In life, class is always in session
Does this sound familiar?
- your focus and attention feels all over the place, sometimes it’s overwhelming
- you always forget stuff that should be important
- you always get blindsided by things you should have prioritized
- there’s just so much going on, so much to do, so little time to do it all!
If it does sound familiar, the good news is all of that can be remedied by the magic of note taking. What…? What is this, high school?
How can you be an effective person if you don’t take notes? The answer is: you can’t.
Organization System (OS)
In my never-ending quest to be more effective, I’ve used the bullet journal because of its flexibility in tracking the past (journaling), organizing the present, and planning for the future.
There was a limit in its use for me, however — a few conditions needed to be met before I could even begin to make entries into my bullet journal:
- The notebook had to be readily available
- A pen had to be available
- There had to be an easy way for me to store both the pen and the notebook afterwards so that conditions 1 and 2 could be met anytime I needed it
Those three conditions were met less than half the time when I needed to take note of something. There are pros and cons to analog notes as you can see in this graphic. In those cases where I forgot a pen, or the notebook, or both; my cellphone was always on me.
Finding the Perfect OS
Although I loved the feel of paper to write on, I’ve decided to go digital . I’ve realized that the ability to add images and links has been super useful for me as well.
I did some research on other OSs out there because I wanted to incorporate the best common denominators of all OSs into my own. Here are some of the ones I’ve looked into:
- The Secret Weapon – a system that uses Get Things Done (GTD) with evernote. Very effective for productivity.
- The Best Self Journal – a notebook that incorporates elements to keep you motivated toward success
- Mind Maps – a visual way of organize things the way your mind naturally does
All the best OSs did the following:
- Tracked the past, organized the present, and planned the future (like the bullet journal)
- Gave reminders
- Used reflection/debrief
- Helped memory (w imagery)
- Worked as a Journal for a daily debrief where the benefits of gratitude are built in
- Easily captured and organized notes and ideas
- Served as a To-Do List where items are prioritized and focused
I’ve designed an OS that gets the best of all worlds and serves my purposes perfectly. I call it “The Deity’s Notebook”.
All it needs is:
- Evernote – because it’s powerful. I use the note function primarily. The reminders you can set are useful as well.
- Your imagination – because it’s also powerful
Anatomy of NT-LAB
There are three general sections — Wisdom, Power, and Courage (named after the Triforce pieces because I’m a Legend of Zelda fan).
Δ Wisdom –
This section is for giving an overview of the week and its top priorities; it gives a clear focus and perspective of your time to make good decisions — which is wise.
The notes cover the current week by the ISO 8601 standard (start on a Monday, end on a Sunday, and are numbered X out of 52 in the year). So in the example below, I name the note “Week 06 / 06-12 FEB” and then I tack on whatever title I want. I try to make it fun and memorable.
At the very top of WISDOM, there is the SUM which summarizes the week once it’s done. It then starts off with the header “YOUR GREATEST WEEK EVER” because it will be your best week ever if you make it so.
The next part of WISDOM is the top two priorities for the week. I kept it at two for simplicity. Let these be the focus for the week.
Two short checklists follow:
- for the morning, where I like to get a short reading session and exercise session done early and out of the way
- and one for the evening, where it shows me what I should be doing in the POWER section which will be covered next
Below the checklists are where your notes and ideas you want to keep track of will be kept. I usually put a lot here, specifically the random stuff that I want to remember that isn’t necessarily tied to the current day — those things go into the POWER section.
Last is the TO DO list, which is broken out by tiers of importance (aka prioritized). It’s better to keep this section as short as you can. Deciding NOT to do certain things, especially low tier items is one of the first steps to being in control of your time. Think of the TO DO list as a staging area for items that will be pushed to the POWER section during the Plan phase (which will be explained in the How To section below).
Δ Power –
This section is where most of the writing and magic will happen — where you will experience the true power of this OS.
It has the week broken out by days, and with proper planning, it will already have most of the TO DO list items above allocated for a specific day. At the end of each day. I try to write what I’m grateful for that day, but there’s no harm if you backtrack to days past that you happen to miss.
Most of your thoughts specific to the day (journal entries) will go here. It also serves as a planner since after the planning phase, a lot of TO DO items from the WISDOM section would have made its way here and now you have a plan for the week ahead.
Δ Courage –
This section gives you a rundown of any upcoming events past the current week. It’s appropriately named since now that you have a system in place to track things, you should have more courage to face the uncertainties of the future.
Using NT-LAB is super easy. There are 3 phases:
- If you have checklists in the WISDOM section, execute them!
- Throughout the day, write down notes, interesting ideas and thoughts you might have, and log events you want to remember.
- Put in things on the TO DO list that you might want to get around to either this week or sometime in the future.
- At the end of the day, spend a few minutes reviewing your notes
- Reflect and journal –
- What did I think of today? a specific event?
- What went well? What did I do well?
- What could I have done better?
- Write things that you are grateful for. Even if they are small and superficial, they count!
- Add images for visual appeal and for a nice easy way to recall specific things
- Reflect and journal –
- Transfer things you haven’t done today to tomorrow, or push them back to the WISDOM – TO DO list
- Allocate any items from the WISDOM – TO DO list to a day in the POWER section if there is a good time to do them. This is probably the most important aspect of the TO DO list since what doesn’t get scheduled, doesn’t get done!
- Remove any tier 3 TO DO items that either have lingered too long or you no longer think are important enough to stay on since decluttering by saying “no” to things is important too
- Set reminders/alarms for important events
When you wake the next day, check your note to see what you had already planned the day prior and start the process again!
When the week ends, write a short blurb at the very top of the note (SUM) and create a new fresh note for the next week! If there is something that wasn’t too useful, remove it. If there was something you wish was on the note that could have made things easier, add it.
NT-LAB is constantly evolving, and by the time you’re reading this, something minor has probably already changed in the way I personally use it.
Those are the basics. If you can consistently let it work for you, your weeks, and consequently your days will feel a little more organized. You will embody the three sections of the system — wisdom, power, and courage.
I’d love to know how you keep track of things. I’m always on the look out for anything that might improve how I do things. NT-LAB is still a baby.
Leave a comment below or send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.