A simple notebook makes all the difference

For years I have been listening to audiobook after audiobook and podcast after podcast about how to improve my productivity.  I’ve even paid big bucks (thousands and thousands of dollars over the years) for in person productivity seminars and workshops.  Just about all of these things say the same thing.  Sure some of them change a few ideas and put their own spin on it, but essentially they all have the same origins.

“Write things down” they say.  “It will change your world” they say.  I’ve heard it all.  I’ve tried many different programs. I’m a software guy afterall.  But I have always had horrible success and frankly nothing but frustration over the years.

I’ve tried putting every note possible into my Outlook calendar and then my Google calendar once I dumped that dinosaur, Outlook.  I’ve tried creating an Excel spreadsheet and then a Word document for all my notes. I’ve even purchased programs and tried to write a few of my own over the years.  Let’s just say all this did was help put the Bicardi children through college and got me nowhere close to the effective person all those authors and podcasters promised.  What a load of hooey!!!!

Then it hit me.  Software is the problem!  Why not just a good ol’ fashioned spiral bound notebook.  You know the type.  Like those we used to use in our school days.

I have been doing it for about two weeks and I can tell you I have never felt better about the progress of such a simple activity in all my life.  My method is pretty simple.  I start each day on the next available blank page.  I always start the day on the right sided page.  Call it O.C.D., Trent, I don’t care.  😉  It makes it easier to thumb through pages looking for a specific date.

Then as I go through each day, I simply write the time; a dash mark; the client name (if there is a client associated with this entry) and then I write a brief recap of what I was doing.  If the entry is to include an ending time, like I would use for billing, I also write that after the starting time.

Then I continue about my day and whenever I feel the urge to move on to a new task or if I have to leave my seat to get a coke; have lunch; take a phone call, etc, I force myself to make another entry.

At the end of the day, I start a new page entitled “FOR TOMORROW”.  On this page I write all the things that I must get done.  Not necessarily to get done tomorrow, but to at least think about tomorrow.  I refer to this page as the name would imply… tomorrow.

I find myself looking back at my list of stuff to accomplish much more than I ever thought I would.  I force myself to look at it whenever I return to my seat, finish a task, etc.

I don’t just record things like tasks for clients.  If I have to go walk the dog, I write that time in my journal.  If I have to help my wife carry in groceries, I write that time in my journal.  It doesn’t matter what I am doing, I write it down.  If it takes more than five minutes, then I write it in my journal from the time I get up until the time I go to bed.

A wise man by the name of Peter Drucker once said, “You cannot manage what you cannot measure”.  I simply don’t know any better way to measure my time than by keeping this journal.

There is just something about the simplicity of a spiral notebook.  I can still doodle in the corners and write random thoughts that I want to look at later.  It’s a great place to take phone messages from callers for my wife, etc.   I also write poems from time to time.  I write down info from advertisements I hear on the radio (on the rare occasion when I actually listen to radio). Basically I write whatever the mood strikes me tells me to write.  This simple spiral notebook has become a total recap of my day and it has become very important to me.  A prized possession if you will.

I always envisioned such a thing to be a burden, but it really has helped my productivity and it’s nice to be able to have it regardless of the state of my computer.  I like to read what I have written even when I can’t have my computer with me.

I can take my journal with me to meetings; clubs; etc.  I love it.

The key for me is not just in writing down the time I spend on things, but also in the daily forced recall of the things I wrote down the night before on the page entitled “FOR TOMORROW”   I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it appears that the simple act of writing all those things on that list each night somehow helps me get more done the next day.  Keep in mind, I don’t just write down the new thoughts and tasks.  I copy EVERY item that was on yesterday’s “FOR TOMORROW” page unless I have marked it as completed today.

I don’t know if this qualifies as good hermit food, but I think it kind of does.  It makes my life  simpler and causes me to stay in thought more, so I think it qualifies.





5 thoughts on “A simple notebook makes all the difference

  1. I almost forgot… I also write down whenever I spend money or my wife spends money. It helps us know when and why we spent it.

  2. I strongly agree.
    And, my basis for the process is the scripture:

    2 And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. Habakkuk 2:2 KJV

    It makes all the difference to not only write it down, but to review it, too. How many times does a thought occur to us and then is gone, poof! , like that!
    When we write things down, we are able to go back, review and remember those momentary thoughts. Then we discover that they complete a portion of our process and our plan. The written word is like the fuel for our vision plan.

    It is very important to write things down…. and review them.

    I strongly agree, Vern!

  3. I knew there was a verse about writing stuff down, but I have to be honest in that I couldn’t find it. 🙂

    I guess the next part of being my Hermit Self is to get back into studying God’s word more each day. Thanks for the reminder to do that as well!!

  4. Very interesting article, Vern. And it’s kind of strange, but I would lean more toward the ‘antiquated’ act of posting things in a notebook as well. All of this danged technology (DON’T get me started!! lol!!) that is supposed to be ‘saving’ us time and effort ends up costing us MORE…jmho. If it were not ‘necessity’ now due to potential emergency situations, I would NOT even own a cell phone now. Give me a good old landline anyday, the cell phone companies practically rob us as it is. I would not miss it if I did not have one at all. Oh, and keep posting the ‘hermit’ tips, as I would have no problem whatsoever becoming a hermit. I think I’d get along a lot better in life…it would work for me 🙂

  5. HI Kris,

    Thanks for the comment. Everyone laughs at me saying that I want to become a hermit. But deep down I truly believe I would enjoy it. I’m not sure my wife would care for it nearly as much as I would though. 😉

    I suppose I would miss the internet and computers, but other than that I think I could really enjoy. My buddy in Texas laughs at me because I own a cheap-o flip phone. It takes photos the size of a postage stamp and has no fancy features, apps, etc. It’s basically the bare necessities only. I’m the same way when it comes to a lot of other technology things.

    But, conversely, I do enjoy technology for some things. I like finding a solution to a problem with technology. ie: I built a pretty cool water system out on our land using some pumps and switches. It kept the water flowing in a place where nobody thought it was possible.

    I am also just now learning to use and program micro-controllers. The PIC and Arduinos to be specific. I am loving that I can make physical circuits do something completely different. It’s just a hobby for now, but some day I am sure it will be put to practical use in something I am doing. 😉 For now… it’s just a hobby and for knowledge. Knowledge is always good, right?

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