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Cartoon: the most important advice everThe Most Important Advice Ever

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

The most important advice in the world is simple: keep a notebook with you at all times and use it. I started using a notebook because I have an appalling memory and forget everything if I do not write it down. But I quickly realised that having a notebook to hand offers much more value than just a memory tool.

If you prefer using a mobile phone to keep notes, that's okay. I am a traditionalist. I like pencil or pen on paper. I like to doodle and draw notes, so I will always keep a paper notebook, usually a pocket-sized Moleskine or similar. If you opt to use a telephone to keep notes, be aware that telephones are very exclusive. If someone recommends a great restaurant and you pull out your telephone to make a note of it, it may seem like you forgot about the person you are talking to in order to read an SMS text or make a call. So, be sure to say something like, "Let me make a note of that restaurant before I forget the name."

There are all kinds of things you can do with a small notebook. Here are the main ones.

1. Note Ideas

Ideas can come at the most unexpected times. Often they come out of context. You are riding a train and looking out the window when an idea for a work problem suddenly comes to mind. If you do not write it down, you may well forget the idea, particularly if you are interrupted (such as by a ticket collector or a chatty person in the seat next to you) shortly after having the idea.

Moreover, the act of writing an idea down focuses your mind and often inspires you to build upon the idea.

This is the bulk of what I use my notebook for. And, to be honest, 75% of the ideas I write down are rubbish. But the remaining 25% are useful. The idea behind this article, for instance, came to mind while working on something else. So, I made a note of it.

2. Note Down Recommendations

If someone recommends a great restaurant, a good book or a special offer at a naughty underwear shop, write it down so you do not forget it. Even if you do not have immediate use for the recommendation, you may have use for it in the future. Perhaps a friend recommends a romance novel. You do not like romance, but a few months later you are looking for a birthday gift for another friend who enjoys romance. Problem solved!

If someone recommends something, do not be shy about writing it down. In fact, be blunt. People will be complimented that you think their advice is worth noting down.

3. Reminders

You are at the supermarket and suddenly remember that you need to return some books to the library. You are out for a walk and remember that you mother's birthday is coming up. You can and should make note of these things. The act of writing them down will help you remember them later.

4. Contact Information

If you meet someone interesting in the library, on an aeroplane or at a party and want to stay in touch, be sure to note contact details in your notebook. Sure, you can exchange business cards if you both have them and it is appropriate. But, for some reason, the most interesting people forgot to bring business cards.

In fact, even when I do get a business card from someone, I write a few notes on the back of it -- to remind me of who this person is -- and tuck the card into the folder at the back of my notebook.

5. Find Your Car

Have you ever lost your car in a massive car park or in the streets a big city? I did, a long time ago. Nowadays, if I park the car anyplace new (such as a city I am visiting for the first time or a multistory car park), I make a note of where the car is.

6. Drawing

Not everyone likes to draw, but if you do, a notebook is perfect for making sketches, drawing things that interest you or sketching ideas for projects.

If you like mind-mapping, a notebook enables you to mind-map any time and anywhere.

If an idea is more readily noted as a sketch than as words, you can write it in your notebook.

7. Keeping Important Information to Hand

I keep family phone numbers, insurance company contact details and credit card stop service numbers at the back of my notebook. I keep travel details -- such as flight times, reservation numbers, hotel details and other travel info in my notebook. Sure, most of this info is also in my telephone. But if the phone gets stolen or the battery dies at an inopportune moment, a phone is useless. My notebook is unlikely to be stolen and does not need batteries of course! So, it provides an excellent backup if I cannot use my telephone, if my wallet is stolen while travelling or something unexpected like that happens.

Imagine you are travelling in a foreign country and your wallet and phone are stolen. What information would you need to have? Be sure this information is in your notebook.

8. Make Lists

If you have got a few spare moments, pull out your notebook and prepare a to-do list for next week, a shopping list for the dinner party you are holding on Saturday or a list of things you want to do during your upcoming holiday.

Because you keep your notebook with you at all times, you can add to these lists at any time. You can also check off items as they are accomplished.

9. Surprises

Things happen. People say things. You find a joke incredibly funny. Unless you have an exceptionally good memory, you will soon forget these unexpected things that make life a joy. So, write them down. They may inspire you later. You may want to share them with others. You may simply enjoy going back and re-reading these things to bring a smile to your face.

10. Entertainment

Stuck in a waiting room or departure lounge and bored? Like entertainment while sitting on the toilet? Notebooks facilitate a number of simple word and number games. For example, write down a seven to nine letter word and then see how many other words you can make with the letters. Try to do a magic square. Play hangman with your kids or a friend. If you are with a bored and restless child, give her your notebook and pen and invite her to draw pictures.

11. Keep a Journal

I do not keep a journal, but probably should. Many people recommend them and your handy notebook is the ideal place to keep a journal. Not only is it available at your bedside so you can write your activities down before going to bed, but it is with you all the time. If you have spare time, you can write in your journal. If something significant happens, you can put it in your journal as soon as you have quiet time and while the memory is still fresh.

12. Anything Else You Want to Remember

If there is anything else, anything at all, that you want to remember, your notebook is the place to do it.

In short, a notebook is probably the most useful thing in the world. If you do not keep a notebook with you at all times, start now!

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