My Notebook System (part 2): Field Notes Byline

At first I wasn't impressed by the Byline. It has a great design, but my trusted Steno is bigger and it isn't a limited edition. I don't have to worry about getting a new one, it's always available. But, a couple of days ago I finished my Steno, so it was a great opportunity to try a pack of Byline. Looks like it was a good decision.

A Scratchpad, where thinking is transformed into next actions

I've never really kept journals. I've heard that I should write a general one, where I reflect about my stuff every day, but to be honest, it's not my thing. I make small notes about things I saw or heard in my pocket Field Notes, but that's all I do. I'm way better at thinkering while I take a walk. But for work, I find that keeping a journal is key. Looks like it's better to have a specific topic to journal about, other than writing down random thoughts and waiting for something to happen. My work journal has two important practical applications:

  1. I have to track my time because I'm a freelance developer paid hourly. I tried so many time trackers, but at the end I settled with notebooks. It's so easy to use, I don't need linking projects to clients, invoicing and all the other noise that comes with time tracking apps. I just want to know when I started and finished a work session, what I did, and to whom.
  2. I have to have something that I can use as a scratchpad on my desk. A pad of paper where I can list my current thinking and make connections between different stuff. I make diagrams and outlines, I even do quick calculations here. (Quick tip: if you are dealing with lot of math through the day, just buy a dedicated calculator. It's so much easier to use than hunting down your phone somewhere in your bag or in your pocket.)

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I always have my Byline (or a Steno) opened on my desk next to my iPad ready to write. At the beginning of a work session, I make a note of the project, current time, and what I'm going to do. While I work, I make lists of upcoming tasks, notes and outlines used to solve problems.

I'm not really a visual type of person, so instead of making mindmaps, I usually make a list of thinking. The Byline's narrow, long format really supports this type of thought organization. I've used to indent my outlines multiple levels, but nowadays, I just use a different mark for headers (#) and notes (-).

At the end of a work session, I go back to the beginning and mark the end with the current time. Later, I transfer these hours into my work log spreadsheets.

Calls

I do a fair amount of calls over Skype and FaceTime related to my job. Meetings aren't my favorite activities, but one thing which changed so much about them is keeping a notebook open and making notes while I'm on a call. Here is what a short and productive call looks like:

  1. have clearly defined topic or goal to talk about,
  2. share ideas and collaborate,
  3. organize this thinking,
  4. have a set of next actions at the end, then move on.

Also I keep them short, around 15-20 minutes. Having my Byline at hand while I'm on a call is really helpful.

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Clients feel weird at first about me writing down almost everything, but this is so important, because it's really easy to slip over something small which later can cause a bigger problem. Making notes of every have to's and should do's is also making people stop and think for a second. And it's not just about things I have to do. Knowing facts and why's automatically triggers our natural planning mode which makes ideas, and I want to be ready to capture them. Because of this, I also ask way more questions than before: externalized things — like notes I make on a call — trigger more planning in front, and I'm all about measuring twice and cutting once.

Also, there is a new behavior during meetings which I wasn't expecting to emerge: a need to have clear understanding and decided next actions about everything we talked about. Before I started using a notebook on meetings, I was afraid to ask lot of questions because of embarrassment. I'm not sure it's changed because I use my Byline on calls, but nowadays, I'm not afraid to ask seemingly stupid questions or be annoying to understand something clearly. I don't want to waste my time later down the road because we didn't clarified a small detail. This behavior usually triggers asking "why" in my clients too. They have to stop and tell me the reason behind a decision. The more information I have about something, the better I became delivering the final product.

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Final words

I can't be more excited about the Byline. It's basically changed how I journal in my work and how I do calls. It became the same important tool used for work as my iPad. They actually go together really well as chain of tools for a knowledge worker. Because the Byline is a limited edition, I've ordered 5 more packs. I know they won't be around for too long and after they've gone, I will switch back to the Steno. Meanwhile I just enjoy using them.