The value of writing it down

BlackBerry with notesPeople who have been in meetings with me will tell you that the first thing I do after I sit down at the table is to pull out my BlackBerry or open my notebook computer and start to take notes.

I use the MS Outlook notes function to take notes in meetings, telephone calls and to jot down random thoughts whenever they hit me. This forces me to review what I heard and thought when I “clean” up the notes by deleting or saving them.

Very often, I find myself stopping on a point that may have been quickly glossed over in a meeting or conversation. Sometime, the participants in a meeting do not give the points the time or attention they deserve as different individuals with greater rank, ego or just need push the discussion to suit their own purposes. Other times, a clear connection with something else I’ve been thinking about or working on will jump out at me during my review. Or I’ll simply find that quiet contemplation of the notes allows me to find meaning and significance that I had previously missed.

Management guru David Maister also adopts a similar approach.

How do you ensure that you remember and think about what is important in each day? Do you have other exercises and habits that work for you?

  • Judy Gombita

    Like you, I often take notes at meetings to capture information or ideas. Interestingly, I find that the majority of time I don’t reference the actual notes again, as the simple act of writing things down embeds the concept or at least sparks my interest and/or creativity.

    Generally, if I am going to pursue or follow-up on something, the fact that I found it worth noting (or I’ve been given a directive) is enough incentive to set me off on the next step (quite quickly). Usually that translates to more involved dialogue (and direct contact) with other staff and/or members or third-party suppliers, to mine their expertise and benefit from their input (and buy-in).

    One of my favourite Globe and Mail columnists is Harvey Schacter. (Have you noticed how often he cites blogs as sources, Joe? In particular, Jim Estill and his Time Leadership blog.) Anyhow, I quite enjoyed this week’s “The best of Monday Morning Manager: Harvey Schacter’s guide on how to handle everything from overflowing e-mail to meeting overload”

    Some of the ones I found the most interesting and useful:

    Self-Management: Delegating and avoiding procrastination

    Plan your day every morning on a 3×5 card: Mark down the three most important actions for the day, draw a line and then under it list other items that come to mind so you won’t forget them. For to-do items, mark the first action you intend to take.
    Source: Philip Humbert/Productivity Goal blog; Jim Estill/Time Leadership blog

    Ontario ombudsman AndrĂ© Marin gives himself a few decisions to make when he starts his daily run and doesn’t stop running until he has made decisions on all of them.
    Source: Ottawa Citizen

    Meetings: When to have them and how to finish early

    Stop a meeting after a complex agenda item instead of rushing on. Take time to recap and frame clarifying questions that come to mind. Similarly, at the end of meetings reiterate what has been accomplished and any plan of action agreed to.

    Sources: Pause Newsletter,

    (Currently the entire article is available online, but I doubt it will be for much longer. Access it at:

  • Lena Wan

    If I’m feel the need to be inspired-or just to break away from the traditional to-do list, I use a mind map. Mind maps were the brain child of Tony Buzan. He developed a system to help students take more effective notes using key words and images. I start my mind maps by writing down the topic smack in the middle of a blank page ( I may also draw something related to my topic) Then I create ‘branches’ using different coloured markers to illustrate main points. If I want to add something to my branch, such as an idea/thought/question that relates to the main point, I can add sub-branches. I feel this is a great method for not only organizing my day, but for taking notes in meetings as well. I can’t quite explain it, but there is something inspiring (almost childlike) about grabbing a fist full of markers (as opposed to a boring blue/black pen) and drawing all these branches. The best part of mind maps is that you literally have the ‘big picture’ sitting right in front of you. No rifling through piles of notes, trying to connect a point you made on page 1 to another one you made on page 9. With a mind map it’s all right in front of you. Check out this web site Or google mind maps. There are tonnes out there!

  • Hi Judy,
    You make some very good points. I especially like the one about stopping a meeting agenda after a complex item to provide participants with a chance to recap, consider the implications and ensure that any action items have been clearly defined and assigned.

  • Hey great post!
    I concur with Lena: I too have discovered Mindmaps and find them a powerful tool to brainstorm and to have a place to put all my ideas down without being restricted to the linear…it’s fab for creating ideas, concepts, articles, etc. Much easier to start the process of creating then staring at a blank page…Mindmaps come alive much faster.

    And wrt to reflection….As a coach, I believe reflection is very powerful tool…I journal a lot and encourage my clients to do the same. Reflection helps you capture and deepen your learning; build on insights; further your development and even hold you accountable for your mindset, attitudes and actions.

    The reflection is best when anchored in a query to deepen the learning. A few examples: what did I take away from that; what about __ was important; how might I do it differently if I could replay; what worked/what didn’t; what values were honoured; how do I want to show up in this conversation, etc, etc…of course there are 1,000 other possibilities for the query…depends on the context…

    Sometimes end of day reflection might simply be taking a moment to capture the highlights or ‘memorable moments’. We move/live/work so quickly that we often miss those moments so taking a brief pause to journal and write them down make them deeper, longer lasting and add meaning to what could sometimes be a frazzle day…ie. it could literally be anything and as fleeting as a second (e.g. a hearty laugh with a colleague, a cool sight, an acknowledgement that made you feel good…a job you know you did really well….anything!)

    Anyways, I’m now beyond posting…I’m rambling! So I’ll call it a night and count this as my evening reflection! tnx:)

    Eileen from Big Cheese Coaching

  • Hi Eileen and Lena,

    Your posts prompted me to visit the MindMap site and download the iMindMap software to try out. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • FYI, I am using Mindjet Mindmanager. There are lots of brands out there – but this is the one I am familiar with. They offer a 30 day trial…and there are resellers galore (more cost effective).

    Have fun!

  • I’ve been using Mindjet for a while. I love it. I use it for the simple i.e. plotting out episodes of Inside PR and my ongoing list of work priorities. And I use it as a brainstorming tool for writing outlines for plans.

    You’ll like the functionality of mindjet, Joe. You can sync it with outlook, URLs, docs on the network, other mindmaps, etc. Very useful.

    And, as I’ve recently picked up Getting Things Done by David Allen, I’ve noticed that mindmaps are a big part of the GTD system…so I’m part way there!

  • Judy Gombita

    Guy Kawasaki did a post on The Art of Visualization last week: