Sometimes, two tools are better than one. Are your calendar and tasks digital, but you struggle with notes from phone calls and meetings? If so, a paper journal added to your arsenal might be just the answer.

Do you remember the Palm from the “turn of the millennium”? That little tool was the first that offered us a real shot at housing our data digitally and being able to take it anywhere. I bought one in 2001.

But first, I didn’t buy one. I spent two years thinking about it. Why two years?

  • The allure of a calendar small enough to fit in your pocket yet would hold all sorts of supporting data.
  • The promise of never having to re-write a to-do list again. In addition, repeating items show up again on their own.
  • A complete set of contacts. At that time, most people had three address books: a pencil and paper one with physical addresses, one on the computer with email addresses, and one on the cell phone with phone numbers. Now I could have one!

With all that going for it, why did it take two years to make the decision? Simply, the right-hand page of my Day-Timer. I could grasp how I would manage both my calendar and contacts via Outlook on my computer synced to the Palm. But how would I handle taking notes during a phone call, meeting, etc.?

After two years of thinking, I went digital in 2001. The Calendar, Tasks, Contacts, Notes, (and later) Email were syncing between the computer and mobile device. Guess which part gave trouble? The “Notes.” Just try upholding your end of a conversation while trying to write on that tiny screen! It didn’t hold a candle to the right-hand page of my Day-Timer.

Sometimes, two tools are better than one.

What finally worked was simple. I got a paper journal. It was nothing more than a book of blank, lined pages. Where one day left off, the next day began. All communication went to one place. At the end of the day, my job was to look at all I had written and decide what I needed to do about it. The results of that process became to-dos on my digital task list or appointments on my calendar.

Sometimes you know when you will need those notes again.

When you finish the phone call with Joe, you close the journal. The conversation lives on the pages between two leather covers. You will revisit them later in the day. You see that the conversation ended with a promise that you would call him three weeks from Tuesday to discuss progress made.

On the appropriate date, you make an entry on your task list to call Joe. When you place that call, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to resurrect those notes from your journal? Beside the task, put the date the call happened and enclose the date in parentheses. Three weeks from now you see the reminder to call Joe. You also see where to look in the journal for the notes you took during the previous call.

Sometimes you don’t.

Most of what you record in your journal will never be needed again. Really, how often do you need those notes from phone calls or meetings from months ago? Every now and then, the phone call that seemed like nothing at the time takes on a life of its own a few weeks later. Wouldn’t you like to have a record of what was said, what was promised, and when it all happened. With your journal, you do.

Most people do not keep this kind of documentation. They rely on what they remember, and memories are fleeting. What do you do when confronted with someone who remembers a conversation differently than you? Open the journal and read verbatim the notes you had taken on the spot. That action generally solves the problem. It could save you embarrassment. It could save you money. It could save you your job. Most of what you record, you will never need again. It’s the little you do need that makes all the difference.

Getting back to a conversation or meeting that happened within the last week or so is easy. What if the interaction is from months or even years ago? In Chapter 4 of my book Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders, I talk about the concept of using a digital “table of contents.” It proved to be a huge time-saver for me on many occasions.

If I was in the classroom today…

If I were to take a job in the classroom or as a school principal tomorrow, what you read in this post is most likely what I would use. The same is true for many other jobs. The interactions with other people are frequent. The interactions are generally of short duration. The notes are, for the most part, of temporary value. If this description reminds you of your typical day, the paper journal may be just what the doctor ordered.

When the phone call is over, the documentation is over. When the meeting is over, the documentation is over. The amount of “extra time” spent recording those notes is “zero.” At the end of the day, you take five minutes to review the notes, flesh out the “to-dos,” and add them to your task list. That’s a pretty small price to pay in order to have a secret weapon that’s going to make you the master of documentation!

Where do we go from here?

What if your interactions are fewer in number and the notes from them more significant? In the next two posts, you will see two methods that keep all the records digitally.

How do you keep notes from phone calls, meetings, etc.? I would welcome your comments. Or, come over to Facebook and let me know about your system.