This article is the third in a series about developing a note-taking system. The first article examined what worked for me as a college student. You can read that article at The second article explored organizing academic notes, and took into account the digital  resources with which students contend and the opportunities digital devices offer. You can read it at In this article, we move from the world of academia to the world of work.

The adult world

In school, we knew when the bell rang, note-taking was likely to begin. During class, taking notes may well have been the major way in which you participated in that class. While you may have answered a question aloud here or there, your role was generally passive. Your job was to take notes. The contents of those notes would help you prepare for the test.

In the academic world, you knew you would need those notes again, and you knew when. You would need them to study for the test given at the end of the week. You would need them once more to study for the final exam.

In the adult world, our days include phone calls, meetings and one-on-one conferences. Our roles in those scenarios are more active than what we experienced in our academic classes. You are upholding your end of the phone conversation and offering your input in the meeting. It’s also harder to tell what information you will need later. There is no teacher to tell you what to write down or what’s going to be on the test.

In the adult world, the “test” can come at any time. Unlike school, you can use your notes … provided the notes you have are any good.

In teacher education classes, we were told that documentation would be important when we started our careers as teachers. It would be especially important to document our interactions with parents. The trouble was that nobody ever gave us a good way to go about documentation.

I didn’t have one

You would think after reading about my well-defined approach to note-taking as a student, I would start my teaching career with an equally well-defined approach to documentation.

Not so. I tried different things. Each one was too time-consuming. Most important of all, I never really needed those notes. I wound up doing what most people do … I stopped documenting.

You don’t need it until you need it

When the time crunch hits and you never need those notes, taking notes grinds to a halt. That’s human nature. And then it happens … that one conversation where you thought the issue had been settled.

Three weeks later, the other person is out for blood … yours. Their side of the story is far different from your recollection. The only problem is that by now, your recollection is none too good. If only you had documented that one.

You never know which one of those interactions is going to come back to haunt you. What you and I need is a system for documentation that is so easy you’ll use it.

What comes next?

This article presented the problem. Next week, you’ll get a solution that’s so easy

it will actually work.

But it doesn’t stop there. Other articles to follow will give you other methods. Some of us like to organize digitally. Others like pencil and paper. Regardless of your preference, you are going to get something you can use.

Frank Buck is the author of Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders and was named to “Global Gurus Top 30” for 2017 and 2018 in the time management category. He speaks throughout the United States and internationally about organization and time management. You can reach Dr. Buck through his website: Follow him on Twitter @DrFrankBuck.