The Importance of Writing It Down

My morning routine was a little out of whack yesterday. On Saturday, we made a long day trip to Lancaster, PA, about a 2-1/2 hour drive north. We spent the day at an amusement park for the Littlest Miss’s birthday. We left the house at 8 am on Saturday and were home just before 10 pm Saturday night. It was 300 miles of driving and 7 hours on my feet at the park. I was tired. So I slept in later than normal, and didn’t head out for my morning walk until 7:30 am, an hour and a half later than usual.

When routines go sideways, that’s when things get missed. I left my Field Notes notebook and pens back at the house. I realized this on my walk. I was listening to Episode 528 of the Tim Ferriss Podcast, listing to Tim interview Jimmy Wales. Something was said and I pulled out my notebook to write it down–and my notebook wasn’t there!

So rare is it that I am without my notebook that the feeling I had was the same feeling I get when I feel for my keys and suddenly realize they are not in my pocket. It is that sinking, uh-oh feeling. It latest for a millisecond but it was there. I was annoyed that I’d forgotten my notebook. I pulled out my phone and emailed myself the note I was going to take and continued walked.

My walks are often punctuated with stops like these. Something I am listening to will trigger a thought, or I’ll get an idea for a blog post, or remember something that I have to do later in the day. Over the years, I’ve trained myself to always stop what I am doing and write down the thought. If there is even a question of whether or not it is worth writing down, I err on the side of caution. I have never regretted jotting a note in my notebook, but I have often regretted not writing down some idea that popped into my head, thinking I’ll remember it later. I never remember it later. Often, this means stopping half a dozen times on a morning walk to jot notes. This is true at any time of the day or night. If I wake up in the dark with an idea, I’ll grab my notebook, which is always on the nightstand beside me, and jot the note. Sometimes I’ll turn on the light, other times I’ll do my best in the dark.

My Field Notes notebooks are filled with things that would otherwise have disappeared from my short term memory forever. They are the way I remember things for later. Thus, the importance of writing it down. Sometimes, I feel silly. When meeting new people, I am terrible with names. I’ve tried the trick of saying the person’s name and that never seems to work for me. What I do instead, is casually pull out my notebook and jot down the names as soon as I can. That helps immensely. But people sometimes look at me funny when I pull out a notebook. I’ve gotten over it. I’ve had to, if I want to remember these things.

When I go to the store to get, say, milk, and ask Kelly if there is anything else we need, if she gives me more than 2 things, I write them down. At the amusement park yesterday, I jotted a list of all of the rides we went on, so that I could write in more detail about them later. Just seeing the list helps to trigger memories of the events.

The page from my notebook, describing the rides we went on Saturday.
The page from my notebook, describing the rides we went on Saturday.

Being without my Field Notes notebook was much more uncomfortable than those rare occasions when I forget to take my phone with me. Being able to write things down in the moment helps me continue with my day, and come back to those things later, when I am ready. Whenever I hear myself saying, “I’ll remember this,” alarm bells go off in my head and I’ll write it down. The worst come when those alarm bells go off while driving. Then, I’ll lean on Kelly, and ask her to jot something down for me.

Stephen King has said he doesn’t write down ideas because the good ones will keep coming back and the bad ones will disappear. I see value in that, but jotting down notes and ideas, for me, is quick and easy, and takes up little space in a notebook. So why not write them down, even if I never come back to it?

It reminds me of that old piloting adage: I’d rather be down here wishing I was up there, than up there wishing I was down here. When it comes to writing notes, I’d rather write it down and never use it, than not write it down and lose it forever.

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8 comments

  1. Really dumb question – how do you carry your notebook and writing implement? As one with ink stains in places they don’t want and who detests rumpled corners and bent pages, I’m always on the hunt for the best way to, well, carry. I have gone so far as to wear almost exclusively shirts with pockets (and mocked myself for it), but I’m open to better options 🙂

    1. I think this deserves to be a post of its own, but the short answer is: in my back-left pocket. I keep my Field Notes notebook there, as well as a black and blue Pilot G-2 0.7 pens. There are always ink stains, and the notebooks get beat up, but I like the rugged, used looks of the notebooks. They are well-used. And I’ve grown to accept the ink stains as a badge of my old-fashioned use-a-pen-instead-of-a-screen status for jotting notes.

  2. I’m in the Field Notes camp too and carry one around most days. I’m not pulling it out to capture stuff as much as I used to since using an Apple Watch.These days, when I’m out walking or running errands, it’s become second nature to raise my wrist to capture tasks in my Things to-do list system. I have a Drafts app “complication” on my watch face which I use to record longer things like observations I want to make in my journal, writing ideas for the blog, etc. The transcription quality is frankly amazing. Have you considered an Apple Watch as part of your on-the-go capture process?

    1. Bob, I’ve been considering an Apple Watch for a while now, not so much for notes but for its biometrics. I enjoy writing my notes in a notebook, scribbling them down, and I don’t mind stopping to do so. But I can see the watch being beneficial at times when it isn’t possible to scribble something down–like when I’m driving or when I’m in the shower.

  3. I am very much like you, I always have my Field Note’s book on hand and a pen. Also when I am driving any distance I have a small Sony recorder that I dictate into. Then on Sundays I look at all the notes to add to Evernote or take action on otherwise. Thanks for sharing this and so many other things you write!

    1. Melanie, I like the idea of something to record notes with while I am driving. I seem to get my best ideas when I am unable to access my notebook (long drives, showers, etc.). I’ve also toyed with the idea of taking the important notes from my notebooks and putting them into Evernote, but I haven’t tried it yet.

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