Where Do You Take Your Notes?

When it comes to our time management systems, we have lots of tools to aid our productivity.

We have address books.  Calendars galore.  Todo lists and more.

But, when it comes to taking notes, many people end up writing things down anywhere and everywhere.

On legal pads, never to be used again.  In the margins of handouts that will either be piled or thrown out.  On random scraps of paper and on Post-Its.  All of which will end up who knows where.  Sound familiar?

Do you have one place to take your notes?  And after you write them down, can you find them again?

Where Do You Write Things Down?

I have written previously about the importance of defining your time management system.  It turns out that the most common tool missing from people’s time management toolbox is the notebook. A simple place to keep all of their notes.

With the advent of smartphones and laptops, we have gotten better at keeping address books and calendars.  It is easy to carry hundreds (if not thousands) of contacts in our phones.  And accessing our calendars is usually as close as the web or our computer.

However, an area that many neglect is note-taking.

What happens?  When presented with a piece of information or a random todo, we grab the closest thing at hand, whether it is a napkin or a Post-It note.  We may capture the info, but then we lose the piece of paper that we jotted it down on.

Keeping all of your notes in one organized place is equally important.

A former colleague was a master of taking notes.  In every meeting, she would write furiously on her yellow legal pad. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a method to keep her notes.  After each meeting, she would simply tear the top few pages off of her pad and these would end up piled in her office, never to be viewed again.

One Place For All Your Notes

The most effective way to keep your notes organized is to have a single place for your note-taking.  This keeps all of your notes together.  This also means that you only have one place to go when you need to retrieve a note.

Here are a few tips for your note-taking:

  • Have a Single Notebook – I use a Moleskine notebook.  This keeps all of my notes in a neat, portable tool.  If you use a pad or loose leaf notebook, it will take greater effort to organize and file your notes.  For most people, the simplest solution of a single notebook is best.
  • Keep Your Notebook With You – You cannot use your notebook if you don’t have it at hand.  I may be the extreme example, but I carry my notebook almost everywhere with me.  (Yes, everywhere.)
  • Review Your Notes Regularly – I review my notes daily.  I take a look at the day before to jog my memory of any todos or important information that I captured.  I might highlight something if I think I may need it again in the future.
  • Don’t Use Scraps of Paper – Be disciplined.  Resist the urge to write things down on miscellaneous pieces of paper.  When you find yourself writing down a phone number or voicemail message, reach for your notebook instead of that pad of sticky notes.

The Power of Your Notes

Does your time management system have a note-taking tool?  If so, does it keep all of your notes in one place?

Many people spend too much time looking for and retrieving information that they already captured.  Having a single place to keep your notes can be very powerful.

Recently, I was discussing a business matter with a co-worker and there was some debate about some terms that had been worked on previously.  Within a few moments, I was able to open my notebook, and refer to the meeting by date that had happened many months earlier.  I had the numbers recorded that had been discussed.  Needless to say, it saved a lot of time and effort.

So, when you find yourself about to jot down something on a napkin or a Post-It, take the extra second to grab your notebook instead.

What is your note-taking tool? What are you best note-taking tips?

Related Posts:

The Power of 1

Why You Should Try a Moleskine Notebook

Why You Must Define Your Time Management System

29 thoughts on “Where Do You Take Your Notes?

  1. I am a big fan of the composition book/notebook (yes, like in college) for keeping notes when I’m in meetings, making a ton of phonecalls, etc. I can date the top of the page and keep it all. I can move the info into my contact management system as needed.

    1. Like what you are saying here. I am a big believer in a notebook that “holds” all of your notes together.

      I too put a header in my notebook for each new day. That is my index should I need to go “back in time” to find something.

    1. I love Evernote! and use it for all my electronic clippings and articles.

      However, I have not made the transition to taking general notes or meeting notes via Evernote.

      Still something simple and unobtrusive about writing versus typing on a laptop or smartphone.

      Maybe we will all get there someday. 🙂

  2. I’m afraid I do use looseleaf notes …. but I am disciplined about (a) not removing them from the notepad until I’ve “processed” them; or (b) putting them in my in-box for processing.

    I use Outlook Journal for keeping notes of meetings etc. – that is, I transcribe rough notes into notes (I hope!) I’ll understand later.

    At some point I will print all my Journal items so I have a technology-independent record.

    I do always carry a small notebook, which includes a pen.

    1. Loose leafs are powerful for filing.

      Most people however, never get to the filing part. 🙂

      I always encourage people to use the tools that work for *them*. Sounds like you have a thorough system.

  3. I use Vera Bradley 81/2 by 11 spiral bound notebooks. They have a hard cover, good surface for writing anywhere and protects your notes. I label them by Start Date – End Date. I also use Avery removable Month labels to separate notes within each notebook by month. I keep full notebooks on my bookshelf for reference. It’s been working great for me for over a year now.

      1. I like the look and feel of the moleskins but I like regular notebooks as I need to be able to tear a page out if it’s something I need to give or turn in to someone else…that’s the only reason I am not 100% sold on the moleskine’s.

  4. I love my Franklin planner and in an effort to become more disciplined (and reduce the scrap and sticky note habit), I now use it for daily work/home notes in addition to calendar; its indexing tool is a total lifesaver. I’ve ahd the experience mentioned here–where someone is questioning and I’ve grabbed my trusty FP, indexed the date and spouted the numbers.

    I’ll admit here that I have a post-it obsession…my front door is sporting several in different colors, and almost every room in my house has a post it pad! The advantage there is that I can also take a sticky and stick it on the appropriate planner page if I’m not near the planner.

    1. Love it! Thanks for sharing. Think all Franklin Planner users can relate and have had the experience of “recalling” a note.

      Post-Its have their uses, but can get out of hand. Love it when I see people with Post-Its slapped on their smartphone or laptop. 🙂

    2. I agree post-its DO have their usefullness and I use them the same way. I will stick and then tape the post it to the appropriate page in my notebook so there is no risk of it getting lost. I have great ideas or things I need to do that often come to me in places (bed, the shower, etc) where it’s just not feasible to have a notebook!

  5. Great post! I used to be a big fan of post-its, but one company I worked for actually banned them after too many employees had lost important action items that they had scribbled on post-it notes. Now, I use a spiral-bound journal and it comes with me to every meeting and sits open on my desk all day at work. I have my notes and daily to-do lists all in one place and I just love the ability to flip the cover over so only one page faces up 🙂

    1. Wow… had not heard of a company banning Post-Its!

      But, I do have some great stories around the messes that can happen when companies “lose” important info on Post-Its. Sometimes with embarrassing results.

  6. Evernote on my MBP when I have my MBP with me ;)Otherwise, hand writing notes in a simple notebook -> scan with OCR each page and.. store them in Evernote
    Daily review notes and send tasks to Nirvana

  7. I use Evernote- everything is searchable and it syncs between my phone and the net. I also use Mental Note-where I can make notes with audio/video/picture/typed/handwritten info can be integrated.

  8. I completely agree that it is in note taking that my organization tools fall apart. I have never been as “together” as when I used a Daytimer with the notes section on each page.

    I have been using a PDA for more than ten years and still struggle to keep up with the random reminders. There is not a good way to quickly record things in my opinion.

    I do have many, many notebooks, but they do not lay flat like a spiral notebook does. As another poster said, the ability to have one page open is great.

    Unfortunately, spiral notebooks tend to get tangled up in my purse with the other things I carry.

    I wish there was a notebook that would lay flat with one page showing that did not have the spiral ring to get in the way.

    1. Interesting. I get it, so you are scanning your notes via your OCR software.

      Have you tried putting the scans directly in Evernote to see how well their OCR search works on your notes? Might be an interesting experiment. May or may not be as thorough as what you are doing currently.

      Thanks for sharing your method!

  9. I recommend two types of note capture devices: the first goes with you everywhere in your pocket at all times. The second is your larger master notebook (or planner) where you can keep a searchable record of your important notes.

    If you can combine the two, great, but I’ve found it’s difficult to take lengthy and archivable meeting or project notes on a pocket-sized book. Your results may differ. Instead, I take action on my pocket notebook each day, converting the notes into tasks and reminders and appointments in my master notebook.

    The key, I’ve found, is to have only two books, and have a system.

    Thanks for the great post Craig.

    1. Jeff,

      I agree it can be hard to find one size capture book for both random notes and large projects.

      I try to split it in the middle, as I carry a medium size Moleskine.

      It goes almost everywhere with me. 🙂

  10. Hi Craig,

    Funny enough, over at The Art of Manliness, they also had a post on notebooks on September 8th. A fascinating article called “The Manly Tradition of the Pocket Notebook.”

    Today they have a follow up called “The Pocket Notebooks of 20 Famous Men.”

    After reading this post, I thought you’d enjoy those.


  11. Great post and thanks for reminding me to get back to a system that really does work for me. I have used a notebook system for years at work and when my co-workers are searching through 10 different legal pads or scraps of paper I have been known to quickly pop up with the information. I

    However I was laid off in December and am not making a radical career change…from HR to teaching and I gotta admit for a while I “abandoned” my notebook system until reading your post. I have not tried the Moleskines, though as I do like something I am able to tear a page out of if I need to…not that I often do but for some reason I hang on to wanting that option! Currently I am using a 5×6 notebook with a couple of pockets in it as there is inevitably some loose paper someone gives me or I aquire and that corrals it until I find the appropriate place to record it in my notebook.

    I do also use Evernote quite extensively but you are right there is just something you can’t replace about being able to write with pen and paper and there are many environments I find myself in these days where I NEED to take notes but it just wouldn’t be feasible or appropriate to be typing on a laptop or smartphone and I am not yet lucky enough to own an ipad.

    So glad I found your blog as there seems to be a WEALTH of great info here. I am known amongst my facebook friends for sharing great time management and organizational tools so I will be sure to turn them on to your site as well!

  12. I take notes on Memoryzer.com. It lets me comment any page I have visited on the web. This is very handy, specially to comment wikipedia pages I use to study. I am also storing personal information that I use once in a while but it is important. It is very good for search and find later what I need.

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