Take Notes, You Show-Off

Who are you kidding, Mr. or Mrs. I Don’t Need to Take Notes Because My Memory is a Steel Trap?  I know who you are. You’re the one at the meeting without a notepad on the table.  You’re the one who listens to a client complaint over the phone while driving rather than writing down the specifics at your desk.  You’re the one who tells people to send you an email to remind you rather than put it into your own reminder system yourself.  

You do everything in your head, because it works most of the time.  Well, most of the time isn’t good enough anymore.

I know, because I, too, used to rely on my steel trap rather than write anything down.  Then I saw the light and became an avid note-taker, because the upside is so big. 

Taking notes is one of the most powerful habits you can form in your daily routine.  Why and how?

1.     Show people you are listening to them.  They say something important, and you say, “That’s really important.  Do you mind if I write that down?  I want to make sure I remember that right.”  It’s an observable behavior that shows people you’re taking them and what they’re saying seriously.

2.     Tune in to the person you’re talking with.  Capturing people’s exact words and using them in the discussion really helps to connect at other people’s level.  The power of knowing and using someone’s exact words amplifies your understanding of them, as well as their ability to understand you.

3.     Build trust quickly and consistently.  When you write something down that you’re supposed to follow up on, you’re more likely to do it.  Following through on your word is the most important way to build trust with clients, colleagues and employees, and trust is at the core of every relationship you have.

4.     Create a reference for mutual agreement.  In important situations, take notes and then record them for the group to reference together.  If you can send out a summary email and get everyone to review, then you know you’re all on the same page – literally.

5.     Make a paper trail to settle disagreements and create accountability.  If you memorialize conversations and get everyone to agree, you’ll be able to look back on the group email if questions come up about who was supposed to do what and by when.  Even better, people know they can and will be held accountable to the group from the get-go, and so will try even harder to fulfill their role(s) before they let the team down.

6.     Record thoughts without having to act on them.  If you’re in a mind-wandering or personal brainstorming session, spit out your notes as fast as you think by using voice memos and then transferring them to a word document later.  It will keep you in “flow” and on top of all those ideas floating around together.

7.     Don’t blow the details.  When it comes to numbers, dates, amounts, and other crucial details, write them down for 100% accuracy.  They say never do math in public.  This applies to using your memory for really important-to-get-right data, too.

8.     Save room for more important stuff.  Like a computer, your brain has a general storage limit.  You can only keep so much in there before you start to lose track of it all.  Besides, the less you focus on remembering things that you could record, the more brainpower you leave yourself to explore big-picture ideas.

9.     Quit stressing about things rolling around in your head.  The thing about using your memory for to-do lists and reminders is that you’re always thinking about them to remember them.  “Pay that rent tomorrow morning,” you tell yourself before going to bed.  It wouldn’t be surprising if you stress out about it in a dream that night.  Instead, use a note pad next to your bed to record things like this when you think of them at night so you can sleep better.

10.  Feel accomplished.  Who doesn’t like crossing stuff of to-do lists?  It’s a great feeling to get things done, so make more notes about things you need to do and then cross them off.  Make “make a to-do list” the first one to get you rolling and build momentum.

11.  Record notes with your phone while driving.  We all come up with really important ideas when we can’t write them down.  During a drive to and from work or to a client meeting is a popular time for things to pop into your head.  If you want to get them most of your thoughts, take a moment to activate your hands-free device and make a note or set a reminder to follow up on something later.

The point, here, is that you do not get bonus points for trying to remember everything in your life that’s important.  You get major points, though, for following through on what you said you’d do and freeing up space for profound ideas and getting a good night’s sleep. We do too many things in a given day, are pulled in too many directions, have too many people who hold us accountable to risk using our memory when a simple note to ourselves would do the job 100% of the time with 100% accuracy.