Great life advice: Write stuff down

On Hoovers World today, Gary Hoover published a great bit of life advice (or call it a lifelong “best practice,” if you want to couch it in businessspeak). His advice is deceptively simple:

Write everything interesting down.


If you don’t know who Gary Hoover is, you probably should. It would be ‘way oversimplifying him to say he’s a serial entrepreneur, but that’s one easy way to put it. Gary is the founder of the superstore Bookstop (later purchased by Barnes & Noble) and the Hoovers business information service (now owned by D&B).

Lately I have been enjoying his Hoovers World blog because he is a voracious consumer of books and writes excellent and useful reviews of extraordinary books I have never heard of.

But today he published the entry “Two Small Practical Tips That Could Change Everything For You,” which included the advice to write down everything interesting that comes your way.

I started doing this about 20 years ago as a result of reading the wonderful little book “A Technique for Producing Ideas,” by James Webb Young. I have found that I never know when a useful idea, large or small, will come my way, whether from the external or the internal world. So I always carry a pen and pocket-sized pad with me, so I can capture information or ideas even when I am not in front of my computer. (I also never buy a shirt that does not have a pocket.)

One of the most interesting things Gary says in today’s entry, though, is that you might not ever need to actually read what you have written down:

I don’t care how smart you are or how good your memory is, 80-90% of all the good ideas you hear or think of in your life will slip right through your fingers if you do not write them down.

You do not even have to go back and re-read them; the kinetic process of having the idea flow through your mind and down your fingers through the pen onto the pad has a significant impact on your memory. [Underlining mine.] Of course, you can always reread them if you want or need to.

I also find that writing stuff down – from the book recommendations of friends to music I want to buy to business ideas I have while walking down the street – takes a burden off me. I can forget about it, I know the thought or information is securely stowed away.

I have found this point about memory retention to be true as well, and have found that what leads to even greater retention is making my notes in visual form — also know as idea mapping — see my previous blog entry “Doodling is good for thinkers.”

As a result, I seldom use lined paper for any purpose other than financial tasks. When I am planning, taking notes in a meeting, preparing an outline for public speaking, leading a group process, or just thinking, I use an unlined sketch pad or a white board to give myself space to lay out the idea I’m working with and to go in multiple directions on the page if I need to. I have even purchased custom-made pocket pads without lines on them — it’s not hard or expensive to do this through the printing department at any of the large office superstores.

Oh yes, you might have noticed that Gary’s post mentioned “Two Small Practical Tips That Could Change Everything For You.” The other tip is also simple, and maybe deceptively so, as with the first. The second tip is:



AB — 25 May 2009


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