Jerry Seinfeld with every joke he has ever written

The faintest ink is better than the best memory.

Chinese proverb

You should see the look on people’s faces when they see my Notes app on my phone.

It looks like the electronic version of the Seinfeld picture above.

Richard Branson says carrying his notebook everywhere is his most important habit. John Adams had 51 journals throughout his lifetime. Seinfeld, obviously.

I take notes for everything. Whether it’s a business meeting or something ridiculous I think at the airport or in the shower. I carry a physical notebook during the week for my To Do list. I use my phone for most things. Everyone needs a giant whiteboard. There are several popular note-taking apps.

Writing things down has helped with organizing my life and thoughts, and reduces stress. Writing makes your thoughts legible. When you see your thoughts, what to do with them becomes clearer.

You probably already keep a grocery list or travel packing list on your phone.

Here are some less obvious things to write down.

  • Decision Journal This is the most interesting one for me. When I make a big decision (investment, life change, etc.), I will often type my decision making process (what I’m feeling, thinking. It can be long or short). Reviewing/reading it years later can be a profound experience.
  • To Want List Things I want with the prices next to them.
  • Restaurants Places for specific occasions like work lunches or out-of-town visitors, ones I want to try with friends, good spots for dates, best place for a burger, sushi, espresso martini, respectively
  • Random ideas Business ideas, creative projects, jokes, blog posts
  • Entertainment Keeping a list for shows & movies I want to watch reduces anxiety for me. I rarely watch TV, so when I do, I don’t want to watch the second-best thing on TV, I want to watch the best thing I can. By the time I finish reading Rotten Tomatoes reviews, scrolling through Netflix & HBO thumbnails and watching trailers, it’s time to go to sleep. So, I keep a running list of entertainment I want to consume, so when it’s time, I just pick one from my list.
  • Travel locations (I have a list of things to do in NYC. Each time I go, I chip away at the list.)
  • Book Summaries When you finish a book, write a paragraph about what you just read.
  • Gift ideas I will see a good idea in April and write it down. Otherwise, I will be Googling Best Christmas Gifts on 12/23.
  • Baby names You never know.
  • Itineraries For long international trips, I put itineraries together in Excel. Dates, costs, modes of travel. I always appreciate when a friend sends me an itinerary.
  • Personal Annual Review An Alternative to New Year’s Resolutions
  • Golf courses Bucket list for golf. We already have a trip planned two years from now.
  • Oil changes Keeping a note on your phone for oil change mileage saves you from keeping the goofy sticker on your windshield

I used to be cautious about what I wrote down. I would always think, if someone reads this when I’m dead, this is going to be embarrassing and I won’t have a fair trial to explain! Many of my notes would only make sense to me until they are explained. How will someone know whether something is a joke, content for a novel, or serious!?

But, then I thought about novelists. I have read things in books that make my muscles tighten up, “Buddy, you sent that to the PUBLISHER!?”. Those aren’t even their private notes. They PUBLISHED it. See Gillian Flynn and Nancy Crampton.

I also see TikToks and podcasts that have all but eliminated my concerns. I admire their courage.

It’s healthy to let your mind think anything, as long as you then curate those thoughts. You can let them pass through.

How many times have you thought to yourself, “Oh, I will remember that,” and then you forget it?

See also:

Thanks to James Bunch and Suzanna V. Wood for reading drafts of this.