I am amazed the number of times I enter a situation where I am asked to help and no information has been recorded. Of course my head is clear and I know that when I am in the moment it is easy to forget this simple step. The following ideas can help you take full advantage of taking notes while solving complicated problems.
Use paper and a pen or pencil
Typing notes is not enough. When you are facing tough problems you need to harness all of the brain power you can. Hard problems need “all hands on deck”. The physical act of using a pen or pencil is going to engage parts of your brain that would not normally be used for the process at hand. Is your hand writing terrible? Great, write slower in a more deliberate fashion. The extra time will give your brain the cycles it needs to process the problem at hand.
Put a date and time on notes
You are keeping a record of your thought process, and records are more valuable when they can be kept in order. For large records, dates also serve as mental markers allowing you to do a “binary search” back through your thought process.
Make a hypothesis, then note whether it was proved or disproved
When solving a problem you need to make an assertion and conduct an experiment to prove or disprove it. This is especially true for extended debug sessions. Tiredness and desperation will often cause one to loop back on assertions that have already been vetted.
Assume others will get involved
When we first start tackling a problem it is safe to say that it will often be resolved quickly. But it is when we unearth larger problems that it may be time to call in reinforcements. Already having a set of notes is ideal, but one can also begin to summarize findings at the first sign a bigger problem is at hand. Notes serve the practical function of transferring knowledge without repeating the same experiment set.problem.
Periodically reread your notes, out load
This returns to the idea that some problems require all of the brain power you can muster. Speech engages parts of the brain that usually lie dormant while the developer is lost in quiet contemplative thought.
Draw pictures about what is happening
Drawing is going to further exercise new parts of the brain.
As an engineer I find it relatively easy to absorb large amounts of technical material. Books that would put other people to sleep keep me awake and reveal technical secrets that allow me to craft great systems and work a profitable, satisfying career. But like other engineers, while I find my self doubling up on technical material and glazing over “soft skills”
One of those skills is how to win people to your cause. How to Win Friends and Influence People is a classic text by Dale Carnegie that gives a variety of anecdotes and simple advice to improve interpersonal relationships. This posts serves as a condensed collection of some of the points that rang most clear to my own heart and experience.
“If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive”
“Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.”
“I don’t see how I could have done any differently from what I have.”
“When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity”
“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be under-standing and forgiving.”