Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 20, Issue 44;   October 28, 2020:

Notes to Self


Many of us jot important reminders to ourselves on sticky notes, used envelopes, scraps of paper, and whatnot. Often we misplace these notes, or later find them too late to serve their purposes. Here's a low-tech alternative that works better for some.
A spiral notebook, a pencil, and a mobile device

A spiral notebook, a pencil, and a mobile device. An unbeatable combination. Image credit JessBaileyDesign.

You're in the midst of composing an email message. Your telephone rings. You save the part of the message written so far, then you pick up the phone. It's Bailey with the answer to the question you asked yesterday. You search for something to write with and make a note of Bailey's answer on the back of a used envelope you rescue from the wastebasket. Thanking her, you return to the email message, but now a text comes in asking you to confirm that you can make a "small" change to the presentation you're delivering at 8:00 AM tomorrow. The text includes a link to the changes required. You need to make the change, but that email message you're working on is urgent, so you make a note on that rescued envelope about changing the presentation.

And so it goes, one thing after another. You've learned not to trust too much to memory, because there are just too many things to remember. So you make notes to yourself on envelopes, bits of paper, stickies — whatever you can find. It's better than trusting to memory, but not by much.

The most significant shortcoming of this notes-to-self system is its low reliability. More than once, you misplace the note. More than once, you find the misplaced note too late for it to be of any help. More than once, you wish you knew the time order in which you received the information on your notes. Did Bailey tell me to make that change before Chen told me not to, or was it vice versa?

Solving these problems is simple, but the solution isn't exactly easy. It requires a little self-control.

The first step in the This approach might seem a bit
technophobic, because computers
and mobile devices provide
numerous digital alternatives
solution I favor is acquiring a spiral-bound notebook. Any size will do, but I like the full standard size. Oh, and you'll need a pen or pencil. Every morning, enter the day's date at the top of the next fresh page. When you sense the need to remember something, make a note in the notebook on the next available line. If you do this, all your notes will be in one place, and they'll be in the order in which you entered them.

This approach might seem a bit technophobic, because computers and mobile devices provide numerous digital alternatives. But with this pen-and-paper approach, you don't have to click or tap anything. And you already know all you need to know about pen-and-paper. Here are some of the other advantages of pen-and-paper.

Electrical power is unnecessary
If you have access to daylight, pen-and-paper works fine. You don't need electrical power or Internet access. You can make new notes and read existing ones whether or not you have battery life or electrical power. And the Universe hardly ever does a system upgrade that scrambles the pages in your spiral notebook or forces you to relearn how to write.
Make notes without switching windows
The screen of your preferred device is a precious resource. Most of us need more screen area than we have. But even the lucky few who have multiple screens, or ginormous screens, or multiple ginormous screens, quickly learn that no matter how much screen area they have, their needs will eventually expand to exceed it. I'm sure this must be due to Somebody's Law of Screen Area. The result is that if you use your digital device to capture your notes, you'll need to navigate to your notes app from wherever you were. That can be inconvenient unless the app has a bring-me-to-the-front command that you've figured out how to use. In short, it's inconvenient.
Not so with pen-and-paper. You've already climbed the learning curve for pen-and-paper. No windows to switch, no keyboard commands to learn, or if forgotten, to re-learn.
You can't pause virtual meetings
For most of us, the pen-and-paper approach is the easiest way to make notes to ourselves when we're attending to something else. For example, suppose you're in a virtual meeting (by videoconference or teleconference) and something comes to mind that you don't want to lose. You just pick up your pen and make a note in your spiral notebook. You need not switch to a different app, or click or tap anything, or use both thumbs to spell out whatever you need to spell out. These actions can require so much of your attention that you might lose track of the thread of the virtual meeting.
Since you can't pause virtual meetings, you need a way to make notes that uses very little of your attention. By comparison, the pen-and-paper approach requires much less of your attention than do digital methods. It's just easier.
Keep all your notes in once place, in time order
If you enter your notes in order, in the notebook, they'll be in one place and they'll be in time order. One possible hitch happens when you need to make a note, but your notebook is inaccessible. This situation can arise when you're away from your desk, or in transit from one place to another, or not at work.
For these situations, you need a portable note-storage medium — a second, smaller spiral notebook, or index cards, or even your mobile device. You'll also need the self-discipline required to transfer items from your portable note-storage medium to your primary spiral notebook. Only by diligently copying notes from your secondary medium to the primary — or if using index cards, by taping the index cards to the pages of your spiral notebook — can you rely on the primary as being comprehensive.

I hope you made a few notes as you read this post. Remember to transfer them to your spiral notebook. Go to top Top  Next issue: Mastering Messaging for Pandemics: I  Next Issue

How to Spot a Troubled Project Before the Trouble StartsProjects never go quite as planned. We expect that, but we don't expect disaster. How can we get better at spotting disaster when there's still time to prevent it? How to Spot a Troubled Project Before the Trouble Starts is filled with tips for executives, senior managers, managers of project managers, and sponsors of projects in project-oriented organizations. It helps readers learn the subtle cues that indicate that a project is at risk for wreckage in time to do something about it. It's an ebook, but it's about 15% larger than "Who Moved My Cheese?" Just . Order Now! .

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenEMudcCzvnDHFfOEmner@ChacTcmtXTCJBjZfSFjIoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

An anxious dogInner Babble
It goes by various names — self-talk, inner dialog, or internal conversation. Because it is so often disorganized and illogical, I like to call it inner babble. But whatever you call it, it's often misleading, distracting, and unhelpful. How can you recognize inner babble?
An appealing plate of pasta (not what I ate that evening)If Only I Had Known: I
Have you ever regretted saying something that you wouldn't have said if only you had known just one more little fact? Yeah, me too. We all have. Here are some tips for dealing with this sticky situation.
Arrival of Cortés in Vera CruzWacky Words of Wisdom: II
Words of wisdom are so often helpful that many of them have solidified into easily remembered capsules. And that's where the trouble begins. We remember them too easily and we apply them too liberally. Here's Part II of a collection of often-misapplied words of wisdom.
Elephants fightingHow to Waste Time in Meetings
Nearly everyone hates meetings. The main complaint: they're mostly a waste of time. The main cause: us. Here's a field manual for people who want to waste even more time.
Browsing books in a library. So many books, we must make choicesFive Guidelines for Choices
Each day we make dozens or hundreds of choices — maybe more. We make many of those choices outside our awareness. But we can make better choices if we can recognize choice patterns that often lead to trouble. Here are five guidelines for making choices.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Writing and Managing Email for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Margay cat (Leopardus wiedii)Coming July 6: Fake Requests for Help
When a colleague asks for assistance, we can feel validated, even flattered. But not all requests for help are what they seem. The more devious amongst us can be endlessly creative in employing requests for help to achieve devious ends. Available here and by RSS on July 6.
A micrometer capable of measuring to |plusmn .01 mmAnd on July 13: What Do We Actually Know?
Precision in both writing and speech can be critical in determining the success of collaborations in the modern workplace. Precision is especially important when we distinguish between what we surmise or assume and what we actually know. Available here and by RSS on July 13.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenEMudcCzvnDHFfOEmner@ChacTcmtXTCJBjZfSFjIoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.