I ran across a link to the "Cornell Notetaking System" and it sounded kind of familiar. I tried to take notes like this in college. Never really worked for me, though. I’m not a very good note taker. Not sure why, exactly. When I go to meetings now, I get an agenda (if I’m lucky) and I usually write on that and/or another piece of blank paper.
The link actually reminded me of my blank paper habit. I started using blank paper for notes years ago, after seeing a longtime Mercer consultant do it. It blew my mind at the time. I was so used to using lined paper for notes and blank paper for printing, that seeing someone use blank printer paper for something other than its intended use just rocked me. All that space! No lines trying to constrain my creativity! So now there are three constants at my desk: a labeler, a fresh stack of manila folders (yep, right out of GTD), and a fresh stack of blank printer paper. The paper is right at hand, so I can draw a quick diagram, without lines getting in the way, or throw a few sheets into a blank folder when I head off to a meeting. I think I’d get dizzy if I had to write on a yellow legal pad these days.
If I’m working on a particular project and something else pops into my head, I take two seconds to write it on a blank paper and throw it in my inbox. That way, it’s out of my head and gets processed when the time comes. I do the same thing at the end of the day, right before I go home–I do a "brain dump" onto a blank sheet of paper and throw it in the inbox. That’s the first thing I grab and process the next morning.
I tried using a text file for stuff like this, but I ended up with one long file and a whole bunch of items in it. Then I’d have to work through each one, delete it from the text file when I was done (or add a more granular action item), etc. Tried it with my Palm too, but I got the same uneasy feeling that I was spending too much time managing the system–fiddling with text files, or trying to get my Palm to sync with my PC, etc. Paper just simplified the thought capture process. I still get my action items into lists, but more often than not, it all starts with a blank piece of paper.
I used to fret about the waste associated with just a few words written on a whole sheet of paper–after all, I may have a dozen sheets like that in my inbox at any time. I don’t anymore. The productivity benefits far outweigh my guilt, and besides, we buy recycled paper and I recycle the paper I use.