How do I have a small, refillable, and secured writing surface (don't want to drop loose pages in the middle of the bus aisle) that includes a pen loop and a shoulder strap?[1] DIY and paper type are highly negotiable; the notes have a half-life of about an hour, so this is definitely about function rather than form.

[1] Yes, a pen loop and a shoulder strap, 'cuz the American fashion industry has decreed that professional women are not allowed to wear anything so gauche as pockets. (Not that I care what the fashion industry thinks, but I can't buy what they don't sell.)

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Damn, I can't imagine how annoying it must be to not have pockets. Sounds like another reason to stay in academia and as far away from jobs requiring fashionable professional attire as possible... – weronika Jun 11 '12 at 0:56
So using your phone is out? Even if you have a really basic phone you can still call yourself and leave yourself voicemail... – w00t Jun 12 '12 at 19:10
@w00t Yes, it really needs to be written for me. My brain just deals better with visual language than with verbal, especially in noisy public places. – Belisama Jun 12 '12 at 19:22
@Belisama you can write it down as soon as you listen to your voice mail. If you use a smart phone it could do dictation for you. You could use a transcription service. All you need to do is capture the thought before it flees, what you do with it later is separate. – w00t Jun 12 '12 at 19:49
@w00t Right, for capturing, written works better for me. It would take longer and I would lose content if I had to convert the thoughts to auditory form and then back out. – Belisama Jun 12 '12 at 20:40
up vote 3 down vote accepted

I don't find writing down works really well during a lot of my day, including subway, while walking, etc.

I gave up on having something always handy to write with and instead use my phone and voice-recognition or an audio recorder app. Before that I used a super-tiny voice-/memo-recorder (which has the advantage of working where there's no cell coverage).

When I did always have various utilities at my disposal, I actually used a "utility belt", but stay with me, as this would actually be easier for a woman (IMO). Consider a simple sash-style belt, but with internal pockets. Simply made using essentially any fabric, it would be easy to stash a small notebook and pen, along with other useful things.

For some time I wore a sarong, either around the waist, or over my shoulder. Within the folds I could stash a wide variety of stuff. A little bit tighter/smaller and it could have easily been a belt and hold many of the same things.

Edited to include more details/specifics.

Things I've tried (and largely discarded):

Very few of the commercially-available options ended up suiting me. If you specifically don't care about "fashion", IMO a plain webbing belt and a discreet pouch w/ belt loops is far and away the easiest, most-versatile solution. The tac belts/pouches available are essentially endless, and it's trivial to sew up your own if nothing seems quite right.

(Nothing ever seems "quite right" for me, which is why I have a kickstarter on my back-burner to solve more or less this problem in a modular way.)

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Actually, I'm more interested in what you used as a utility belt than a feminine form of it. My style of dress tends towards the androgynous - it's that tailored slacks are subject to certain laws of physiology - so something with a masculine style would still very much be an option. – Belisama Jun 11 '12 at 11:44
@Belisama Added some representative (and concrete) examples/sources. – Dave Newton Jun 11 '12 at 11:57
Haha, the gadget holster is too funny, talk about overkill! The belt pouch idea in general, though, is a winner. Small, simple, will work with any small pad and pen, and is more physically stable than a pouch on a shoulder strap (it won't swing around and smack me in the face when I bend down to pick something up). – Belisama Jun 12 '12 at 1:07
@Belisama It's... it's only overkill if you don't try to take everything everywhere :/ sigh On a side note, sewing in some small slit pockets into random pants has also been very handy, and placement can allow access even when on the subway/train/airplane. – Dave Newton Jun 12 '12 at 1:09
(Not totally random pants, they've all been mine.) – Dave Newton Jun 12 '12 at 2:36

I think when you get to the point of needing something with a shoulder strap to carry a notebook and a pen, you might as well go with one of those very small purse things...

Alternatively, you could just get a small bound notebook and thread something through the spine to attach it to the shoulder strap (or buy/make a cover that slips on and fulfils the same function), but I don't know how the American fashion industry would feel about that, either.

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Yeah, my brainstorming did include the idea of a container of some sort, but the idea of trying to shop for a small, neutrally colored, affordable purse fills me with raging pessimism. (The closest thing I own to a purse is my Tom Bihn knitting bag.) I don't know, maybe a passport pouch kind of thing in leather? Not cheap, but at least it would be elegant and sturdy. – Belisama Jun 11 '12 at 1:19
@Belisama - Yeah, I agree with you on purses and don't know much about them or how easy it is to find non-awful ones. But a leather passport pouch type thing sounds good. – weronika Jun 11 '12 at 1:37

If you've got an iPhone, there's an app called Instacorder that I've been using for those awkward moments, that works really great. It's a giant button - when you hold it down, it records audio. When you release the button, it emails to audio file to you. I've got it matched to a rule on my mail server so it gets filed into a specific folder - instant digital inbox for all those awkward notes. Not quite the perfect setup, since you have to be able to open the app and press the button, but much easier than trying to grab pen & paper.

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I carry a 3x5 spiral notebook and small pen for quick notes. That does require a pocket or pouch thing to hold it, but I've always got one of those for my phone. Actually, phone and iPod Touch -- my preference is for "smart" in one hand and "phone" in the other, not both in one device.

I also find Evernote really useful - many notes can be captured as a quick photo saved in Evernote, others I can thumb-type quickely, and audio-notes are quick and easy too. And they all end up in my Evernote inbox, which is a normally-cleared part of my GTD workflow.

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Hold your smart phone to your ear and whisper your memo into the voice recorder.

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Create a facebook group or Google+ circle for pooling your ideas (you may decide you want to include other people into this idea repository later on.) Any smartphone has the capability to access these social sites, so it is as easy as posting a new status update.

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I use a service called Voice2Note. For $3/month, it allows me to call a phone # and record an unlimited number of 30 second messages, which are then transcribed and posted to my Evernote account. Voice2Note is a subset of Dial2Do, which for $6/month does the above, plus lets you send emails, SMS, Twitter messages etc.

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