Do you remember those old banner ads about the one weird trick that doctors didn’t want you to know? I’m becoming more and more convinced that the trick was just taking good notes about your day to day life.
I’ve been taking notes pretty consistently for several years now, but my style and consistency has changed drastically over that span and I think I’ve finally found a flow that works well for me. It’s nothing crazy or complicated, but it works and that’s what’s important.
Get a Good Notebook
For starters, I use a cool notebook that I actually enjoy having. This is definitely the least important part of my flow, but if I’m being really honest having a notebook that feels nice makes me take nice notes. /shrug
Starting the Day
Moving on to the important stuff. The very first thing I do every morning when I sit down is flip to the last page I was on, skip a line or two from my notes from the previous day, and then write today’s date. I know, I know, it’s insane to think that at any point in the future you might want to know when you took a note. Seriously though, if I don’t force myself to start my day with writing the date down then I’m a lot more likely to end up forgetting to write notes overall.
Anyhow, the next step is to review everything from yesterday’s end of day. We’ll get to that in a minute, though.
Through the Day
You’re merrily going about your day when suddenly, something happens that may be even remotely useful to remember. What do I do?
Easy peasy. I make a bullet mark and just start writing. You’re writing for yourself here so the amount of detail is all up to you, but I find that being pretty detailed is better. I promise that you’re going to actually need to come back and read some of this stuff one day, so make sure that you’re giving yourself enough context to remember what the heck you’re talking about.
Looking back over notes trying to figure something out. Instead of an answer I just wrote "TEAMWORK IS DREAMWORK" in really big letters.— Linell Bonnette (@thelinell) March 18, 2016
Don’t let this be you.
I usually try to keep my bullet points to ideas or statements and then expound on that idea or statement using little sub-bullets. Something like:
- Why do staging containers just randomly die sometimes? - maybe it's a memory thing? It happens mostly when people make big requests - nothing I can find - let's try just adding a couple more tasks and see if it helps ... later in the day ... - Looks like adding more tasks helped with the staging containers, or at least masked the problem. #yolo
Sometimes I even go crazy and draw arrows and whatnot to link ideas together if they have other notes between them. It’s worth noting that I don’t go horribly out of my way to keep things super well organized. I stick mostly to just writing things as they come to me or happen since, if I need it in the future, it’s not like I can’t look a few lines further up.
End of the Day
I’m lucky in that my employer SchoolStatus is great about employees not working overtime unless it’s absolutely necessary. The problem is that sometimes I’m almost done with something when five o’clock rolls around but I’m not close enough that it’s worth sticking around to finish. In these cases it always feels like I’ve forgotten everything I was doing and I may as well be starting again.
You know an easy way to completely fix the problem?
At the end of every day I write down any key takeaways from the day, describe exactly what I’m in the middle of working on, and list out any tasks I need to take care of in the morning.
- End of Day - working on moving everything in the User class into a concern - I forgot to call the doctor, need to do that - remember that support ticket
Just like above, it’s easy peasy.
The key takeways are pretty simple:
- Keep it simple. I’ve tried all sorts of complicated schemes and I always end up messing them up and, honestly, weren’t all that useful.
- Morning and evening notes are the most important.
- You know the “write it so that anyone can understand it” rule for code? Follow that for your notes or you’ll regret it every time.