Whenever I start to take notes in public (which is often) I inevitably get this question:
HOW DO YOU GET ANYTHING DONE?
The implication is that my tiny, scrawled-in-all-directions doodle notes don’t actually lead to productive action. Totally untrue. Why? Because I have a workflow in place.
That means I have a system that ensures that ideas that start on handwritten notes end up as action items. Selling points? It's fun and each step is clear and replicable. If you do it the same way every time, it's easy to remember what to do.
However you choose to get things done, the FIRST step has to be easy, fun and (physically) accessible. Otherwise you'll never even get started. In my case, easy, fun & accessible translates to tiny notes. Easy to use and easy to carry. Boom.
Virtues of post-it notes and/or tiny notes:
- Easy to carry and therefore easy to find (because you're probably already carrying them)
- Not precious--you don't mind going through a bunch to get initial thoughts down
- You don't have to unlock your tiny notepad (ahem, phones)
- (In the case of post-its) You can stick them on things!
Before we go any further:
I know many people prefer to take notes on their phones. I'm not such a dinosaur that I don't get that. It's just that for me the phone opens up too many other stimuli--it's too distracting--and it's not visceral enough. So instead of going down a digital rabbit hole every time I want to remember something for later, I go the analog route, allowing me to briefly stop to write it down and then keep going.
I'm currently in a post-it phase but generally I like to make my own tiny notebooks: I show up at a local letterpress shop and ask if I can dig through their recycling. Trimmings, misprints, fun paper colors and textures—it's all fair game. I take what I like and cut it into roughly uniform pieces, clip it together with a simple clip, and I’ve got a little custom notebook made with thick, nice paper so every time i take it out it’s a bit of a treat to write on. If it's fun to use, I'm likely to use it.
Speaking of writing, there's another very important mechanism for that: a pen. But not just any pen. I like an inky pen--the kind that can explode all over your stuff and ruin everything. Living on the edge, truly. For me that means the pilot G5 or G7, and again, I use it because it feels nice to so it keeps the process of documenting ideas enjoyable. I also secretly judge people based on the type of pen they use (more on that at a later date). Secret’s out!
But we digress. What about the rest of that workflow that makes things get done? Well, here's the whole thing in 4 simple steps:
I write down an idea, a contact or something to look up later and it lives safely in my bag on a little note until I get home.
All the notes from the day end up in a pile on my giant desk. The pile becomes bigger and uglier and every few days I sit down and deal with it because the visual clutter becomes so offensive that I have to deal with it if I want the mental clarity to get anything else done.
I go through each component of each handwritten note and put it in a corresponding Evernote (I’m up to 159 of them). Every single thing that ends up on a tiny note has a specific place to go within Evernote to make it actionable. Sometimes the action is just “save for later and make it easy to find," which is totally fine. If a category doesn’t yet exist, I make a new one.
If the tiny note happens to be on a nice piece of paper and has some fun doodles, it goes in a little box on my desk (for the future when i finally do an art installation about workflow). If it’s more mundane, there's a recycling box underneath my desk.
The most pressing items go straight into the TO DO Evernote. Then a phone call gets made, or an email gets written, or a draft gets started and the process is in motion. Workflow!
My favorite part (of anything) but specifically as it relates to my workflow methods:
You don't have to remember anything. Which is great for me because I can't.
You get a chance to re-prioritize. An idea that's amazing in the moment may be less so later. If you have to look at and assess your notes again before they jump on the digital to-do list, you can weed out items that don't deserve to make it to the next step before they end up on a long, daunting list by default.
It's 3x the jokes. This is epic for funny ideas. You get to laugh once when you first hear or think of it; once when you first write it down; and once again when you get to look at it later while transferring it to your Evernote. That's a lot of bang for the laugh buck.
No need to do it my way--your workflow style can be as individual (or not) as any other part of your life. Fundamentally it's very simple:
Make it easy and fun to do the things you need to do and you might just get them done.