Yellow legal pads are my go-to business tool. They’re cheap and easy to find – I buy them in 3-packs at the office supply store. And they’re immediate. With no software to learn and no program to load, nothing could be simpler.
Perhaps I love lined paper because I started college in 1993. I went to Johns Hopkins, a school my dad had graduated from exactly 40 years before me. The day before we left for Freshman year I packed our Volvo to the brim with all of my stuff. He watched me struggle to shut the back of the car and said, “I arrived at Hopkins with a suitcase, a typewriter, and $40 pinned to the inside of my jacket.” Well, I arrived at Hopkins with several huge duffel bags, an enormous desktop computer, a mini fridge, and all sorts of dorm accessories. Although our luggage was different, both of us took notes in classes in Gilman Hall the same way – on paper with a pencil. In 1993 I didn’t have an email address or a cell phone. Writing things down was the way that I learned, and it still is.
I got an email last week on this topic from a crafter named Danielle. She said:
Right now I feel like I am in a rut of the next steps on where I want to take in my business. I have so many ideas booming in my head and not enough time to test them…Curious, how do you keep note of your ideas? I use Evernote but didn’t know if there is a more crafty tool out there for that?
My response? I keep track of everything on a yellow legal pad. I hope she wasn’t disappointed.
On the first page of the pad I begin my to-do list. I just sit down and list every task that needs to get accomplished. I make little notes next to some of the items, cross off parts of others as I finish them, and continuously add items until I reach the bottom of the page. Sometimes I get to the bottom right away, and sometimes it take a week or so.
I love a running to-do list because I often work in tiny snippets of time. If you run a business while being a stay-at-home mom I’m sure you know what this is like. A list at the ready means I can quickly see what I need to do, choose something, and get started. It’s so satisfying to cross things off.
The yellow pad is not just a to-do list, though. It’s also a place to take notes and I take a lot of notes. There are:
- Notes from Skype calls with colleagues who mention things I need to look into
- Notes from articles I’m reading or people I’m interviewing as I do research for blog posts or freelance articles
- Math problems I’m doing to figure out how to price new products
- Show notes I write down while recording podcast episodes
- Ideas for new patterns, new ebooks, new blog posts, and more
It makes me feel good to know that all of this information lives in one place, in real life, where I can get at it and reference it. I save all the old legal pads. If I ever need to confirm a quote from someone or remember the details of a conversation from last year, I’ve got records.
Once my to-do list page is full and I’ve done most of the things on the list, I copy over those that are still undone onto a fresh page, and then begin to add new items. I keep working like this – to-do list, notes, to-do list, notes – until I reach the last page of the pad, then file it and start a fresh one.
There are definitely disadvantages to using a paper-and-pencil method of note taking and to-do list making. If I’m away and I leave my yellow legal pad at home I’m a bit adrift. And, of course, I could lose it or it could accidentally get thrown away. But I love my yellow legal pads and when my kids see them they say, “That’s Mommy’s business.”
I think it’s easy to deceive ourselves into thinking that we need fancy tools in order to be productive. Fancy tools are awesome (I’ve professed my love for Pocket here before), but really it’s not the tool as much as what you do with it. You can do a lot with a pad of notebook paper on the desk and a pen in your hand.