Take note

A really simple way to turn an ordinary notebook into a practical tool for conferences


Ok, this is embarrassing.  I’ve been to goodness how many conferences over the years, and I’ve struggled to know how to learn and process what’s said.

I’ve tried various systems over the years: When paper-based I’ve moved from Filofax to Moleskine; digitally, I’ve moved from laptops to iPad, from Word to Evernote.  But however smart the tools, I keep bumping into the fundamental fact, that I don’t know what to do with al the notes. I’ve tried the more formal systems. like the Cornell method, but while it’s fine for a student, it doesn’t work for me  at the moment

2345425A small lightbulb glowed in the dark when I went to a conference at Saddleback church in California, and they had a blank page at the back of the printed notebook.  ‘Use it’, they said, ‘for anything you really want to remember.’ Some conferences give full handouts, some give acres of space.  One I went to recently gave us a piece of card and a McDonalds bag to help us remember the one thing we wanted to take away.

But there’s never just one thing.  And there’s never just one kind of thing. There are gazillions.  Some are things that speakers say, and others because I disagree with what the speaker says; a brilliant idea from someone over lunch; something that pops into my mind while my mind is wandering.

So here’s what I did earlier this week, and it’s breathtaking in its obviousness.  If this is really stupid of me and you already do it, bear with me.  If it isn’t, be grateful I haven’t copyrighted the heck out of it and put it on Dragons’ Den, or Kickstarter or something, and you’re getting it free.  It’s so simple, I’m not even going to put a photo up.

Basically, I took a hardback notebook (yes, I’ve gone back to pen and paper for taking notes, because it gets in the way less) and opened it up to two pages.  I then drew a large exclamation mark at the top of the right-hand page, and at the top of the left-hand page I put the usual details about speaker, date, subject and so forth.

So I took the normal lecture notes, but only using the left-hand page.  These were the structural things for the talk itself. Occasionally, they’re the ‘I’m only taking notes to keep myself awake’ notes.

The right hand side is therefore the buzzy ideas side – we could try that, don’t forget to email Fred, check I put next Thursday’s meeting in my diary, …oh, we could try that too…

So that gives me two different kinds of material to process. After the conference I sat with the right-side pages, and turned it into emails, tasks, reminders, projects – the usual, and there were loads of them, because I’d brain-dumped over three days, in a fairly haphazard manner, and I now had a chance to sort them out.

And it’s up to me to decide what to do with the left-hand sides.  They can sit there and I can put an index at the front of the book, and/or I can scan them into Evernote and find them whenever I want.

But for me the insight was to turn my notebook into a tool that could do two things at once – in fact, three, because there were a couple of occasions where I needed to work out a sum or sketch something, and I now had the place to it, which is on the back page, working forwards.

Who knew notebooks could be so useful and versatile? I know, you did.  But I’m ahead of you into Dragon’s Den.

What else could I do with one?  Pile in!

6 comments on “Take note”

  1. Oh I rely on bloggers to do the processing for me 🙂 More seriously a helpful idea. Will try it next time

  2. Marvellous. Will take this on.

    Could use middle pages for ripping out and passing on notes. After all the FSB (exKGB) now reportedly uses typewriters again due to the extra protection from hackers that they provide…

  3. Briliant idea – will try that at next conference – and possibly at church too! Would you then (if there was time) type those notes up into Evernote or something? My problem is the many discarded handouts/outlines/notebooks I inevitably find when moving house!

    1. The ones on the right would all turn to to actionable items, so yes. The ones on the left, possible depending on their usefulness I’d probably just scan them into Evernote.

  4. Thanks Chris, great to hear your thoughts. I now do a similar thing in Onenote on my ipad using a template I designed. The advantage I find is that it is actually easier to file and access electronically. And as an aside, when designing handouts for stuff we do we create a column which is expressly for the stuff you use your right hand page for, although you have got me thinking we might need to make it a little bigger!

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