Just the other day, I was delivering a workshop on effective teams - and especially, being a good team member - and I touched on effective tools for managing yourself. The one I advocate most strongly is the good old-fashioned notebook for hand-writing, well, notes. For more than 20 years, I've used a 9 1/4 x 7 1/4 ruled notebook for recording to-do lists, phone calls, meetings, conversations, thoughts and plans. More importantly, my notebooks are my archive of a professional life, proving invaluable time and again as a reminder and record keeper.
Several years ago, while preparing to sit the PMP exam, I took a short course on study skills along side the more formal exam-prep course. It had been a long time since I'd taken actual classes, and now older and marginally wiser I wanted to learn from past mistakes by fixing the thing I didn't know - how to be a good learner. My most important take-away from the class: hand-writing your notes improves your retention of the information. This wasn't news to me, but a reinforcement of something I already knew.
This recent article reinforced the concept again, in the midst of the age of the laptop and tablet. Despite the increasing presence of the electronic palimpsest at meetings, classes and workshops, the notebook is still a superior tool for recording and remembering. I think it provides the most accurate record of an individual's thoughts and experiences because it is in their own words and is permanent - there is no delete key in a notebook, formatting for emphasis is immediate, version control is maintained by the chronological imperative of page order, and it provides the ultimate in "track changes" functionality.
I have had trysts with the electronic note-takers, but have always returned to my reliable hard-back friend. Ultimately, though, everyone needs to find their own touchstone, the tools simple or otherwise that work for them. Trial and error is the best test for this - don't marry it on the first date, take it out a few times to get to know it. Too often I've seen people adopt instantly and wholesale a tool that they've seen others use effectively, or that they've sampled briefly and suddenly believe it will solve all of their problems (I'm looking at you MindMapper). These relationships usually end badly, with the tool abandoned on the bookshelf or desktop and the disappointed user either returning to a tried-and-true approach or seeking a new companion.
My notebook is just that: mine. I use it in ways that work for me. I try new adaptations every now and then, but the central tool has remained constant: 192 blue-lined pages, blank and awaiting my scribblings. Here are some things that have worked for me, and couple that haven't:
Ultimately, the tool has to work for the user in order to be effective, and the notebook works for me. There is some science and logic behind its effectiveness, and so I always encourage folks to consider the old-fashioned notebook as a option for personal and professional organization. Some might even consider it a variation on the hipster PDA, "cheap, lightweight, freeform organizer that doesn't need batteries and is unlikely to be stolen".
Who is Robyn?
My career as a research project manager is rewarding, dynamic, challenging, and fun. I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience in communication, organization, and common sense approaches in research management and leadership, and to enabling others to learn and grow in this exciting career.