Managing complex projects with many people and connections? Here's a simple note-taking system to help you take over the world. Probably.
Today we’re going to tackle how to juggle multiple people and projects while keeping everything well under control.
Europa was verklemmt! Her day job is as an office manager at Green Growing Things, the carnivorous plant store that specializes in Audrey IIs. By night, she’s the secret ruler of the Eastern Bloc. She’s got a lot on her plate.
She’s trying to juggle relationships with dozens of world leaders, clandestine negotiations with governments, and appearances at the local plant appreciation lunch club. And on top of everything else, her angst-ridden teenage cyborg son, Thomas, has been dating the toaster. Sometimes she doesn’t know how a single parent is supposed to cope.
With so much going on, important issues seem to come up every few minutes. Dealing with any one of those issues might involve delicate negotiations with several people. Having all of them hitting at once leaves Europa’s head spinning. She just can’t keep track of who needs to know what, and when.
“The President of Nowhereistan has just placed an order for the world’s largest supply of squirt guns, paid for in untraceable cryptocurrency.”
She’s sure that Vlad, Angela, and Boris have an opinion on this. But the next time she calls Boris to demand her tribute, she gets so caught up asking him to place an order for a dozen Audrey IIs that she completely forgets to mention Nowhereistan. Then she asks Angela to have the intelligence agencies do a background check on the toaster, before realizing how absurd the whole notion is.
When there’s way too much going on, you need a system for quickly organizing all that stuff so you can put your fingers (or toes, or noodly appendages) on it the moment you need it.
Create a note for every person
This is one area where the electronic solution really shines. Open your notepad program and create a separate note for each person you are communicating with. Create the notes in a folder called AGENDA in your notes app. You can also title each one so you can clearly identify it as an agenda.
Europa quickly creates AGENDA VLAD, AGENDA ANGELA, AGENDA BORIS, and AGENDA THOMAS.
Since I’m often invited to participate in online summits, or do public speaking engagements, I often have introductory conversations with people scheduled weeks in advance. If PAT KITTY emails asking to schedule an introductory conversation, I even create AGENDA PAT KITTY. Being electronic, there’s no cost to creating notes for people you’ll only talk to once.
Stay tuned. You’ll use these shortly.
Set aside a time to organize
When you’re going about your day, you’ll get incoming messages and have stray thoughts about your various projects and people. When you do, grab your capture device (as discussed in episode 361, Capture Your Ideas with an Ideas Log) and write down the idea. Just capture it and continue going about your day.
Capturing is easy. And at some point, you need to organize what you’ve captured. When you get back to your desk, set aside a few minutes to organize your ideas. Some of your ideas will go in your ideas log, as discussed in episode 361, but some of the ideas you’ll need to discuss with other people.
For any idea you’ll need to discuss with others, enter it into that person’s agenda note.
For any idea you’ll need to discuss with others, enter it into that person’s agenda note. When you next meet with that person, call up their agenda note and voilá, you have everything you need to discuss at your fingertips.
Europa quickly jots down “Nowhereistan squirt guns - what gives?” in the agendas for Angela, Vlad, and Boris. Next time they meet, she’ll remember to ask each for their opinion.
In a sudden flash of inspiration, she calls up her note for Thomas, she jots down “Does he want a squirt gun to help clean crumbs out of the toaster?” When she and Thomas make dinner tonight, she’ll remember to ask.
You can even use this for a one-time contact like PAT KITTY. Copy PAT’s initial email into the note. When it’s time to meet, you search for PAT’s note as you do for every meeting, and you have the context you need for a productive conversation.
Add issues and tasks
What goes in the note is anything you want to be reminded of for the conversation: information to share, agenda items, action items, background information, pictures, video clips, secret documents, incriminating evidence. The possibilities are endless. Europa uses her agenda notes mainly for agenda items and action items. She would never, ever, ever have incriminating evidence on anyone. (My lawyers advised me to say that.)
Create a note for more than just people
You don’t just have agendas for people, you can have agendas for any regular meetings you have. You might have AGENDA STATUS MEETING for items you want to make sure to mention in your weekly status meeting. Europa has AGENDA WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM and AGENDA SECRET OVERLORDS SUMMIT, for things that are of more … global … importance.
Sometimes agendas may include logistical notes, lists of attendees you want to meet (each with their own personal AGENDA note, of course), your goals for attending a conference, and so on.
Agendas that refer to meetings or conferences may contain things to share in those forums, just like the agendas for individuals. Sometimes agendas for gatherings like that may include logistical notes, lists of attendees you want to meet (each with their own personal AGENDA note, of course), your goals for attending that conference, and so on.
Use a single note with tags, if your notes program supports it
This system has you put the same information in several notes to make sure that you remember to tell everyone who needs to know about an item. But that requires you to cut and paste into several different notes. Europa’s busy. Does she really want to type the same note about Nowhereistan into three different agendas?
If your notes program supports tags, you can be even more efficient.
If your notes program supports tags, you can be even more efficient. Type each item of information once. Then tag that note with the names of every person or meeting you’ll be involved with. When you’re in the appropriate meeting, just pull up all notes tagged as being appropriate for that meeting. As you share each item, remove the meeting’s tag from the note. When you remove the last tag, you can delete the note.
Europa’s squirt gun topic can be tagged as #VLAD, #ANGELA, and #BORIS.
I use Apple Notes, which doesn’t have a separate tags mechanism. So I just put #VLAD in the body of the notes, and when I search for #VLAD, those notes all show up.
This doesn’t work if I encrypt my Apple Notes, however. Notes doesn’t let you search inside encrypted notes. So this is an imperfect solution.
My favorite program for top secret notes is Standard Notes, a zero-knowledge, encrypted, secure, awesome notes program that runs in a web browser and on all the platforms. It lets you tag notes, search the contents of notes, password protect notes, and so on. You can pull up all notes with a certain tag even if the note itself requires a password to view.
In almost no time at all, Europa has signed up for Standard Notes and created her master notepad of issues to talk about. Frankly, she’s thrilled. She can talk about squirt guns with the right world leaders, toasters with her son, stain-proof carpeting with the local carnivorous plant appreciation club, and of course not incriminating evidence with anyone.
When you are juggling multiple projects, people, and meetings, use this AGENDA note-taking system to keep everything sorted out and easy to access. After all, someone needs to be the secret ruler of the Western Bloc. Why not you?
If you want to get things done like a pro, check out Get-it-Done Groups, which will give you accountability, Do-it Days, productivity tools, and community support. Learn more at getitdonegroups.com.
Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stever Robbins is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT. Listen and subscribe to Get-It-Done Guy on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.