My Black Book – aka 'My Brain'
I’m back for another installment of what has become a weekly blog posting. That doesn’t mean I haven’t wanted to write, or that I haven’t been inspired to, it just means that because its been a week since my last posting, the directive to ‘write blog’ has actually made it to my “To Do” list for today.
For as far back as I can remember, I have consistently kept a daily "To Do" List. I started 'collecting' the same type of journal aka black book over the last 4-5 years I have been growing my design business. It probably feeds into my OCD but I prefer the same manufacturer (in this case, Canson) and the same white stock and the same size format. I want them to stack perfectly on my shelf. It's a standard black, hard covered, bound sketchbook that goes with me wherever I go. It’s my ‘brain’ if you will. FLASHBACK: 23 years ago, when I was going through the ‘membership intake process’ for my fraternity, I was required to carry a small softbound black 3-ring binder with me at all times. In it I kept important phone numbers, tasks, homework assignments, poems, reminders, and the real good stuff, like the number of demerits I had to work off in pushups prior to my next meeting with the 'big brothers.' I was taught that without that “Brain” I would (figuratively) “die”. In other words, without it, I would lose track of my priorities or worse yet, allow an important task to fall through the cracks. It also served as the one place where I could quickly jot down an important fact or phone number (pay phone in the dorm hallway / pre-cell phone days, sorry). Well, I’m grateful to have gone through that pledge process because it ingrained in me a vital tool for success and I recommend it to anyone trying to multi-task, run or grow a business, or juggle multiple projects: WRITE IT DOWN.
I’m a natural list maker. There is also something innate about writing stuff down that allows me to properly digest it. Throughout grade school, high school & college, I always seemed to study better if I transcribed my own notes from what was in the textbooks. Just the process of writing something down in my own handwriting, in my own notebook, had a profound effect on whether or not I retained the information. The truth is that when I take good notes, or make good lists, I tend to remember things better because I’m a visual thinker. There is some evidence backing the theory that if we write things down, its helps us to visualize them as being done.
I usually spend 10-15 minutes the night before, writing everything down that I know needs to be done the next day. This includes the items that I didn’t get to today (you can't do EVERYTHING/EVERYDAY - that is a recipe for BURNOUT) and also leaves room for the inevitable new stuff that will develop as the day progresses. Typically I utilize the right side full page for my list, and use the left side for the ‘diary’ portion, notes during phone calls, or sketches.
Here’s what a sample page from my book looks like:
I have various types of entries and have developed my own shorthand and markup language that works for me. In a broad sense, here’s how I use the book:
- First I list everything that needs to get done that day with a small blank box next to it.
- As things get done, I “x” out the box to mark it completed.
- If anything doesn’t get done, it gets a line “strike-through” and it moves onto the next day.
- Something that absolutely must get completed, gets a “HOT” designation next to it.
- I mix business and home life items as well as exercise. I find that if I don’t put exercise down on my “to do” list, I won’t get to it.
- I can even track the person on my team responsible for the task, or who I might delegate to, but it also serves as a way to track time and/or hours spent on a task.
- It also gives me the ability to make notes and/or sketches next to certain tasks, or during important phone calls with clients.
- Whats great is that the book is hard-bound, so there are no loose pages to be lost. I can go back as far as necessary to find out what I did and when, and how long I spent on it. I can also dig up specific phone conversations.
- Another benefit to this method is that once I have filled up a book, I simply put it on the shelf and start another one. I can go back through my books and see what my busy days were like and what my not so busy days were like.
- Like a journal or diary, I can also highlight milestones in my life (RJ's road test) or professional moments (gave entire team a raise, launched a website, etc.).
Here’s another sample page with thumbnail/layout sketches:
I love having the ability to sketch in it. I’m a purist when it comes to design and appreciate it when someone can sketch out a concept on the spot during a meeting. What better place to sketch than in a sketchbook? It won’t get lost and you can keep it with the rest of your notes. These days kids are being taught to jump right on the computer and begin the creative process, or to sketch 'digitally'. For me, the creative process begins in my Black Book - actually it begins in my head, but the Black Book is usually the first place I go to put thoughts to paper. I know I can come back to it when I need to reinvigorate myself for a project or try and tap back into the original energy that was shared at the first client meeting or during that initial Skype or conference call. Those are moments full of energy and life that don’t translate well to a keyboard and monitor. I know some of you may prefer to do all your project management and list making on a computer or smart phone, but I still believe in the raw tactile nature of a black ink pen on white paper. You just can’t beat it. Hey it works for me, and I figured it was worth sharing.
Hope you get everything done on your list today!
As an added Bonus, I did a little research and found this Top Ten list that you may also find useful:*
Top 10 Benefits of Making A "To Do" List
- 1. Creates focus on what you need to accomplish that day
- 2. Provides the opportunity to see it in writing where you can prioritize your tasks
- 3. Allows you to see “like” tasks so you can work on them together/efficiently
- 4. Creates an endorphin release when you check a task off your list
- 5. Allows you to quickly get back on task when you have been interrupted
- 6. Clears your mind thereby making you feel calm
- 7. Decreases stress
- 8. You won’t worry about forgetting an important task
- 9. And you won’t actually forget the important task!
- 10. Allows you to pace yourself (energy management!)
Top 10 Benefits of Making a To Do List:
Writing and Remembering: why we remember what we write: