Keeping my stuff on track
November 11, 2007 8:24 PM   Subscribe

I've just started a new job; yay me. However, this new job involves keeping track of a lot of different projects, people and tasks, and I want to do a better job of this.

So this new job involves managing a lot of things (people, projects and specific tasks), and I am not the best person at taking notes and keeping track of lots of different things. My memory is average, but I need to be able to think of something in a meeting, take a note and then get back to that at a later date. What systems do you, o hive brain, use for this sort of thing? What would you recommend to help a rather forgetful old fool like me turn into an organized, focussed, detail oreientated management machine?

One wrinkle; the company I work for has a no-laptop in meetings policy, so I couldn't use a laptop. A cell phone/PDA would be okay, but I need a system that can easily synch with my Mac. I also go from one meeting straight to another most of the time, so the system must be able to survive that; I won't always be able to sit down after the meeting and write notes or whatever.

Any suggestions for a system to help me out?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
An old fashioned calendar date book? I use one with space for notes and it is handy to scribble in future dates for deadlines, meetings, followups, etc. You then also have it to refer to when updating your computer based calendar if you use one of those.
posted by 45moore45 at 8:33 PM on November 11, 2007

Digital Voice Recorder - With lots of built in storage.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 8:33 PM on November 11, 2007

You could be describing my job above. How do I keep track of it all? I keep a legal pad.

Every morning, I write my numbered to-do list on a new page, including all tasks I need to do, of any sort, as well as due dates for projects, things left to do on projects, incidental things ("email back Joe about changes to the web project"), etc. That's the middle of the page. The top margin of the page is where I track upcoming appointments. The bottom of the page is where I track long-term to-dos ("get around to cleaning the gunk out of the phone handset," "join more local email lists").

When I finish something on the list, I cross it off. Simple as that.

And when I have a meeting, I bring the pad, and open the notepad to a new page, specifically for that meeting. I write down anything I need to, then at the end of the meeting, transfer any resulting to-dos to the previous page, where the day's to-do list resides.

It's a very simple system, and so far, it works for me.
posted by limeonaire at 8:45 PM on November 11, 2007

Here's my advice -- before you go into a meeting, think about why you're taking notes. For me, at least, it's easy to try to "write everything down" by default -- which is hard to do (especially without a laptop). And most of the time, it's not even clear that it's necessary -- just note the follow-up items and anything that seems to be particularly interesting or important, or potentially useful later.

I definitely write down anything that I need to follow-up on later (people, projects, specific tasks). You can either put them all in one place (e.g. reserve a separate page for follow-ups), or put stars or something next to those notes so they stand out... that later, at the end of the meeting/day, go through your notes, and integrate the isolated/starred follow-up tasks into your calendar or to-do list. (If you don't have a broader system, take a look at Getting Things Done -- which has some great principles, even if you don't adopt the system wholesale.)

Finally, if you want to keep a record of other things from the meeting -- bits of information, etc., that don't require follow-ups -- consider making yourself project-specific computer files where you can type them from your meeting notes. It doesn't have to be anything fancy -- maybe a Word file for each project, with a running list of bulleted information? Personally, for this and for my to-do list, I love OmniOutliner on the Mac. (MeFi mail me if you want more ideas for organizing in OmniOutliner.)

In fact, it might be best that you can't take notes on a laptop. A system like this -- where you have to retype a few key points from the meetings -- might help you drill down to key bits of information, and might save you from information overload. This is helpful when you're trying to find that one key bit of information later. If you're starting a new job, of course, you might err on the side of saving too much information, at least at the beginning...

Good luck!
posted by rdn at 8:54 PM on November 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Use a notepad and send an email to all attendees with the points of issue and tasks to be done as an after-meeting summary so everybody is on the same page. Then you can put these things in whatever application you use to track them.
posted by rhizome at 10:07 PM on November 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

1) Color code everything! Get color coded post it notes, highlighters, pens, get those colored sticky tab things....and then notate what color is for what department/project.

2) Date everything! I once was doing a project for 5 different people and each person would come up to me for update and even if I emailed them with it, they would forget and need a verbal update. You have to keep up on your notes and files.

3) Back up everything! You said there were no laptops, so that means everything you do, everything you send, everything that is confirmed, get it photocopied, date it, and file it accordingly. Think of this as not only backing everything up, but covering your ass. I once faxed a big contract to the legal department whom the secretary said she never received. But I kept the confirmation sheet with the contract on file to show my boss. Cover you ass at all costs if you are going to work your butt off in this job.
posted by dnthomps at 12:19 AM on November 12, 2007

I use a Moleskine notebook + Tracks and the GTD methodology. You can use a free version of tracks at or set up your own install on a web server.

The Moleskine is handy and unobtrusive for note taking. I print out a listing from Tracks every so often, keeping it quarter-folded and clipped with a pen in my pocket, which also makes for easy data collection and updates.
posted by wheat at 3:42 AM on November 12, 2007

I use a take a notebook to each meeting (electronics are a bit distracting) and immediately re-hash all that into a wiki. Specifically, Confluence.

You can easily share your notes with other project members. Re-vise them if need be (and see the revisions) and so much more.
posted by purephase at 5:03 AM on November 12, 2007

I second reading through GTD, but decide for yourself what modifications need to be made.

I highly reccomend todoist.
posted by phrontist at 6:55 AM on November 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

most of the above are really great suggestions. i nth a plain old notebook for taking notes in meetings. for meetings that require it, a followup email to all attendees with "action items" is great because not everyone will have taken notes or even paid attention.

if you can, use outlook or a similar tool to set yourself reminders for deadlines, etc.

if you have tons and tons of projects spread out all over the place, make yourself a little spreadsheet or something listing the project name, next milestone deadline, and final deadline. you can print it out and put it on your wall or whatever, and updated the electronic version as necessary, and reprint.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:12 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I use a standard cheapo mead composition book for most of my immediate to do lists. I started doing this about 7 years ago, and even keep the old ones around (which is great during review time). Generally I start a to do list on a page per day, especially Mondays. In a meeting I only write down what I need to take care of, no extranenous information. I take notes during phone calls with clients in it too.

And spreadsheets. My team has about 70 projects going at once, and we have a plethora of spreadsheets to track deadlines, reporting, and other todo items. The spreadsheets have shared privileges setup so that multiple people can work in them at the same time.

Seems a little oldschool with all the new tech out there, but sometimes it's easier to stick with what you know how to use, versus adding extra stress into the system with trying to learn how to use a tool, when you really need the tool to do it for you.
posted by Big_B at 9:33 AM on November 12, 2007

Seconding David Allen
posted by doppleradar at 8:31 PM on November 12, 2007

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