Write It Down!!

Do you have a favorite business tool?A few months ago I found myself sitting next to Meg Belanger at Inspire, and when I saw what she was doing I felt a big pang of 'jealousy-admiration-inspiration' all rolled into one neat sucker-punch. Meg is a note-taker. And her notebook is a thing to behold. I've been daydreaming of it ever since that night! I've heard so many inspiring speakers over the years - who shared tips, tricks, inspiration... tools that I wish I could easily go back to. Alas, my notebooks are jacks of all trades, and they invariably end up full of to-do lists, grocery lists, one-word ideas, chicken-scratched phone messages and cryptic codes and passwords to who knows what websites. In the end, they can all be found packed away in boxes of miscellaneous paper items that will probably never get sorted.

Meg's notebook is different. It's a specialist. It accompanies Meg to every seminar, a constant chaperone, smooth-rolling pen close at hand. This is how we should ALL travel when we go to hear an expert speak, right?

Here's a random picture of one of my own (Enna's) notebook pages (honestly, opened completely at random for the purpose of taking this photo):

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See? Not very inspiring... In hopes that some of Meg's fantastic note-taking skills may brush off on me, I thought I'd ask Meg to write up a few tips on effective note-taking for our Inspire attendees, but then I thought, "why not go straight to the source!" So, here is my full interview with Meg's Notebook, in all its honest and insightful glory:

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We know you're not actually a single notebook. how many volumes do you consist of, and what range of dates do you cover?

Three volumes are kept handy, but since Meg is a bit of a pack rat, I'm sure there are others tucked away. If you wanted to see her notes from 8th grade science, she could probably access those fairly easily, too. Of the three photography notebooks, the first one starts with Mystic 4, which was January 2009. She recently had to start a new one, so we're pretty up-to-date.

What are your strategies for keeping yourself organized?

Meg uses a lot of hyphens and likes to underline headings and phrases. For some reason, she operates under some sort of Depression-era mentality and likes to hoard pages, but has become better at starting new pages without finishing up the previous one. It helps keep things neat. I guess "organized" won out over "paper rationing." Also, Meg is very specific about the type of notebook she buys - it needs to be spiral-bound, perforated pages, and college-ruled. That means her handwriting stays in place, it's easy to stick a pen in the spiral, and if she needs to rip a page out, it's easy and not messy. I think she sometimes wishes she could rock a Moleskin and write down all sorts of deep thoughts alongside romantic sketches, but it's just not happening.

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Any interesting observations about note-taking strategies, from your years of record-keeping?

No matter how neat or organized you want to be, there's always room to doodle. That's what that upper margin is for. Meg tends to fill it with lines, and even sometimes hearts. Or song lyrics. Either way, it's a good space to use for random notes, drawings, and even that burning question you need to ask the person next to you.

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Can you share some mistakes or regrets? 

My motto is: NO REGRETS! (are notebooks allowed to have mottoes?)

It would maybe be cool if Meg could kick it old school and rock some secretarial shorthand, but that's not really a regret. But it would be like writing in code. Which is automatically cooler than NOT writing in code.

Is there a page that Meg visits again and again?

Right now she's been returning to notes about pricing and branding. It's just that time of year. Writing everything down helps her to remember what was said at seminars/conferences, etc, and it's nice to know that she can still take advantage of the money/time spent. In the end, though, we should probably be opened and read more often than we are. We are FULL of valuable information. Sometimes she'll pack us up and bring us to a meeting with colleagues where she breaks down some of the info she learned. That also helps her digest all of the knowledge rattling around in her head after days of learning!

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What page(s) of notes have been most helpful to Meg's business growth?

Many moons ago, Meg attended a one-day workshop with John Michael Cooper. He went through his entire workflow with the attendees. This is where Meg learned how to Batch Rename files in Bridge. Up until that point, she had been DOING IT BY HAND, individual file by individual file. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! That doesn't necessarily equate to business growth, but it certainly led to better time management, and the steps are all in the pages of Volume One.

What workshops have been the most interesting and helpful? 

Oh goodness! The aforementioned session with JMC was certainly revolutionary! Meg has notes in here from 6 Inspires, 5 Mystics, Get Lit!, John Harrington, David Wells, Joe Buissink, WPPI Road Show, Sandy Puc, David Jay, and the list goes on. She's tried to take advantage of speakers visiting the greater Boston area, and has learned a ton, both from our local PUG speakers and from the more national speakers. One of the speakers who has really stood out for her is David Williams. He talked a lot about heirloom photography, the photos we have of our families, ourselves. He talked about how when a loved one passes away, we never say to ourselves, "We have enough photos of them." Even though most of these words aren't on our pages, the words that are bring her right back to the feeling she had that day. Since I am being interviewed for Inspire, I can say confidently that Meg has also gotten a LOT out of being there, too. Mainly, a welcoming community of people who have moved beyond colleagues (and strangers on Facebook) to friends. I am excited to accompany her again this year!

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Can you please share a few choice quotes from your pages?

"It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter." Alfred Eisenstadt

"All the equipment in the world doesn't compensate for an inability to notice." Elliot Erwitt

"If it's art, it's not for all." 

"You book what you show!"

"Work smarter, not harder." 

"If your bride was blind, how would you get her to hire you?"

If you were starting over today, what would you do differently?

I don't think I would encourage Meg to do anything differently notes-wise. She keeps us neat and safe and we're pretty happy. If we're talking about Meg's career, I would have wanted her to put herself out there more in the beginning. Maybe do a shooting workshop somewhere far away with some "famous" photographer. Just for the experience of meeting people. She's always been a bit of a scaredy-cat, though.

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Meg Belanger is the photographer of a wonderful cookbook: Boston Homegrown is available at many of your local bookstores, and of course, at amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.