Wrote Notes?

Think | Act

One in a series of Leadership Articles to cause you to think and perhaps to act. Read other articles.

I work with many senior leaders and am often amazed by their frustration at keeping track of all of their notes collected outside of their normal electronic environment. I usually coach them to follow a formula I’ve used successfully for years.

Good notes = low stress

While, more recently, I’ve migrated to keeping notes in a fully electronic format, many people that I coach take notes on paper. Often times a review of those notes, in response to a call for help about their information management will lead to an understanding of their frustration. They just need to follow a simple process to record and act on notes.

Rules for taking notes

  1. Take all notes in one bound journal. Do not have an endless pile of individual sheets floating around your desk and briefcase. A bound journal is good, a spiral bound (or similar) will lay flat on a desk or table. Being a incurable draftsman I always used the classic Moleskine Squared Notebook—though lately the quality has been dropping. Take notes in a color which will photocopy and scan well. Black or dark blue is preferred.
  2. Be legible when you write notes. It may be hours or days before you get back to the item so keep your intent clear.
  3. Action oriented markups will keep you on track. Keep the rightmost 1cm (1/2 inch) of each page for action status. Indent lines which continue from a prior item of the same topic by 1cm (1/2 inch) on the left side. Use some of the sample status icons or create your own;
    • Action to be taken
    • Information to be provided to [name] (email, phone, fax, letter).
    • Information to be provided to you by [name] (email, phone, fax, letter).
    • Item to purchase
    • Blog idea
    • Skip line
  4. Here’s my sample of notes I’ve taken:
  5. Reading this stuff is straightforward. Anything with a vertical line through the rightmost column can be ignored as far as actions. Usually I cross out items with a vertical line also. So when you’re acting on items you can scan the vertical list and determine what can be done now. If items are delegated they should be marked as such—i.e. mark off the action you were to do and enter a new follow up for the delegate. Also I would place a date in the listing to reflect when new notes were entered. This was done to keep some chronological order even though it might skip a number of dates.
  6. Full page done? Cross off the entire page in a diagonal corner to corner mark.
  7. Backup? Just scan, photo, or photocopy the entire page (I do two pages showing) weekly of undone items. I routinely scanned pages and stored them by date of scan in a single folder by year.

Note taking styles

There are numerous styles of note taking. Some very famous and some very useful check out five styles here. Whatever your style the thing to remember is that you’re taking notes to get things done!

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