Monday, November 2, 2009

Writing Things Down

I take a ton of notes. I have to to keep everything straight, and to be able to recall everything that goes through my head and turn it into something useful. I recently came across Tim Ferriss' post about his his note-taking system and one of the most important points from that post is:

Information is useful only to the extent that you can find it when you need it. Most of us have the experience of note proliferation—notes on the backs of envelopes, billing statements, hotel paper, etc.–that somehow never gets consolidated. Consolidate and create an index.

I write everything down as soon as it happens or as soon as I have the idea.  I keep to-do lists and things like book notes separate, but all the thoughts and ideas I have, significant things I do or see, random observations on emotional state, just about everything, go into a file organized chronologically by day on my iPod touch. Information is useful only to the extent that you can find it when you need it. This is so important. I use tags within the notes to make sure that things are identified and moved to the right place. If I have an idea for a blog post- and if I can't start a draft right away- I'll write down the idea and tag it [blog]. Because my notes are digital, they're searchable, which makes things really easy to find- which is crucial to converting your ideas and them not just sitting there. Oddly, Tim doesn't use digital notetaking tools:

Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve noticed that some of the most innovative techies in Silicon Valley do the same, whether with day-planner calendars, memo pads, or just simple notecards with a binder clip. It’s a personal choice, and I like paper. It can be lost, but it can’t be deleted, and I find it faster.

I used to use paper notes but now I can't imagine using them. It's far faster to find information with searchable digital notes, and that the chances of paper notes being lost are higher than digital notes being deleted. Paper notes are only stored in one location, but digital notes are accessible anywhere and can be backed up in multiple locations and stored offsite. I can type much faster on my iPod touch than I could ever hope to write and my iPod goes everywhere with me all the time, so for me this is the best solution. I have had more than 6000 words down in one day.
I try and write things immediately as they come to me, so that the thought isn't lost when I move on to something else. There is a delicate balance that has to be struck between writing things down as soon as you have the thought- which gives the truest representation of what you're thinking at that very moment- while making sure that you don't cut it off by trying to write it down too fast, and you become preoccupied with writing about it, when more development of the thought might have followed.
For me it's crucial to write down everything and my note-taking system allows me to take everything down, keep it safe, organize it and convert ideas into action.

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