Each night before my father went to bed, he took out a small black notebook and methodically listed the things he should do the following day– from business obligation to having small household repair fixed. Then he slept soundly, his troublesome responsibilities confined to his waistcoat pocket.
It was a precise little habit that i privately considered a bit fussy until i had a household of my own. Then i found myself appalled by the million and one thing one must keep in mind if family life is to run smoothly: dental appointments, new acquaintances’ names, which friend has a special diet. I envied wives who seemed miraculously to have evolved order out of their busy households.
One young woman in particular roused my admiration. The wife of an airline pilot and mother of four children under nine, she was so well- organized that when she gave a dinner party she could sit calmly talking to her guests only half an hour before she had to serve the meal. Wanting to discover the secret of her success, I followed her to the kitchen and found nothing more mysterious than a detail list of dinner preparation in the order in which they must be carried out.
“I’ve found,” she exclaimed, ” that if i have everything written down so that i can refer to it and know what needs to be done next, I can relax.”
I thought of my father’s undisturbed sleep- and decided that I, too, would start listing the things I should remember. Jotting down responsibilities and ticking them off as they were discharged, eliminated some of the confusion of daily life and thus reduced nagging worries. And once I got these pencil and paper habit running smoothly, I began to use it to record any thoughts worth saving from the passing stream of consciousness.
As I looked at my neighbors and friends, it seemed to me that the people who were getting the most from their lives, and themselves, were the ones who had mastered the trick of trapping and organizing their thoughts. They were staying on top of their lives. Panic, guilt, humiliation- our most unbecoming emotions- often generate from disorder, from being the victims of our lives rather than the masters. Serenity and peace of mind grow out of the comforting knowledge that we are doing what we should- at the time it should be done.
As I got ever deeper into the note- taking habit, it even occurred to me, when nothing an appointment, also to estimate the time required to get there and the best mode of transport. It might not matter to the person i call upon if i am five or twenty minutes late. But for me it makes the difference between feeling apologetic and ill at ease or composed.
My neighbour, an expert a gardener and housekeeper as well as a schoolmistress, discharge her multiple duties with the aid of a notes and records both at home and school. “I never leave the classroom without making a list of exactly what i intend to cover in my lessons the following day,” She tells me.”It’s surprising how ideas and plan can simply disappear from mind through distractions. Having a record at hand reassures me in my own work. And if i fall ill, a substitute can take over efficiently.”
Thoughts are highly elusive: Let one escape and you may never recapture it, so many are the combinations of ideas involved in producing it. People whose fleeting thoughts,Philosophers,composers,poets and the likes,carry notebooks with them at all times. Thoughts are sly as well as fleeting, and apt to slip up on you at inopportune moments.
A local dentist, who is also something of an inventor, told me, “I think of my mind as a computer. I feed it a problem and then wait for an answer. I never know when the answer will pop out; all i know is that i must catch it when it appears or i will forget it.” He keeps pad and pencil on his bedside table in case the elusive idea should choose to arrive when he is about to fall asleep. He also keeps a note pad on the work-stand in his surgery.
A young business executive discovered that his best ideas seemed to crop up in half hour he spent on the bus traveling to work. Now he keeps a notebook in his pocket and scribbles down his thoughts as they arrive.
The most rewarding by product of the note taking habit, I find, is the refreshed sense of identity it inspires. One of the constant problems in today’s hectic world is to foster our individuality, the special part of us that is not interchangeable or identifiable with others. But it is only after dealing with the necessary mechanics of life, the mounds of daily chores and concerns, that we can indulge in such an invitation to our larger selves.
The notebook habit helps to dominate the daily clutter. It helps you to run your life instead of letting your life run you.