Sometimes little changes can produce dramatic results. One little change I would recommend would be to start carrying a notebook. A key practical benefit of this is simply put by Will Self:
‘Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea forever’.
Self is in good company, and it’s not just fellow creatives. Yes, Hemmingway, Picasso, Twain and Beethoven all carried notebooks, but so did men of science and business like Edison, Newton, Darwin and Rockefeller. Aristotle Onassis attached great importance to his:
‘Always carry a notebook. Write everything down. When you have an idea, write it down. When you meet someone new, write down everything you know about them. That way you will know how much time they are worth. When you hear something interesting, write it down. Writing it down will make you act upon it. If you don’t write it down you will forget it. THAT is a million dollar lesson they don’t teach you in business school!’
Though most of these individuals lived in a time without access to the same technology as us, the importance of carrying a notebook has not been diminished by the emergence of new tools, nor are the benefits of having a notebook to hand confined to aiding the memory. Self has access to phones and tablets, as does Richard Branson, who swears by his notebook.
We all carry smartphones and tablets which allow us to instantly update our diaries and contact details with important information. This is fine for data that can be easily compartmentalised. If you set a date for a meeting, you can record it in your calendar. If you get passed a business card you can add the details to your contacts.
Ideas can be woolly, sprawling and evolving and a blank page makes for an ideal repository. Listening to an effective presentation and noting down not the key information but the methods being employed and the effects on and responses from yourself and the audience involves summarising disparate pieces of information that are difficult to categorise.
An electronic blank page is not always an effective substitute because of the temptation to revise your notes. The editing capacity of software makes it invaluable in many situations but the beauty and utility of notebooks is that they record every idea – good and bad. Ideas don’t always materialise at the appropriate time and place. A terrible idea in the current moment may be a perfect solution to a future problem. When given the opportunity to save over or delete your notes, potential brilliance for times to come can be lost.
For this reason it is important to revisit your notebook regularly. Don’t judge your thoughts at the time, but consider them when you need inspiration. Personal notes and thoughts for the day also provide a starting point for much of my online content. Having a record of your experiences over the course of a week and noticing the key themes and patterns which emerge acts as a great preventative measure against writer’s block.
Some positive changes involve a significant shift in lifestyle or the purchasing of expensive new tools and equipment. Carrying a notebook and remembering to record key moments from your day is a change you can make where the potential benefits vastly outweigh the effort. It’s such a small change that, though you may not initially think it will work for you, there is no real reason not to give it a try for a few weeks. Be sure to note down how it works out.