Introducing Exhibit One, The Defendent’s Journal

by Benjamin on March 30, 2010

OK, maybe I am being a little dramatic.  But honestly, isn’t that the goal of the big, hairy, audacious goals in your personal notebook?  Or as Chris Guillebeau would call it, Practical Resources For World Domination.  I hope, not that I get sued, but that my work someday gets important and valuable enough to be used as evidence in a court case.  To have any lesser goals is a waste of time.

I have written previously about the need for a note taking system.  Since writing that post, some friends on Twitter linked me to a few posts that can take my previous one to the next level.  One of the articles is by Jill Hubbard Bowman on note taking with the intent of creating legal evidence of your intellectual property.  The other article is one from the productivity guru Tim Ferriss titled ‘How to Take Notes Like an Alpha-Geek.’

Both of these articles were so written so well that I decided to let them explain in their own words.  Hopefully, even though they are segments of the articles, they will do the original posts justice.  First up, experts from Jill about why note taking is so important:

Beware of a few important things when documenting your ideas. Courts don’t trust electronic documents.  Dates are often critical to claims of ownership and patent statutory issues.  Everyone knows that dates can be electronically altered and faked.   Trustworthy records are crucial to have any chance to of standing up in court.

She goes on to describe the type of notebooks that are best to hold up in a court of law.  The notebook should have permanent binding (a composition notebook or lab notebook works well) and all writing should be done in permanent ink.  It makes modifications or plagiarism much more visible.

On the inside cover of the Notebook:

  • Prominent, legible, printed name of creator
  • Name of employer or IP owner
  • Date that notebook is started and finished
  • Location where work is being conducted

In the Notebook use the following:

  • Legible handwriting
  • Project and topic headings
  • List of all people involved in each project
  • References used or sources of ideas if any
  • Ideas described in a way that is understandable to others in the field
  • Contemporaneous entry of ideas and research
  • Full date on every entry!
  • Time of work, if done during off hours and IP ownership is an issue
  • Initials on the bottom of every page
  • Printouts of key software code sections stapled to notebook pages
  • Printouts of key data stapled to notebook pages

You should have a witnessed record of when you conceived of the idea and when you actually made a working version of the idea.  This is critical for patentable inventions.  You need to remember that you are creating potential legal evidence.

Here is Tim about creating an indexing system and why that is so important.

Simple but effective note taking enables me to:

-Review book highlights in less than 10 minutes

-Connect scattered notes on a single theme in 10 minutes that would otherwise require dozens of hours

-Contact and connect mentors with relevant questions and help I can offer

-Impose structure on information for increased retention and recall

My favorite notepads (covered below) generally don’t have page numbers off the shelf. Here’s how you progress with a non-paginated pad:

A. Put page numbers on the upper-right of each right-hand page but not on the left (e.g., 1, 2, 3, etc.). I do about 30 pages at a time, as needed.

B. Whenever you complete a page, put the page number in an index on the inside cover (front or back) and a few words to describe the content.

I hope to employ these practices soon with my blank notebook in the picture above.  Thanks to Jill and Tim, my Moleskine will soon help me to rule the world.  What do you guys think?  Do you see the importance in keeping a notebook like this?  Or am I again being a crazy, too organized guy?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Andy March 30, 2010 at 9:06 am

Nice site! I will return to check out more.

Shane Mac March 30, 2010 at 7:29 pm

Awesome man… Glad I could point you to the Tim Ferris article!

Rock on.
Shane Mac

Scott Bishop April 14, 2010 at 1:49 am

Solid post Ben. I just got myself a Moleskin and plan on note taking to step up my organization. I’ve highlighted books like a maniac for years, but after T. Ferris’s post a while back, I need a better system for referencing. I’ve recently moved and all my books are in storage so I wish I had been doing this already. Thanks for the post, looking forward to reading your progress.

Benjamin April 16, 2010 at 8:12 pm

@Andy – Thanks for the shout.

@Shane Mac – Thanks for the comment and thanks again for the link to Ferriss article, the success of my future ideas thanks you!

@Scott – Thanks for the compliment, I thought it was cool enough that I should share. I am rocking the moleskin now too and busted it out mid-flight to write the post this coming Monday. Sounds like you were in the same situation that I was, let me know how it turns out!

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