ORGANIZE, verb. (transitive) To arrange in working order.
ORGANIZE, verb. (transitive) To constitute in parts, each having a special function, act, office, or relation; to systematize.
ORGANIZE, verb. (transitive) To furnish with organs; to give an organic structure to; to endow with capacity for the functions of life; as, an organized being; organized matter; — in this sense used chiefly in the past participle.
ORGANIZE, verb. (transitive) (music) To sing in parts.
Do you ever look at your colleagues, peers, and friends and wonder: how exactly do they keep it all organized? When there are so many bits of information, meetings, inspirations, items to research, ideas to capture — how do we remember it all?
For me, it’s my friend Caroline. She’s an inspiration in many regards — she has the sharpest mind, memory, and she’s hilarious. We’ll be talking, and if I mention something that intrigues her or she wants to look up later, she pulls this little notepad out of her bag and jots something down, then stows it away.
The notepad isn’t anything special. I think one time it was a freebie from a hotel.
But there was something special about the process. It was seeing her mind in action, with thought being put to paper, to be developed later. Her process is streamlined and it WORKS. The tools support the thinking, the learning, and the reflection. And it gets to the intended result. She captures the idea with her pen, and she processes it later.
It made me think about my own systems, and how they are constantly changing. If I write a note like that for myself, I have no idea how to find it later. I’ll watch videos on YouTube of planner enthusiasts decorating their Filofaxes, Hobonichis, Erin Condrens, or Happy Planners with beautiful stickers. Mine are never that pretty (but I keep buying stickers, nonetheless). Brush lettering—it will never happen. (Yes, I own some.)
Sometimes I’m intimidated by the tools I select. The pens write so well, the pages are so pristine. Then I mark them with my unremarkable handwriting, which is usually crooked on the page.
After much trial and error, I think I finally have a system that works for me. But it is always a work in progress. Somehow, I’ve managed to stay pretty on top of things, meet my deadlines, get my classes planned and graded on time, and even launch some side projects, like this one.
And in so doing, I’ve created a kind of liner notes for my life. Most of it is mundane, or knowable only to those with certain kinds of inside knowledge. But they reveal the makings of the final products: the books I write, the lectures I give, the feedback on students’ papers, the readings I consult.
I love beautiful office supplies. I am picky about how my pens write. I have strong feelings about what paper I like to write on, and what color my sticky notes should (and should not) be. But how do I make it all come together into a process that helps me:
- find the notes I took on that book and footnote it with correct page number,
- record that fleeting thought I had about a chapter’s argument,
- keep going on that service project I committed to,
- read the book in time to submit the review,
- or make sure to mention lessons about paper-writing mechanics to my students in class on Tuesday?
- (Never mind make sure that my kid gets to gymnastics, the toilet doesn’t get nasty, get my eyebrows waxed before I start looking like my grandfather, and we don’t eat frozen pizza three days in a row).
Although I have a pretty good system now, and the wheels have never *quite* come off the bus, I’ve been pretty fickle. My liner notes now have a certain look to them.
And I’m nosy. I am fascinated by how others select the tools that support their thinking, their day-to-day tasks, and move their work and lives forward. I’m curious how others approach the divide between our analog tools and our digital lives.
To organize is a verb. And, if you examine the list of definitions above, it denotes group interaction. After all, the liner notes on albums are disseminated, and fans are curious about how the album gets made.
So there is my goal: to get together with other scholars, writers, and anyone who is interested in how to turn ideas into creativity and action—and see how they do it, to get a peek into how they create their own liner notes.
This week, I start interviewing guests for my limited video podcast series: The History Mixtapes: Liner Notes. (I hope to do something with this History Mixtapes title later — so Liner Notes is a pilot/subseries. I know, it’s a bit complicated, but it’s a pandemic, people).
I don’t have a process to or system to sell, or even one I think everyone should adopt. I’m just someone who loves pens, paper, and talking about how to take notes and find them later. And, in the end, as my friend Caroline’s system reminded me: it’s all about the ideas.