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Friday, August 21, 2009

Tools for Knowledge Workers - Your Journal

As our economy becomes a increasingly knowledge-based, jobs have a growing emphasis on acquiring, storing, and using knowledge. Computer hardware and software advertisers take the position that they provide the new information management tools, but for many people mastering the use of a journal is a basic and often more useful skill.

A journal, or notebook, is a powerful tool for managing information. A journal is unobtrusive, easily transportable, and works almost anywhere.

A journal is a tool for thinking. It provides a place to put new facts and ideas, a place to improve those facts and ideas, and a place to store them until they can be used.

A journal confers status. Someone taking notes is thought to be organized and competent until proven otherwise. Keeping a journal over several meetings establishes mastery without deliverables.

Selecting Your Journal
I choose a journal over a pad of paper because it holds the pages together. My journal allows me to easily keep several months of old telephone numbers and addresses with me when I am out of the office. I prefer a sewn binding (like a composition book) because I can put loose papers and handouts in the notebook without breaking the binding. I currently use a Levenger Notabilia lab notebook with a leather cover, which lets me stash handouts, a presentation folder, some Post Its, a name tag, 3 by 5 cards, and business cards.

I have been writing on quadrille (graph) paper for years, ever since a buyer said, “Graph paper. I like that. Shows you are organized.”

When I am alone with access to a computer, I usually make a quick outline of what I want to write in my notebook, with a list of details I want to make sure are included. Then I compose directly on the computer. When I am alone without access to a computer, I write the initial draft in my journal. Writing a first draft shows whether to build a document in an email, word processor, spreadsheet, publication software, diagramming software or online template.

In a meeting, whether I have access to a computer or not, I use the journal. It is faster, less intrusive, and allows me to pay closer attention to the meeting.

Using Your Journal
Put your name and phone number inside the front cover. I left my journal in a coffee shop and got it back because I had my name and number in it.

My master log of meetings and activities is my Google calendar, so I date every new entry in the journal. Next, I write the names of everyone attending the meeting. If it is a new group or a large group I make a seating chart so I can address people by name and understand their concerns in the meeting. This is a good reason to start meetings with introductions. If not, I put in names and concerns as I learn them.

My goal in taking notes is to capture ideas that are useful to me. Sometimes that means furiously taking notes and sometimes that means working on another project while the meeting drones on.

If someone repeats a quote or information I think has value, I write it again...and again...and every time I hear it. I am reinforcing by repeating.

I use a four colors of ink to make the notes easier to read, and to amuse myself.

I include graphics from the presentation or draw new ones to improve the presentation.

My notes reveal the structural outline of the talk, when there is one. My notes allow me to write a question and go back to it if subsequent discussion does not address it. Often a presenter will inadvertently leave out a crucial detail, which shows in the notes. I can ask about the subject and remind the presenter.

People are more specific and get to the point more quickly when others take notes.

Sharing Your Notes
When notes are worth sharing, I transfer them to a computer. Not all my notes, just the information I want to share. From the computer they can be distributed by print, fax, email, and website as many times as necessary. Some notes have frequent distribution for years, however, I have no idea which ones are “the good ones” when I am initially capturing them.


  1. Whatever works for a person is the best method for that person. I take notes on a paper in my binder. If it is an ongoing project, I take those notes and transcribe them into a document in Word so that I can store them with all the e-mail correspondence I have with a client. Transcribing for me is taking the few words I write down and putting them in full sentences that also use notes from further in the meeting so that I can get the full meeting in context. The notes arent in order of the progession of the meeting but rather the whole meeting encapsulated.

    That's just me though. It does work for me as your method works for you.

  2. Amen! Quadrille/graph paper is THE best! Keeps us organized and 'in the box' on paper, even if our thoughts are 'outside the box'. Nice post, Dick! See you soon. JLS