Never Forget Anything Again: Clean Your Mental Desktop

July 14, 2009 § 4 Comments


Have you ever tried filling up a notebook full of information, and tried to retrieve some idea that you wrote in it weeks ago? Chances are, you couldn’t find it, and probably wasted time flipping through your pages in frustration. I certainly did. I have tons of notebooks full of various notes that I couldn’t remember what they were all about.

The pen is indeed mightier than the sword. For many, it is the ultimate solution to those who suffer from a self-inflicted lack of attention disorder.

I propose a simple solution: note taking for life

If there are lessons to be learnt in life, things to take note of, ideas to be generated, why not put them down in a location where information can be easily retrieved? Keep a small notebook with you to capture the various tasks, projects and ideas that come to you throughout the day. Having a notebook enabled me to put information into action easily too.

Benefits of effective note taking:

By using a system of writing down important points in physical, pen-and-paper form has allowed me to:

Take down main points of books I read for quick-reference and book reviews

Collate themes across various notes I make (be it from things I read, ideas, projects, tasks etc)

Keeps my mind free to focus on the task at hand, helping me achieve mental efficiency

Components of an effective note-taking system:

Record anything useful or important so that no effort is wasted in repetition (in writing, doing etc)

Enables me to be forward-looking (making appointments, to-do lists, actionable items)

– A searchable record system (I can go back and check my records)

– Specific details (Who, what, where, when, how much)

– Works as a memory aid

What I use:

The index method I use for my note taking. Numbers circled are page numbers

The index method I use for my note taking. Numbers circled are page numbers

You can create an indexing system by:

1) Adding a page number on the upper right hand page

2) Whenever a page is completed, put the page number on the index, with a few words or “tags” to describe the content.

Page number circled on top right hand corner

Page number on top right hand corner

I’ve picked up my note taking habits from a various quirky sources, including Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Tim Ferriss, The Cornell note taking method, as well as David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD).

GTD is an excellent resource for understanding how to get your life into place. It can also be confusing and complicated for those looking for a simple solution to their busy lives.

Most people fuss over the various details of the implementation of GTD, and thats just forgetting the big picture. Therefore we need to return to the main spearheads of attack that will “get things done”

1) Capture everything that gets your attention

2) Disciplining yourself to make “whats the next action” decisions that can be implemented

Increasing personal productivity is actually a series of habitual changes that should not be undertaken all at once. The art of note taking is one such habitual change in capturing everything that gets your attention.

I highly reccommend reading Leo Babauta’s Zen To Done : The Ultimate Simple Productivity System. In Leo’s terms what I’ve explained fits into Step 1: Collect, or Ubiquitous capture.

I’m looking to improve and seek new note-taking and productivity ideas. Have your own ideas and habits? Let me know.



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