My black book for non-device note taking (Informatics PIGlet series)

According to my smart younger sister, all west-coast startup CEO’s carry black books, wear blazers, ironic T-shirts, and sneakers. I figure I could at least carry a black book. What’s in it? What’s it good for?

Let’s start at the top. Having read Steal Like an Artist (Kleon), I love the idea of separating my desk into a CREATIVE desk (no computer or devices, just glue, pencils, pens, stickies, shapes, yellow pads) and then a PUBLISHING desk when the creating is done (PC, smartphone, printer, etc), I have a stash of kindergarden-grade stuff I like to play with. It helps me think. So, I covered my staid black book with stickies.
So, I’m still a kid. I don’t care if you judge me. 

 

 

Then, I take a set of 3 inch square post-it notes and cut them up the to the size I like so I can use them to index my black book (see the sharpie marks on the right edge, to index the sections), and then use my opening page for major projects so I can glance at what I and my team are working on. In short: too many priorities. 

I know. It is. A struggle.

 

My BHAGs are aspirational. BHAG: Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. The idea: setting small goals and achieving them doesn’t inspire dramatic action. For that, you need a BHAG. From Great by Choice (Collins). Something I’ll aspire to. One day I will sleep 8 hours every night. I do read regularly and am happy with that. I enjoy mentoring and want to keep getting better. I like seeing the forest for the trees, when I remember to do so. I constantly remind myself to prune down the priorities to ONE THING and use Pomodoro technique to manage my time. And who couldn’t use a dose of mindfulness through the day? 

 

I have a terrible memory for names, so as I meet new people, or continue to struggle with names, I write them here. My cheat sheet. And then I track the talks that I have given and the ones I’m thinking about and planning.

 

And… here’s the mess. The daily meetings, the jotted notes, Anything that I want to highlight gets an accent color. My to do list also gets a checkbox and sometimes a color highlight. My direct reports get a dedicated page or two to improve my continuity of notes. 

 

When you cut up your own stickies, you need a supply on the back page to draw from when you’re away from your creative desk. 

 

And then, if I take my book on trips, I’ll find time to sit and sketch. Ideally I do the sketching on-site, but sometime (like this), I sketch from a photograph, shown on my phone, propped up, by lamplight, just before bed. I find sketching to be relaxing, all-absorbing, focus. I know I’m not good. 

The only point of showing you, is to say, spend an hour, don’t self-judge, and see what art you can churn out. Do it when you can, and you might surprise yourself. I do sometimes. 

 

Here’s the Seattle Public Library, a feat of architecture and engineering and art. And my poor attempt to recreate a corner of it. 

OTHER IDEAS. at times in the past I’ve written THREE GOOD THINGS as a daily reflection. Think of three things you’re grateful for from that day, that your action may have helped. That lasted about a week. Pretty cool. 

I’ve tried a daily sketch. That lasted about a week. 

I’ve tried “One thing I learned today.”

In short, there is no end of interesting things you can scribble in a book. 

My preference is for paper with no lines so I can sketch something anytime. Others like lines, or like a grid. I LOOOOVVEE going to stationary stores to buy pens, new moleskin books, stickers, tape. 

Finally, I try to avoid taking notes on my laptop or phone, as doing so is indistinguishable (by others) as drifting away, not being present, doing some other work when you could be paying attention. Another reason, is that research shows that when others in an audience can see your screen, NOT ONLY is your screen decreasing your comprehension of the lecture/session, it is decreasing the comprehension (increased distraction) for EVERYONE WHO CAN SEE YOUR SCREEN, even if they can’t see it clearly.

I know, electronic note take allows “search” and “indexing”, and also that there are Rocketbooks and other hybrid devices, but I have not tried them as yet. 

Finally, I do love the tactile nature of paper, the expressive personality of handwriting, the ease of drawing lines and sketches to link ideas, and also know that handwritten notes INCREASE COMPREHENSION compared to electronic notes. Go figure. 

CMIO’s take: Make your black book anything you like. And then when you inevitably run out of pages to draw, sticker, jot, doodle in, get a new book and try a different design, a different strategy. My sister tells me that “All start-up CEO’s carry a black book, and consult it. It’s where all their good ideas come from.” What do you do for creativity, note taking, tracking? Do you like it? 

Author: CT Lin

CMIO, UCHealth (Colorado); Professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine

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