Put simply, I’ve been a big fan of notetaking for quite some time.
I can’t even begin to count the number of notetaking methods and systems I have attempted over the years – physical, digital, hybrid, you name it and I’ve probably tried it.
One of my earliest successes was a daily notecard. I carried a pack of blank notecards in my bag; each day, I would pull a new notecard and create a four-square grid on the front. I would then copy unfinished tasks from the previous day’s card onto the new card. I followed the Eisenhower Matrix method of dividing tasks into four quadrants based on importance and urgency, as shown below.
Events and engagements would go on the back of the card.
I must have carried on with that system for over a year. But, alas, at some point I lost my momentum and probably fell back into disorganization.
I had a fair amount of success with Evernote and Trello as well.
I very much liked the concept of Evernote as an “external brain” and found that it was very handy for saving and categorizing information that I needed to recall frequently, like passwords or notes about the work that I performed for clients. But with Evernote, my biggest concern was always trust – I didn’t like the idea of my external brain existing in someone else’s cloud where I had little control over it.
Trello served as a worthy ticket system during my self-employed years. I was able to extend Trello with Zapier to automate repetitive workflows, and I used custom fields to log project details as well as the steps I took to complete those projects. But it wasn’t a true notetaking system, and when I no longer had the need to manage projects/tickets, I had to move on.
So fast forward to about a year ago when I discovered Joplin, an opensource notetaking app with clients for a variety of operating systems. Joplin gave me the benefits of Evernote, but greater control over my data. It gave me the continuity of my notecard system, but in a digital product. And it gave me the extensibility of Trello through a system of plug-ins.
Let me walk you through the notetaking method I use today.
I still create a daily note (“daynote”) that carries over unfinished tasks and thoughts from the previous day. And I still use the Eisenhower Matrix to separate tasks based on urgency and importance, although I don’t need to draw out quadrants 3 and 4. I only list important tasks, distinguishing those that need to be completed immediately from those that need to be scheduled for completion. Even though I use Google Calendar to track events and engagements, I also write them into my daynote…I think I’m less prone to forgetting commitments when I have to write them down again the day of.
I use the “Automatic Backlinks to note” plug-in to link my daynotes to weeknotes, and the weeknotes to monthnotes.
I do this to ensure alignment between my larger, longer-term goals and my daily/weekly activities. From each daynote, I can jump to my weeknote in one click.
I also use the “Link Graph UI” plug-in to create a true knowledge graph that can be quickly visualized to follow connections between information, or nodes, on the graph.
In the future, I plan on creating additional linkages that go beyond time relationships and into contextual relationships.
Is my system perfect? No. But it is the combination of a variety of methods that have worked for me in the past. It is scalable, extensible, allows me to maintain control over my own data, gives me continuity and in my day-to-day tasks, and alignment with my long-term goals.
How do you organize your tasks? Do you have preferred tools, methods, and/or systems? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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