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Scribble Scrabble

Scribble Scrabble?

Two thoughts collided during my self-reflection this week. It started with an article from David Pierce at the Wall Street Journal about handwriting. Pierce explores the effects of the digital world on our penmanship scribble scrabble. He provides a well-framed set of options for getting the written word into electronic format. But Pierce also mentions the positive effects of handwriting on our ability to learn and remember information. When we type on a computer, we are prone to record each word while with writing we will summarize thoughts.

Then I remembered an article I wrote a few years ago about taking pen and paper to meetings rather than laptops. This is my preference because it helps me focus on the meeting rather than distractions of multitasking on my computer. Business meetings would be far more productive if no one was distracted by their laptops!

What insights can we learn from the value of handwritten notes and focused interactions?

Word Play.

I already use a paper notebook to record thoughts and action items throughout the day. While a pad of paper helps  me stay focused at the meeting table, I’m also a keyboard-junkie. I want everything important in electronic format so I can index for searching. I can type faster than I can write and electronic information provides efficiency.

In his article, Pierce discusses taking pictures of hand-written notes and allowing modern technology to recognize the characters for indexing and searching. I love the simplicity of this solution because it removes logistical challenges with writing electronically. It also works for meeting content on whiteboards.

When I write,  I prefer print over cursive. I don’t recall when I made that change, but I remember writing in cursive during high-school to capture notes faster. Print is better for optical character recognition software and gives clarity and precision to my documents. Maybe i’m slower writing print. But it’s legible and precise.

Find time to wrestle with the concepts of note taking, productivity, handwriting if you haven’t already. You might discover some hidden insights about yourself.

Onward and upward!

No Nonsense Declutter

I don’t like clutter in my spaces.

Maybe it’s as simple as saying I like for things to be in their place. Each thing, at work or home, has an assigned space; or at least the space I want them to be. To me, clutter and piles of things laying about in my spaces create a to-do. It’s a to-do I’d rather not do. So my aim is to avoid the clutter from the start.declutter-your-computer

To declutter is as much about routines as any particular tool or method. We have to be intentional in our actions and create habits that minimize clutter from the start. I’m not afraid of throwing away and deleting things which is a key requirement for a decluttered environment.

What’s clutter to one person could be perfect balance and harmony to another. I get that. We all have varying definitions and tolerance levels for stuff, things, etc. So it may be easier to frame-up the discussion in terms of a actions and routines. Here are a few of my routines. I’m always looking for more so let me know what tactics you use!

Inbox with a purpose

I’ve seen co-workers that keep all their email messages in the inbox with no subfolders. They don’t delete messages. The inbox is just one big master list. These co-workers use the built-in email functionality for sorting and searching to manage to their workflow. That works for them, but to me it looks and feels chaotic. Clutter.

I use the methodology that after reading an email message it should be immediately filed, deleted, or kept for action. This means that my inbox is really a to-do list. It contains either unread messages or messages that require further follow-up.

Documents stored sensibly

Saving a document with a modified name to mark version differences is one way show and track changes through the life of a document. I see workers use an editor’s name/initials or even the edit date in the title. This system works for some people because it creates a visual when scanning documents to find various versions. But to me it creates clutter because I see multiple files with similar content in a folder. Typical problems with this method include finding the latest version and consolidating feedback from multiple editors into the final draft.

There are many tools available for document group collaboration and versioning. Google Docs, Microsoft SharePoint, Oracle Universal Content Manager are just a few examples. The great thing about a content management system is the document stays in a set location where each group member can edit. This beats passing around updates via email attachments where editors can’t see what other editors have done and can’t be sure they are working on the latest version. It also declutters the inbox!

About Printing

I don’t hear much about a 100% paperless office anymore. The good news is that as society we are definitely reducing the amount of paper we use. Ask the Post Office how that’s working out for them.

But printed documents is still a number one source of potential clutter. My first rule of thumb is to avoid printing if at all possible because most documents can be viewed, edited, and stored electronically. There are times when I print for readability, compliance, or portability reasons. But I try not keep paper on top of my desk (physical inbox). As with email, the paper is either filed, recycled (deleted!), or kept as a to-do.

What’s your system?

I use organizers like OneNote for filing work documents and keeping a to-do list. I use email to pass links to documents rather than attaching documents when the audience has access to shared storage. I avoid paper when possible and I’m comfortable deleting things when I feel they will have no future use. It’s my version of decluttered life. What’s yours?

How to use Microsoft OneNote to track tasks

I use Microsoft OneNote to manage my professional career. It has everything from general notes, meeting notes, research notes, reference materials, and my to-do list of tasks.

To track tasks I use the “tag” feature of OneNote. There are many built-in tag names but I also customize the list with my own names. The tag becomes a task category that I can group with (i.e. Priority 1, Priority 2, Personnel, etc.)

Note: The current version of OneNote that I use is from Office 2010.

Customize the tag list

1. From the home tab select the down/end arrow on the Tags list.

One Note Tags 1


2. At the bottom of the tag list select “Customize Tags”

3. Define a new tag or modify an existing one. If I am defining the type of task that will be tracked, then I used a Symbol that contains room for a checkbox.

OneNote Tags 2


OneNote Tags 3



Add tags to task titles

1. Within any note, type a task name and then select the tag name for the tags list. This will apply the tag symbol in front of your task name on the note.

OneNote Task Titles

2. Use the space below the task name to keep up with the details of the task. I often precede the detail with the date name.

3. I don’t always keep all tasks in one notebook section. Tasks can be defined anywhere within the notebook, sections, or notes.

Track tasks

1. To view the centralized list of all tasks select the “Find Tags” button in the navigation bar. Then look at the tags in the right-side navigation. You can filter the tasks in different ways.

OneNote Task List2. From the right-side navigation if you select an individual task/tag it will navigate you to the specific location of the task where you can add supporting details.


3. I use the checkbox to indicate that the task is completed.

My Evernote wish list

Evernote LogoI have become a big fan of notebook applications such as Microsoft OneNote, Google Notebook, and Evernote. I used OneNote at work to manage all of my daily activities and I’ve been using Google Notebook at home to record lists of data and other topical notes. Recently I switched from Google Notebook to Evernote because I had read few good reviews on the product and it contained a few more customization options.

Now that I’ve used Evernote for a few months, I created a note to record my Evernote wish list for new features enhancements. I know, it’s free software, so I should be happy with what I get or use something else. But if the creators are looking for ways to enhance the value of the product (and I know they are) then it’s lists like this that give them input.

Bob’s Evernote wish list

  1. Twitter integration to unique default notebook – The new twitter integration with Evernote is nice. I can send a tween to @MyEN and it will be logged as a note for me. Right now it will place the note in the designated default folder. A simple enhancement would be to designate the folder for the note in the twitter setup for the account settings. This would enable a folder dedicated for tweets.
  2. Sections within notebooks – Right now each notebook within Evernote provides a single grouping or folder for notes. It would be useful to have sections or sub-notebooks to further subdivide the information.
  3. Note templates – All notes are currently created on a white background. I’d like to see the ability to add some colored backgrounds and predetermined line work layout to enhance the look and feel. Essentially, it’s a theme option for each notebook.
  4. Tables – I’d like to be able to add tables inside a note to allow for enhanced lists or comparisons within a list. I often create a note to list things that have multiple attributes or to compare a few features. Tables make this type of data listing easier to show.
  5. Linux Version – As of today, I only use the web based site and tool and not a local client. I run Linux on my home machine and there is not a Linux client. There is some traffic about this list on the message forum. Linux please!