Tag Archives: note

Productivity

I will remember this!

You have this great thought, a great idea, or something that you have to do just after what you’re doing right now. You say to yourself “I need to remember this.” Thirty seconds later, you forget what it was. A couple of hours later, you have this strange feeling that you were supposed to remember something, but you have no idea what. Have you ever been in this situation? Have you ever had that strange feeling, remembering that you forgot something? I’ve had it many times. Almost every time I said to myself “I will remember this,” I didn’t.

Is there any way to overcome this? Today I will describe what I try to do in order to shake this feeling once and for all. (Spoiler alert–I still forget stuff from time to time, but much less than I used to!)

I’ll start with one obvious tip–write everything down. This sounds simple, and most of us have tried it many times. There are a few reasons why we fail in writing things down:

  • We do not write everything down. We think we do, but I bet there are a lot of things that you don’t take note of and that are not on your todo list. We tend to write down tasks related to bigger commitments–write that report, send that letter, pay that bill. But in many cases we do not write certain things down–call Tom tomorrow, clean the office, a gift idea for your significant other, a brilliant plan for what to do in the evening… For some reason, we think we will remember these kinds of todos.
  • We have too many places where we add things to remember. If you write your ideas on sticky notes and you do not have a single place where you store them, then you won’t find them later. It is the same as not writing something down at all. The same goes with having too many todo lists and starting a new one every time you have something you want to write down.
  • You have no idea what you meant when you were writing it down. You know what you mean when you are writing it down. But when you read it later, you just don’t know what it was about. This has happened many times for me in the past.
  • You don’t have the possibility to write something down. This is a hard one. You are driving a car, in the middle of the workout, or in a place where it is not polite to take notes (concert hall, church, etc).
  • You are in the middle of another activity and you don’t want to interrupt it–for example, you could be in the middle of a pomodoro.

There are probably many other reasons why we fail to record our ideas. The above are the reasons I can relate to because I was (and sometimes still am) struggling with them. How do we solve them? Well, here are a few tips:

  • Choose one single place for recording all of your ideas and things to do. Let it be your smartphone, a notebook, flipchart, piece of paper, wall–it doesn’t matter. It has to be the only place you use every time you want to write something down. If you use your smartphone, always use the same app. If it is a notebook, then use the same page. You should try to always have it nearby. It should be available every time you want to jot something down.
  • Use a specific phrase when an idea comes to mind. For me it is the phrase “Dominik you have to remember…” Every time I think this, I hear an alarm in my head with the warning “Look out, you are about to forget this.”  Whenever I think this, I automatically record that important thought.
  • Write down the thing you want to remember, but give it a context, key words, tags, or something else that lets you know what it was about. Instead of just writing down “call Tom tomorrow,” write down “call Tom tomorrow–ask about the insurance company he mentioned.”
  • When you don’t have the possibility to write something down, use something that is around you and treat it as a trigger for later. I know this is a hard one, but with some training it may work. For example, when I am in the middle of a workout and I have an idea for my next blog post, I try to associate it with something I can see. Let’s say I want to write about the importance of having a definition of “done.” During my workout, I see a man with a yellow dog. I would think something like this: “Dominik, there is a yellow dog. Next time you see a yellow dog, think about this post you want to write.” Believe it or not, it works for me. The stranger the thought is, the more probable it is that you will remember it. :)

Following the above guidelines allowed me to limit the number of times I think to myself “I knew I was supposed to remember something, but what was it…” I know one thing–being sure that everything I want to do is written down makes my mind a little less chaotic. I don’t wonder any more what I am forgetting to do. And I can just do the things I’ve written down :)

Photo by  Flood G./ CC BY

 

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Productivity

Take better notes

I am constantly in search of the ultimate way of taking notes during meetings. I have tried a lot of different approaches. I used to take my laptop to every meeting and take notes directly in OneNote. I’ve tried using an iPad with a stylus. And of course I’ve tried taking notes in the traditional way countless times, with a notepad and a pen. Each time there were various obstacles and challenges. And today I am writing about why I’ve typically failed in the past and what I do today to take notes in a more efficient way.

For a long time I was taking notes on my laptop. I had it with me at all of my meetings. I would open it in the beginning and start to type. That approach had many advantages:

  • my notes were legible (I have terrible handwriting),
  • they were instantly digitized and available on any device (with OneNote),
  • notes were searchable (very handy),
  • it was easy to share notes just after the meeting,
  • I had a spell checker on hand (very useful),
  • I was able to take notes fast and still be able to read them afterwards.

You might ask “Why did you write that taking notes with a laptop this used to be your preferred way of taking notes?” You’re right – there are many advantages of note-taking on a laptop. Unfortunately, there are two big disadvantages. I will start with a minor one: if the meeting was boring, I had a tendency to read or write emails, browse the web, and so on. It was very easy to get distracted. But the major disadvantage of taking notes on a laptop is that it distracts other people in the meeting. The sound of keyboard strokes is distracting, as is using the laptop itself. I was perceived as a person who didn’t pay attention in meetings. Many people thought that I just did other things. So I stopped doing it. In the end, the disadvantages outweighed the advantages.

For awhile I gave the iPad and stylus a chance. But that was a failure too. It was nice to have notes available in an electronic version right away. Undo functionality was also very useful. The biggest pro was the ability to take a picture and write notes on it. Unfortunately, I had many problems with the stylus. I tried lots of different ones, but none were as precise as a classic pen. My notes were shaky, unreadable, and ugly (even uglier than my handwriting with a pen). So I stopped taking notes in that way too.

After trying what I described above, I went back to an old school notepad, a pen, and a little bit more.

First I want to share with you what my problems were with handwritten notes in the past. And there were (maybe even are) many:

  • As I wrote before, I have a terrible handwriting style. Sometimes I laugh at myself that my notes are self-encrypted so well that after some time even I can’t read them.
  • I had to take a picture of each note and send it to OneNote – it was and is a very cumbersome process.
  • I kept forgetting my notepad when going to meetings, and ended up writing on sticky notes and then losing them.
  • It was very hard to search for relevant information within notes.

All of those resulted in very poor notes and my eventual attempts to go digital. But after each try, I kept coming back to the old-fashioned way of taking notes. Why? A few reasons:

  • I am a person who remembers things in a very visual way. With handwriting it is very easy to make notes more visual. Adding small drawings, side notes, arrows, symbols, etc. is easy and fun.
  • Taking notes in a notepad is widely accepted and no one has any issues with me doing this. Everyone does it.
  • I learned how to make the most of my handwritten notes.

The last point is the most important one. I created my own style of taking notes, and I try to use it every time I am taking notes. There are only a few things I’ve changed:

  • I use “bigger font.” I just write with bigger letters. Even with my terrible handwriting, I am able to read my notes even a few months after taking them.
  • I have a new routine of adding a “process notes” task to my todo list after each meeting. I spend some time on all my notes to process them and:
    • move action points to my todo list;
    • digitize them if they are important.
  • I have my notebook everywhere I go.
  • And last but not least, I learned to use symbols in my notes which allow me to:
    • quickly scan my notes when I search for important content;
    • easily extract tasks, important remarks, information to share, and so on from all of my notes.

What symbols do I use? Only four:

  • Important – This is an indication for me that this is something worth highlighting and reviewing after the meeting.
  • Person – I mark information related to a given person in this way. I add a name to it so I can find a reference to that person just by looking for a person symbol.
  • Envelope – When there is anything in notes that I need to share with others it is marked with a small, blue envelope.
  • Checkbox – Every time I note an action to be done I add a green checkbox to it. When I review my notes and see this symbol I add it to my todo list.

I try to use these five principles with a limited number of symbols every time I take a notes. It took some time to get used to this way of taking notes, but it was worth it. I have the impression that I am better at taking notes and following up on them. They are relevant for me now; I use them often, come back to them, and review them. I feel that I am more efficient thanks to this and that my meetings are more productive now.

Now I am on a quest for the ultimate notebook… My current candidate is the Ecosystem notebook. I want to order one and try it. I just need to finish my current one first. So I am taking a lot of notes ;)

Do you have a special way of taking notes? What do you do to make the most of them?

 

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