Everywhere Jim Domanski goes, he takes his black book. It's not a treasury of potential hot dates, but a repository of the Ottawa sales consultant's current work life, packed into a 200-page, 7-by-10-inch notebook.
It's an idea he picked up in the 1980s, working for Bell, well before the era of laptops, tablets, and handhelds. It was the crux of his efficiency, and even though today he carries a BlackBerry and has tried to duplicate the function of his black book on an iPad, he doesn't think they come close.
Want to be efficient? Want to be the person in your workplace who remembers exactly what was decided three weeks ago at that mid-morning meeting? Want to quickly find the phone number of the person who left a message last Thursday – and what was said in the follow-up phone conversation? Want to encourage your creativity? Want to look really cool at the coffee shop? Then get a black book.
"I find it makes me very efficient on stuff. I can look back and see I called you on March 6 at 3:30 p.m. and said X. With a black book, you have a record of everything going on, and you look good in meetings. There is nothing more impressive than walking into a meeting with your boss or a client and taking notes. It shows you're paying attention," he said in an interview.
He doesn't remember the name of the colleague who drew him into the practice years ago, but he remembers the fellow was very effective. And it seemed tied to the almost magical black book that was carried everywhere, and used for extensive note taking. Back then, when Mr. Domanski first tried out the practice, they were using special black books that Bell had produced for project teams, broken into four-page segments. These days, he uses Piccadilly Notebooks, since he happened upon a sale when the Borders chain was closing and stocked up. He also recommends Moleskins, which also have a ribbon that can be placed at the page where you last finished taking notes.
Black books keep you organized. "Instead of having sheets here and there, notebooks here and there, smartphone notes here and there, your black book is the one place for everything. This means you can find everything you need. Use it for client notes, telephone numbers, prospecting notes, memos to yourself. Everything. It will save you time, frustration and hassle," Mr. Domanski writes on his Telesales Master blog.
The book keeps you focused. Instead of your mind wandering in meetings, you are intent, listening and taking notes. The book can also be a place to record your priorities, to-do lists, checklists, and similar organizational prods. Although he writes across an entire page normally, he places any important list in a half column on the left hand side, with white space around it, to stand out.
Black books can help to keep you motivated. "Use your black book to record your 'victories' or to list your dreams. Use them to record your results. Jot down inspirational quotes. Cut out pictures of what you'd like to buy or places you'd like to visit or scenes that inspire you. Tape them inside. Refer to them. Remind yourself of what you've achieved and what still lies ahead," he advises in his blog.
Mr. Domanski uses them to spur his creativity. He'll often find himself sketching, as he ponders a topic or takes notes in a meeting, those unconscious doodles helping to illuminate his thinking and feelings. He also loves to use his black book for mind-mapping, when he plays with ideas. (Lately he has been playing with writing an article on the worth of a customer.) Every time new ideas come to him, he quickly returns to the appropriate page, and adds to the map.
He has short cuts for taking notes and for drawing attention to items. A lightening bolt highlights something requiring action. A light bulb showcases special ideas. When he has acted on an idea, it gets a big check mark. He'll use sticky notes to find items he returns to regularly, such as his lists of favourite books and favourite movies. Each page has a date, to help in flipping through.
He's not oblivious to the power of computers but feels that despite their gigabyte horsepower they don't serve as efficiently in this repository function. "What I like about the black book – and what doesn't work as well with computers – is a couple of times a week I leaf through the pages and I notice other things. I'm reviewing good ideas that otherwise would be lost or forgotten," he said in the interview.
He said he doesn't find things as easily or as spontaneously on a tablet or laptop. On his iPad, he scrolls down the pages in linear fashion, and some of his side notes and doodles get lost to the eye. It's also not as easy to capture ideas during meetings by typing. "If you can do it with your iPad, fine," he said. "But I can't."
Besides, everyone carries some sort of electronic device into coffee shops. When he walks into one, book in hand, he feels a bit like Hemingway or J.K. Rowling. And if he starts taking notes in a restaurant, the waiter notices and service improves. All that from a little black book.
The original newspaper version of this article and an earlier online version incorrectly Jim Domanski as Mike Domanski. This online version has been corrected.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter