Four Reasons To Keep Good Notes

“Keep notes? Are you kidding?!,” you say. Don’t worry. I used to say the same thing. I thought I was brilliant and smart enough to just remember everything.

Many of the most successful people I know always have a notepad with them. My impression is that they use it constantly.

One person in particular kept scrupulous notes about his activities as a top leader in his organization. He would fill notepads from cover to cover, and then box them for storage. As occasionally happens, even in good businesses, the company ran into a bad legal situation. My friend was the prosecution’s primary target. Those boxes of notebooks, filled with page after page of detailed notes, saved his neck.

That example alone should have been enough to motivate me to keep notes, but it took something more: a pain point.

A Pain In The… Ego

In the course of my career, I had the opportunity to work with a note-taker. This person documented every meeting and every action item. At some point later I would inevitably be called over to their desk, and they would point at an item in their notes and demand a status update or an explanation.

Here’s where I rediscovered a communication truth: the spoken word is unreliable. Two people can hear the same thing and come away with two completely different understandings.

The Power of the Written Word

Many times, the notes they had in front of them did not match my understanding of what was supposed to happen. I couldn’t argue that they were wrong though, because I didn’t have notes to back me up. I would protest and blubber on, and the other person would just stare at me silently and keep their finger pointed straight at their notes. I often left feeling like an incompetent fool, and there’s nothing I hate worse – especially if the other person is a peer.

That’s when I realized something else: written notes are powerful and persuasive, even if they are completely incorrect.

Saving Time and Relationships

So I started keeping my own notes. I recorded everything that might be relevant to the tasks we discussed – phone calls, emails, meetings, etc. It felt time consuming at first, but it saved time later.

From then on, we could compare notes to make sure expectations lined up. If an issue came up, we both had records we could use to find the core issue and solve the problem together.

Our working relationship improved and my self-confidence was increased. I no longer felt like an incompetent fool, and now walk with my head high.

I know you’re a busy person. You probably skimmed this whole post just like I do. Here’s a summary to make your life easier:

STAR Summary:

  • I worked with a person that kept good notes.
  • I didn’t take notes, which led to mismatched expectations and humiliating confrontations.
  • I began taking detailed notes of everything.
  • My detailed recordkeeping saved time, led to a better working relationship and improved my self-confidence.

Four Reasons To Keep Good Notes:

  1. Spoken communication is unreliable.
  2. Written notes are powerful and persuasive, even if they are incorrect.
  3. Written records save time in the long run by clarifying expectations and giving you a tool to solve problems together.
  4. Having records can lead to better working relationships and improve your self-confidence.


Things I Wish I Had Learned in College: Time Management

Actually, I wish I had learned this before college. I managed to squeak by with down-to-the-minute deadlines, graduating with a respectable 3.7 GPA, but “just squeaking by” doesn’t cut it in the real world. Not long-term. Not if you want to be effective or successful.

Successful people have their act together. And it’s really hard to have your act together when you can’t manage your time effectively. Learning that skill has been a long journey, and I am not where I would like to be yet – but I have improved. Below are some of the resources that have helped me along the way.

Time management resources:

Did I miss any? What do you wish you had learned about time management?

Where is the line on professionalism?

Where do you draw the line between your professional identity and your personal one?

Recently, a leader of a worldwide social media organization took his personal Facebook profile private, saying that he wanted to reserve that space for people he actually knew in real life. He then started a fan page on Facebook for friends he has yet to meet personally. His only other option was to manage complicated friend lists. Meanwhile, another worldwide leader in the social media field continues to add friends to his personal Facebook account.

On Twitter, one respected professional tweets only professional content – no personal tweets are posted beyond the occasional follower interaction. Yet another respected professional tweets out their rants, ravings, LOLs, location, and what they had for breakfast along with relevant and valuable content.

Which method is better? Should a person maintain a professional identity or should you be free to be yourself online? Does who you work for affect that decision? Do you have separate professional and personal identities or are they one and the same for you?