It occurred to me very little attention is given to the importance of effective note taking and the advantages of notebooks vs laptops. I think there is an assumption the people we work with take good notes and that we assume they use their notes systematically after they leave a meeting. I often wonder that myself when I see people using legal pads and loose leaf paper for note taking or their iPads.
Notebooks vs Laptops
My decision to use a notebook vs laptop was made a long time ago. It is mostly because I can write faster than I can type and I don’t get distracted by formatting and spell checkers when I use a notebook vs laptop. Because I often include information maps and diagrams it is simply faster to use a pen and paper.
I have also tried various tablets which for me are even more distracting than a laptops. This is especially true when I am trying to locate things during weekend reviews since I have a mental map of the notebooks which is much more efficient than searching file systems.
Notebooks vs Notepads
I gave up on notepads long ago. They become messy and difficult to preserve longterm. I know lots of people use them, many more than use notebooks, but they never seem to be able to locate old notes from meetings or discussions.
There are other benefits as noted below of using notebooks mostly that they create an absolute structure of the pages making it easier to serve as an official business record.
Systematic Note Taking
I use the pages on the right-hand side of the binder to take notes and I try to capture the date and context for each activity including who was in attendance. I use a bulleted format with boxes for the “must do” items requiring action or follow-up. This makes it easy to catch open items during my regular reviews so very little can fall through the cracks.
I use a simple “X” in the task box when completed and a half “X” or “/” to signal the item is no longer actionable but cancelled.
When I close out one book I move any open items into the first page of the new book which is a good way to take stock on what I committed to do versus what I actually got done. Because I only use the 80 or 100 sheet Marble books, this process occurs at regular intervals about every 3 or 4 weeks.
The left side is where track time when I am in consultant mode and for the unstructured stuff. This is where I put lots of diagrams and visuals I am trying to work out or lists of “nice to do” items that are more of a personal interest.
Mostly the left side is where I jot down stray thoughts in meetings as a way to flush them out of my head so I can stay focused on the discussion. I have also found this helps me avoid over participating in meetings.
One of the most important reasons for keeping notebooks in this way is to ensure they can be used as a record in administrative or legal actions. Most managers never get advice about keeping notes and records especially those related to personnel matters or customer disputes until it is too late. By using a systematic and structured method you greatly increase the admissibility of your notes when they are contemporaneously recorded.
You can find lots of great resources full of guidance on the admissibility of contemporaneous notes as business records and the rules of evidence. But my best advice is to consider having your corporate counsel put on a short workshop with all managers on keeping notes as business records.
If you do seek advice on this you will want to also address the pros of cons of notebooks vs laptops and how to preserve contemporaneous notes when they are captured electronically.
Business Records vs Personal Records
There is a bit of caution to be given here as well. And that is for you to be clear on whether or not your notebooks are business records or your personal records. This is important to the issue of who owns your notes if you change jobs or have non-work related ideas recorded in them.
That last point is becoming increasingly important when it comes to FOIA and public records requests and electronic devices. To help me avoid possible conflicts is that I keep separate business logs as journals.
Again, this is an area to be addressed with your attorneys as long as you keep in mind their advice will be for the organization’s interest not yours. This can be of particular importance when it comes to notebooks that include both personal information and what might be considered business records.