5 Ways To Kick Your Moleskine Notebook Up A Notch

Joel Lee 30-12-2011

moleskin notebooksOver the years, the Moleskine notebook has become a trademark staple for anyone dabbling in creative endeavors – especially writers and artists. In fact, the Moleskine is almost as iconic as the Apple laptop, the hipster glasses, and the daily visits to Starbucks.


But simply having one of these notebooks won’t be enough to spark your productivity and get your steam pumping towards optimal efficiency. Here are a few ways you can elevate your Moleskine from “just another notebook” to “I can’t live without this anymore.”

1. Stay Productive With Circle To-Do Lists

The most basic to-do list is often no more than a list of shoddy descriptions of tasks that are crossed out when completed. While this simplicity may be enough for simple tasks that are either “done” or “not done,” you may need a more elegant system for longer-term tasks.

moleskin notebooks

In steps the Circle Method. Basically, this method starts each list item with an empty circle beside it and gradually fills those circles with marks depending on the tasks’ completion levels.

  • New Item: To start a new item in the list, draw an empty circle.
  • Next Item: To distinguish the next task you want to tackle, place a dot in the center.
  • Item Started: To mark a task that you’ve started, cross the circle with a diagonal slash.
  • Item Cancelled: To mark a task as trashed, cross the circle with an opposite slash.
  • Halfway Complete: When you’re halfway through a task, fill in half of the circle.
  • Fully Complete: When a task is completely finished, fill it in all the way.

The method is smart and extremely versatile, allowing you to change the status of a task if necessary.


2. Organize Using The Quadrant Technique

If your notes require a lot of internal referencing, then the Quadrant Technique will be a lifesaver for you. The only downside is that it requires an initial time investment to set up the notebook.

Set up your notebook by dividing each page in half – draw a line through the center, separating the top from the bottom. This will create four quadrants: the top-left quadrant is A, the bottom-left quadrant is B, the top-right quadrant is C, and the bottom-right quadrant is D.

moleskin notebook ideas

Each group of four quadrants is called a block. Now go through and number each block, starting with 1. I like to place the number in quadrant A, but feel free to put it wherever you like.


That’s it for set up. Now, if you’re writing notes in quadrant 38C (block 38, quadrant C) and need to reference something in block 12, quadrant A, just insert a parenthesis: (12A). Done.

3. Create An Index In The Back

Set aside the last 10 pages of your Moleskine notebook and use them to create a system of indexing. This is extremely useful if you have notes on various topics and intend to reference them over and over again.

In order to use an index, you’ll need to number your pages from start to end. If you’re using the Quadrant Technique, you can use that as your reference instead.

Indexing itself is simple. If you have a page of notes comparing different laptops, flip back to the index and write on a new line, Laptop Comparison, page 38. Now, if you need to reference that comparison, you can find it easily. Instead of flipping through the entire notebook, you only need to flip through the 10 or so pages in the index.


The indexing system grows more useful as your notebook grows more packed with information.

4. Divide The Notebook With Plastic Tabs

Bump up your notebook’s organization by using plastic divider tabs, especially if you use your Moleskine for more than one purpose.

If you’re using the previously mentioned quadrant technique and indexing system, you might feel tempted to just fill out your notebook as you go. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it certainly isn’t optimal. Wouldn’t it be easier on your mind to split up the notebook in chunks and assign each chunk to a topic?

The plastic tabs, then, are a great way to visualize the different sections. Combine this with the other organizational techniques, and you’ll soon find your Moleskine becoming an integral part of your life.


5. Choose the Right Pen

Believe it or not, you can boost your Moleskine notebook to the next level simply by switching to a different pen. Which pen should you switch to? That’s entirely up to you. However, there are a few guidelines for which pens work well with the Moleskine.

moleskin notebooks

  • Choose a pen that doesn’t bleed. Using a pen that bleeds through the pages can be disastrous. At best, you’ll render clean pages unusable. At worst, you’ll render past work illegible. Mostly, you’ll just turn your notebook into a mess of ink spots, and that might keep you from wanting to use it anymore.
  • Choose a pen that doesn’t smear. Similar to the bleeding problem, a wet pen that smears easily will result in notes that can no longer be read. Even if you’re careful as you write, the ink will smear as soon as you close the notebook. Avoid smearing pens unless you want to wait for the ink to dry every time you jot down a note.
  • Choose a pen that feels comfortable in your hand. It’s amazing how holding the right pen can make you want to write more. Pen comfort is individual, so you’ll need to find one that fits your hand well. It doesn’t matter if you need a thin pen, fat pen, long pen, short pen, or one with rubber grips – get one that you enjoy writing with.

If you need a recommendation, try using the Pilot G2 pen. It won’t break the bank, it doesn’t smear or bleed, and it writes smoothly.


If you don’t use your Moleskine all that often, then you probably won’t gain much benefit from applying these tricks to your routine. However, if you use your Moleskine enough that you carry it around with you everywhere, then these tricks can heighten your notebook to the next level.  Let us know in the comments what tricks you use.

Related topics: Note-Taking Apps, Notepad, Organization Software, Planning Tool.

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  1. Kurt
    August 13, 2016 at 7:02 am

    I was trying to find out how to create an index for notes in a Moleskine, specifically how many pages to set aside for the index. Found the info here plus the tip on using circles for your to-do/task list. Thank you.

    • Joel Lee
      August 19, 2016 at 7:40 pm

      Glad you found it useful, Kurt! :)

  2. Kasia
    March 13, 2015 at 8:37 am

    I loooove the first tip! Thank You!

  3. Braulio
    March 7, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    Thanks Joel. I have been using moleskin for years Have tried other notebooks but keep coming back to the no rule notebook, soft cover.

    Will implement your ideas 1 ) circle to do , 2 ) quadrant . I have been using the tabs and index.

    Concerning the pens, I have tried almost every pen. Can't remember if I tried the pilot g2. I have a tendency to like the micro ultra. In fact, I am using uniball signo 0.38 right now. I will give the pilot g2 a try.

    I take alot of kidding concerning my journal. Guys at work keep calling it a diary and I remind that it is a journal. Something humorous to the topic.

  4. ccorrada
    January 5, 2012 at 4:01 am

    great, simple, useful article. like the quadrant idea. 

    • Joel Lee
      January 5, 2012 at 8:06 am

      Thanks! I'm glad you liked it. :)

  5. Michael Shire
    January 3, 2012 at 1:18 am

    I used a G2 for a long time but was occasionally disappointed by skipping and ease of smearing.  I stumbled across the uni-ball Signo which has supplanted it by leaps and bounds as my preferred pen, even when not used with a Moleskine.

  6. Joel Lee
    January 1, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    Wow, I've never seen that. It looks interesting and it would definitely have its uses. It does appear to be a little bulky, though. I would have trouble fitting my notebook into my pocket with that thing!

  7. Joel Lee
    December 31, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    I agree that some versions of the G2 are no good for Moleskines. The great thing about the G2 is that, as Jared mentioned above, you can get thinner or thicker pen points to suit your preferences.

    However, if you like using the BIC Crystal, keep using it! Pen choice is personal thing, and I'm glad you've found a pen that you love. :)

    • Mark Rose
      January 1, 2012 at 2:17 am

      Good ideas, Joel, and refreshing. I like using the uni-ball Signo micro 207 pen.  Dries fast and lasts.

  8. Jared Usrey
    December 31, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    When purchasing a G2, be sure to compare the encircled number on the pen. It represents the width of the stroke. The most common are:
        05 - Very Fine (Almost scratchy)
        07 - Standard (My Favorite)
        10 - Very Wide (Lots of Ink, Takes longest to dry)

    • Joel Lee
      December 31, 2011 at 5:06 pm

      Good point, Jared. I like to use G2 pens that are on the thinner side--usually "Ultra Fine." For Moleskines, I would recommend going with thinner tips, no wider than a standard in order to prevent bleeding and smearing.

      Thanks for bringing that up.

    • Geakz
      December 31, 2011 at 6:30 pm

      I even found a .03 !  SuperFine.  Works great especially when you need to cram a lot into a small space.

  9. Tina
    December 31, 2011 at 9:52 am

    I loved this article! Thanks for the tips, Joel.

    • Joel Lee
      December 31, 2011 at 5:05 pm

      I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

      • Katerina
        March 22, 2012 at 4:56 pm

        that the only way for me to get the problem revolsed was to contact Moleskine. So I did by way of the contact info inside the Moleskine.Within a week I received a letter and two Moleskines from Kikkerland Design Inc, US distributors for Moleskine. On top of that I received from Moleskine Italy another three Moleskines.So my prized possession was the five I received and the trophy prize was the Moleskine that caused the win win win in the first place.Yes I am a Moleskine fan and will never change as a result.

      • Miyase
        March 24, 2012 at 3:15 am

        Haha, I first thought this was a piutcre of what someone carries around daily in his/her bag. There are a lot of those on Flickr. I thought: Wow, that looks heavy!'. Until I read what it actually is I think for your purpose a nice Moleskine is just te perfect notebook.Cheers, Ed

  10. MajorDad1984
    December 31, 2011 at 4:33 am

    I guess I'm still trying to figure out what the big deal is about the "brand."  Yes, they've had some pretty famous users...but is the Moleskine (5"x8") journal that much better than the Barnes and Noble "house" brand for less than half the cost and even a few more pages?

    Don't get me wrong, I like the hacks above...and will implement some of them.  The issue I have is the all the hooplah about Moleskine.  I don't write as well as Hemingway...don't think my choice of notebook or pen has much to do with it.

    • Joel Lee
      December 31, 2011 at 5:04 pm

      Moleskine has a big reputation because it was the "original," so to speak. Nowadays, there are a lot of competitors that create similarly bound flat-laying notebooks.

      I used Moleskine in the title because the word "moleskine" has become somewhat synonymous with the actual style and genre of notebook.

      Like I said, there are tons of similar notebooks by other brands, including Piccadilly, Rhodia, and Stifflexible. The differences mainly lie in aesthetic design and quality.

      Check this site for reviews on all kinds of "little black pocket notebooks," if you'd like:

  11. Satish V
    December 31, 2011 at 2:24 am

    I use the organizer where I can add a central page where I have all my todos. I flag it so that it is available immediately and it also gives me a option to see the calendar. Have to shift the extra paper every few days. Have to change the paper every couple of weeks
    One more issue, i have a bad habit of putting a dash in front of anything I write as a todo. This kind of makes my options of manupulation very limited. I will try to use the circle. Choose a new habit to break an old one :-)

    • Joel Lee
      December 31, 2011 at 5:01 pm

      I used to use dashes all the time, too! Took me a while to pick up the circle method, but it's been helpful.

      • Matheus
        March 22, 2012 at 12:06 pm

        Love these thanks for snriahg any news on the MSK!Please add my email to your distribution list so I can keep updated on new products.Thank you!MRS

  12. Dean Sherwin
    December 30, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    I love all the different systems you can use for a Moleskine - plus the fact that it wouldn't feel right using them with any other notebook.

    I think I'll adopt the first method for my new one and see how I get on.  :) 

    • Joel Lee
      December 30, 2011 at 11:00 pm

      Thanks Dean, I'm glad you liked it! I hope the method works out for you.

  13. Joshua Clarke
    December 30, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    LOL, this is the most un-makeuseofy MakeUseOf post I've ever read. Good article, but where's the screen?

    • Joel Lee
      December 30, 2011 at 10:59 pm

      Sorry, I'm not sure what you mean. Can you elaborate?

      • Joshua Clarke
        December 30, 2011 at 11:58 pm

        This post isn't about tech stuff. It's about pen and paper! What are those again?

        • Joel Lee
          December 31, 2011 at 5:00 pm

          They were the forerunners of modern technology. Ha! :)

        • Joshua Clarke
          December 31, 2011 at 10:36 pm