Indeed, it is very important to be able to note ideas and tasks quickly and then directly return back to the thing you are working on to avoid breaking flow and concentration.
The crucial thing with all kinds of these notes is: you have to review them later (on short term!).
Thus, it makes sense to reduce the "inboxes" for such notes to a minimum and make sure in the daily workflow that they get "emptied" and processed on a regular base.
I have no perfect system yet, but what mostly works for me is the following:
Emacs org-mode with org-capture
For me, that's the most comfortable way and optimally integrated into my system of task/project management and note taking.
If I'm at work at my desk, I take notes and manage my tasks and projects in
Emacs org-mode (free, open source). With
org-capture this is really easy: you can define several templates for different occasions and then open a new note/task with a keyboard shortcut.
- The time for taking the note is tracked
- I also use that for tracking interruptions, if a colleague suddenly comes into my office to ask something or if I get a phone call
- I can assign action keywords to the note(s) like TODO/WAITING/...
- I can assign a scheduled or deadline date easily - so the thing will come to my attention automatically at the right time.
- the note/action has the correct timestamp
- I can access it via full text search
- I can use tags to classify it further
in meetings and conferences: Mindmapping with Freeplane
For internal meetings (and if possible also for meetings with customers or partners or conferences) I try to take my computer notebook with me, as it's the easiest way to capture readable text notes (for me).
For note taking in such situations, I prefer a Mindmap and I use Freeplane (free, open source) for taking notes in mindmaps.
That lets me easily
- create a tree-like structure for my information
- change the structure quickly and easily by keyboard commands (move nodes up/down in hierarchy and order, etc.)
- summarize several nodes, which belong together by a common parent node
- expand/collapse details quickly
- and all that without touching the mouse
- with the FreeplaneGTD plugin it is also possible to use a special syntax in nodes and create a task list from that later (which can be exported in html format e.g.).
How I get those notes later into my system in
org-mode is not yet automated - I extract a list of tasks from the mindmaps with the FreeplaneGTD plugin and then copy those tasks into my Emacs and make them org-mode tasks.
(here's the largest optimization potential IMHO to make this more structured and automated: ideally I could export the information from Freeplane in a format that could be pasted directly into org-mode
paper: if I don't have my computer with me...
sometimes in meetings or events it is not possible, practical or does not seem appropriate to use my computer notebook. Then I'll stick with the good old paper: I have a paper notebook and note in there the important things more or less in chronological order.
- disadvantage: my handwriting is very difficult to read, so even for myself it can be hard to find out later what I meant.. :-( That's why I try to take notes in the computer directly.
- I mark actions with an empty square ☐, so they stick out visually for collecting them later.
- If I have transferred the tasks to my system later, I strike through the square diagonally to show that the actions are already processed and in my "trusted system".
The important thing is to convert the actions from those written notes later into tasks in my system. If I'm very busy afterwards and risk to forget it, I create a task in my system "create notes and actions from meeting with.." with high priority and a deadline in the coming days to avoid forgetting to follow up the notes from the meeting.