Friday, November 13, 2009

The Black and White Notebook

There is a part of me that still cringes when I see a black and white notebook. You know, the classic composition notebooks from elementary school?

Back in the day, my manager at a direct marketing firm insisted that all of her underlings use and carry them around wherever we went. I always wondered if I put the notebook down when I went to the bathroom if she would pop out at me when I rounded the corner headed back to my desk. If you were so bold as to take notes on post it notes, you were taken down to the parking lot for 50 lashes (ok, I might be exaggerating here).

Although she was uber-controlling, her reasoning was simple. Pages don’t tear out easily from them which means you have a historical log of all your notes. Imagine her desk with at least 20 lined up an arms reach away in date order. I can tell you that when you fill an entire composition notebook up, there is a crisp sound when you turn a page. If I think about it, I can still hear the furious page turning to Summer 1999 where I had failed to complete an action item. She remembered. The composition notebook wouldn’t let her forget.

As she went about her business, she took copious notes. Whenever there was an actionable item, it received a check mark so it was easily recognizable amongst the sea of blue lines and handwriting scribble. Once an action item was completed the item got a cross hatch through the check. Sometimes an item was so important that it warranted a highlight. But the check mark system was the main barometer for successful completion.

I developed a minor case of carpel tunnel syndrome at this job- (probably had nothing to do with writing furiously in a composition notebook and lugging 4 filled notebooks to London to ensure I had back-up proof for any of our client meetings).

I have to admit, the system taught me a lesson in organization. It also taught me that your mind fails you but your notes don’t. You may remember a situation so clearly in your head, but then flip to your notes and realize that a different arrangement had to been agreed to. Especially in the fast paced environment that we worked in, I felt that my notebook was my own private witness. If it was written in my notebook- it was so! I would have taken it to a court of law.

A hyper-militant checklist fear stayed with me for many years. But embarrassingly, I found myself using a similar system when I went on to other employment. Had I become the new General of the B&W Notebook Battalion? Ugh, I shudder at the thought. (I am currently using a bright orange colored notebook).

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