Driving Courtesy

My newest bumper magnet is being taken literally by a remarkable number of drivers. I am starting to count the number of people who pass me and pull back into my lane.

Current average on the 101 is about 72 per hour, but traffic has been light.

A certain pop star claims that a COVID vaccination caused her cousin’s testicles to swell. Either someone is lying, or my vaccine is is not working.

Notebookology: The Client Project Notebook

Why Blog Notebooks?

I am a notebook nut, a fact confirmed by the regular photos I post in this space showing the pristine, shrink-wrapped, acid-free bundles of joy that arrive on my doorstep with obsessive-compulsive regularity.

But I have come to realize that those posts are not that helpful to people who, like myself, stopped using (or never used) notebooks in their lives, and are just starting to discover the joys of, shall we say, “archiving data in an analogue medium.” Notebooks are nice, many (including my family) have said to me, but how do you use them? (And “why do you need so many?”)

So I am going to start showing how I use notebooks, and talk a bit about how I fit them into my routine as a writer, a researcher, a consultant, a Scouter, and a family man. Hopefully, these will offer some useful insight.

The Project Client Notebook

The first example is the Project Client Notebook. A “project client” is a client who hires me or my firm for a limited time with a clear, concrete final deliverable aimed at a specific purpose, as opposed to a retainer client or client-of-record, who requires help over an extended period of time within a specific scope. We’ll talk about those later.

The Case

I kept client notes online in different applications for a long time. I used Word for a while, and I have tried Microsoft OneNote and Apple’s Notes app, but used Evernote the longest and still do use Evernote as my digital tool of choice. (I’ll talk about that more in a later post.)

I changed that habit when I had Micron as a client. My primary client contact insisted on everyone putting away all electronic devices at meetings. She regarded them a major distraction, and after a while we found she was right: you are appreciably more present in a meeting when the only things you can lay eyes on are the people in the room, the walls, the roof of the fab out the window, and the lined pages of the notebook before you.

Now I find that having everything about a client in chronological order in a single space is no less convenient than having it stored digitally, and in some cases is superior. I can reach up, pull the notebook down, flip through it, and be reminded of ideas or actions that I would have missed if I went straight to the page of notes.

The “Hardware”

The notebooks I choose for these are usually large enough that I can insert or append pictures, text, stickies, or other media without being so large as to be unwieldy. Experience has shown me that an 8-1/2 x 5-1/2 or A5 size notebook works best for this purpose. For this notebook, I chose a Denik Classic Layflat softcover. These are lightweight, nice looking, professional, and ideal for the job.

I go with lined paper because I do a limited amount of freehand drawing. I’ll also confess that my handwriting is miserable, so lined always works out best for legibility. I have friends, clients, and colleagues who prefer blank paper, and one former biology major who absolutely loves using using grid paper.

I start by putting a permanent sticker on the top of the spline which allows me to pick it out right away. In this case, the client had a name that started with “V” and was the only client I have had for a while with that letter, so the single letter sufficed. If you only have one notebook, you don’t need this, but once you have two of similar size and color, this will save you.

The Internals

I use the first page as a title page, with the name of the client and the project. On the inside of the front cover I put a sticker with my name and address, and put my phone number and a reward offer below. More on this in another post as well.

I will then start a contents page, but I will do it from the BACK of the notebook and work forward. That ensures that I don’t have to worry about how many pages to leave blank up front to enable me to list all of the pages in the notebook if I want. A complete TOC is MUCH more important for a client-of-record, when I may have to dig through several notebooks to find something, but it is hugely helpful for a project client as well, and a good habit to develop.

Page two is usually a listing of contacts: the client contacts with emails and/or phone numbers on top, and the contacts of my team members below. Should I already know my team contacts? Naturally. But I frequently work with outside consultants and contractors, so I often don’t have their information readily available, and I want to be ready if they ask me for the contacts of other team members.

Page three is a listing of key project milestones and dates, all the better to have in one place. The milestones don’t change that often, but the due dates will, so I’ll often do the dates in pencil.

Next is a client glossary. Nearly every client I work with has a semi-proprietary vocabulary of specialized terms, in-house abbreviations, and unique phraseology. These are essential to capture, not just for my own sanity, but to help onboard new team members if the need arises.

Beyond that lies the core of the book. Pages will include:

  • Meeting Agendas
  • Meeting Notes
  • Mind maps of different issues
  • Photos (instant or printed) of whiteboards from meetings
  • Workback summaries (actual plans themselves in Excel or Monday.com)
  • Notes to myself with random thoughts and ideas about the project
  • Brainstorms, both individual and group.
  • Snippets and paragraphs that need to go into a deliverable or critical correspondence with the client
  • Draft outlines of reports or other deliverables
  • Time-tallies to help with timesheets or billings
  • Work assignments
  • Post-its – sometimes I do grab a random idea on a post-it. The key is not to lose it, but also, at some point, to transcribe it into the notebook.
  • A parking lot with check-boxes next to ideas and a postit flag so I know to come back and capture the ideas for later action
  • Whatever else I want to make sure I don’t lose

I started this system fairly recently – about a year ago – and I continue to refine it, but it has proven a blessing. The more I put into these notebooks, the more useful they become.

If this approach looks good, I suggest you start simple, and refine into your own system. If this seems overly complex for your projects, don’t start with a notebook of this size – maybe a 48-60 page softcover or even a Field Notes-type pocket notebook instead. You won’t waste as much paper, and you’ll be able to keep the system intact. Remember: half the value is keeping notes for a client project separate and easily referenced rather than dumping them into a computer filing system or including them as a part of your regular notebook.

Above all, have fun, be productive, and share your learnings.

Delightful Cheat Lunch

I am still learning about life at my relatively advanced age, and I have learned more about food in the last three years than I had in most of my life prior.

My lesson today was this: there are meals with memorable food; there are meals with memorable company; and there are those rare and precious occasions when both come together. Today was one of the latter. Those occasions are rare, and are exactly the times when one should go off-plan.

Three veterans of China technology public relations sitting around a table in California and reflecting with gratitude and humility on the amazing era of change that we lived through was every bit as fulfilling as the remarkable dishes we enjoyed. Thank you, Yuling, for giving Sunny and I an excuse to come into town!

Patchology: Hometown Heroes

I grew up watching Emergency! from age seven to fourteen, alternating throughout between a simple buff and wanting to be a firefighter. It seems I have chosen the former path, and as a part of that collect patches of fire departments that are relevant to me.

This shoulder patch, worn by the Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedics in the show, naturally belongs at the top of my collection, since it commemorates when my fascination with firefighting began.

Artistic solitude is wonderful, but a word of advice: lock the liquor cabinet and throw away the key first. It is a short journey from a solitary writer’s retreat to a booze binge, especially when said retreat takes place in Louisville, KY.

Family in a moment

It had been a long day. The drive into the city had drained all of us, and even the bear was tired.

The kid spent the afternoon squeezing the last juice out of his summer, thumbs flying across the iPhone as he lay jacked into his virtual life. The spouse stared at the ceiling, comfortably drowsing and wondering whether to trust me with dinner or just do it herself. And I meditated on the balcony in the fading sunlight, awash in the echoing rhythm of the traffic on the boulevard whooshing like blood through the city’s carotid artery, whispering Teslas, whining buses, roaring trucks, and growling Ferraris.

And yet I could not rest. Because as I looked across the vale below to the hillside a mile opposite, the great dignified temples of higher learning at the university set against the brown hills that reflected the setting sun, I thought of Rome. And then I thought of a parched land, in the shadow of the Hindu Kush, whence came legions of men who knew me not yet resented me, hated me for what I was and how I lived.

I felt the wind shift a few degrees from the East. I thought of tyrants, of Taliban, of climate change, of terror, of pestilence, of Anti-semites. I thought of a culture of waste and decadence and Kim Kardashian and Real Housewives and three-truck households and of a tide of anger and hatred that was rising ten thousand times faster an higher than glacier-melt sea levels.

I wasn’t sure if I was having a premonition, or if it was just the fatigue. I looked back at my family and told myself to quiet, to enjoy the moment. The storm is coming, I thought. Cherish the sunlight.

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