As I’ve mentioned many times before, I rely heavily on a pocket notebook for recording ideas and jotting down expenses or things I want to investigate further. At least once a day, I run through these notes and deal with them in whatever way is appropriate for each note. I have found this system invaluable for my professional, personal, social and financial spheres of life.
I have tried a lot of different specific methods for doing this, but over time, I’ve found that a few elements work very well.
The Cheap Solution
Some of the suggestions below either rely on expensive items that I’ve found at sales or received as gifts or rely on my smartphone. For many of you, these items really won’t apply, so I’ll discuss what I use when neither my smartphone or the other items are available. This is the basic solution for keeping track of things in your pocket.
For the paper, I rely on pocket spiral notebooks. These are sometimes called reporter’s notebooks. I got this idea from my father, who has used them for many years to record details of his fishing expeditions.
You can find them really cheap – Amazon has one brand for $0.64 per notebook and I’ve seen them in bulk for much less than that in some places. I find that the ones that are spiral bound on top work really well.
I also keep a mechanical pencil in my pocket. I don’t trust inexpensive pens because if they leak, things become disastrous. You can use whichever ones you find that are cheap. I find that the thick point pencils work best, like these ones, because the lead doesn’t break as often (at least for me).
The system itself is straightforward. Whenever I have an idea, an expense, a piece of contact information, or anything else that I might want to recall later, I take out the notebook and jot it down by itself. I will sometimes take multiple notes on the same sheet – if I do that, I draw three or four thick lines separating the idea.
When I go home and I’m ready to deal with those notes, I literally tear out and throw away the finished sheets as I deal with them. If a sheet has been entirely handled, it’s gone. That way, when I open the notebook later, I know I just need to open to the front page and an empty space will be available in the first page or two.
Improving the Cheap Solution
Honestly, I stick with the cheap spiral bound notebooks, no matter what. They do their job almost perfectly for this task, so why pay more?
For the writing, though, mechanical pencils are merely my fallback. The big drawback with them is that if you’re writing a detailed note, it’s really easy for the writing to smudge while the notebook is closed and in your pocket. Pens solve that problem, but most inexpensive pens have a tendency to leak in your pocket.
My ideal pen for this kind of quick note-taking is one I received as a gift a while back. It’s a Fisher Space Pen. The pen has a sturdy metal case and cap that seems to be indestructible in my pocket, plus the pen never seems to fail, ever. I never have to doodle with it to get the ink to “start.” I even dropped one in the yard before the first winter snow and found it after the thaw – I took it inside and it started writing as normal within a second.
Using a Smartphone
If you prefer to use your smartphone for this kind of recording, my recommendation is to use the free Evernote app. You simply record a note in the Evernote app in your phone and it automatically syncs to any computer you might access your Evernote account from. If you prefer to sketch instead of writing words, you can use Skitch, which lets you save sketches to your Evernote account. All of it is free, provided you’re not creating hundreds of notes a month.
Most of the time, I use Evernote for my note-taking. I do take along a notepad and pen when I know I’m going into situations where using my smartphone might not be the best idea, like a lecture or something like that, and I usually pack them when I’m traveling in case I don’t get an opportunity to recharge my phone.
Here, processing the notes just means sitting down in front of a computer and running through all of the notes in your “Miscellaneous” folder, which is where Evernote saves notes by default. Once a note is dealt with, I delete it. This system saves paper and enables you to copy and paste things instead of having to re-enter them from your pocket notebook.
The Real Key
The real key to a system like this is simply getting in the routine of doing it all the time. It doesn’t matter which tools you use – pencil and paper, pen and paper, or smartphone. What matters is that you get used to dumping ideas, contact information, expenses, and other items out of your head and into a trusted system that you know you’ll review on a regular basis. It’s that regular review that makes this work, as you begin to trust that if you jot it down as a note, you really will deal with it later, and the more you deal with these items, the more “front and center” the idea of making the notes will become.
I’ve found this system absolutely invaluable. I hope you do, too.