There’s a reason for why we look to increase our productivity through task and time management: we’re stressed. Handing such matters over to trusted systems frees up staggering amounts of brain capacity – yet there’s more to gain through in-task notes.
Leave no information behind
If you’ve been managing your tasks through an external system for some time, you already know the warm, fuzzy feeling which stems from relieving your poor, maltreated brain from having to act as a storage location when it’s really a production facility. As much of a relief this is, few take the opportunity to offload collateral information – the kind that is neither a task, nor something you want to store for eternity, but rather information which is required for a limited duration of time.
Typically, however, those who are fairly new to task management overlook collateral information because there is little emphasis on it in methodologies and software. Tasks go in a task manager such as Remember the Milk, Wunderlist or MyLifeOrganized. Reference materials go in a notes manager such as Evernote, SpringPad or Onenote. Collateral information doesn’t quite fit either because its link to the specific task is vital, and it can be a bit of a hassle to create simple links between the two camps.Then, there’s the historical aspect, which can be particularly important in communications-heavy professions. Keeping track of what has been said and done in a variety of situations and mediums frees up even more memory, all for the better.
Enter the notes field
Many consider the notes field found in most task managers to be superfluous. It’s typically underpowered, hard to reach and doesn’t offer much in terms of taking proper notes. Which, in all honesty, is true; a dedicated notes application is vastly preferable for keeping track of proper notes. For collateral and historical information, however, it’s perfect – as long as it’s omnipresent.
For instance, MyLifeOrganized, which is my preferred task manager, executes admirably on this, always keeping the notes field within easy reach.So, what exactly goes in there?Bits and bobs, with a smidge of structure. Allow me to exemplify by showing you my own way of taking notes:
OT [Date] [Name]:
- Discussed meeting proposal, promised support
- Recommended lobbying with Joe, 450-223-4826
- Reminded of presentation requirements, fewer slides on spending and more on concrete outcomes
The outline is simple: the OT stands for an outgoing telephone call (IE would mean incoming e-mail), made on a certain date, to a certain person with short, keyword-style notes. If for any reason I need to recall something from the exchange, when it was made or in which context, I know where to find it – or simply use the search function.
One thing to keep in mind: I make such notes within subtasks to make sure I see them when I need them, but that requires making a habit out of copying them over to subsequent tasks so I have the information at the ready. I could of course allow them to remain, but I don’t keep completed tasks in my lists for two reasons: if left visible, such tasks clutter the working space, while if hidden, they at the very least complicate search when enough have accumulated.
Lastly, I’ve seen many people attempt to handle such information through keeping a daily journal. This, alas, is a poor substitute, as it fails to offer the immediacy which make in-task notes so efficient – leaving your brain to rear its ugly prefrontal cortex and whisper: “I can do this infinitely faster. Just trust me.”
Which, of course, you shouldn’t.
How do you prefer to handle collateral information? You can leave a comment below.