Chronological work notes or topical?

A couple of new senior staff have joined the Uni Fellowship of Christians this year: Luke and Suzie.

They are both organised and disciplined people. But they manage their work notes differently. And it’s worth observing the difference.


Some people keep a Moleskine or spiral notebook and keep a chronological list of notes about whatever meetings or projects they are working on. They cross things off, or write other annotations to help them navigate this list.

The advantage of this is that there is no additional processing need after the notes are taken. They don’t need to be removed and refiled.

This is an alien workflow to me. Watching in on it is like going for a sleepover at a friend’s house when you were a kid… and seeing all the odd things ‘other families’ do. It’s like a separate branch of the evolutionary tree. It is reptiles instead of mammals.

The disadvantage, it seems to me, is that you are left having to work back through several pages of notes to scoop up all the relevant notes, TODOs and deadlines, rather than having everything relevant to a particular project in one place.


Those influenced by GTD, along with others, take notes as they go, but in a temporary way. Their goals is to process these notes into a system - whether paper-based or computer-based - where all these notes are group according to information type (reference, action, date) and/or project type.

The disadvantage is that it creates a time/work gap: the need to process. Things can get lost in transit from notes to system. An additional disadvantage is that it is messy.

The chronological method can keep everything in one place the whole time. The only mess is if your crossing out/annotations are scribbly - but even then, that is mess inside a controlled environment of the notebook.

Whereas the topical approach risks having piles of paper of various kinds. And if the final system is also paper-based, then it involves paper sorted and organised in a range of manila folders or plastic sleeves or section dividers.

What are you? A chronological or topical workflow manager?

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