As students, we sat down in class and opened our notebooks before the teacher spoke a word. Taking notes was simply a given part of the classroom experience.

As adults, we attend meetings and workshops. We play a part in committees. We have one-on-one discussions with colleagues or parents. Opening a notebook and preparing to take notes has been as standard in the adult world as it was when we were students.

Today, we have laptops, computers, and Smartphones. How do those tools change the way we take notes ? It’s a concept I have pondered for literally more than 10 years.

The Move from Paper to Digital
A decade a go, I was a devoted Day-Timer user, and had been for probably 10 years.The right-hand page of my two-page-per-day page format provided me the perfect place for taking notes on that which came up during the day. When the “Palm Pilot” became a popular tool, I considered buying one, having long been intrigued with the idea of keeping a calendar and to-do list digitally. Repeating appointments and tasks would be entered once. To-dos which were not done would roll over to the next day without having to be re-written. The problem was obvious. Getting up fron the computer also meant getting up from the calendar and to-do list. The ability sync the Palm Pilot to the computer made digital organization practical. (The company later dropped the “Pilot,” allowing the device to become known as the “Palm”)

For me, there was but one hesitation, and it delayed my decision to “go digital” for two years. Handling the calendar and to-do list digitally would be easy. But how would I handle my “right-hand page,” my system of documentation that served me well?

Having thought I had worked out a solution, I bought a Palm. That was exactly 10 years ago this month. I immediately started to sync my Palm with Outlook. To this day, I am an avid Outlook and sync with a BlackBerry. The calendar and to-do list have worked beautifully, as have the address book and notes. One aspect of my system, however, was very clunky, and that was my system of note taking. Nothing I tried worked as well as my Day-Timer’s right hand page. Somewhere along the process, I realized going 100% digital was not the best way. One part of my life needed to be paper-based.

Enter the Journal
Follow me around for a day, and you would see me pull that Palm (back then or or BlackBerry today) from my pocket to check a date or refer to the to-do list which drives my days. But watch me in a meeting, a one-on-one conference, or a phone call, and you would see me open my paper journal. It’s nothing more than blank lined pages. You can pick up one with a nice cover and quality paper at any local book store.

Where one day leaves off, the next picks up. When the meeting, or conference, or phone call is over, the note taking is over. Close the book, and I am done. Nothing gets re-copied anywhere. Nothing gets filed.

I do one very important thing with those notes. Later in the day, I look at them and make decisions on what I need to do about them, if anything, Whatever actually needs to happen about those notes goes into my Outlook task list. When a page has been filled with notes and I have made the appropriate decisions about the to-dos, I clip the corner of the page. That act tells which pages are now done.

Stanford University conducted a study which revealed 87% of filed papers are never referenced again. The same is probably true of my hand-written notes. In both Get Organized! and Organization Made Easy!, I outline my method for referencing any notes, no matter how long ago they were taken. If there is an 87% chance I will never need to refer to those again, the last thing I want to do is spend a great deal of time filing them. In my case, filing them consists of closing the book!

Where Do You Take Notes Today?
When I attend conventions, I make a mental note of how people are taking notes now. In the next post, I will share those observations and my thoughts on best practice.

What are your thoughts on note taking during workshops, meetings, etc. in your own life? What is your method? What problems are you seeing?