Welcome to the Positively Living Podcast. I’m your host Lisa, and I love questions! I’m a questioner by nature, which is ideal for coaching, but I also love answering questions too. In each episode, I provide my email and Instagram and encourage you to message me if you have questions or thoughts and I am delighted that many listeners take me up on this. I do respond personally to messages, but I also want to share my expanded responses here, too because I know these questions are universal.
Today’s focus is on how to organize your notes and ideas. So if you’re challenged with that, you’ll want to keep listening.
Q: I need help with this badly: I write down notes on random pieces of paper and then not being able to find the information that I need in an organized way. The same thing happens even when I write things down in a notebook. Feels like I’m always losing phone numbers, passwords, and important reminders or to-do items or can’t make sense of things when I go back to look at it because everything is so scattered- I need a better system to keep all of this organized and easily accessible. I also feel like I often have too much information floating around in my head and it can be stressful. Suggestions?
A: Oh how I feel you on this! You aren’t the only one with this challenge.
First, let’s identify what’s happening here. We’re trying to capture information with the purpose of retrieving it later (this is information management as described in episode 86 on the 3 systems to organize your life + business). The whole point of organizing is to be able to access what you need quickly. That’s for any kind of organizing. For physical organizing, it’s also for you to be able to put it away quickly too.
How to Organize your Notes and Ideas
With this in mind, multi-passionate creatives love to learn and scan… and tend to take lots and lots of notes. Always. (Ask me how I know.) We need to figure out a way for you to take these notes and properly process them and access the information that you’ve collected.
I’ve always been a copious notetaker, but it took awhile to figure out the best way for me to capture and review my notes. And that is key. As you have probably seen, there are TONS of options out there vying for your purchase — not only project and task management platforms, but digital notebooks (like Rocketbooks) and old-school journals with the BUJO approach (aka bullet journaling). All these are great solutions, but not yet.
Step One – Discover your Best Approach
I know it’s tempting to try these options, but what’s most important before any of those is to figure out your process of collecting the information, assessing it, and accessing it later. This is what I work on often with my clients because it’s critical to figuring out your best approach and matching up the platform to use. And it’s probably the least exciting aspect of it. Sorry, not sorry. It’s gotta be done.
Step Two – Reduce Clutter
Let’s address the “too much information” floating around in your head. That’s mental clutter and it keeps you from focusing properly. It’s likely why you grab post-its and notebooks and anything to write it down, thinking that will help. You need to start regularly clearing your mind. David Allen calls it a mind sweep; others call it a brain dump. Whatever you call it, it’s necessary to pull what has your attention out of your brain and into a safe space to process. I have a worksheet called the Focus File I use with clients that takes 5 minutes to clear your mind (and a few more to process).
I often see clients do a mind sweep and then call it a ToDo list. As I guide you in episode 69 on tackling your todo list, a list from your brain and inbox and wherever else you’re collecting it from is NOT your ToDo list. It is your TO CHOOSE list. Now we get to the choosing.
Step Three – Ask Yourself This
Ask yourself what categories you’re dealing with and what problems you are having tracking this information: Tasks to work ON Or IN business? CRM for client follow up? Project deadlines? General todos for life and business?
You need to document these categories to understand what you need to be tracking and why, then consider the easiest way to capture the information for you and where to place it to remind you what needs to be done. You may receive info from others. You may have ideas yourself. You may take notes as you learn. How is the information coming in? And where does it need to go? Where do you need to use it?
Step Four – Keep it Simple
You want to consider not only how it works now but how it would be easiest for you going forward. Remember, your system won’t work if you can’t create the habit to go with it. Once you have this mapped out then you can figure out how to capture and calendar what needs doing.
While I’m a big fan of many different productivity apps, I am obligated as your coach to remind you that it doesn’t matter which one you use. I know it matters which one you choose so that you use the right one for you. But ultimately, it can be any platform you want. It could be pen and paper. If you know the steps of the process, and you take the time to capture, assess, and assign, you’ll be able to track your notes confidently and access the information easily.
Step Five – Triage
One of the things I do with my clients is handle how things ARE NOW while we address how to get where we’re going. If you are overwhelmed, triage is necessary. So here is what I recommend: As you’re establishing your new workflow, set up a dedicated basket or bin for all those post-its and notebooks for you to review and process as you go. You are going to set aside some extra time to go through these. Once you decide on categories, assign a quick set of colors tomark these notes and notebooks with those colors to help you divide and conquer as you process it all. You’ll resolve a good bit of your frustration immediately!
Since we’re talking about collecting information and note-taking, it’s important to discuss WHY we do it and what the #1 issue that I see happen with my clients : NOT creating the space to review and assess their notes. Collecting information without assessing and processing is the same as collecting objects without using them. It creates a form of clutter: mental clutter for sure but also physical clutter if you are using notebooks that fill a drawer or digital clutter if you are using up hard drives space. Most importantly, it defeats the purpose. When you are creating a workflow for yourself, build in the time to review what you have collected.
For example, when I create my coaching packages, those don’t just involve the time I spend coaching my clients. Those include preparing for a session (reviewing information, establishing questions and updates needed) and reviewing notes after each session. When I review the notes, I’m searching for action items, which I send (via an awesome checklist in Google docs that lets you check and cross things off the list for the best dopamine hits ever). When I set up the coaching appointments and block off time in my calendar, it includes time before the session to ensure my technology works and I have what I need including my notebooks (and yes that includes coffee) and time after to review notes.
So, if you are attending a workshop or watching a webinar, be sure to block time not only to attend but to review those notes after for what to do next. That’s the whole appointment.
And if you take notes while chatting with someone or get an idea and start doing research, save the information and then mark your calendar with an appointment to review it.
That’s all for today, but we’ll have many more Ask Lisa segments if that sounds good to you. I hope these questions remind you that you’re not alone and that the simple, self-aware path will get you where you need to go.
What did you think? Do you want to hear more? Do you have questions to add to this conversation? As always, please message me on Instagram @Positively_Lisa or email me, and I will answer you personally. You can always find my information in the show notes.
If you’d like to access the worksheets and checklists I use to help my clients declutter their brains and tackle their to-do lists, you can find the original collection in the free resources library and an upgraded collection including workbooks and mini-training videos in the resources vault. Head to www.positivelyproductive.com/vault and use the promo code PODCAST for a special listener discount.