Get Even More Organized With a Table of Contents

Is your life full of half-full notebooks and jotted information everywhere? A table of contents might be just the thing you need to clear out the clutter.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #459

Thomas is a genius. It’s not his fault. He is an angst-ridden teenage cyborg, with an IQ somewhere north of 400. Just like me and you. And with so much spare brainpower, he has a lot of things going on. To fit in with his social group, he has a full course load of high school classes. He’s on the yearbook staff, and the track team. He actually has turbo-boost built into both legs, and no, it isn’t among the list of prohibited enhancements for track competitions.

At home, he’s working on a perpetual motion machine, a new clean energy source, an instant teleportation machine, and, of course, building an accurate replica of the Vatican in Minecraft. As you can imagine, his bedroom is covered with scraps of paper, notebooks for each project, and file folders full of schematics. He may be super-smart, but it’s super-hard to get anything done when everything is scattered in a dozen places. Plus, cybernetic or not, being a teenager, he’s lazy. All those spiral notebooks loaded into his backpack get heavy! And they crowd out the room that he needs to carry the Legos he’ll be using to build his teleportation machine.

It’s too much. He needs a way to be super-productive on dozens of projects at once, without burying himself in chaos.

Use One Master System

And just like you, being super-smart, of course he came to the Get-it-Done Guy podcast for the answer. He found it in episode 171: How to Create One Master System to Organize Your Life and has simplified his, er, “filing system” by moving to a single master notebook.

Now, he still carries around a notebook, but just one. He has a section in the notebook for each of his projects, and he dutifully records everything related to that project in its own area. Now he brings only that notebook, and life is good.

There’s only one teensy problem: he needs a pretty big notebook, because most of the space gets wasted. He has to decide in advance how many pages go in each section. If he’s had a lot of caffeine and is feeling inspired to get his perpetual motion machine moving, he might write out 10 pages of notes. 

But if he fills up the Perpetual Motion section of the notebook, what should he do? Start a whole new notebook? Then does he just waste all the blank pages in the other project sections? Or does he kind of try to hijack pages out of another project to work on perpetual motion? If he does that, how does he remember where in the book perpetual motion starts and stops? Oy! So close… and yet, so far.

Use a Table of Contents

When you use a one-notebook system for everything, you want to use the notebook efficiently, and still have room for everything—even if you don’t know how much room you’ll ultimately need.

The tool that makes this work has been in front of you your entire life: the table of contents. 

Reserve the first couple of pages of your notebook for a table of contents. Use a notebook that has numbered pages, or write in page numbers when you first come to a page.

When you want to start a new project, find the first blank page. Write the project across the top, so you know what the page is about. Then turn to your table of contents and jot down the project name and page number. “Perpetual motion machine, page 4.” “Yearbook price quotes, page 10.” “Love poems for…” Oh, my. Out of respect for Thomas’s privacy, I’ll stop right there. You get the idea. 

Keep each page devoted to just one project.

Keep each page devoted to just one project. When you fill up a page, just go on to the next page. If the next page is already used by something else, that means you’ve completed a block of pages on the project. Return to the table of contents and write in the ending page number. If Thomas fills page 13 with yearbook price quotes and page 14 is already fully of love poems, he changes the table of contents to read “Yearbook price quotes, page 10–14.” 

Then he finds the first blank page, which is just after his poetry. Page 82. That’s an awful lot of teenage poetry. He returns to the table of contents and adds in the page number of this new block of pages. Now the table of contents reads “Yearbook price quotes, page 10–14, 82.”


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.