The advent of a new year often prompts me to do some in-house cleaning and de-cluttering and since I’ve already refreshed my wardrobe, I’ve moved my attention to evaluating my digital inventory.
All of my physical notebooks and journals aside, I have grown quite a collection of ‘notes’ across multiple software programs and cloud-based apps. I’ll come right out and tell you that I’m a bit of a productivity nerd especially when it comes to playing around with digital systems, and it is one of my secret pastimes to keep up with the brilliant, intuitive things that people in the tech space are creating every day.
Just as people become addicted to social media apps, I’ve become addicted to note-taking and task management apps, which ironically, tend to slow down my productivity more often than not. Hence, the need for some de-cluttering and general auditing of the way I work and namely, record and process my notes.
It’s a popular system in the productivity world, but I’ve never really taken to David Allen’s GTD method, even having researched and revisiting its concept time and again. Perhaps this year is the one where I finally commit to implementing something with tangible structure – God knows how much I need it!
It would be foolish of me to try and explain and encourage the use of the GTD system, hopefully down the track I’ll be able to share more learnings on it if I decide to integrate it into my workflow. For now, what I can share is a few little things I’ve been reflecting on regarding the purpose and power of taking notes – and taking notes well.
1. Why you take notes matters just as much as how you take them.
I’ve been avid note-taker since my school days. I would be the person at every lecture madly scribbling down what the speaker was saying, sometimes verbatim if I really thought a specific sentence was valuable and worth quoting later on. I’ve discovered that whilst I don’t always return to the notes and look over them with detail, the actual writing of them in the moment, helps me better process the information. Perhaps there is also a sense of security that should I forget what was taught, I have made a tangible record available for reference. (How I go about organising and finding these notes is another story as you will read in the following bullet point). So whether I’m scribbling on a piece of paper or sending myself an email – taking notes is an important way for me to learn, understand and examine new ideas and information.
2. Organising your notes is more important than you think.
Okay so being an avid note-taker doesn’t guarantee I am the best spokesperson for processing notes effectively. Outside of the context of needing to refer to lecture notes while working on a school assignment, I tend to fall into the take-notes-now-and-forget-about-them-later category, which doesn’t serve me well a multi-passionate person with numerous creative projects on the go at once. Learning to categorise your notes is crucial if you want to take action on them at a later stage. For example, if you catch up with a friend and they recommend a book to read, and you take note of the title and author on your smartphone – will you remember it later? How will you find it?
I take inspiration from my younger sister here, as she is an incredibly effective note-taker and list-maker. On her iPhone she has a beautifully organised collection of notes and reminders that are easily referenced and added to. She’s given me permission to share some screenshots of her list library, just look at how visually satisfying this is:
3. Notes are an extension of our personal thoughts, ideas and experiences.
It might sound like I’m getting philosophical, but hear me out. Whatever your ‘why’ is for taking notes, writing something down reflects what is going through your mind at any given moment. If you’re a student, your notes reflect what you’re learning, if you’re a teacher, your notes reflect your knowledge. If you’re a writer, your notes reflect your imagination (and/or opinion – depending on what you’re writing). Some may even refer to their digital devices and systems as a ‘second brain’ and there is no denying that the things we choose to take note of whether on our phone/tablet apps or simply on paper, are important enough for us to write down in the first place. Notes are things we want to be reminded of, to reflect upon and to take action on. They are tangible and visual symbols of our priorities, goals, thoughts and perspectives on life and the world around us.
As I go through my digital inventory, I realise how even the smallest things in our lives deserve care and attention, and are worth auditing and improving on. If I can become a more effective note-taker, particularly in how I process ideas and information, I will better be able to reduce clutter in my brain and ease anxiety in my workflow. If my note collection is more organised, aesthetically-pleasing and meaningful, the things I’ve written down will become more valuable to my daily activities. I will be able to use my notes with greater intention and efficiency.
I’ve learned that productivity isn’t so much about accomplishing as many tasks possible in a certain amount of time, but more about developing effective systems that help you accomplish meaningful tasks at the right time.