The concept of mind-dumping is not new. It's based around the idea that focusing on work can become too difficult when there’s too much floating around in your head. If you have a set place to put tasks, ideas, notes, thoughts, concepts, or anything else, then you can “mind-dump” that information where it needs to go, leaving your mind free to be more focused and productive regarding what you need to get done. You’re not worried about forgetting anything. If you have an idea, you “dump” it and go back to what you were doing. Stray thoughts don’t have to completely interrupt your productivity.
I personally can’t live without it. Unless my tasks, appointments, instructions, and ideas are laid out an a fashion that’s easy for me to use, prioritize, and (most importantly) find, I can’t focus well and do not feel productive at all.
Again, this idea is not new—you’ll find its presence in a variety of time management systems. But what you may not know is what tools are out there to help, especially considering how deeply computers and smart phones have integrated themselves into our lives and routines. Or maybe you do know, but just haven’t sat down to put them into practice. Let’s explore a few.
1. The Old Standby - Paper
Paper has always been and will always be the way many people prefer to go. Although I’ve recently gone more digital in my note-taking, paper will always be an old favorite. The upside? Complete freedom to organize your notes exactly how you want them. No set templates, no usernames or passwords. The downside? The organizing is completely up to you. It depends on what kind of notes you’re taking, but if having them in no particular order is a problem or makes it difficult to find things later, then paper may not be the way to go, at least for ideas/mind dumping, unless you're comfortable copying them where they need to go later (possibly typing them into a digital system for easy reference). Of course, it’s still a matter of personal preference in the end. Some paper note-taking favorites in Moleskine, and the less expensive alternative (and my personal favorite as far as paper goes), Piccadilly (similar to Moleskine but hard cover and only available at Borders). If you’re serious about comparing different types of notebooks, check out www.notebookstories.com. (That’s right. The internet has everything.)
2. Always Improving - Digital
I’m sure there’s software out there that ranges from very expensive to decently affordable as far as notetaking goes, but even better, there are plenty of good ones that are free!
- Evernote - Evernote is my personal favorite on the digital end. It's free to use with a monthly upload limit of 40 MB - that's a LOT of notes! (Alternatively, you can upgrade to a premium account for a small fee and increase your monthly upload limit to 500 MB.) You have the freedom to format your notes the way you want as far as fonts, colors, etc., and you can paste pictures right into your notes. You can also create different notebooks to help organize your notes (I have one for work, one for personal items, etc), you can tag notes, and your notes themselves are searchable. Evernote also has browser extensions so that, while you're browsing the internet, you can highlight some text or a picture you want to remember (maybe that new movie you want to buy but can never remember the title of, or an article on increasing productivity you want to read after work), click one button, and that information is sent straight to a note. Evernote is also available (for free) for iPhone/iPod Touch, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Palm Pre/Pixi, and Windows Mobile. Have an idea while you're out at lunch? Type yourself a quick note on your phone and feel secure knowing you'll have it when you get back to your office. See a book on display you'd like to buy when you get your next paycheck? Take a picture, save it straight to your notes, and have the title handy to purchase when you're ready.
- OneNote - OneNote has some similarities to Evernote, but it's not web-based, and (as far as I know), not easy to access across different computers/mobile devices. However, it does have a lot of nice functionalities and is somewhat integrated with the rest of Microsoft Office, which can be helpful. If you work mainly on a single laptop, it could be a good solution. It allows for the creation of different notebooks, and each notebook can have different "tabs," which is helpful for organizing. (Note: One Note is included with newer versions of Microsoft Office, but if you want to purchase it separately, it is NOT free.)
- Google Docs - Google Docs is another web-based solution. It's accessible both from your browser and from most smart phones, and you can share individual docs with different people, which can be helpful, both in aspects of your personal life and across a business. You can create different folders (much like Evernote and OneNote's "notebooks") and tag individual documents. You can also upload outside PDFs, spreadsheets, Word docs, and more straight into Google to help keep everything together.
- Notepad or its equivalent - Again, free, and for those who prefer absolute simplicity, not a bad way to go. It doesn't have the same searchability and cross-device compatibility that Evernote and Google docs have, nor the multi-notebook function that Evernote and OneNote have, but if you're willing to sacrifice those things for the sake of simplicity, then it should work just as well.
There are many other options as well, some more expensive, and some designed specifically for use across a business. My own experience has been mainly in keeping notes for personal and work use, but mostly for my own reference. However, if it's something you think your business could benefit from, I wouldn't hesitate to explore your options in that department as well--the more employees can keep communication about ideas open, the better. (If you're not sure if the digital approach is right for your company, try Google Docs first--it's free and easy to learn.)
But from a personal productivity standpoint--it's really not about the specific software (or notebook) you use. It's about finding a system that works for you--a system that doesn't require much thought once you've gotten the hang of it, and most importantly, a system where you know where to find things, or at least where to look. The less you have to worry about forgetting something, or shuffling through papers trying to find that last Post-It Note, the more time you have to be productive, and the easier it is to keep your mind clear and focused. You may not need that idea for your next business meeting the very second you think of it, but you know you'll be able to find it later, and having that system in place gives you some easily-obtained peace of mind.
What do you use for note-taking? Do you prefer paper or digital? Or do you use a combination?
(A screenshot from my Evernote Work Notebook)