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How to Take Notes like Thomas Edison

How to Take Notes like Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison

Famous inventor Thomas Edison is probably the most experienced note-taker in the world. His diary which is still maintained as an important part of the United States historical record contains five million (5,000,000) pages. Important developments such as his work on perfecting the light bulb and electric lighting systems are captured in great detail. He never met a sheet of paper he didn’t like.
What lessons can we take from his work today, a century later? How did his note-taking help him to become the world’s most famous inventor with over a thousand (1093) U.S. patents in his name for a wide range of technologies from movie cameras and phonographs to cement making and electric lighting? In short, what made his note-taking and filing system so great?
Edison’s system was developed to support his life work and was very successful in doing so. The main elements of his system are as follows:

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  1. Any useful or important development was recorded so that no effort was wasted in repeating experiments or efforts unnecessarily. Edison’s method was once described as an “empirical dragnet” by Nikola Tesla, another famous inventor who worked for Edison for some time. Combining Edison’s hard working and hard thinking methods with an effective record creation and retention system was a very important aspect of his work.
  2. Forward-looking. Edison’s notes included the forward-looking things we tend to incorporate in many of our modern personal planners. Things like lists of contacts, appointments, “to do” lists, and actionable items for follow up or later review were all contained within his comprehensive system.
  3. Rearward-looking. The ability to go back and check his written record was useful in several ways. He was able to use his records in various lawsuits filed against him and by him against others as evidence and to substantiate his claims. His competitors were often unable to compete with his records so he often came out victorious in these legal battles. He was always able to review past work and avoid repeatedly going down dead-end roads. He could always review whatever he had said or was told. He never had to remember most things as long as he could remember how to look it up later.
  4. The record system was searchable. Sometimes, from among millions of pages, there would be a key document that would prove invaluable. Unfortunately, with his manual system, he often spent considerable time searching through these records looking for the key item. He did however have a fairly good system of archiving his records by a combination of chronological and subject matter based systems. He created numerous groupings, files, folders, etc. which helped him to get to the right part of his records in a reasonably short time.
  5. Who, what, where, when and how much. These details could be fairly easily retrieved from Edison’s system in relation to any aspect of whatever he was involved with. These included financial records and they formed an important part of his note-taking system. He kept all his incoming as well as copies of all his outgoing correspondence. This was not necessarily easy to do before the invention of the modern office copier.
  6. How and why. Edison’s research laboratory work was a focal point for much of his record system. Patent applications and reviews were based in large part on his notes that needed to include the how and why aspects in sufficient detail so that the patents themselves would be complete and able to withstand any legal challenges. Edison often used his records to defend his position from competitors in his day when patents and technologies were becoming very fashionable and important as they remain today. His system of experimentation and related record keeping has become the basis of the modern industrial research institution – which he is widely credited with having invented.
  7. Extremely powerful memory aid. Edison had an amazing memory. He was well informed on a wide range of topics and always seemed to be able to recall what he told someone or what he was told. Much of this is due to his system of notes. By writing everything down that he thought was worth writing, he was able to free himself of the burden of having to remember it. A strange and almost unexpected thing occurs. The process of writing things down aids in the mental memory retention. The combination of having the confidence in knowing the information is on record and easily retrievable combined with the improved retention from the process of writing it down, creates a winning combination when it comes to memory.

How can we improve upon Edison’s system using today’s technologies? Obviously, we have invented the ball point pen to replace his messy quill and ink bottle so that notes can be written in real time. In his day, he perfected the typewriter. Today, we are no longer committed to getting stuff onto paper as the final form of record retention. Vast portions of Edison’s original archives have recently been digitized and can be viewed online. This eliminates the need for mothballs and maintaining rooms full of old papers that can only be studied by someone showing up and going through them one page at a time.
How does your system compare to Edison’s? His was comprehensive and scalable to wherever his interests lay. Is your system similarly scalable? What about the content? How much of the information in your system has objectively measurable value? Edison kept everything and it all went up in value as his overall fame and power grew. How valuable has the information in your system become (or is becoming)? How scalable is your system as your interests change (whether expanding of shifting to other areas)? Edison always used the best available technology to maintain his records as efficiently as he thought they could be maintained. Have you similarly employed sound technologies for taking and keeping your notes?
Edison certainly subscribed to the philosophy that if life is worth living, it is worth writing about. At five million pages, he was at the extreme end of this. He did live a long, prosperous life. And he lived it quite fully since he always seemed to have something to write about.

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Peter Paul Roosen and Tatsuya Nakagawa are co-founders of Atomica Creative Group , a specialized strategic product marketing firm. Through leading edge insight and research, sound strategic planning and effective project management, Atomica helps companies achieve greater success in bringing new products to market and in improving their existing businesses. They have co-authored Overcoming Inventoritis: The Silent Killer of Innovation now available.

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Last Updated on September 17, 2018

7 Signs of an Unhappy Relationship That Makes You Feel Stuck

7 Signs of an Unhappy Relationship That Makes You Feel Stuck

Relationships are complicated and when you’re unhappy, it can be difficult to tell what’s causing it and what needs to change.

Sometimes it’s as easy as opening up to your partner about your problems, while other times it may be necessary to switch partners or roll solo to get your mind straight.

When you’re in the thick of things, it can be difficult to tell if you’re unhappy in your relationship or just unhappy in general (in which case, a relationship may be just the cure you need).

Here’re signs of an unhappy relationship that is possibly making you feel stuck:

1. You’re depressed about your home life.

No matter what you do in life, you’re going to have good and bad days. Your relationship is no different.

However, no matter what you’re going through at home, you have to feel comfortable in your own home.

If you constantly dread going home because your significant other is there, there’s a problem. Maybe it’s something you already know about, everyone has an argument or just needs some alone time.

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When that yearning to be alone becomes an insatiable obsession over the course of months and years, it’s time to realize you’re not the exception to the rule.

You’re unhappy in your relationship, and you need to take a look in the mirror and do whatever it takes to make yourself smile.

2. You aren’t comfortable being yourself.

Remember all those things you discovered about yourself when you first got together? The way your partner made you feel when you met that made you fall in love with him or her in the first place.

If they don’t make you feel that way anymore, it’s not the end of the world. If your partner makes you uncomfortable about being you, then her or she is only dragging you down. It’s up to you to decide how to handle that.

You need to be comfortable with who you are. This means being comfortable in your skin and with the way you walk, talk, look, breath, move, and all the other things that make you uniquely you.

If the person who supposedly loves you doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, know that you can do better. They’re not even one in a billion.

3. You can’t stop snooping.

Mutual trust is necessary in any relationship. The only way to get that trust is with respect.

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I can find you anywhere online, no matter how private and secure you think you are. The odds of you having a password I can’t crack are slim. If we’ve met in person, I could install a remote key logger on your device without even touching it.

Finding your information online hardly takes a clandestine organization. Any idiot with a Wi-Fi-enabled device can cyberstalk you. I’m just the only idiot in the village admitting it.

So now that we know everyone snoops, it’s time to address your personal habits. Governments snoop because they don’t trust us. If you’re snooping on your partner, it’s because you don’t trust them.

It’s ok to have doubts, and it’s perfectly normal to look into anything that looks weird, but keep in mind that data collection is only half of an investigation.

If you find yourself constantly snooping and questioning everything, clearly there’s a trust issue and the relationship likely needs to end.

4. You’re afraid of commitment.

If you’ve been dating longer than a year and you aren’t engaged, it’s never going to happen.

Commitment is important. People will come up with a million ways to describe why they can’t be committed.

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No matter who you are if you like it, you need to put a ring on it. Find an engagement ring, stick a gemstone in it and marry the person. If you’re not legally able to get married or you don’t believe in it for one reason or another, have a child (or adopt one, however you’re able to) or treat your partner’s family like your own. It’s a huge financial and mental commitment.

If you’re not ready for one or the other after some time, don’t waste anymore of your precious life on the relationship.

Your relationship should be something that propels you forward. If it’s not going anywhere, make it an open relationship and call it what it is—dating multiple people.

5. You imagine a happier life without your partner.

If all you’re doing is imagining a happier life without your partner, it’s a sign that you’re in the wrong relationship. You’re unhappy and you need to get out.

Your partner should be included in your dreams. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a future with someone.

Try to remember what you dreamed of before you got your heart broken by the realities of life, love and the pursuit of human success.

Remember when you would crush on that cute kid in class? You would secretly imagine marrying him or her and going on an adventure—that’s the way life should be.

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If you’re not at least imagining adventures together, then why are you in that relationship?

6. You resent, rather than love your partner.

When a relationship starts to crumble, you begin to resent your partner for all the things you once loved about him or her.

When you’ve reached this point, your partner has reached at least No. 2 on this list. From your partner’s perspective, your unhappiness with them is picked up as bashing them for being who they are.

If you’re both unhappy in the relationship, it’s better if it ends as quickly and painlessly as possible.

7. You chase past feelings.

It’s okay to reminisce about the past, but if all you do is wish things were like they used to be, it’s a sign you’re not on the right path.

You’re unhappy and, at the very least, you need to have an open dialogue about it. This isn’t necessarily a sign that the relationship should end, but it definitely needs a spark.

When you talk to your partner candidly about what it is you’re looking for, you never know how they’ll react. The risk alone is worth it, good or bad.

Final thoughts

If you’re feeling stuck in your current relationship, it’s time to reflect about it with your partner. Don’t ignore these signs of an unhappy relationship as they will slowly go worse and harm both you and your partner in long-term.

Featured photo credit: josh peterson via unsplash.com

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