Dear Colleague, Put the Notebook Down

Harvard Business Review

I knew right away, when you walked in here with a paper notebook — a paper notebook! — I realized that this meeting was not going to be a good use of our time.

You'd make better use of your time if you took your notes in digital form, ideally in an access-anywhere digital notebook like Evernote that makes retrieval a snap. If you had that, I could shoot you the link of the book I want you to read, or the contact card of the person you want to meet. And if you planned to act any of the ideas or outcomes from this meeting, you would want to pop the follow-up tasks into your task management program.

Unless you reserve 20 minutes after each meeting to transcribe your notes and enter your follow-up tasks, however, most of this meeting's value will slip like sand through a sieve. And if you're taking 20 minutes to transcribe each meeting, you're losing several hours per week of productive work time.

You're probably thinking I like that you use a paper notebook. That it's a signal that I have your full attention and you won't distracted while we meet. But if you are here to discuss the personal crisis that has affected your work, or to tell me that you have been harboring unprofessional feelings about me, we won't need any kind of notebook at all. The fact that you are carrying any kind of notebook tells me that this isn't one of those conversations. We're here to get things done. So bring the tools that will help us do that.

You could be one of those romantic types who say that the visceral process of putting pen on paper liberates your creativity and engages lateral thinking. If you're an after-hours poet, then, yes, that paper notebook will come in handy. For this, though, can you please go back and grab your laptop?

Maybe you believe that the act of handwriting improves your memory of what was discussed. Of course, a digital notebook means you don't have to remember anything, because, you'll have a complete, legible and searchable record of the entire meeting.

Maybe you don't have a laptop or tablet to bring to our meeting, because your manager hasn't made the connection between mobile digital and productivity. If it would be helpful, I'm happy to type a note to your boss explaining why this is the falsest of false economies. For $500 we can take back those three hours of transcribing notes and make those notes more useful. In the meantime, ask yourself why you want to report to someone who puts so little value on your time.

I understand if my frustration has taken you by surprise. After all, you've probably been reprimanded for using a laptop or tablet in a meeting. That reprimand came from someone who suspects you of surreptitiously checking email or catching up on Facebook when you should be paying attention to what they are saying.

I'm not going to do that. I'm willing to take responsibility for being engaging and relevant enough to earn your attention. If I don't earn your attention, or don't need it for every minute of this meeting, then I'd be glad for you have access to the tools that will let you make constructive use of your time during the lulls. And if you are one of the lucky few who can listen to a conversation while taking care of rote tasks like organizing your file folders, so much the better.

But maybe you don't trust yourself. You worry that your computer will tempt you to scan Twitter, shop for shoes, or read the latest news about Wills' and Kate's baby instead of engaging with the matters at hand. I know it can be hard to stay focused when you're at a computer. That's why I practice disciplined use of my digital tools. I carry my computer with me and work hard to use them appropriately. You can use this hour to practice, too.

You can walk down the hall and come back with your laptop; if you don't have one, I'm happy to lend you my iPad while we meet. You can use this time to practice the art of listening while typing, and to work on focusing your attention so that you can stay engaged with this conversation even though you know you're just a click and a Google search away from a world of fascinating delights. You can take your notes in Evernote, and then discover how much more productive you are when you capture everything digitally.

Because this isn't just about wasting the next hour of my time. It's about not wasting the next hour, month or year of yours.

(Disclaimer: I am an Evernote Ambassador, which means I'm endorsed by Evernote as an expert on their tool. Evernote has also included my book in its Evernote Trunk program. I'm not employed by Evernote, nor have I received any financial consideration for this post.)

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