Previously on this blog, I detailed a strategy that I have implement which has resulted in a more productive and creative work week.  Today, I want to share a strategy I am still struggling to implement on a regular basis – I’m hoping that by writing about it and publicly committing to it, I will be more likely to act on it and hopefully form it into a habit.  The strategy I am referring to is that of always carrying a notebook with me to jot thoughts and ideas as they occur to me.  This is a powerful strategy for three main reasons: 1) It prevents me from forgetting about thoughts and ideas that hit me throughout the day 2) By having all my thoughts on paper in front of me, it makes it easier to batch them into categories and therefore easier for me to prioritize my To Do list 3) Most importantly, by jotting down my thoughts, they get out of my head and I can stop the constant worry that I am going to forget something important.  With that worry out of the way, I can be far more focused… and get much more done!

Prior to founding PFI Advisors with Reese Sonnen, my wife and business partner, I always touted my work ethic and intense focus as my primary keys to success throughout my career.  With the launch of our own business, however, I continually found my mind wandering during meetings or when I tried to read an article or compose an email, etc.  No matter what I tried, I just couldn’t calm my mind.  A year probably passed before I even realized exactly what was happening, and another year went by before I discovered what I could do about it.  While I was uncertain as to why I couldn’t focus, I was very aware that I wasn’t as productive as I had been in the past.

Outside of client work (which pays the bills and therefore deserves the majority of my focus), as a business owner, I am also responsible for meeting with potential new clients, managing our team (albeit a small one), strategizing with Reese on new service offerings and/or marketing strategies, working with Reese on our budget and managing our hiring needs, and producing a lot of content in the form of blog posts, published articles, podcasts, white papers, and course content for our new digital consulting platform, The COO Society.  Regardless of who I am speaking with – whether it is talking to my mom about Luke’s latest adventures, or a prospective client about a possible new engagement – there is a constant stream of thoughts running in the back of my mind, “Did I send that email?”  “Did I ask Sandra to set up that meeting?”  “Do I have time this afternoon to complete our latest article for Wealthmanagement.com?”  That voice can be incredibly distracting, but I had just resigned myself to living with it, chalking it up as a cost of being a business owner.

Somewhere along the way, however, I realized that the voice would quiet down if and when I was diligent about jotting those thoughts onto paper.  For me, ink to paper works better than typing the notes on the computer and I had very little luck using my phone to capture these ideas, regardless of which app I used (and I have tried several!).  It’s as if the process of scribbling those thoughts with pen transfers the voice out of my head and onto the written page. 

Once I started seeing the benefits of writing everything down, my next challenge was simply locating my written notes, as some were captured on sticky notes, some were written among two or three notepads, some were left in my car, others were at home, some were in the office, etc.  I quickly evolved my process to include a small notebook, similar to the small journals we all receive at conferences, but this posed two new problems that I’m still struggling with: 1) I am bad about carrying the notebook with me, and 2) I covet these journals so much that I constantly struggle to determine which thoughts/ideas are “notebook worthy” and which aren’t good enough to take up space in my journal.  This, of course, defeats the entire purpose of having the journal to capture all of my thoughts and get them out of my head!  I’m trying to get better on both these fronts – making sure I capture thoughts (all thoughts!) as they come to me so I can get them onto paper (and hopefully free up some space in my head for new ones), and I’m trying to never leave my desk without my trusty notebook!

Much has been written about Richard Branson’s habit of notetaking, and he has written himself, “I can’t tell you where I’d be if I hadn’t had a pen on hand to write down my ideas (or more importantly, other people’s) as soon as they came to me.  Some of Virgin’s most successful companies have been born from random moments – if we hadn’t opened our notebooks, they would never have happened.”  I have read and have been told by people who have met him, that he does in fact carry his notebook everywhere, and uses it quite liberally.  He has written, “No matter how big, small, simple or complex an idea is, get it in writing.  If you don’t write your ideas down, they could leave your head before you even leave the room.”  Again, for me, notetaking isn’t just about capturing those thoughts so I don’t forget them, it’s also about preventing my mind from constantly worrying about those ideas and trying to hold onto them until I can do something with them.

In the course of writing this article, my mind has drifted several times to the seemingly endless list of things I’m working on right now.  I’ve quickly scribbled those thoughts into my notebook to save them for later and gotten back on task with completing this article.  In the past, I would have fallen down the rabbit hole and attempted to multitask several things while writing this article, my mind churning through unfinished tasks all at once.  By writing them down, my brain seems to resolve the angst associated with those other tasks and allow me to focus.  If I could just do this on a more consistent basis and continue to remind myself, “If it’s good enough for Sir Richard Branson, it should be good enough for me!”

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