Imagine you’re a head of state—the president or prime minister of your country.

You’ve got a lot of power and a lot of responsibility. As you survey your spacious office and daydream about national infrastructure projects, your thoughts return to the present moment, and you remember that you have an important meeting in one hour.

You’re about to meet with Prime Minister Jones, the leader of a neighboring country, to discuss the complex, sometimes fraught relationship between your two nations. You last met with your counterpart six months ago, and though much was discussed and you each made some promises, you’re struggling to remember the meeting in any detail. What was said? Who said it?

Just as you start to panic, an aide enters your office and hands you a document. “Mr./Ms. President,” he says, “here’s your detailed summary of your last meeting with Prime Minister Jones.” You thumb through the pages with relief, and the meeting comes rushing back. You suddenly remember what you said, what she said, and what you both agreed to do before you met again. You know that Prime Minister Jones is receiving the same briefing herself.

Okay, back to reality. I’ll admit that was a pretty boring daydream—you didn’t even get to fly in a private jet—but it illustrates an important point.

This is how very effective, powerful, and influential people operate. They keep records of important conversations (or rather, they have records kept for them). They don’t rely on their memories.

Here’s my question:

Aren’t our important conversations, well, important? And if so, shouldn’t we be taking notes?

For the last few months, I’ve been taking notes on some of my most important conversations: phone conversations with family members. It’s an easy, rewarding practice, and I want to sell you on it.

Why take notes on important conversations?

The following points apply to any important conversations, not just those involving family. I just began with family members to keep the project manageable.

  1. Your memory is bad at its job. If your memory were an employee, you’d fire it. Our memories cannot be trusted.
  2. It lowers the barrier to interaction. It’s so much easier to pick up the phone and call someone when you have good records of what you discussed last time. You don’t have to worry that you’ve forgotten something big that’s going on in their life.
  3. It reminds you that the conversation is important. Social relationships are the foundation of a happy life, and time with the important people in our lives is not to be wasted.
  4. It saves time. Even months later, you can pick up right where you left off.

How to get started

I use a simple .txt document for each person, but you could use Word docs, Evernote notes, Google Docs, or even individual sheets of paper stored in a manila envelope. Here’s a step-by-step process:

  1. Open a blank document of your choice.
  2. Title it “Conversations with [person]”
  3. After each conversation with that person, type in the date, along with a few comments.
  4. Watch your conversation record grow and become a story of your relationship.

I try to call my grandparents every two months. I’ve been doing this on and off for years, but I’ve only started taking notes recently. When I look at these conversation notes, I’m amazed at my grandparents' wisdom, and I’m glad I’ve got a record of it. I’ll close with something my grandpa said to me just a few days ago—something I’d already have forgotten if I hadn’t written it down.

“Life is an adventure. If you look at it that way, you’ll be all right.”