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! .

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