Wednesday, January 13, 2010


How I take, process & archive notes

This is what works for me, at least.  It helps me capture everything I need, quickly identify action items, store everything for quick retrieval anywhere I am, and keep my mind clear for what’s next.

I use a legal note pad for taking notes.  Letter-sized paper, as it’s tucked into my leather folio.  Tears from the top.  Every meeting or “event” (brainstorm, discussion, etc.) gets its own piece of paper.  At the top is the date, client name and meeting/discussion topic.

I then take notes, draw diagrams, note action items during the meeting or conversation.  Action items get a square box next to them, so I can quickly find them later.  I’ll use the front and back of the page, as my scanner works both sides (we’ll get to that later).

When I’m done with that meeting or brainstorm, the paper is torn out of the pad and added to the folder on the left-hand side of the folio for processing later.  There are likely plenty of action items on that page, but 90% don’t need to be done right away.  As long as I know I’ll have a chance to process those notes within 24 hours or so, I don’t worry about it.  Clear pad, clear mind, onto what’s next.

When I have time to process my notes, I take one page at a time and scan for action items.  Every action items requires one of three next steps – Do, Delegate or Defer.  If it’s a task that can be done in two minutes or less, I do it right then and there.  If it’s something for someone else, I delegate it and notate that either in the appropriate CRM system or in my own “waiting for” file.  If it’s a longer task that I own, I put that on my to-do list with a due date if necessary.  My to-do list is sorted by context (@home, @computer, @office), so I only look at and think about that task again when I’m somewhere it can actually get done.

When I’m done processing those notes, the page gets scanned with my Fujitsu ScanSnap.  This creates a two-sided PDF of the note.  I add that file to an archive of scanned notes on my office machine but also via Dropbox.  These folders are sorted by client or subject, and the note file name itself is the date plus the general discussion topic.  I save it with a year-month-date format so that, in the folder, everything appears in perfect chronological order.

The beauty of Dropbox, then, is that it mirrors this database across all of my other machines.  Office desktop, two laptops, and iPhone all have the exact same file access.  On the laptops, it’s a completely mirrored file system so that I can access anything offline as well.

This may sound geeky, and it probably is.  But if you’re like me, your day is filled with information and input.   Some of it relevant, some of it requiring further thought or action.  Without a good way to record and process that information, there’s no way I could 1) stay on top of everything, and 2) keep my mind clear enough to be productive for the next conversation or topic at hand.


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