The Moleskine Multi-Tab Hack

By | January 19, 2005

I’ve been experimenting a bit with the excellent Moleskine hack suggested by Jerry Brito for adding Getting Things Done tabs to the notebook. Jerry divides the book into five sections — next actions, projects list, someday maybe list, article ideas, and notes — which I found wasn’t enough for the messed up life I seem to be leading at the moment. I have never quite succumbed to David Allen’s world, and found I preferred to add stuff to specific places, so that I could easily re-read them and follow up on them. So I added sub tabs, which sounds confusing, but isn’t. Well, perhaps it is.


The basic idea is that there are five main divisions, or colours: Tech (anything tech related, subdivided into notes, ideas for columns or posts, expenses, dealing with the Editor), Personal (moving house, getting married, diary, that kind of thing), Action (the to do stuff, from Now to my Big Picture stuff, which I call 30,000 feet), Dump (anything, from phone numbers to words I want to Google at some point) and Book (for a book I’m writing). Each section is a colour, each subdivision is a tab — actually those sticky labels that are a cross between Post-Its and book markers (which seem to come in five colours anyway).

Now the Moleskine was already in use when I started playing with this, so I found myself just adding the label to wherever I had started one of these lists in the book. I found it better to only allow the tab labels to protrude slightly from the edge of the page, thus:


To make it easy to find stuff I numbered every right hand page (which takes you up to about 100 in a normal Moleskine) and then used the first page that falls open — the first double page — as an index:


I know this all sounds kinda messy. But it seems to work. Having the colour coded tabs dotted over a 100–page spread actually makes them easier to find, because it’s very easy to estimate the page you need to jump to — 45 is about half way through, 79 is towards the end, etc. Sure you need to use the index, at least to start with, but I found I quickly got the hang of it. If you liked you could write on the tabs to identify them more easily.

I’m sure this won’t work for lots of people. And one could easily argue that all this extra complexity takes away the simple beauty of a Moleskine. I would probably agree, but this seems to work for me, at least for now.

16 thoughts on “The Moleskine Multi-Tab Hack

  1. Pingback: Sean Gerety

  2. Joy

    I’m about 10 pages from finishing a notebook, and plan to use this system in my next one. Of course…I’ve got to ponder ‘colors and categories.’


  3. Fred

    There is my 2 penny. This is a little Moleskine hack that I think of (not really true, it’s an amalgam of already discussed hacks with some changes). I called it an Analog Blog. Tell me what you think of it, how it can be improved or if you think it’s just a load of crap 🙂


  4. Jason Ellis

    I use the GTD process, and I have to admit am very interested in the moleskin notebook. One question, though: what size molesking should I buy? Is the standard 3 1/2 X 5 inch model big enough to write in? Or is the large size the standard model talked about so much on the web lately? I would prefer the smaller one, just so I could carry it around much more easily, but since I can’t actually touch one unless I buy one (I can only seem to find them on the web, no brick-and-mortar stores) so I wanted to hear everyone’s opinion on the size.

    Also, anyone out there try the moleskin pocket calendar?


    Jason Ellis

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  6. matt

    In the US Moleskins can be purchased from Borders and Barnes and Noble bookstores. You can also find similar books in certain art supply stores (in north and central Ohio Prizm Art stores often carry them) but they’re not “real” moleskin notebooks.

    The books are also available online from Amazon, and Merlin Mann’s website ( often has links to the notebooks as well.

    Jason Ellis:
    I haven’t used the larger sized Moleskins so I can’t comment on them. I’ve been using the smaller moleskines (3×5) and there’s only two problems I have:

    1. I’m 6’3″ tall and my hands are proportional, so I’ve found that my hand gets in the way or I’m writing without support in a lot of cases. (Does that make sense? There’s no support like you get with a legal pad.) Makes my chicken scratches even ore difficult to read.

    2. The paper in the mini-Moleskins is thin. Like half the thickness of copier paper. So the ink from my pens tends to bleed through to the other side. Not a big deal if you only write on one side of the book, but if you want to use both sides you might want to consider the mini-Moleskin sketchbook. The paper there is thicker (almost like a manila folder) so if you use crappy pens like I do you can actually use both sides of the page.

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  8. J. Diniz

    Using the Moleskine
    I’ve been hooked on these for a few months now, and did quite an extensive internet research on usable hacks. My favorite models are the squared and blank pocket book, and the blank reporter notebook, as well as the small blank or squared cahier for individual projects or trips. Here’s what I came to (and this is just my implementation of other peoples’ ideas):

    1. Writing implements
    Pilot G-2 is the smoothest, darkest, silkiest pen around. Best for general use. Mini version available, called XS or Pixie.
    Pilot G-TEC-C4 writes the finest line ever. Great for stuffing lots on info on a small paper landscape.
    Fisher Space Pen, for the adventurous ones. Very pocketable and strong, impervious to the elements. Nevertheless, in regards to the writing pleasure, it’s still just a ball pen.
    Leadholders (2 mm, 2B) are classy and versatile for writing and sketching.
    Mechanichal pencils (0,7 mm, HB) are really fine for writing, especially on the blank paper Moleskines.
    Pencils are the way to go for the traditionalist, the artist and the cost-concious out there. You do, however, have to carry a knife or sharpenner to keep going anywhere. Best to chose a good brand like Staedler, and a B or 2B grade for softness and darkness.

    2. Labeling Moleskines
    Since I use three or four Moleskines at the same time, for different uses, I paint the rims of the pages with a highlighter. Just close the book, hold it tight, and run the thing through. Green is for my geocaching logbook, orange for my diary/planner, yellow for my profession, and blank for my personal use Moleskine. Can spot them a mile away.

    3. Extras within
    3×5 sticky notes on the front inside cover used for lists and handouts.
    3M page color labels on the back inside cover for marking sections on the Moleskine.
    Half a dozen 3×5 ruled index cards used for notes, page markers and blotter use (this is important with the G-2 pens).
    Numbering pages seems to be mandatory, and I did it, but never actually got to use them as hyperlinks. Don’t bother anymore with those.

    4. Organising the pages
    I just start by leaving a few pages blank at the beggining, for the more permanent stuff like calendar and dated matters. Just draw the calendar myself for the next three months or so, depending on the life expectation of the book. Next comes the main section, which I will divide only when needed to create a new category. The last pages ae set aside for contacts and other type of reference material. Doodles get to be backward written from the end of the main section. Important lists go to the main chapter, shopping and transient lists go on the sticky notes or index cards.

    5. Wallet use
    When travelling light, just stick VISA and ATM cards on the back cover pocket, ID and car documents amongst the last pages, close it up with the elastic band, and it’s good to go.

    6. Miscellaneous
    A knot tied at the end of the page marker keeps it from sliding with the book closed, and from unravelling. Simple and efective.
    Reward offered on the first page: a brand new Moleskine for whoever returns mine, if lost. Or, if preferred, a couple of gin tonics and a coffee appeal to lots of people (to me, it does).

    Regards from Portugal.

  9. Michael Gorsline

    Lots of nice hacks and ideas here. Thanks. I’ll have to ponder which of these that I can fit in. I currently use a Levenger Pocket Briefcase, and have Moleskines in my bags and jackets as backups so that I never end up without a handy way to capture.

    Thanks for the article

  10. Michael Gorsline

    Lots of nice hacks and ideas here. Thanks. I’ll have to ponder which of these that I can fit in. I currently use a Levenger Pocket Briefcase, and have Moleskines in my bags and jackets as backups so that I never end up without a handy way to capture.

    Thanks for the article

  11. Julie Brown

    Beyond tabs I just got got my first Moleskine Cover from the people at Molecover:

    Think I actually like the look of the notebook with the cover on more than with it off!

    Can’t wait to take this cover on my trip to the Middle East! O’man here I come!


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