Why I colour code my notes

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Happy Friday! Last week we looked at how and why I colour code my diary, and I’m often also asked about the colour coding system I use when taking notes.

This is something I first wrote about way back in 2007 (http://jacobaldridge.com/business/the-big-picture-shows-a-colourful-future/), early in my business coaching career. Having worked with hundreds of coaches who had similar training, I can confirm that almost all of us are still using coloured pens because of the added power it provides.

Quite simply, this is note taking in 3 dimensions.

Once you start using this system – for example, being able to scan notes rapidly for action items because they’re all in Red – you won’t ever be able to return to the world of blue and black biros, endless pages that all look alike.

Your exact system may vary – for example, you might want to reserve some of the colours to represent different business lines. If you’re looking for a place to start – or just gain a better understanding of how and why I use colour the way I do – then please enjoy this week’s Episode.

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Since April 2006, I’ve been an international business advisor providing bespoke solutions for privately-owned businesses with 12-96 employees.

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Transcript

In last week’s episode of Blackboard Fridays, we talked about the power and the visual impact that comes from color coding your diary. One of the questions I get a lot out in the field, because I’m known for taking my colored pens and for taking all of my meeting notes using these as opposed to a biro, is why do I color code my notes and what coloring system do I use? Now you don’t necessarily have to use the same system I’ve got here but this might be a useful place for you to work out what’s going to work best for you now. Why do I color code my notes? Well, I describe it as taking notes in three dimensions.

The classic example of this is when I go into a business and conduct a business review. Now in that situation, I will often sit in the boardroom for a whole day, I will have a conversation with eight ten twelve different individuals about their view of the business, what works well, what they’d like to see done differently. If this was their business, what would they change? And I’m taking copious quantities of notes, I’ll go through dozens of pages of notes and it’s then my job to get up the next day and to process all that information. How much fun do reckon that would be if it was all written in blue pen?

Instead, by using the color code system, I can focus on different areas and flick through the notes looking for what pops out. Purple is a great example. Purple in my world (my notes) is for vision it’s the vision the business owners have. It’s the vision that individuals within the business have. It’s the highest level of context in business so it’s one of the first areas that I’ll dig into and so by using the color coding I can just jump into the notes and just look for the purple, get all the different bits of purple know that that’s all about vision and draw some conclusions about what the business needs to do in that space.

How often do you go back through and read the notes that you take in a meeting and chances are it’s not very often and part of that is because it’s such a laborious process you had to read through all of that just to find the five or six sentences about vision? In my take all day, whereas by having the colors, you can jump to the various elements you want to dive into.

Briefly here are the colors that I use, and this is based on a standard pack of colored pens, so you’ll find that these colors are easy to access. Blue is about stuff—it’s all the content that data the facts and figures the things that I may need to know but I’m not really going to dive into to try and change the business. Often, I’ll write things in blue just to get them out of my head so that I could focus on the far more interesting and mean more meaningful areas of the business.

Green is about solutions the business owners talking about. What’s challenging them? And I come up with a bit of an idea that might help, I’ll write that in green so that I can go back through with. A later point ago, these are the things that might solve some of the problems that they’re having. Black is the flip side is for opportunities. Opportunities is the polite way of saying drama, stress, issues, concerns that are going on with the business and one of the interesting things is I use black for that where a lot of people might use red.

I find red can have an emotional impact on someone if I pick up the red pen to write something. They sometimes even have a physical flinching kind of reaction so I need to set the expectation that red is about actions that means I’ve got some homework that I’ve got to do; not didn’t you’ve done something wrong what I don’t normally tell them is black means you’ve done something wrong but you’ve got to get that information as well part of the reason I use red for my actions is that it really does stand out so I can sit there at the end of the day. I had a day recently where I had nine meetings across the course of the day. I was able to pull out my notes and just go looking for the red to make sure I transcribed the actions I’d set into my to-do list system so that they could get done again, much more efficient just looking for the red than reading a whole page of blue or black pen.

Purple as we’ve talked about is vision. Bigger picture orange and we start to get into some of these colors that don’t get used as often. Orange for me is about new products, product ideas, products, and services. Yellow is joy when a business owner or a staff member talked about what really makes them happy, I make sure I color code that in yellow. Great anchor to come back for future conversations.

Brown is about structures, setting up the business or the workflow process within the business and pink just the only colored chalk that I couldn’t find—pink is about love and at its core every business. Every business owner comes from a place of love and if I as a business advisor every now and then just get an idea of what it is that they love, what really at their heart is quarter them then then helps me to set all the other bits of information in the right context.

You don’t have to use my system for color coding your notes. You don’t have to use this perfectly sometimes and I’ve been doing this for over a decade, I’ll just grab the nearest pen and use that and in different contexts sometimes the different colors will have different meanings. You’ve got to work out a system that works for you but what I would encourage you to do is go out and buy some colored pens, whether that’s a small little four pack or a whole big set of textures and start using them maybe even keep this next to your notes so that you’ve got a system you can refer to to start taking notes. In that third dimension, your efficiency, the impact of the notes you’re taking will make a real difference.

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