This post contains my most helpful tips for keeping track of your thoughts. I have tried a number of software programs to keep todo lists and things like that, but I still find that good old fashioned pen and paper are the best for me.
I keep a notebook for each component of my life. I currently have three: one for work, one for personal, and one for this blog and other entrepreneurial ideas. I prefer spiral bound notebooks or composition books over the legal pad style notebooks. Since I never tear out pages and just keep working my way through them, flipping over pages from a legal pad makes them unwieldy and hard to flip through them back and forth.
Take a sharpie and write your name, the topic, and the start date on the front cover of the notebook. Now get going taking notes!
I want to really stress the importance of keeping the notebooks separate. I originally started with one notebook and wrote down work and personal information. I found it was that much harder to locate information when everything was jumbled together.
Don’t be afraid to start new notebooks for new things. When we moved across the country, I started a separate notebook just for the move. This was always by my side and had all my information in one place. I had information for the actual move – moving company, plane info, car transport, plus things like canceling the old utilities and starting up the new ones. This was essential during the move and I referred to this one for a long time after the move. Also, when we moved again I had a great template for replicating a lot of the details.
Write Down Everything
Every time I talk to someone on the phone I write it down in the appropriate notebook. Always get the person’s name and always write the date in the margin. This has helped me so many times that I want to stress it again – write down the name of the person you talked to. Then months later when there is a problem, you can flip back and say something like “I talked to Mary on February 12 and she said she would reverse that charge”.
Even if you aren’t doing anything spectacular or don’t have any todo items to write down, try to write down something as often as you can. This helps to give a frame of reference when you are looking back through the pages. If you are trying to find a particular note it helps to have other things written down which happened at a similar time.
I have gotten in the habit of starting my day off by writing the date in both my personal and work notebooks. I then write up a list of todo items that I want to accomplish that day, if I have any.
Take Them Everywhere
Get in the habit of taking them back and forth to work or wherever you go. I always pack them into my laptop bag with my laptop so I have them at work or at home. It is very frustrating to not have your notebook when you need it. I also keep the last archived notebooks in by laptop bag too. Once you find yourself not referring to older notebooks, then safely archive them somewhere at home.
This is a really handy tip that I do automatically now. If you write down a todo item in your notebook, make an empty square in the margin on the left. When you finish the todo item, check it off! Now you can easily scan the page and see what you have done and what you still need to do. As a variation, you can draw one line of the “X” when you start working on it and then write the next line of the “X” upon completion.
Use Them As Reference
When you fill a notebook, write the end date on the front cover and save it! I now have years worth of notebooks for reference and can flip back to discover exact dates and names of people that I talked to previously. If you find yourself coming back to particular information, stick a post-it at that location for quick reference next time, or copy the information to your current notebook.
Your first todo is to give me feedback! Do you already do anything like this? Is this helpful? Do you have a better system? Please post a comment or email me. I’d be especially interested if you have a great software based solution that you use.