Remember the days when personal computers, smart phones and iPads didn’t exist? Whilst some of you will be nostalgically drifting back to simpler times, others will be thinking ‘What? When? In the Stone Age?’. Bear with me a little while, I promise there’s something here for everyone.

I studied to be a Petroleum Geologist at University (I know, what’s that got to do with IT? It will become clear I assure you) and we went on lots of field trips looking at different rocks and fossils around the UK. The essential tools for these excursions were a hammer, a chisel a hand-lens and the humble notebook.

The paper-based notebook (not to be confused with its more recent digital counterpart) was where you captured everything you were seeing (and being taught). It immediately came alive with descriptions of rocks, lists of finds, sketches and diagrams of every part of the exploration. Then, post-trip, all of this captured information was used to produce a detailed thesis and map of the location visited.

Okay, so where’s this trip down memory lane going? The notebook in essence is the first example of data capture. You use it to capture information and tasks that you need to complete (David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” describes a very detailed strategy for the same thing).

Where do we capture information?

A notebook by its nature is a portable device, essential to capture information, so you can have with you at all times. You can quickly scribble down information when:

  • On phone calls.
  • On zoom sessions.
  • In face-to-face meetings.
  • Ideas spring to mind.
  • Browsing the internet.
  • You wake up in the middle of the night with your finest ideas on how to make your fortune.

 

What information can be captured?

The notebook knows no bounds. You can efficiently capture all sorts of weird and wonderful information:

  • Names of people and companies.
  • Important dates.
  • Tasks to do (though the world has moved on, even I use ‘Hey Siri’ these days).
  • Quotes.
  • Ideas when they come to you.
  • Brainstorming.
  • Sketches.
  • Lists (inc. shopping lists).
  • Errands.
  • The options are limitless!

Why not just type the information straight into your laptop or tablet?

Unless you’re the fastest typist in the west, most of us find that our scribbling speed is much quicker than our ability to type. It’s also a lot more flexible and less structured than typing.

Think about the last meeting you were in. Did you just write note for note all the things you discussed? Or did you add in little diagrams, arrows to linked items or add emphasis by circling or underling salient points? Maybe a quick doodle when things got a little dull? If the conversation went full circle, you added new stuff to the page. Maybe decisions changed, you crossed out things and amended sentences. Notebooks give you flexibility.

Equally, writing in a meeting is a lot less irritating than the incessant ‘tap tap tap’ of a keyboard.

Your notebook is brimming with useful information, what now?

The notebook gives you flexibility. It’s a great way to capture information that will be helpful later. A point of reference based on fact not (sometimes faulty) memories. It’s really useful to think of it as a temporary place to store all sorts of information. But… it’s no good if the information just sits in the notebook and never sees the light of day.

To get the full benefit from the information in your notebook, you need to review its contents as part of your weekly review. Then, transfer the important stuff to your CRM (Daylite being my CRM of choice). Here, the information becomes even more valuable to you, your team and your business.

The benefits? The fact that:

  • It becomes a searchable reference (you don’t have to keep flicking back pages to find what you need).
  • It has context, that’s because it’s linked to the relevant person or company you’re working with.
  • Your team might find this information helpful, especially if your business is growing.
  • Your notebook won’t last forever – sooner or later it will be filled up and be replaced by a new one.

Okay, so you might not to do this every week but how about every two weeks? Referring back through your notebook regularly to remind yourself of a name / some vital piece of information, can consume a lot of time (if like me your memory of what is in the notebook is not perfect). Equally, the older the information you need, the longer it takes to find it. When you’ve added your content to Daylite, strike through it in the book so you know you’ve captured it fully. That alone will give you a feeling of accomplishment.

My top tips get the most out of your notebook

You may be very well-versed in notebook etiquette, but if not, here are my tips:

  • Add the date at the top of the page – chronology is important and easier for reference.
  • Write down items as a list of things, prefaced with a dash to keep them clear.
  • If you move onto another meeting or topic later in the day, draw a double-line below the previous entry so you can tell they are from different sessions.
  • Don’t worry too much about the order of things because you’re going to process it all later anyway.
  • Once a section has been transferred to your CRM, cross it through.
  • If writing longer notes about a meeting, webinar or call, draw a line under the previous entry and also put in a new title and the name of the person you’re am speaking to.
  • Keep your notebook open on your desk – with a pen beside it – AT ALL TIMES!

Transferring your information allows you to clarify your content

It’s not enough just to do a like-for-like transfer of information. Think about how you use that information. Why you wrote it down. What you intend to use it for.

Good habits for this include:

  • Processing the information and transferring it out of your notebook regularly (unless you’re on vacation/having some down time).
  • Starting at the previous double-line – so you know your start/end point.
  • Moving all names, addresses and URLS into Daylite – this content is GOLD!
  • Searching for any next actions, opportunities or projects that need to be created.
  • If you can do something that takes two minutes, try and do it there and then.
  • Re-copy notes from classes or webinars, books or things you’ve learned. This will help you to process and absorb information plus develop ideas further.
  • If you listen to audiobooks, take notes as you go, then summarise the book as a note in Daylite.

How to choose a notebook

Everyone has their own preference when it comes to stationery. Maybe you’re happy with a chewed pen top and the back of an envelope or prefer a pink pen and pastel pages of a unicorn covered pad? I’m not here to judge. My own preference would be:

  • Quality? A good quality notebook will enhance the experience of writing in it.
  • Size? A5 size can be carried easily, doesn’t take up too much desk space and can go into my bag easily.
  • Lines, squares or blank pages? Very subjective but worth considering seriously. Each person’s mind works very differently. Creatives sometimes prefer the freedom of a blank page, more useful for diagrams or sketches. Others prefer the structure that lines or squares bring. As a lefty, my handwriting is all over the place – and difficult to read – so lines help me keep things in control.
  • Dates? Some “Day to a Page” notebooks have the date at the top of the page. I find them restricting. Some days I might not need to write anything and on others, I need to multiple pages to capture the contents of a course or important webinar, so personally I would avoid these. Get into the habit of putting the date at the top of a page as this will help when you need to go back and find something to transfer to Daylite.
  • Stapled or Spiral bound? For me spirals always feel less comfortable in the pocket as they’re bulkier. The also tend to fall apart or the pages become detached with constant use. I prefer stapled notebooks, there’s less wear and tear, they tend to have better quality paper and those with a hard cover are much stronger. Also, they’re just more aesthetically pleasing. Who says a notebook can’t look good and do good?

By now, you’ll have gathered that even though I graduated many years ago, I’m still a big fan of the humble notebook. I don’t think I would be able to run my business without it. The notebook is a tool that provides you with the capacity to capture and clarify content. Content you can use to enhance your business. Using it alongside your CRM means you can search for information, share the data across your team and, through the simple act of writing things down, reference knowledge that could drive opportunities to grow your business.

Some of my favourite notebook retailers include:

Go get yourself a new notebook, you won’t regret it.

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