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.)

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.

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.

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.