“He listens well who takes notes.” Dante Alighieri

It is one of those hot August days that we are known for in the deep South. Once again, I am enjoying one of my favorite roles – captain on an offshore fishing trip. The targeted fish is red snapper. Thanks to the regulators, the past limited nine-day red snapper season has been expanded to over forty days. A huge bonus for the recreational fishing population.

We are fishing some reefs where we have caught red snapper in the past. Unfortunately, today we can’t seem to get past the trigger fish that are devouring our baits. We are catching one after another, but this fish is not in season and thus are being released as quickly as caught.

With fishing regulations, no one can predict accurately what they will be in the future. My hope is that trigger fish will one day have more fishing day opportunities like the snapper this year. And, because of that belief, I take a short note after each stop.  Information on number and size of the fish takes only a few seconds to record.

That day was last August. Fast forward to today. As captain, I am joined by seven others on an offshore trip with trigger fish as the target. As predicted, the season is now open for this fish. While reviewing my past brief notes, one in particular gets my immediate attention. The note simply reads: “big triggerfish lots of them.” Based on this simple note, I decide to make this our first stop on our Gulf fishing expedition.

At 815 AM, I pull back on the throttles as we arrive at our destination 18 miles from shore. A few minutes later, following a few boat maneuvers, The Great Gab-Sea drifts over the reef. The screen of the electronic sounder lights up, indicating there is a large school of fish below. I holler to the awaiting fishing crew below, “drop your lines”.  Forty minutes later, we have already caught our daily limit of trigger fish. With plenty of time left on our fishing trip, we will now do some recon on red snapper spots for use later in the year when the season opens for that fish.

A very successful trip! If we were evaluating our outing, we would have to say it is both efficient and effective. We catch the fish we target and accomplish that goal in record time. The bonus is the remaining time of the trip will be invested in checking other spots for future opportunities. All because 7 months earlier, I took less than 10 seconds to take a crucial note. Mind you, a note only five words long.  A short and powerful note. One that helped us to succeed.  Instead of going first to some locations where we had caught some trigger fish, we headed to the one spot that held the most and largest fish.

How are you doing with notes?  Are you keeping any? What kind and where do you store them? Are they easily accessible? And when you use your notes, are you using what is going to guarantee you the best opportunity for success?

At a time in my distant past, I would go to transportation conventions and take page after page of detailed notes. No one could ever equal the volume of notes I took. Then, one day, I opened a file drawer and pulled out a folder with pages of notes from one of those conventions, years earlier. And for the first time since that convention, I read some of the notes I took. I never forgot that moment. I pledged to myself that day to change forever my note taking process.  I created a new one that was driven by a desire for success. I wanted to do something that would increase both my effectiveness and efficiency.  Taking lots of notes that are never read is very inefficient (waste of time) and does not get me closer to achieving desired goals. I replaced my old system with a new more powerful note taking strategy.

Record short, powerful, easy to review, accessible notes.

Success often comes down to doing a few things really well. Too many notes may lead to an inefficient process I call paralysis by analysis. And in my case, it became a failed system because the notes were never used.

If you are going to a convention, workshop or meeting in the future, try this tactic for success. Carry a 3 by 5 card with you and make a pledge to take only the most important notes, the ones that will fit on a small card that you can carry in your wallet or purse. One that you can review often using less than one minute of time. Carry that card with you after the convention or meeting for review and decision making in the future.

While a successful note taking strategy, one that emphasizes importance and economy is a powerful way to enhance the takeaway from a workshop or meeting, it can also be used to make progress on the most important goals in your life. It can be used as a reference source for future ideas on how to succeed. Work, family and hobbies can be powerfully affected by our note taking approach.

How, when and what we do with notes can make a huge difference in the success we enjoy. How do I know if my process is not working? If it takes over a minute to find your note, then you can conclude that your note storing process is not adequate. If you are taking the same notes that you took last month or a year earlier, then you are duplicating your work effort.  If the notes take a long time to read, you may have taken too many.  What you want is something short, powerful and easy to access.

I learned note taking from my parents. In their day and time, it was all manual. My dad used 3 by 5 cards as a constant ritual. My mom had an 8.5 by 11 notebook. I am extremely thankful because today, I have some treasured examples from both mom and dad of actual notes they took and how they used them.   It reminds and encourages me to have a simple system that works.

In today’s world, we have no excuse not to take really good notes. There are tons of apps and electronic tools to make it easier to record and to find information when needed. How should you do this? Actually, only you can decide that, based on how you live your life.  I use a combination of tools based on what works for me. Some notes (like my life journal) are manual and others (like business and personal goals) are electronic. I currently use software called Microsoft One Note and employ principles taught by David Allen in his book, Getting Things Done. I have used other systems in the past and I am sure that I will modify what I use now in the future. My suggestion is to find a process and system that works for you. You have to decide. But, have you decided on a note process? Is it working?

My process works.  I can find my notes quickly, which means I have an efficient process.  And I continue to work on making things short, so that my review process continues to be short. I work on what is important, which is probably the most important decision on living a successful life. Spend most of your time on what is most important in your life. No one can decide for you what is most important. That is your choice. But, after making that choice, it matters to evaluate if you are truly living out what you believe. One important step in the direction of creating a successful life is to select, implement and maintain a great note-taking strategy.

I tell new employees to our transportation company that success is usually not accomplished by doing many things. Long check lists often reflect a system that lacks focus. Success usually arrives at the door of those who make a concentrated effort on a few areas.  Do what is most important. Spend your time where it matters. Focus.

Strategic note taking can serve to help you concentrate your attention on a few major areas where actual achievement can make a huge difference in your life.


I will make short powerful accessible notes.

I will review my notes regularly.

I will succeed.


One more thing . . .  If you enjoy fishing stories, you will love these. Fish On!  or Fishing Luck