Subscribe on iTunes

Access special deals here

Buy Online Now!

Choose your favourite digital supplier and buy your copy of RECHARGE
by Alan Hargreaves

Click here for more information and to download a FREE sample chapter!

Contact Me

I will answer any business question.  Click here to send me your query.

Planning your next conference?

Looking for an interesting speaker with real world knowledge?

Find out more on how to Recharge your conference by clicking here



« What happens if you don’t delegate? | Main | Organise the best day of your life »

Personal organisation #101 - the single best idea

Do you know this internal dialogue?

In the meeting: That’s great info. I must look up that website before the next meeting.

Next week: Where did I put that URL? I know I wrote it down in the meeting. Where was it?

The week after: I’d better log on again and print off that download. What did I do with the password? I scribbled it on a post-it note. Where’s that? 

Just prior to the next meeting: What were the key points I took down from that website? I wrote them on a pad. Where’s that pad?

It might not have been a URL. It might have been someone’s contact number, or their address. Or maybe it was the outline of that absolutely brilliant idea you had for a presentation while you were waiting in the departure lounge. It was so clear in my head after I had drawn all the circles and arrows. How did it work again? 

For me, those dialogues stopped in 1995, when someone made a simple suggestion. Prior to that I had tried palm pilots, scribbling in my diary, dictaphones and various electronic inventions which tried to solve the same problem. They always looked like a good idea in duty-free. I would later try Blackberries, iPhones and smart pens. But so far, I have always ended up retreating to the simple suggestion of 1995. 

What was it?

It was the Plain Book.

I call it that because that’s what it is. I buy them at the local newsagent. I am now on my 17th. It is A4 in size. It has 168, ruled pages. There are no tabs or dates. The only pictures in there are the ones I doodle. It cost $1.45. I will probably have to buy another one before the end of the year. 

There are two things I can say about plain book #17.

  • It will travel with me EVERYWHERE until it is full.
  • I will put EVERYTHING in it. 

Everything. Notes I take in meetings; chance items that I hear in passing; the IRR someone said was essential for the project to work; URLs; flight numbers; ideas for anything; how much pocket money I agreed to give my daughter and for how long (preferably signed by her); suggestions for my wife’s birthday present(s); great diagrams for presentation slides. Even the odd business card gets stuck in there, as do some crucial post-it notes written on the fly. Like I said, everything.

The problem I have with all the alternatives is that there is always one extra step to make it work. Have you tried drawing great circles and arrows on your Blackberry? Or sticking a post it note in your iPhone? 

I use an iPhone for diary planning and for communication. But it is just not one-step enough for me to capture EVERYTHING quickly and with a minimum of fuss.

It is not because I am digitally-challenged or techno-phobic. I am open to any new idea.

I got all excited recently when I experimented with a Livescribe Smart Pen. This is an excellent product. It’s like a dictaphone on digital steroids.

Unfortunately, when I tried to use it as a replacement for my plain book, I ran into problems. The pages were perforated and started to tear and I lost a few. Sometimes the battery in the pen ran out and I didn't have the recharger with me. Other times I took the smart book with me but left the smart pen in the car. 

The ability to download my notes onto my computer is a great feature, but I invariably didn’t get around to it. It meant calling up the site and doing stuff. I am one of those people who never looks beyond the first page of results on Google.

I love the product, but by the end of the month I had retreated to my plain book.

I once managed a complex business transaction while stuck in a Middle East transit lounge when it was the middle of the night just about everywhere else. I was able to do this because all the crucial information was in my plain book.

Not that long ago I won a legal argument on the back of notes I had taken in a negotiation meeting several years before. They were easily referenced. I found them in Plain Book #6. It took a couple of minutes.

In a seminar just after my 60th birthday I was asked what was the single best idea I had encountered throughout my career when it came to personal organisation.  My answer was not a digital solution, or an inspired matrix, or a motivational quote. It was this:

The single best idea I was ever given was to carry a single book with me at all times. To write everything in it. To never throw it away. And when it was full, to keep it in a single pile with all the ones that came before it.

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>