By: Drew Hansen
It’s the key to deeper insights.
When I was in high school, I started carrying a small notepad everywhere I went. I needed a way to keep track of my homework assignments, and I guess my school planner wasn’t doing the job. Maybe it was too structured, and I needed a more flexible option. Or maybe I ran out of space near the end of the year and needed a temporary solution until school started again in the fall. Either way, I carried this notepad religiously and soon began compiling lists of things to do, whether they related to school or not. Gradually it morphed into a method of jotting down broader observations and questions about life. At the time, I didn’t know anyone — especially in my peer group — who did this.
A couple years later, I met a prominent man who had a similar system for recording his deepest thoughts. We sat next to each other during a meeting and both listened attentively to the speaker. At one point, he reached inside his suit coat and pulled out a small notepad and pen. I watched as he scribbled a few notes down before sliding it back into his pocket. When I retrieved my own notepad and showed it to him, he smiled and, while nodding, whispered that he had an entire drawer of these small notebooks at home. They were full of his thoughts, recorded in the instant they occurred. Apparently I was onto something.
Turns out he and I are in good company. I recently learned that Richard Branson has a habit of carrying a notebook everywhere he goes. Like an exceptional student, Branson is eager to learn, but unlike the majority of his classmates, he doesn’t document the lecture’s main points. Instead, he focuses on his reaction to what he encounters. He’s a true student of life.
Aristotle Onassis, the legendary Greek shipping tycoon, gave this advice:
“Always carry a notebook. Write everything down. When you have an idea, write it down. When you meet someone new, write down everything you know about them. That way you will know how much time they are worth. When you hear something interesting, write it down. Writing it down will make you act upon it. If you don’t write it down you will forget it. THAT is a million dollar lesson they don’t teach you in business school!
The Art of Manliness has compiled a list of famous individuals who, in addition to Branson and Onassis, carried a notepad regularly. Even Eminem, tied as this year’s sixth highest earning Hip Hop Cash King, revealed a treasure trove of notebooks during a recent 60 Minutes interview.
The following five tips will help you get the most out of your note-taking:
1. Create your own system. The specifics are less important as long as you do it consistently. Anyone who carries a smartphone has the ability to take notes whenever and wherever they need to.
2. Write down your thoughts immediately. You think you’ll remember, but you won’t, and you’ll forfeit all the thoughts that flood you after you’ve freed your mind from remembering the initial spark. Don’t judge them at this stage, either. There’s a reason they occurred to you this way.
3. Expound on your thoughts later. Don’t let your flashes of brilliance wither from neglect. Find a quiet time to explore your initial thoughts in more detail.
4. Store your notebooks for future reference. You never know when you’ll need to jog your memory.
5. Review your archive regularly for patterns or associations. Maybe an old idea will be the catalyst for new inspiration.
I think that this approach mirrors the way many great ideas develop. Start small. Write down what you’re thinking and build on it. Follow it wherever it’s supposed to go, and one day your small thought could change the world.