Richard Branson is a well-known entrepreneur whose journey started when he founded the Virgin Group, (named after his inexperience in business, by the way).

Virgin became a powerful, billion-dollar company and set the stage for Branson’s many other entrepreneurial successes. But even with over 400 companies under his reign, the business magnate still finds time to go kitesurfing, play tennis, and even swim while wearing a mermaid tail.

So when Branson says he’s about to reveal “one of the most powerful tools” he has in his “bag of business tricks,” you’d expect something mind-blowing.


Photo Credit: Tom Dulat/Getty Images for CNBC

But in reality, his secret weapon is this: A notebook and pen.

Hold on, don’t roll your eyes and click away just yet. You’d be surprised at the ways Branson uses his notebook to aid his career and even his personal life. Here are a few of his secrets:

1. Critiquing his own company experience

One of Branson’s favorite hobbies is to be his own customer and note any questions or observations that pop up along the way. On one occasion, he left Las Vegas on a Virgin America flight and noticed something crucial.

It was a swelteringly hot day, and his flight attendants came by kindly offering hot towels. Understandably, neither he nor the other customers wanted them. Branson wrote it down in his trusty notebook and later read it out to his employees back at the company. The result? All flights leaving hot destinations began offering cold towels.

Who knows when or if this important detail would have been caught if Branson hadn’t experienced it himself and written about it.

2. Evidence for management and negotiationrichard-branson-virgin-atlantic

Sometimes entrepreneurs have meetings and forget to write down a few details. It happens. But not to Branson.

His notebook never leaves his side and he makes sure to jot down very specific observations during all his work-related interactions. This has proved to be a highly useful habit and has helped him settle countless client arguments. Whenever past agreements are questioned, Branson can simply flip open his notebook and say, “Actually, on April 7th at 3:57 pm, you said…”

Branson’s notes have become so valuable in this respect that they have even served as evidence in court. Bet you didn’t expect a notebook could be that important, right?

3. Keeping track of amusing stories

Unsurprisingly, Branson doesn’t use his notebook for all work and no play. One of the things he loves to write down is whatever he finds entertaining at the time. It could be something to use in a future blog post or a funny story his daughter told him.

In fact, he used the anecdotes in his notebook for his speech on his daughter’s wedding day. So don’t limit your own notebook to strictly business, you may end up finding golden nuggets buried in your personal scribblings too.

4. Lists and goals

Okay, you probably saw this one coming. To be fair, Branson has a lot going on in his life so if he doesn’t make lists, he’ll probably forget what he has to do. On his blog, he explained his strategy for getting everything done.

“I make lists — lots of them,” ranging from lists of people to call and upcoming plans to lists of ideas and companies to set up.”

Aside from making lists of small daily tasks, Branson recommends also noting far off, outlandish goals. “What do you want to have achieved by 2020? How about 2050?” These should be personal as well as business-oriented goals, he says.

So, you see? There’s nothing quite like an old-fashioned notebook and pen to jot down from what your client said to your most amazing ideas. To wrap this up, here’s a bonus tip from Branson: Always choose to write in a notebook over typing. Your laptop or phone has many distracting temptations, whereas a blank page simply lets you focus.

An idea not written down is an idea lost. When inspiration calls, you’ve got to capture it.

— Richard Branson