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Submitted by tomjedrz on


Greetings .. Happy New Year :!:

I am an organized guy; I have created for myself a straight-forward work and task management that is a hybrid of Allen's GTD and Linenberger's TWC.

However, keeping track of WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS is giving me a whole bunch of grief. As my responsibilities have grown, the activities have eclipsed the ability of my memory to track, and I am having trouble keeping track of everything that is happening. The issue is not so much about what I have to do, but what is going on with the staff.

:?: I have read a bunch here about people keeping Moleskine's or other chronological journals. Is this a continual thing, or is the recording done after the fact from memory? What kind of detail is kept?

:?: Any strategies for keeping track of feedback needed, feedback given, whether the feedback is resulting in change, and deadlines met and missed? There seems to be a disconnect between the "feedback like breathing" concept and the weekly O3 being the focal point of communication and the main source for this info for the review.

I am flopping around here, and hope I have expressed my conundrum well enough to allow the great people here to help!

Thanks ...
Tom J.

ramiska's picture

I use the Journal within MS Outlook to track what I've done.

I don't love it or necessarily endorse it, but it's better than the nothing I had been doing prior to that. It allows you to associate items (documents, email, meetings, phone calls, etc.) with individuals. All items are kept in a time-line.

I find it extremely helpful to track the projects, documents, etc. that I do so that I can have it ready at review time.

lazerus's picture

I have been keeping a private blog (Blogger, it's free and simple to set up) to keep track of incidents that I may need to refer to later. Not feedback. It doesn't seem necessary to track feedback, does it? You may want to note for later that so-and-so said "no" twice when you asked if you could give him feedback, or something like that.

Your One-on-One form is the ideal place to contain pretty much any and all issues with your directs, including feedback. You can get very granular in these meeting notes.

Like GTD, once those things are out of your head, it frees up your thinking. The part I like about the blog is everything is time stamped, dated, and looks nice. I can access the blog from anywhere.

Hope this helps!

arc1's picture


There is a good MT cast on this, I'm pretty sure it's this "note taking" one [url][/url] where Mark goes through a system for taking notes which makes a lot of sense. He also spoke about having a binder for every staff member to record all one-to-ones and what is open/closed.

Apart from that, the main observation I would offer is that I think Mark's system is quite focused on capturing actions, vs. recording "what happened". I think it thus leans towards a more senior business person who is there to "get stuff done", not record in depth.

From your post, it sounds like you've got no problem at all getting your own tasks done, you just don't end up with a very clear record of things.

In my job, it's of equal importance to capture the action items AND get an accurate record of discussions. So I tend to take notes which are slightly more extensive than Mark & Mike suggest, and it might be something to consider for you - are you capturing enough detail, clearly enough? And are you dedicating enough time to a filing system?

If it's of any help, here's what I do - as a system it doesn't vary much from what Mark & Mike outlined -

[list]I use a standard A4 pad of paper
I holepunch the entire pad in advance
I carry it to all meetings and have it in front of me at all phone calls
I write three things in the white space at top right (ie. above the first ruled line) - DATE, MATTER NAME, and "INTERNAL" OR "EXTERNAL"
At top left I list the names of all people involved - this wastes some space at top right, but you can use that to put a more general note as to the content / purpose of the meeting / call
I record pretty much the whole conversation in shorthand (meaning, eg. symbols, arrows, underlining, lots of acronyms); I can generally get the majority of it down without wrecking my ability to listen to people and interact with them, but often I need to go back to it later and add any extra thoughts which I didn't have time for.
Next opportunity I get, I tear off the pages for that meeting, staple them in top corner, and go over them.
I action anything which I can do within 2 minutes, and transpose any other items into tasks / to-dos.
I then file the pages in a labelled manilla folder for that matter.
Where necessary, that folder is supplemented with emails which are relevant[/list:u]

This works for me... it's a bit of a chore, and bad for trees, but I end up with both a tool for extracting action items, and an accurate record of everything I'm doing.

Cheers, Chris

Mark's picture
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I think I could be wrong here, but the idea that our method for note taking is for senior people because it focuses on getting things done rather than capturing what happened sounds a little funny to me.

Why would you want to capture what happened? What junior person isnt absolutely clear that their job is to get things done?

I think Chris has it backwards. The one place where I know (in business) where notes are for capturing what happens are in board meetings - the most senior meeting there is.

Focus on actions, people, and time. Not who said what.

We meant that recommendation - tested, proven repeatedly - for everyone.


arc1's picture

I'm a lawyer. ;)

ccleveland's picture

I'm not a lawyer :o nor a high-level manager, yet I can think of three reasons off the top of my head for notes:

1. Recording actions (who does what by when)
2. Documenting decisions (why did we choose a certain direction)
3. Future information reference (doesn't require specific action now, but could be useful information in the future)

[b]Documenting decisions[/b] is important because we do make decisions without every possible fact, it gives people in the meeting (and often outside) an understanding of what facts and assumptions the decision was based in order to correct assumptions and possibly our course as early as possible.

When I run a meeting, [b]reference[/b] information is captured in meeting notes. Notes published to our Intranet get captured by our Google appliance for relatively easy search. Also, information [u]should[/u] but is not always published in other data stores (e.g. problem log for a technology, list of contacts for projects, etc.).

Since I'm not sure this will always occur outside of my area of responsibility, I usually record some notes in my personal logbook. This type of record is subject to the weakness that Tom J. was concerned with; however, using electronic tools and GTD tools as much as possible helps keep my extraneous personal notes minimized, plus I usually categorize them by project/topic (using Post-it Durable tabs in my logbook).


thaGUma's picture

I can't rely on technology ( so I use my day book. Ruled margin with an icon indicating action or whatever as appropriate. When the action is complete I score through. If a page has no outstanding points I score through the whole page. Quick and frequent reviews keep it down to a managable level.

Confession: I bought GTD soon after discovering this site ... still unread after some months.


dragoon's picture

I carry and keep a daily journal for two reasons. One, it provides me with a historical account of my experiences. Two, it provides me a means for recording my subordinates' actions when related to performance and work projects.

I am constantly looking for the right template that can help me get through my day when recording the above experiences. Insight here would be great.

pneuhardt's picture

I can tell you how I do it. Your mileage may vary.

After I have recorded a note (not a transcript of what was said, but either a key reference item, a decision, a deliverable item completed, a deliverable item defined or an action to be taken) I then use the following symbols in that handy left-side margin:

Key reference items generally get no notation. If an item turns out to be more key that the other key items (any one remember "Animal Farm?") it gets an exclamation point.

Decisions made get a dot. Not a period, but a nice healthy bullet-list style dot that really stands out.

Deliverable items completed get a check mark. If someone else did the work, their initials or name is written underneath.

Deliverables due from and actions to be taken by other people get a D with a circle around it, and the name (or more often initials) of the person to make the delivery or take the action underneath.

Deliverables due from and actions to be taken by me get a five-point star (the one many of us learned to draw in early childhood, where you do the whole thing without lifting your pen from the paper).

At the end of the day, or even months later, this system lets me look at my notes and quickly determine what was delivered by who, what was decided, and what everyone's new tasks were as a result of the meeting.

JorrianGelink's picture

Just curious on what you guys take the notes on, just items in general (day to day convos) or other larger events (manager meetings)? I will listen to the How to Take Notes podcast tonight, I usually keep my note taking to Microsoft Outlook and have a compiled note listing under my Calendar (2 PM, did this, this is the result with notes) in case I ever need to search it.

stephenbooth_uk's picture

I take notes on anything I think I'll need to remember. Meetings I'll almost always take notes. Ordinary conversations usually not. I do always have a pencil and paper with me (usually my Moleskine diary, week to one page with a ruled page facing, and a mechanical pencil) so if something comes up in a conversation I can jot down a quick note and transfer it later if needed.


mwbirren's picture

great thread. I've experimented over the years. Early on, I used a small spiral notebook per project/program. I quickly ditched that idea as it became a hassle to maintain them. Then I switched to using one of those large (4 or 5 subject) spiral notebooks as my journal to capture any/all meetings I attended (1x1's, project meetings, staff meetings, etc.). I'd tape in some/not-all powerpoints, project plans if it helps recall notes from meeting where these were discussed, but the taping thing was a hassle.

I tried a Cross-pad (had a special pen/tablet that allowed you to write notes on paper, and upload them to your computer too). I did this for a while, but didn't like the hassle of synching with the pc and the handwriting recognition/translation was problematic too.

Went back to keeping a hard-copy journal, but use one of these (not sure what their called) folders that had the bendy wires where you could just add papers to it over time (most current day on top). I keep a binder for each quarter and include hardcopy of the week calendar with one of those post-it flags for the workweek, provides somewhat of an index for me to search through quickly. It was easier to include those ppts/project plans with my hand-written notes on them here too (I include these at the back of my hand-written notes for the day). I started using OneNote for some meetings (I like the screen capture-cut/paste feature when someone is sharing a preso/doc online).

The last method described above has worked well, but I'm always looking for improvement. Particularly around 1x1 note taking. I've been hand-writing my notes per MT guidelines, but transferring the action items and tracking them is a bit cumbersome.


rwwh's picture
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Does anyone have experience with the modern "automatically digitizing memo pads", like DigiMemo?

pmoriarty's picture
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Over the years I've used legal pads, a leather portfolio, bound journals, scientific lab notebooks and Black & Reds (a moleskine-like pad but with better quality paper). All were missing a certain [i]je ne sais quoi[/i].

My current favorite are [url=]Rhodia pads[/url]. I use the #13's. Great paper, well bound and they tend to stay open to the current page well.

Mark's picture
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I don't, though I wouldn't rule it out at some point.

A point about Rhodia 13's. I don't use them, but I can tell you from my experience that using a notepad (not a book, but a smaller pad) that flips up like a stenographer's as opposed to opening like a book, REALLY sends a message of subordination of you to the speaker, and DEFINITELY enhances their openness. It hearkens back to secretaries taking dictation, and IT WORKS.

Thanks for the reminder!


stehow's picture

I use a tablet PC with OneNote2007. It's not for everyone, but I can say that I've converted both IT and non-IT staff to the format.

The main benefits are that you can keep pages of any length, format or template in any filing structure you like....and change your mind. You can also 'print' out and annotate on screen (with pen and highlighter) documents, emails, PDF's, screenshots etc. Finally, I keep my GTD lists and project stuff there as you can tag actions and produce an accurate list of outstanding 'next actions' across pages and file sections to avoid flipping between multiple GTD lists. Overall my bag is lighter and I have everything with me without thinking - my PA can even load up my tablet with documents for me to take on a trip even when I'm in another meeting with my tablet!

I don't pretend that all is rosy. You need to keep spare batteries handy and I keep my notes and drawings in handwritten form - conversion to text is hit and miss. There's also a self-concious feeling to start with, but everyone in the meeting is interested and often envious.

Please do not, however, confuse a flat tablet with an upright PC used for outlook when you rightly ban laptops and blackberries from meetings. Staff need to use all tools responsibly, reading email in meetings is in 'secret' (we can't see the screen so they can't be doing it right?) whilst use of a tablet is visible and no different to doodling on paper or sleeping through a meeting.