I am harping these days on the carrying of some sort of notebook with you at all times. I can tell you this: Every single one of the great leaders I have worked for, people for whom technology was a wonderful tool, have nevertheless carried a paper notebook. Most of them also adopted the iPad™ and Microsoft’s Surface™ tablet, but they simply never stopped carrying paper. Why? Why bother with paper when you can type into your tablet anything that could otherwise go onto paper? Why be so obviously backward when it seems that everyone around you is tapping away into technology?
Their ages may have had something to do with it. They were, by and large, much older than me and probably far less enamored of technology. But I suspect something more was afoot, and so I (your humble blogger) simply asked them: Why do it? What are YOUR reasons? And here are ten good reasons from several of my former superiors, in their own words:
- Taking notes, either on paper or by typing into a tablet, demonstrates a commitment to what is being said.
When my boss gave me an assignment, writing it down immediately showed great respect for what she was saying. The process of committing it to paper, to reducing the assignment to succinct notes, often resulted in a refinement of the assignment, and clarity is always an important thing. It also ensured that I understood precisely what she wanted of me, especially the time-frame for delivery. Taking notes as I did showed that I cared, that I took it seriously. Moreover it started a written record of the task and hopefully its successful completion.
- Take notes when the idea strikes you, not later.
You never know when inspiration will strike! A note about an idea when it first arises gives that idea life. It allows you to work the idea, to form it, to tweak it. You can cross it out, mind-map it to an even greater idea, and give it a ledger. Even cocktail napkins taped into my notebook have served the purpose.
- Delegation of duties works best when it is known that an archive of action exists.
When there is an active archive of what was said and to whom an assignment was given, the resulting commitment is that much stronger. Asking a subordinate to confirm back to me their delegated task ran the risk that they would somehow embellish the task or get it altogether wrong. If I am writing it down – in front of them and they in front of me – the commitment is strengthened. There is no better place to put a time-stamp on deliverables than in a notebook, a notebook that is with you always and everywhere.
- Your Busy Life All in One Place
The notebook is where I carry something about everything that is important to me. I carry information about many things, like insurance policies, roadside assistance contact numbers, active issues for which copies of recent correspondence could be useful, contact information or details, travel itineraries, an expense log, a major event index, and so on and so on. My organization’s mission statement, the tactics for which I am responsible, our strategic initiatives … anything that I want to be able to access quickly, or, for that matter, to constantly review and review again, is all in one place.
- Mission Statements (now that you mention it)
Organizational or personal mission statements are the brass ring if you will, that to which we aspire. It makes total sense to have them within reach at all times. Said one of my former bosses:
The mission statement and my company’s credo were selling tools and I cannot count the number of times that I whipped them out in a meeting to underscore a point about why doing business with my company made sense. They were useful props to be sure. I was proud of them.
- TooDue Lists
I call them TooDue™ lists and I have several, segregated by personal versus business versus charitable activities. I am not alone:
Despite what others may say, I have long preferred a written task list to a computer or tablet based or cloud based listing, if for no other reason than the sheer joy of drawing big fat red lines through completed items. It just feels good.
Many of the men and women I have worked for have made it a nightly practice to journal about their experiences as a manager. They talk about the deals they have worked on, what went right and what not-so-right, and made comments about the people with whom they came into contact. Said one,
A journal belongs in every notebook. I would strongly urge you, Joe, to keep a diary, a journal of observations about the day you’ve just enjoyed or endured and quick notes about what made it so. How might you have done the day differently? Who figured into the success of your day and why? Write, write, write.
That’s my trademarked name for the part of my paper journal wherein I record my accomplishments. I got the idea after interviewing one of my bosses about a section in their daily planners wherein they recorded the positive achievements of their work.
It is a great place to log your achievements and to detail why those accomplishments actually mattered. Call it a CV Compendium, this make resume writing infinitely easier. Do it in the moment and include the dollar impact, the organizational benefit, and the impetus for the work. Why did you do it?
Our calendars, our schedules are now almost exclusively computer-based. Indeed, one of the rules by which I live my life is the admonition that “Exchange® Governs, always.” In other words, to know where I must be at any given moment, I turn to Outlook and, by way of its links through our organization’s Exchange Server®, I determine what meeting I committed to and where. But think about this for a moment: What if the meeting doesn’t come off as scheduled? No one bothers to go back and un-invite everyone to the meeting. What if you don’t make it to that meeting on time? No one ever goes into their Exchange-based calendars to note that of the 90 minute meeting, they missed the first 30 minutes. Those kinds of notes can be critical! Said one of my bosses:
Yes, the electronic calendar is the metronome by which our lives tick-tock away. Meetings get scheduled and cancelled by way of Outlook and it is without question the calendar of record. But once the day is over, I like having my schedule as a page in my notebook. It is often covered with notes I have made about venue changes made at the last moment, about how so and so did not show up on time (or about how I did not show up on time), about how I might have scheduled the meeting differently, and so forth. I cannot tell you how many times that has come in handy when a lawyer asks me about a particular meeting. It is all about discovery. Never forget that.
- It is DIFFERENT.
Carrying a notebook is different. It is a throwback to an earlier time, long before computers and laptops and tablets. Here is what one executive had to say:
It’s a differentiator of the highest order! Nobody does it anymore [carry a notebook around]. Just like the handwritten letter or the handwritten thank you card, a paper-bound notebook is guaranteed to stand out. Having ready access to information by means that does not require an internet connection or this or that many bars of cellular service will make you even that much more indispensable as an employee!
There you have it. I carry a paper notebook; in my case, it is a three ring binder. Can you think of a reason why I should not?