That simple title, “Taking Note,” could lead into a dozen different posts.
I could write about my love of writing notes on books and lectures in longhand.
Or about my obsession with high-quality French and Japanese paper goods.
Or how I find writing with a fountain pen a superior writing experience in ALMOST all situations.
Or about one of my favourite new podcasts, “Note to Self,” and digital notes.
But this is actually about taking note in terms of NOTICING. Because we can go through our hours and our days without taking much note of our surroundings, or what we’re doing with our hands, or the words we use, or the emotional wake we leave behind, or myriad other things. Making a habit of taking note, of NOTICING, can be illuminating.
I’m not the first person to comment that September feels more like the New Year to me than January 1. In September, the weather begins to turn, the days start to feel shorter, and those of us in academia, or who have kids (or who live across the street from primary schools, like I do) begin again the familiar rhythms of the new school year. And, although the reasoning for it remains lost in the tangled web of ancient history, the Jewish calendar year usually begins in September as well.
So I’m suggesting that this new year is as good a time as any to choose a few things to take note of. Where are you experiencing frustration? Where in your job or home life would you like to see a shift, a change? What habits would you like to give up, or start? Don’t go nuts and try and change everything. Pick one or two things, three at the most, and just start paying attention to what your current practices and habits are. What is going on when frustration sends your cortisol through the roof? What don’t you have time for? What do you waste time on? What new habits would you like to cultivate? Before you declare your intention to change up everything and develop Zen-like reserves of patience and a fondness for early morning runs and a no-sugar diet, just take note of what you’re currently doing and see what might be working or not working for you.
How you take note can be a matter of personal choice and creative inclination. If you’ve more artistic talent that I, you can take your awesome bullet journal (that I talk about in my E-book on time budgeting) and create habit trackers in full colour mode. But simply taking a daily snapshot of the three practices or habits you’re noticing can be done on a single sheet of paper for a week or two. Or get back to your journal and make a point of writing down what you noticed in those areas of your life each day. Start doing this today and see what you begin to notice.
Often, when we notice something, it’s because we want to change it, or amplify it, or work with it in some way. This is where tracking your habits comes in. Research has shown that, when people begin to track their spending–down to the penny–by writing down what they spend each time they whip out their wallets or credit cards, then end up spending less. Because the act of noticing what you spend makes it real to you in a new way. This leads to automatic behaviour modification. So, once you’ve made a habit of noticing, you can figure out what you want to amplify or change by tracking it.
App and software developers are at your service when it comes to taking note and tracking habits. If you want to gamify your habit tracking, you can try out Habitica.com, where you can team up with others or go solo on tracking habits and tasks, crossing them off your to-do list, and gain points that earn your avatar clothes and a mount to ride and fancy accessories. Then, of course, there are multiple apps at your disposal that reinforce the good habits you have and want to keep. Several apps out there work on the premise of Jerry Seinfeld’s “don’t break the chain” philosophy and are pretty motivational. I’m currently trying out an app called The Fabulous that is both tracker and reminder and motivational coach all in one. It sings a lovely chime at me when it is time to engage in the routines I’ve told it I want to cultivate. (I’m figuring out that I have too many; I’m trying to build too many habits at once. That’s a deal breaker. No more than three!)
Every day, of course, brings with it the opportunity to try something new. But the beginning of a new year seems like the perfect time to take note of how we’re spending our days and take stock of where we’re going with the time we have. As Annie Dillard said, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” So, head out there and notice how you’re spending yours!