Make action lists work for you

I’ve used a simple method for most of my career; here it is.

While I actively use the latest technology to make my life easier and actually do the work that is expected of me, I’m certainly not paperless when it comes to taking notes in meetings and managing my actions. Confession: In this modern age of innovation I still use a lined A4 hard-backed notebook and write in it with a pen. (A pen is a long thin object with a pointed “nib” at one end which can apply ink to a page.) [1st of 5 paragraphs]

Firstly, I prefer A4 notebooks because I accumulate A4 pages during the day and find it’s easier to keep them in the back of the same sized notebook than fold them up or carry them loosely. The Black n Red wirebound notebook and Pentel black roller pen has been my favourite combination for a long time. (I also keep a box of these pens handy which I go through quite quickly as I don’t manage my pens nearly as well as I manage actions.) [2/5]

The amount of notes I take in the notebook depends on the meeting or topic I am recording but any action arising gets a box on the left hand side (which also distinguishes it from general notes.) When I complete the action the box gets ticked but once I can forget about it entirely I also strike it through. Every week I page back through my notebook, bring incomplete actions forward to the current page and strike them out where I originally wrote them down. [3/5]

Any page with fully completed actions gets a line through from bottom left to top right which “closes” the page. Such closed pages must be continuous so that I know there is nothing preceding the last struck out page that needs action. If the page is still current and I don’t bring the actions forward I might mark a few important actions with a highlighter just to catch my eye when I page back to make sure I haven’t missed anything. [4/5]

I keep and manage three notebooks in exactly the same way for work, for personal admin and for my PhD which is on Leadership and Agile Software Engineering. If my note-taking is sufficient and I convert to actions accurately then I rarely miss something I need to do, it’s just how well I prioritise different actions that might vary. The art of getting things done is quite simple; know what you need to do and just do it – if you have a method of achieving this then use it and stick to it. [5/5]

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2 Comments

  1. Heather Kuypers on April 28, 2015 at 9:30 am

    Peter – thank you for this, I had to giggle reading your article, I have been keeping notebooks just as you have outlined here for the last 15 years and they are literally my brain on paper! So glad there is still someone else out there who doesn’t use an app for that – but rather good old pen and paper. Your last sentence is the key though – it’s the “just do it” part that’s the kicker.

  2. Peter Alkema on May 11, 2015 at 9:58 pm

    Heather – I guess “birds of a feather” or other sayings to that effect. One thing I regret about all my notebooks was not dating the pages more consistently – I need to go back and order them somehow…..

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