His name was Mr. Pepper. He taught my English class when I was 16–the one where you wrote your required research or “term” paper. On the first day he said he was going to school at night to get his doctorate degree.
So in the future his students could call him Dr. Pepper.
I laughed at this, possibly snorted, above the groans that came from rest of the class. You can imagine I might have had a fan in Mr. Pepper from then on, as he had in me, for that semester.
Soon to be amplified by the fact that for my research paper topic I chose “Meditation in Eastern Religions,” and it turned out Mr. Pepper was a practicing Zen Buddhist. (So in the range of really weird and yet reasonable at the time. Think That 70s Show.) I hung on to a lot of what he had to say. I believed what he was teaching in English Composition class to be True, and Important.
And it was.
However, I don’t remember many details after that. Hey, it was the 70s after all. But I know he gave us a lot of great advice about approaching the large and long-term task of the research paper. Zzzz stay awake here it gets better.,
He must have drilled the importance of the process into our heads. There was a long list of items that had to be included with our final turn-in, that would show we adhered to a specific, smart process. I remember numbered, note cards were required for an “A.” And I remember this quote:
Take copious notes.
That sticks with me in part because it’s my first memory of not knowing the meaning of a word an English teacher was using. I had a brief moment of silent panic, silly young geek that I was. Copious? What does that mean?…copious… It must mean many…or detailed. Or good. Wait–No, he’d never say take “good” notes, that’s….
Naturally, I looked it up later, and that’s the other thing that has stuck with me. Always. My instinct was right–copious means many, or abundant, or plentiful. Great advice, then and now. Starting with Mr. Pepper, and carried on by me.
Over time I concluded taking notes was a secret to success not just with long-term projects, but in all of writing, business, home, everything. Memories. Love. (<<guys, ahem?)
I can’t tell you how many times copious notes have saved the day, proved me right, made studying unnecessary, gotten me a refund, or shown I am not in fact a crazy person, but instead yes we did indeed discuss that, and we had decided that we would in fact do it this way by this date… and oh here it is, this is who I spoke to on that day and this what they said they were going to do. And no, I don’t believe they did that. Did they?
Copious notes have also plucked me out of a sticky situation with the law. The judge didn’t even want to see what was in my fat rubber-banded file folder with notes all over it, which my attorney tried in earnest to hand over to the bench. Good thing I knew about the importance of process, and that the judge cared that I went through one. You bet I’m a Pepper.
People who say they aren’t good at note-taking (but really mean they think it’s too much trouble) have it backwards. I promise, you get better at everything, and life is sooo much easier, when you take copious notes. So please, you be a Pepper, too.
Here’s how some of my journals look when my notes prove most successful:
- I start a simple diary-date-style record, handwritten on paper when I’m working on progress reporting or many small tasks on the fly. I kept my job search activities organized this way, and I started a page like this when I was at a conference gathering info on starting an internet business. One section of a spiral notebook, a pocket journal, or your scheduler, if it’s a date-oriented project, will do.
- I use a larger project journal to keep track of general notes, lists and creative ideas to help me work step-by-step, and also so I can retrace my steps later if I want to come back to this time period for thoughts or details. For instance, when I started this blog, I kept notes on my intentions for it. Now I keep WordPress theme info. in the same notebook, ideas for future posts, things I sign up for, and even expenses. My journal sits next to me on my desk. I use it to take webinar notes, and I bring it with me on long car rides (when I’m not driving).
- I keep a casual weekly datebook. Maybe you have a digital system. Personally, I find it more calming to chip away at a stone tablet. I decided to settle on using ink and paper. Regarding calendars, I’m not going to mention a favorite brand or add a link to a resource right now. I have a favorite style or two and a system, ish, but I know people tend to get bogged down by time management. I’m already a bit list-addicted so I don’t care to add to anyone’s obsessions at the moment.
…Still, you should have a way to keep your appointments and to-dos. However, as your fairy godmother guru I sincerely advise you to keep it simple.
Speaking of simple: we need to be taking notes but we don’t need to be taken prisoner by them. If your note-taking ever feels like more trouble than it’s worth, something is off. Because copious notes are worth every pen stroke.
I learned how to journal to succeed in Mr. Pepper’s class. I have the notes, the eventual writing career—and the fond memories of him—to prove it.