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Paper Brains

Growing up, I remember my dad made notes. As I think back, he always seemed to have a pen and paper in his pocket. I just realized that I do that also! I guess it’s genetic. Once as a child I saw him pull a small piece of paper out of his pocket and write something down. I asked him what he had in his hand. He said, “Paper Brains.”

A page from my Paper Brains

For my entire adult life, I’ve relied heavily on Paper Brains – in more recent years, these paper brains have been augmented electronically. However, even with technological advances, we’re all still faced with a question:
What do we do with our notes?
Because few of us have photographic memories, this is not a trivial question. If we can crack the code on this, it might help us take a huge leap forward in our personal effectiveness.
I have tried countless techniques over the years. In part, because I’ve never been fully satisfied with the outcome and, in part, because even if something seems to be working, I still want to find a better way.
Here are a few of the things that have helped me.
I always try to review my notes after an event. Sometimes I’ll even rewrite them if they’re difficult to read.
Sometimes I’ll type significant parts of my hand-written notes. I did this a few years ago while attending the 8-week Advanced Management Program at Harvard. I decided to only type Big Ideas, Questions and Action Items. When I finished, I had almost 100 pages of notes!  However, it was much better than the hundreds of pages of notes I started with. I then had the 100 typed pages spiral bound and I refer to it still to this day, almost 6 years after attending the course.
I also code things while I’m taking notes – A large asterisk beside a Big Idea, a question mark beside a Question I want to revisit and a box to be checked off beside an Action Item. This simple system helps me find these things easier after the event.
One last thought – recently, I switched journals. I’m now using an Action Journal by Behance. These journals have a place designated in the margin specifically for Action Items. This feature alone has made it easier for me to keep track of the things I want to get done. [GLS_Shield]
What works for you regarding processing your notes? I’d love to hear from you!

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Peter Jeff, The Leadership Mints Guy

9 years ago

Paper brains. Loved that phrase. I’m an index card guy. I wrote a book on personal leadership GET A GRIP on your Dream ( primarily by collecting quotes and various anecdotes and observations on over 14,000 index cards sorted into 156 topic categories. I know it is so old school. But somehow pinning up those 3×5 cards on a wall and then —quite literally connecting the dots between and among different categories —gave me new insights. More at


9 years ago

Thanks Peter! 14,000 cards is a lot of paper brains!!! Mark

Connie S

9 years ago

I realy enjoyed reading this article Paper Brains is a good way of explaining it. I do use journals now also I love them I end up useing them every day it seems like.


9 years ago

Thanks Connie for taking time to comment!

Wes Gay

9 years ago

I’ve toyed with different methods. As a self-proclaimed tech geek, I want to keep all notes digitally. But I’ve realized it’s much easier and convenient with my pocket Moleskine. Now I think I may need to try the Action Journal. Thanks for your thoughts!


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