"great design simplifies a complex world" - Platon
I love breaking up chaos and setting out structures that create order especially when it leads to simple navigation. I make lots of notes and whether in my business or in my personal life I need to be able to call on stuff quickly and not feel overwhelmed by the hundreds if not thousands of notes I have.
Having introduced a few friends and colleagues to my notebook structure and organisation system recently it was apparent as to how much of a challenge the overwhelm of information in digital notebooks is for people and because my love for order is most peoples nightmare, they seemed to greatly appreciate a helping hand … so I wanted to open it up and share it, just in case some of this may be of value to others…
There's nothing more chaotic or dissatisfying, using up our precious time to search through the many pages of various notebooks to find that specific note, sketch, reference or number that you need right now! The very reason that you made the note in the first place was with the intention of saving some time in the future so that you would have the information you need, but here you are hopelessly skipping through page after page….
Having lived this this painful experience on countless occasions and with my natural desire to organise the chaos, I moved pretty early and quickly to a digital notebook - choosing OneNote as my go to note taking app.
Working across devices (iPhone; iPad or desktop version with a chrome extension) I carry round all of my notes everywhere I go. OneNote has an incredible search facility that quickly helps to locate notes, searching the body of the note also which blows my mind how it finds references within my handwritten notes.
Its great for storing and noting just about anything: ideas; web clippings; making lists; jotting down notes; taking pictures of flip charts or whiteboards; audio notes; recipes; meeting notes; drawings; to do lists etc etc. Because it’s an integrated into the Microsoft office suite it links directly into other office applications and there's no extra cost.
However, suddenly carrying round all these notes and various lists etc can be pretty overwhelming and I pretty quickly became curious into the organisation systems and notebook structures that others use but couldn't find much about this online - So I've pretty much developed my own thing, whilst borrowing some techniques and structure from others.
Here’s how I set out my notebooks to quickly find and make easy reference to my never ending of pages of notes.
Before we jump in here’s what you need to know. OneNote is made up of notebooks (imagine these to be a your traditional Moleskine notebooks) - you can have many different notebooks. I have three (i) Quick reference (ii) Business Notebook; and (iii) a Personal notebook
Within each notebook you have sections, to organise notebooks into similar topics and categories, the sections can also be grouped together for ease of navigation. And then finally within each sections you have your note pages. You are also able to tag specific areas of a note to be able to call on it quickly later, which is really useful for critical items or to dos in meeting notes etc.
Here’s my set up and how I structure / use one note
Quick Reference Notebook: The aim of this notebook is to have at my finger tips the critical stuff that I call on all the time. I also keep my communications tracker in here which is where I have a page for all of my key contacts; whether clients, team members, friends and family. I note down various things I have either agreed, actions we have committed to or things that I need / want to talk to them about when we next speak so that I don’t have to store and most likely forget about this mass of information.
Examples of some of the pages
WiFi codes, company information; My conference line number and code; Key dates and deadlines; my business address with a google map link to quickly paste into emails etc; help desk phone numbers and menu shortcuts
Measurements; travel details and train times for common routes; eye prescription; dentist info opening times, emergency numbers; list of stuff for packing for a short trip etc
A page per key contact
New notes that are yet to be filed (aim to clear this down at least once a week)
Personal Reference Notebook:
Examples of some pages
Articles clipped from webpages
Acts as an inbox of articles that I have clipped that I have stored to review
Workout programmes with a mixture of Hiit and weighted circuits
Collection of various recipes gathered
Lists of specific questions that I have either heard or been asked over the years that I really like for various situations
Notes from courses; coaching notes; categories for personal improvement; outcomes looking to realise and the purpose they serve; MBTI profile; disc profile; strategies to handling different situations`
A page for each of my favourite podcasts - where I write notes on the go (usually on my phone) in the moment when I hear something that’s resonates that I want to refer to
Quotes, lyrics from songs, pictures that my kids have done, messages from people
My lifetime accomplishments - things I’m particularly proud of; weekly family magic moments; weekly accomplishments
Birthday / Christmas lists, annual goals, framework for holiday - places we want to go and what we are looking for
Links to funny videos, jokes etc
Friends book lists, my reading list, recommendations
Page per book that I have read with my notes typed out
Examples of some of the pages
Tools and templates
Useful links; email templates that I've collected / built; useful guides to different new tech & tools to use; tips & tricks for LinkedIn; reference tables
Specific rules e.g. relevant sections from HMRC re deadlines and dates; important rules re VAT etc..
Includes clippings from articles, notes from seminars, frameworks or links etc
Notes from specific topics or problems that looking to innovate on; Also includes brainstorming techniques and templates such as a prioritisation matrix and affinity diagram
Ideas that I have had at some stage for various businesses or problems I think need solving
Meeting notes - all meeting titles start with the date formatted YYYYMMDD for easy sorting
Specific notes or clippings re specific industry rules; legislation or know - how; relevant sections of industry codes
Research and insights
Customer feedback; testimonials; competitor analysis; survey results; news clippings; user stories
Mix of work in progress and strategy notes and documents; our strategy map etc
Customer personas; customer segmentation; key messages and tactics; who our product is ideally positioned for; brand promises; CSFs and key tactics
Outline of sales cycle; sales pitch; stakeholder map; introductory email templates; Account maps of key contacts and planned contact approach; status summary for each account
Notes from specific design workshops; design principles; product roadmap; options for future functionality / features
List of agreements and duration / renewal dates; business principles and agreed ways of working