On what do you write notes


I couldn't think of a succint title for my question.

During the day I make a lot of notes - phone call conversations, notes on thoughts, actions, follow ups, planning etc. I don't seem to have a good system for this though and it's something I want to improve. So I am looking for feedback on what others do -

Do you use loose paper (legal pad) and use a new page for each record and then file it or toss it after it is processed

Do you keep a chronological log where everything goes in in sequential order - and you just process it and maybe cross reference and keep for archival purposes.

Do you have some other system.

As my GTD implementation progresses I think I will be doing more action/planning/listing electronically or with Mind Maps, so the extent of paper notes for this will reduce. But paper is a great medium for making quick notes with phone conversations and meetings.




I look forward to reading the responses to this question because I too am having major difficulty with this issue. I think I must be too much of a perfectionist and spend too much time worrying about the "perfect" method instead of just doing something!!!!! Anyway, I'm anxiously awaiting your responses.


I write on...

Post-it notes i have set up in my wallet. (these then go into my Inbox).

I brainstorm on loose-leaf, or sometimes larger paper.

Also, i write into the Palm Memo-pad, and Notepad. These go into my Digital Inbox, and get processed during the Weekly Review.

They all go into the Inbox, and none go astray anymore. They are processed, and then they go into the Trash.

If i was Famous, i would sell all these little notes!
Hmmmm, could you imagine if some famous Thinker or Creator had thousands of little notes to sell, and some of these notes had the first writing of some important idea?
Maybe there needs to be a new File...Notes To Auction On Ebay SomeDay....



I keep a bunch of jr legal pads around the house and I write one idea/thought on each one and dump it into my inbox.

At work, I have a top-spiral notebook, and I just write notes as they come and then throw the page into my inbox and go through it later line-by-line.

I keep a small (2x3") notebook in my purse and use that to write notes, and have a small (levenger) receipt folder as a 'purse inbox' to keep them and dump them when I get home.

And then finally my clie has a voice recorder, so I record stuff there in the car as well.


Actually, I've found this to be one of the best things about GTD. As a fellow perfectionist I used to spend hours trying to come up with the perfect note-taking system (not to mention the perfect notebook -- shape, size, colour, weight of paper...)

But for me the "collection bucket" principle has removed all the stressfulness from this issue. You no longer need to worry about coming up with one fantastic note-taking system -- you can have as many different notebooks, pads of paper, whatever, as you like, and as many different systems for taking notes, just as long as they all end up in "In" and then get processed.

(Of course, now I'm an obsessive perfectionist about having a really cool "In" wallet, but that's another story)


I realized in reading the post that this is a capture related question. Thanks for the input so far.

Thinking back to the initial implementation of GTD where David encourages us to sort through all our open loops - he mentions putting an action item, short note whatever, on a single page and then tossing it into an inbox to be processed later. I guess this is a related issue to on-going catpure which makes me wonder if a single page loose leaf approach is better and what I should then be doing is making sure I can handle those single loose leaf pages in a better way. In some ways maybe my wondering about a notebook where all the pages are together shows that I don't trust my system yet.

I also see that most of the other people responding here have several capture mechanisms.

So this has helped me clarify - this is fundamentally about capturing open loops and trusting my system to manage them accordingly.




I work with computers, which means I have an infinite supply of 8 1/2" by 11" scratch paper with mistakes printed on only one side of it. :) I imagine you could find a similar quantity of scratch paper for yourself by a two-minute inspection of the recycling bins at a copy store.

Using this saved-from-the-recycle-bin paper is important for me emotionally. I have tried using new, blank paper to write on, but I find myself worrying whether a note is good enough to deserve the paper I'm writing it on. Silly, I know, but who needs the hassle? I have a hard enough time just writing my ideas down without having to worry about paper. By using "wasted" paper, whenever I write a note, I can feel virtuous about my frugality and get on with my life.

I keep two fat stacks of this scratch paper. One is on my desk at home, and one is on my desk at work.

At work, I also have access to a paper cutter, so I will occasionally chop up a stack of full-size sheets into six slips each. These little slips are a nice size for taking phone messages or leaving notes for my co-workers.

In fulfillment of a childhood dream, I bought myself a spike for my desk at work. These smaller slips are a perfect size for spiking. As a short-term alternative to putting an action into my GTD lists, I will sometimes write down an action on on a slip, then spike it when I complete it.

Spiking an action you have just completed is incredibly satisfying. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Freud would have a field day, I am sure.

When I am not at either of my desks, I carry a 3" x 5" index card in my back pocket, folded in half. It fits perfectly there, and if I don't write anything on it that day, the card stock is thick enough to survive several days of being sat upon until I have something to write on it.

And what do I do with all these papers once I've made my notes? The same thing I do with everything else: at my first opportunity, I drop them into my Inbox. The notes get processed just like all the other things in my Inbox, like my incoming mail and buttons that have come off my shirts and notes from my young lady and the cat. It all goes into the top of David's Inbox processing flowchart, and it all winds up in one of the collection buckets. (Remember, "trash" is a collection bucket too.)

In short, notes aren't special. Put them in your Inbox, and let the process work its magic on them.


On what do you write notes

I travel all of the time and work in different contexts, so I have developed a system that allows me to caputure notes according to context.

1. In the office on computer -- Outlook (tasks, calendars etc.)
2. At client site (leather bound notebook with fancy paper from Franklin Covey) -- provides a level of professionalism
3. At dinner -- pocket brief case with note cards
4. Utility Back up: Note pad -- long meetings, lecture halls etc.

The trick then is to process them in the "in-box" to capture the action items. Most items captured on my computer go directly into the GTD system.

Week in review I catch any action item that hadn't migrated into the GTD system during the week. Otherwise the notes are either disgarded or placed into my reference file.


Re: note writing

My work life is filled with impromptu meetings and odd windows of time for me to brainstorm, etc. I use 4 primary capture tools.

Notebook/Journal in my planner - I have a half sheet size journal integrated in my planner. A simple post-it flag let's me know where I last stopped processing. This is primarily meeting notes, and I use a quadrant system to speed up processing later. (3 "zones" - NAs, Open Issues, Everything Else)

Notecards - 3x5 standard issue. At my desk, by my home phone and bed. In my briefcase. In a leather wallet designed to be portable. Quick notes that go to my INBOX.

Tabloid Pad - an 11x17 Pad of paper that can not be beat for brain storming/mind maps/sketches. I will occassionaly break out an easel pad (18x24) if I really want the "no boundaries" feeling. But 11x17 gives you a lot of room. (Levenger sells an 11x17 Oasis pad for the low price of 2 pints of blood, your left eye, and your firstborn ... I have bought cheapish ones at office supply or even bought a ream of paper, and had Kinko's make me glue top pads for next to nothing.)

Legal Pads - sometimes a man needs the comfort of blue lines on a canary field.

My biggest a-ha has already been echoed here. Get it "IN" and it doesn't really matter what it's written on. I use a notebook, so I have a chronological meeting record. If I am taking notes to keep/copy ... a legal pad. But I've processed napkins, envelope backs, and more in my inbox. Note taking media only matters if you are keeping it!



Remember the Cross-Pad?

The Cross pen people used to have an electronic notebook. It was about as think as a PalmPilot and about the size of a steno pad. A coworker gave me a demo several years ago. It provided the easy data capture of a standard note pad, but it could all be uploaded to a computer. It was a great idea. It did require that you write on an actual notepad with a special, and expensive pen containing a microchip. The pad would capture the pen strokes via the microchip. OCR in those days was primitive, so you have to write very clearly, which slowed me down considerably. If the pen were lost, it was expensive to replace.

I think it was ahead of it's time. I would love to see another incarnation of an electronic note padreader. This time, you would write with a cheap stylus and no paper would be required.

Think of an 8X10 PalmPad, where you could write full screen without graffiti. It could have the Palm OS installed also, so we don't need to carry both. It could have built in OCR, the technology is much better these days, you would highlight images to convert to jpeg, and convert the rest to character. Advanced functionality could allow people to share documents in a meeting, propose and accept changes - everyone walks away with all the same data. You could also add "personal Notes" not synchronized to the group. No more new guygirl sitting in the conference room copying the white board trying to remember the context of each bullet point. The multimedia potential of the large screen is obvious.

The original Cross Pad cost about as much as my first Palm III, so a PalmPad with the basic functionality I described should be much cheaper than a laptop or tablet computer.

What do other people think about my dream for a "PalmPad"?


Re: Remember the Cross-Pad?

jrdouce said:
The Cross pen people used to have an electronic notebook. It was about as think as a PalmPilot and about the size of a steno pad. A coworker gave me a demo several years ago. It provided the easy data capture of a standard note pad, but it could all be uploaded to a computer. It was a great idea. It did require that you write on an actual notepad with a special, and expensive pen containing a microchip. The pad would capture the pen strokes via the microchip. OCR in those days was primitive, so you have to write very clearly, which slowed me down considerably. If the pen were lost, it was expensive to replace.

Sounds quite similar in some ways to Logitech's Digital Paper...
...but the digital paper uses real paper, and the pen reads marks on the special paper.

Frank Buck

I capture notes directly in Outlook (if I am at my desk at work) or on my Palm if I am anywhere else.

If I am in a meeting, I start by creating a new task on the Palm and entering the date and tiltle of the meeting in the task line. I attach a note and turn the power off. During the meeting when I need to write something down, I turn on the Palm with the POWER button (instead of the task button) so that it brings me to where I was before I turned it off--that attached note. When the meeting is over, I have all of the notes in one place. When I get back to the office and sync, those meeting notes will be sitting there on the task list and serve as a reminder that I those notes need to be processed. From there, it's pretty much a copy and paste job. When I am done, if the notes themselves are of "lasting value," I drag the task over the Notes icon in Outlook and save the Note.

For short encounters--someone mentions something to me in the hall--I enter it directly in the task list and give it its proper category. (Yes, I am collecting, processing, and organizing all at the same time, but there are lots of times when it's easy enough to do.)


At the office I keep a black leather looseleaf binder on my desk. The pages are 5 x 8 and are individually dated, one item to a page. The pages are large enough to take whatever notes I need when on the phone, talking with a co-worker, etc., but small enough to fit into my "In" box (also black leather). I like to keep a clean desk with nice accessories. I "feel" more in control when everything is neat. That's part of what I like about GTD: it helps me keep the "feel" right while I am getting the work done.

When out of the office, I carry 3 x 5 index cards in my pocket and (when in a business context) a leather folder with 8.5 x 11 white paper for more extensive notes. Each of these can be cycled through the "In" box when I get back to the office.

As for gadgets, I now limit myself to my notebook computer and carry it everywhere. I gave up my PC as too limiting.


Recycled paper! I agree with the poster above who pointed out how it's good for karma to use paper that's been printed on one side for notes.

I'm a writer, and print out a fair amount of stuff to reread on paper. When I've finished a book, I pile all the one-side-printed paper up and use it either for printing the next article or book, or use it on a clipboard that sits on a low table next to my desk. I can doodle, write notes, record the amount of time I work on projects, or just write ideas on this paper. And I don't feel bad when I dump it for "real" recycling.


Printouts with confidential info.

In some environments it is not possible to recycle single sided printouts for notes because these printouts may contain confidential information :( .


I use an Avery 8.5" x 11" 300-page record book. Everything gets recorded in there. It's leather bound and has a professional appearance, so I'm not embarrased to take it out. During my Weekly Review (or more often, if necessary), I review my notes and transfer any necessary information into my system on Outlook.

This works really well for me. If there is something that might have seemed unimportant and I did not transfer into the system, I still can flip back to it for reference.


I use a 4150 series HP iPAQ for my capturing while out of the office and Outlook while in. I don't use a lot of paper for scratching quick notes anymore. Digital capture saves me a lot of time that I use for more important things. :)


I use a notebook for taking notes: at the office, in meetings, ... . A post shows me where I stopped processing. I try to process the notebook first thing in the morning. This allows me to reply to a lot of questions in less than 24 hours (can you forward me that presentation etc...) which gives a good impression. Other things go on the NA-lists.
Processing the notebook on a daily basis made me really trust the notebook.

Additionally I always make sure that I have some empty sheets of paper in my filofax for those moments when it is not practical to have a filofax and an notebook at hand at the same time (airplanes, ...)



The Treo 600 is easy to write fast on, because of the built in keyboard.
Then you do not have to rewrite it.


A tool for every context

I capture in three places, depending on my context.

At my desk and in meetings, I capture directly into my Tablet PC using a Side Note in OneNote or directly into Outlook.

In the office but away from my desk, I tend to use my Pocket PC to capture a quick thought in Pocket Informant.

When I'm not "carrying" or am in an environment where using one of these digital tools is impractical, I fall back on my trusty NoteTaker wallet. The note goes directly into my Inbox for processing when I return to the office.

I've found that it matters less what you write it down on/in and more that you do it immediately, when the idea is fresh in your mind.