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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 January 24, 2021

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

Do you say yes so often that you no longer feel that your own needs are being met? Are you wondering how to say no to people?

For years, I was a serial people pleaser[1]. Known as someone who would step up, I would gladly make time, especially when it came to volunteering for certain causes. I proudly carried this role all through grade school, college, even through law school. For years, I thought saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend or someone I respected.

But somewhere along the way, I noticed I wasn’t quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what I thought I should be doing, and some of what I actually wanted to do. The result? I had a packed schedule that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

It took a long while, but I learned the art of saying no. Saying no meant I no longer catered fully to everyone else’s needs and could make more room for what I really wanted to do. Instead of cramming too much in, I chose to pursue what really mattered. When that happened, I became a lot happier.

And guess what? I hardly disappointed anyone.

The Importance of Saying No

When you learn the art of saying no, you begin to look at the world differently. Rather than seeing all of the things you could or should be doing (and aren’t doing), you start to look at how to say yes to what’s important.

In other words, you aren’t just reacting to what life throws at you. You seek the opportunities that move you to where you want to be.

Successful people aren’t afraid to say no. Oprah Winfrey, considered one of the most successful women in the world, confessed that it was much later in life when she learned how to say no. Even after she had become internationally famous, she felt she had to say yes to virtually everything.

Being able to say no also helps you manage your time better.

Warren Buffett views “no” as essential to his success. He said:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

When I made “no” a part of my toolbox, I drove more of my own success, focusing on fewer things and doing them well.

How We Are Pressured to Say Yes

It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say no.

From an early age, we are conditioned to say yes. We said yes probably hundreds of times in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. We said yes to find work, to get a promotion, to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. We said yes to find and keep friends.

We say yes because we feel good when we help someone, because it can seem like the right thing to do, because we think that is key to success, and because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist.

And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

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At work, we say yes because we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing more than we are. Outside of work, we say yes because we are feeling bad that we aren’t doing enough to spend time with family or friends.

The message, no matter where we turn, is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.

How Do You Say No Without Feeling Guilty?

Deciding to add the word “no” to your toolbox is no small thing. Perhaps you already say no, but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of no that you could finally create more time for things you care about.

But let’s be honest, using the word “no” doesn’t come easily for many people.

3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No

1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time, especially you haven’t done it much in the past, will feel awkward. Your comfort zone is “yes,” so it’s time to challenge that and step outside that.

If you need help getting out of your comfort zone, check out this article.

2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time

When you want to learn how to say no, remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it: who else knows about all of the demands in your life? No one.

Only you are at the center of all of these requests. You are the only one that understands what time you really have.

3. Saying No Means Saying Yes to Something That Matters

When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else that we may care more about. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.

6 Ways to Start Saying No

Incorporating that little word “no” into your life can be transformational. Turning some things down will mean you can open doors to what really matters. Here are some essential tips to learn the art of no:

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1. Check in With Your Obligation Meter

One of the biggest challenges to saying no is a feeling of obligation. Do you feel you have a responsibility to say yes and worry that saying no will reflect poorly on you?

Ask yourself whether you truly have the duty to say yes. Check your assumptions or beliefs about whether you carry the responsibility to say yes. Turn it around and instead ask what duty you owe to yourself.

2. Resist the Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

Do you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)? FOMO can follow us around in so many ways. At work, we volunteer our time because we fear we won’t move ahead. In our personal lives, we agree to join the crowd because of FOMO, even while we ourselves aren’t enjoying the fun.

Check in with yourself. Are you saying yes because of FOMO or because you really want to say yes? More often than not, running after fear doesn’t make us feel better[2].

3. Check Your Assumptions About What It Means to Say No

Do you dread the reaction you will get if you say no? Often, we say yes because we worry about how others will respond or because of the consequences. We may be afraid to disappoint others or think we will lose their respect. We often forget how much we are disappointing ourselves along the way.

Keep in mind that saying no can be exactly what is needed to send the right message that you have limited time. In the tips below, you will see how to communicate your no in a gentle and loving way.

You might disappoint someone initially, but drawing a boundary can bring you the freedom you need so that you can give freely of yourself when you truly want to. And it will often help others have more respect for you and your boundaries, not less.

4. When the Request Comes in, Sit on It

Sometimes, when we are in the moment, we instinctively agree. The request might make sense at first. Or we typically have said yes to this request in the past.

Give yourself a little time to reflect on whether you really have the time or can do the task properly. You may decide the best option is to say no. There is no harm in giving yourself the time to decide.

5. Communicate Your “No” with Transparency and Kindness

When you are ready to tell someone no, communicate your decision clearly. The message can be open and honest[3] to ensure the recipient that your reasons have to do with your limited time.

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How do you say no? 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

    Resist the temptation not to respond or communicate all. But do not feel obligated to provide a lengthy account about why you are saying no.

    Clear communication with a short explanation is all that is needed. I have found it useful to tell people that I have many demands and need to be careful with how I allocate my time. I will sometimes say I really appreciate that they came to me and for them to check in again if the opportunity arises another time.

    6. Consider How to Use a Modified No

    If you are under pressure to say yes but want to say no, you may want to consider downgrading a “yes” to a “yes but…” as this will give you an opportunity to condition your agreement to what works best for you.

    Sometimes, the condition can be to do the task, but not in the time frame that was originally requested. Or perhaps you can do part of what has been asked.

    Final Thoughts

    Beginning right now, you can change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself off autopilot where you might normally say yes.

    Use the request as a way to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay particular attention to when you place certain demands on yourself.

    Try it now. Say no to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw the line with a workaholic colleague and tell them you will complete the project, but not by working all weekend. You’ll find yourself much happier.

    More Tips on How to Say No

    Featured photo credit: Chris Ainsworth via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Science of People: 11 Expert Tips to Stop Being a People Pleaser and Start Doing You
    [2] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Tips to Get Over Your FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out
    [3] Cooks Hill Counseling: 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

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