If you aspire to be in a leadership position or even if you are already in a leadership position, then I want to talk about the one piece of equipment that you cannot do without. I am talking of course about a notebook (for our purposes here today I will assume that you already carry a pen). A notebook can help get you through bad times. It can help you to remember all of those little details that are otherwise forgotten in an instant. Perhaps most importantly, a notebook can take you to a whole new level of productivity. I love my notebook and I would be lost without it.
My notebook is not fancy, probably because I am not very fancy. I know a lot of executives carry moleskin notebooks or leather portfolios. I am not knocking anybody that does carry a moleskin notebook, but it is just not my style. I go with your standard three subject notebook like you would carry in middle school. It usually cost me about a dollar at Wal-Mart.
Once you have decided on the style of notebook that you are going to carry (did I forget to mention that you need to start carrying a notebook?), your next step is to use it effectively. Here are a few of the ways that I use my notebook:
Meetings: In really good meetings, I use my notebook to jot down who attended and any action items that were assigned. In really bad meetings (where I am bored out of my mind), I use my notebook to make grocery lists or to jot down the things I need to get done on my next weekend break. Nothing makes you look more involved in a meeting than taking notes. Whether those notes are at all related to the meeting, only you will know.
Moments of Brilliance: Occasionally I come up with a brilliant idea. If I don’t write it down instantly, then I forget it as soon as I see a shiny object. My mind literally goes in a dozen directions at one time. I need to write down any semi-intelligent ideas I get or I will lose them forever. If you want the secret to cranking out a good blog post on a more frequent basis, then I would suggest carrying a notebook. Scribble down any half-baked idea that you have. You can decide later whether it is worth pursuing or not.
Communication: I have a 30 minute meeting with each of my direct reports each week. We discuss their progress against their goals, and anything either of us feels is relevant. I keep a running list for each one of them in my notebook. Instead of calling them into my office every time I have a thought, I just jot down the point and hit them all at once during their weekly meeting. I also capture any action items for them so we can follow up on them at a later point. I have a similar meeting with my boss. I also keep a running list for him. I appreciate that his time is valuable, so I use it efficiently by bundling my issues. I also keep a running list of people that I need to thank. This is something that should never slip my mind, but it does. I have dedicated time for sending thank you notes, so all I need to do is refer to my list at that time and no one is forgotten.
Writing: I am not sure at what point I can consider myself a writer, but I seem to be spending more and more time putting words on paper. I guess that makes me a writer. I digress. There will be moments in the day where I have a few minutes to kill. You know the meeting that is supposed to start at 10:00, but does not actually start until 10:05 or 10:10. Instead of playing Angry Birds, I can use those five or ten minutes to write. I am cranking out 500-1000 words here each day. I am writing twice that. Some of it I hold in reserve and some of it just doesn’t make the cut. That’s 2000 words a day. I work 10 hours a day, commute for two hours, and try to get in at least an hour of working out. That does not leave me a whole lot of time for everything else (you know showering, meals, reading,…). I need to take advantage of every minute. My trusty notebook allows me to do that.
At the end of each day, I review everything that I wrote down. I put any new tasks or meetings into my calendar, as well as scheduling time to follow up on any of those brilliant ideas I might have had. I type up any writing that I want to keep and I also put any information that I want to file for later into Evernote.
Can you record all of these things electronically? Yes is the answer, but for me it never works out to be quite as efficient as using a pen and paper. Maybe I am just old, but if you are recording all of these things electronically and that system is working for you then don’t change a thing.
I am fairly confident that people would think I was a complete idiot if not for my notebook. If you are not carrying a notebook, then you have not begun to tap into your potential. I beg you to get a notebook and give it a sincere try. I think that you will find if you use it effectively it will make you a better leader and perhaps a better person. It is a quick and easy way to Manage Better Now.
If you already carry a notebook, how do you use it to be more effective?
Photo: Notebook Rings (for June 1, 2010) [75/365] (Photo credit: Brenderous)