Taking Note: Organizing and Using Your Ideas

 Legal pad with pen on wood background

If you struggle with the ‘why’ of notetaking, I get it.

Don’t we all have enough to do? Won’t we remember something if it’s really that important?

Deep down, we know the answer to these questions… otherwise there wouldn’t be new tools coming out every day to help us with these seemingly simple concepts.

Sometimes things like notetaking, project management, and other ‘get informed’ or ‘get other people informed’ ideas seem like a time sink but trust me, it is worth taking some extra steps. (And if you’re still asking ‘What’s my motivation?’, this blog post is a good place to start.)

Step 1: Use a consistent capture method, consistently.

Kassie talked about several ways to digitally capture ideas in a blog post earlier this month but the tool is secondary to what you need to do with it, which is consistently capture information.

Like me, you may feel overwhelmed at thinking about using Evernote versus Google Docs but the point is to just pick something and start using it. If it is the completely wrong thing, you can switch to something else, I promise!

Use the same tool, the same way, every time. Or else suddenly, when you realize you need that link, you won’t be able to remember if you saved it on Facebook, tweeted it, got it in an email, or any of the 10,000 other ways you may have thought to save a link. (Not that I’ve ever done THAT, of course.) I try to think not what’s easiest for Present Day Nicole but what will be easier for Future Nicole? Same tool every time. Your future self thanks you.

Now I thought I could get away with using my notebook for everything but, let’s face it, you don’t want to painstakingly write out snippets from articles. So if you are old school like me, have your old school way and your electronic way. Trust me, two ways is enough ways. 

Making yourself not have to classify/deal with something right away means you’re more likely to do this step. So capture away!

Step 2: Once captured, classify.

This may feel like an extra step, but it’s not. Once you’ve captured the information it is time to put it somewhere where you can easily reference it. Here are some ideas of what we use to manage different kinds of information (you know, once we get it on our list).

Note: Schedule 30 minutes a week to do this step. You don’t have to do it at the same time you do step 1! It might not even take that long but make a date with yourself so it gets done consistently.

Articles: I take the article links I’ve saved and put them into Pocket. I can read them on my phone from anywhere at my own convenience (who doesn’t have that friend that is consistently late showing up to dinner?), I can read them on my computer, and I can even search them. So while it may feel stupid to copy the link into Evernote and then end up putting it in Pocket later, it does give me that extra step to ask ‘Am I really going to read this?’ Which is good for me to ask as an extra filtering step. Articles I won’t read? Delete. Too much information is… too much information.


Ideas: Sometimes I think ‘Someone should start a Downeast Maine matchmaking service’ or that my friend said a really funny thing I want to remember. These ideas are sort of loose and remain so in my note taking tools, with each their own document. More on this in the next section but since these have no obvious home, they can just live where they live… for now. If you’re not sure where to start with ideas, read our blog post about the notetaking/idea connection. 

Events: If it’s something I should go to (or I just don’t want to forget National Bring Your Dog To Work Day again next year), I put it right in my agenda book. (Yup I have a paper agenda book. It works for me.)

There are plenty of calendar apps online (mobile and desktop) that will keep you on track, too. It's a matter of personal preference.

There are plenty of calendar apps online (mobile and desktop) that will keep you on track, too. It’s a matter of personal preference.

To-Dos: If an item is a to-do, it goes into Asana. I can assign a date to it, I can make notes about it, I can even assign it to someone else.

Files/AV: For files, I use Dropbox. 2 G for free is pretty generous but for me, paying $100 a year for 300 G is worth it. I can get to anything from anywhere as needed… and I don’t feel bad saving videos of some courses I’ve taken for future reference.

Now these things may NOT work for you.
For example, if you want to be able to access videos in such a way you can make a playlist, Youtube or Vimeo may be more right for your video storage.

I can’t do the work of thinking of what you like for you. But some questions to ask yourself as you think of distributing the information you capture in each of these areas:

  1. Do I need it accessible on my phone? My computer? Both?
  2. Do I want it to be private, public, or some hybrid of that?
  3. Do I like using this? (Trust me, if the interface weirds you out or you just don’t ‘get’ it, the best thing in the world won’t work for you.

Sorting: it’s not always a glamorous job, but it’s an important one.

Step 3: Once classified, reassess.

Great so you have your ideas in a place where you can find them.

And this is where most people stop.

Sure, some stuff just needs to be cataloged, like your payroll files. But some things need to be used/acted on.

Set aside a time quarterly (1-2 hours) to look at your notes. Ask yourself:

a) What is still relevant? What can I get rid of?
b) If I acted on something, how did it go? Are there next steps?

Option A just lets you keep the ideas pile from getting gigantically unmanageable. Option B lets you move forward on some of your better ideas and do a bit of ‘gratitude’ work.

If you continue on with these three steps, your ideas won’t be in a giant, unmanageble pile anymore. You’ll be happy to have ideas because you’ll know what to do with them.

As you come up with your own methods/ideas that work for you, please share them with us!

Additional ‘Notes’ resources:

Notetaking: The Follow Through

Four Noteworthy Apps (For Taking Notes)

Take Note: Tips on Having (And Keeping) Your Ideas