How To Take Exceptional Notes and Be Productive with Paper

ScreenCapture at Wed Sep 18 09:22:59 PDT 2013.png

As a PM at Google, I carried a laptop to every meeting I went to. I typed notes, jotted down action items, and distributed the minutes of almost each one of my meetings. I stayed organized and tracked my teams’ progress this way.

But, as I learned when I starting working at Redpoint, outside the rainbow bubble of the Googleplex very few people take notes on laptops during meetings. It’s just impolite. People wonder if you’re typing emails (which I often was).

After a few months, I returned to Moleskines and Pilot pens. I find it difficult to maintain paper notes. They are impossible to search. My productivity fell through the floor; I forgot things and now I often found myself sifting through sheaves of paper, photographing them to put into Evernote so I can search them.

I never learnt how to take notes properly. In retrospect, note-taking should be part of a grade-school curriculum, much like typing. But I didn’t attend any such course so I don’t know how to manage a notebook well.

Ryder Carroll, an Interaction Designer from Brooklyn, has documented his technique called Bullet Journal which seems to me to be an exceptionally effective way of working with paper notes. The website Ryder built to describe his technique is a masterpiece of visual design as well.

Ryder summarizes the bullet journal in the video below. For anyone who meets people frequently and needs to manage their working lives on paper, Bullet Journal presents a powerful and effective discipline to increase productivity. Expect to see bullets in all my notebooks from now on.

Published 2013-09-18 in Best Practices 


Tomasz Tunguz is partner at Redpoint. I write daily, data-driven blog posts about key questions facing startups. I co-authored the book, Winning with Data. Join more than 20,000 others receiving these blog posts by email.


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