Connecting Through Notetaking


Memos, journals, planners, post-its, pen to wrist … we all have our own methods of remembering stuff for later. As for me, I feel like I’ve never landed on one method, and I envy those who have. They’re the same people who say, “hold on, let me check my calendar” before responding to an invitation. Organizational geniuses, those people.

I’ve been one to feverishly jot things down on whatever paper-like resource is nearest me, and through the course of a day I often lose my musings to the sidewalk, the space between my carseat, or washed up in the laundry. As a writer, my disorganized methods were beginning to weigh on my mind … like I was abandoning my tools simply because I never put them in a safe place. It was self-sabotaging.

I was sick of feeling bombarded by a surplus of thoughts at inconvenient times, and like clockwork feeling mentally empty just in time for work (or any other circumstance where I was expected to be creative or, at the very least, mentally present).

Mental clutter is not a comfortable sensation.

So, I decided to look further into notetaking methods.

I needed to find the best way to take care of my thoughts and notes, something that worked for me. I knew I wasn’t uniquely sporadic, but I also knew there had to be a solution to this ebb and flow of thoughts, and there had to be some smart person who already figured out a spectacular way to keep track of every single thought while also maintaining daily productivity. And I found him.

I came across this notecard idea in Daniel Levitin’s The Organized Mind. As it turns out, the method is less “spectacular” and more “ingenius.” Nevertheless, I was thrilled.

Basically, I carry around notecards and, when a thought comes that I can’t quite wrestle with in the moment, I write it on a notecard, and eventually accumulate a stack. What’s tactically pleasing about this (and sometimes overwhelming) is seeing how many cards rack up throughout the day. At the end of the day I organize them by priority. I find organizing them by color is helpful.

Once I’m finished with a task, I can happily toss out the reminder card. It feels so good, so much better than drawing a check mark on a To-Do list.

When I first discovered this notecard method I was completely in love with it. It felt so new and productive. My thoughts no longer felt abandoned, but instead shelved for a more appropriate time.

A few days went by and I grabbed my red spiraled notebook off my shelf to journal about it. That’s the notebook I use to record lovely, happy and fulfilling moments.

I categorize my notebooks by subjects — plot ideas, dreams, lovely moments, things that scare me — I picked up this habit back in college.

As I reached for the notebook I realized that my home “thought library” has a similar intention and result as Daniel’s notecard trick. My notebooks help me assign certain ideas to potential creative, productive, or worthwhile mediums. I realized I was subconsciously attempting this organization trick on my own, and I suddenly felt connected to Daniel.

We’ve all felt that way, when we read something — a line of poetry, a chapter of a novel, a single phrase — and we instantly feel swept up, rescued from our loneliness.

Learning this notecard method made me feel less alone in my own mental clutter, and I love that I acquired this concept from someone I have never met. I have a notecard in my stack that says “Send a thank you letter to Daniel,” and I keep shuffling it to the back, because I feel like maybe it’s more of an affirmation than a reminder.

I think a more appropriate thank you would be to create something — create lots of somethings — that rescues someone else from their loneliness. Until then, I’ll hang on to that card and keep jotting things down for later.

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