I'm somewhat notorious for writing notes during conversations. I keep 'minutes' in a little black book that I always carry with me. I can't help it! I love learning from people, and I don't trust my memory. I want to be able to get back in touch with people so that I can continue interesting conversations, and I want to be able to introduce people to other interesting people so that I can listen in on _their_ conversations and learn even more. =)
My Moleskine notebook is the perfect size for my conversation notes. The back flap is great for storing business cards and index cards. I've numbered every other page, which makes it easy to keep an index at the back of page numbers and contents. This was really handy when I used my Moleskine to keep lists of random things. Now that I'm using it for more chronological notes, I don't need to update the index that often.
I start the day by writing the date. Throughout the day, I scribble down names of people I talked to and what I talked to them about. If I need to follow up with someone, I add a star and a note about what to say. Action items also get stars - anything I need to do or write. =)
I love having a record of the conversations I've had and the people I've met. I hate just having names and contact information in my address book. I'd rather have stories and vivid memories of people! This also forces me to listen better and interact more deeply with people, because I have to be able to write down at least one interesting thing about them. =)
This also allows me to keep a richer history of the people I've met. I used to keep detailed notes on the people I met through e-mail and IRC, writing down little tidbits that showed up on my screen whenever they e-mailed me or chatted with me. For example, one of my entries starts: "Left-handed, red-headed, uses a kinesis keyboard with a Dvorak layout, into unicycles..." Bringing my computer out and adding notes to people's records while I'm talking to them is really awkward, though. (Believe me, I've tried!) I write notes in my Moleskine instead, adding them to my computer when I get the chance.
I can add hyperlinks on paper by flipping back to the last time I mentioned a person, adding an arrow and a note to the current page, and doing the same to link the current entry back to the previous one. For example, when I met Himy at the Pedestrian Sunday in Kensington Market, I knew that I had written his e-mail address down before, and I trusted that my Moleskine would have it. That allowed me to focus on our conversation and scribble down things like "giant outstallation art" and "Toronto psychogeography".
When I reviewed my notes, I linked the entries together. I met him at the Mesh afterparty, and it was easy to go back and find his e-mail address (on page 93!). I then added a forward-link to p118 and a backward-link from p118 to p93, remembering in the process more details of our previous conversation. Then I added the data to my contacts. (Still not complete, but growing bit by bit...)
Good stuff. Very good stuff.
Next step: I'm planning to make a cover for my Moleskine so that I can keep my fountain pen with it all the time. That way, I'll always know where both of them are. I might also keep a tiny, cheap mechanical pencil with my Moleskine so that I can sketch things. I can also lend the pencil to people who need something for writing.
Once I finish this notebook (only 68 pages to go!), I'll try using one of the thinner notebooks with detachable pages. That would be more elegant than carrying around a lot of index cards. I've gotten used to being able to just strap random stuff into the notebook, though, so we'll see how that works out. Or maybe I should just print more business cards and put a lot in the back pocket of my notebook...
I'm still figuring out a good way to make incomplete followups jump out at me. If I was more diligent about margins, I could use circles in the left margin to indicate the need for a followup. I could then shade the circle when I've followed up with that person.
This is also great when I'm doing something like Greg Narain's Stranger-a-Day project. I still haven't quite gotten the courage to approach random people and say hi to them, but I'm working my way up from being able to converse with practically anyone. =) I'll get there soon!
I'm still bad at following up with people immediately after events. I need to put aside more time after get-togethers to do that.
I'd love to have a Blackberry so that I can ping people while walking on my way to class or taking the train to work. Nothing really major, just quick thinking-of-you things. As small as my laptop is, it's just not as convenient as my Moleskine or my cellphone, and wireless internet isn't available everywhere. But I can't send e-mail from my cellphone, much less my Moleskine. Oh well. I'd like to plan a career that'll make something like that cost-effective. =)
Would a PDA be better for this kind of notetaking? I like not having to look at the paper while I'm writing. I can usually read my handwriting afterwards. I can use digital ink, I guess, but it doesn't quite feel the same. Besides, my fountain pen gets oohs and aahs. ;) (Yes, I'm silly!) Sure, I have to copy information out again, but that reinforces the links. (And I don't have to worry about battery life...)
Still, I'll try firing up my iPaq again and seeing if that works for me. Could it be any better than my beloved Moleskine, my little black book? =) I want to meet more people and learn more things and make more connections between others. My Moleskine's a terrific tool for the job, and I love how it feels, too: cream paper, red-black ink... It makes me happy, and it makes getting to know people so much fun. =)
Said Bill of Praxis 101:
Sacha, found your nice little post on Moleskine practice via Stowe Boyd.
I use many of the same practices, but I really like your idea for linking. I've done it in a more haphazard way.
Re action items: my practice is to mark actions with an underscore before them. Like this:
_____ Do this
Then I just put an "X" in the box when it's done, or a check mark if partly done. And I cross it out completely when I choose to not do it.
I also carry blank index cards with me at all times. Sometimes these end up being copied or pasted into my notebook.
I'm not worried about the indexing problem, but I have lost track of a few references and good ideas.
Thanks again for the practice description.
Said Jason Evans:
I think you will be disappointed if you try to use an electronic notetaking method over paper. You really already made the argument against the switch yourself. Paper and pen are less distracting, never run out of power, and simpler to use for notes like you are trying to do. You want the flexibility to jot a networking note anywhere, anytime, very quickly at the time it is in your brain. I've been through various handheld computers trying to do what you're describing, and I was surprised how much I fell in love with my Hispter PDA that I made from a stack of notecards. I've since converted my Hipster cards into pages in my Moleskine pocket edition and it goes with me everywhere. For someone like you, your Moleskine won't be the only place you keep your ideas and you'll often need other resources to take action (like sending and email), but the ease of use of paper and a nice pen (mine's a Fischer Bullet Space Pen) means you're more likely to capture the idea/conversation/contact in the first place. Like you said, copying it to another resource (an online to do list, an email server, etc.) reinforces the item in your head and can be done when you have more time. Use your iPaq for databases (I'm a physician and I keep a medication database on my Palm that is updated via the Web when I HotSync), highly detailed contact info, and maybe your calendar. Program your email address into your cell phone and send yourself short SMS reminders about other emails ("lynn meeting" to remind yourself to email lynn about that meeting you wanted to schedule the next time you sit in front of your email). Keep the Moleskine.
Welcome to the lifehack.org folks! By the way, I'm into social computing (blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, etc.) and I want to learn more about technology evangelism. Check out my about:me. =)
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