The Everything Book

I just finished telling someone else about my “everything” book, so I thought I’d put a description here as well.

The idea came from my father: If you use the same book for everything, you’ll always have the right book with you. It was modified slightly by Hyram Smith’s course, which included Covey’s 7 Habits, back in 1990: Never use floating scraps of paper.

I carry a book with me everywhere. The size varies. Sometimes it’s part of my datebook. When I’m out and about and have an idea, or a meeting, or a good quote, I write it in that book. When I’m at the computer and need to make a quick note that has to last more than a day but isn’t worth opening a file, I write it in that book.

Sometimes I have two or three books. One for my purse and one (which might be a binder rather than bound book) for my desk. One for personal and one for work. But never more than three, and always one that’s suitable for everything. My purse book counts as both work and home.

Things that require action get a circle in the margin, to distinguish them from brainstorming or records. Completed tasks get an X through the circle. Tasks copied forward get an arrow. I use shorthand for things like gift ideas or rants.

Every so often I go through the last few days (weeks, if I’m behind) and note things I should take further action on. Sometimes I tear out the page and throw it in a file. Sometimes I do something else (like put the quote on my website, or email the story to a friend). Eventually, I get to tear out the page — very rewarding. Or, with some jobs, all I get to do is clip the second corner or move a clip.

The notes are mostly in date order. Find last note. Skip line or two. Write. Much faster than finding the right page or file and it automatically dates all notes. I usually date each page.

Sometimes I make an index on the last page (useful if I make many notes in the job). Sometimes I’ll write the topic at the top of the page. It all depends on my life at the moment.

If I happen to be on another page with the same topic (e.g., the one that says, “Call George and discuss this list” when I’m talking to George), I’ll use the page I’m on and somehow indicate the new notes are from the discussion — often it’s a different pen, so I just need to write the date in the new pen. If that page gets filled, continue on the next blank page (and add note “continued on).

If I know the page will eventually be filed elsewhere, I try to start a new page, so I can cut out the page. If I don’t think that far ahead, I copy the important parts to a page I can file and mark the original as “copied and filed”. (Yes, I’ve copied and filed the same note more than once.)

Sometimes I start a list of related tasks or a focus list, and copy old tasks forward. (Copying the same todo forward several times is incentive to either do it or drop it.)

When I needed to keep a time diary for billing, start and stop times went there. Very convenient if I changed tasks when away from my desk. When I did temp work, I often didn’t know how long I’d have to keep notes, or a meeting would cover many topics. I’d use this book and decide later, rather than hope I remembered when I was near the right file. If my coworkers were likely to see the book, I’d use different pages for work and personal.

The book rarely gets more than 20 pages in use. Back when I was working and needed to keep notes I would leave the pages in, but strike through them and clip the corners when done.

I don’t use it for absolutely everything. Often I’ll put something right into its final home. Appointments go in the datebook that also goes everywhere with me. In school, I took each class’s folder with me — and if I thought of something for a class I didn’t have with me, it went in the Everything Book.

It’s also useful when you have a new job. It takes weeks or months for you to know the job well enough to know which projects need binders, which need files, which need to be with you at all times, which are so minor they don’t need a home of their own. If in doubt, write it here. It’s written, organized, findable, and can be reorganized later.

I tried using the Palm for it, but entering things is too slow. It’s also harder to tell which notes are getting really old, unless you date them. It’s strange — I automatically date paper notes, but not Palm notes. The Palm is nice for permanent notes, like the size of the furnace filter, but it’s easy enough to dedicate one page to that sort of thing.

So, that’s my answer to where to write things down.

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2 Responses

  1. Extra info: If I suspect notes will eventually go into a folder in the cabinet, I start a new page. Sometimes I’ll photocopy a page or three and put the copies into the cabinet, in which case I mark those pages as finished and note that copies are in the folders. (Yes, I sometimes look at the finished pages and panic.)

  2. It’s also useful when you’re at the ER at 2 in the morning. While waiting, you write down what you can remember of the last two weeks, from the start of what you thought was a mild cold through. It saves time when it’s finally your turn.

    Then when you see the doctor you can write down what she says. This is much easier than trying to remember when to come in again or which changes signal trouble and which are normal.

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