Alright, this one is relatively trivial, and most people know how to take notes, right?
Unfortunately, no, they don’t. It’s either because they don’t know how or they don’t care to. And either of those are bad. You would be surprised at how many people I take a meeting with, provide coaching to, or help flesh out an idea with that don’t come with a pencil and a piece of paper. We can all agree that note-taking isn’t super appealing, but once you start to take great notes, you will live by them. If you think not, check out some of the most detailed note-taking people like Thomas Jefferson, George Lucas, Gen. George Patton, Mark Twain, Charles Darwin, and Beethoven. And the list goes on and on!
Let’s take a step back in time to where/why I learned how to take notes and the importance. In my first formal office job, I came to my first real meeting without a pen or paper. I had never attended one and didn’t know the first thing about meeting etiquette, but still… NO PEN OR PAPER? What was I going to do? Think my way to success? Well, long story short, I was promptly asked where my pen and notepad were. I responded I didn’t have one and was subsequently thrown out of the meeting and told never to come to a meeting again without my update, pen, and paper ready to go.
I was embarrassed and angry but learned a crucial lesson. Be prepared to take notes in ANY meeting that you attend. It doesn’t matter if it’s coffee with a friend, or a meeting with your CEO, ALWAYS be ready to learn and listen. It’s super disrespectful to take someone’s time and not put equal investment into it. See, one of the biggest lies that we tell ourselves daily is “Oh, I WILL remember that.” WRONG. Instead, I’ve started saying, “Oh, I NEED to remember that” and will then write it down.
Linking this with your daily planning and schedule is imperative to create a list of everything you need to accomplish. I believe wholeheartedly that without writing your to-do’s, goals, etc., you will NOT get nearly as much accomplished as when you do.
Additional note-taking benefits:
- Improves focus and attention to detail. If you spend the time to write something down, you should take the short extra time to make sure you have it right. There is also a strong connection between handwriting notes (versus typing them) and your focus on those subjects.
- Boosts comprehension and retention. Note-Taking is a proven method of increasing memory retention, but can also increase understanding by breaking down the content to consume quickly. The NPR study posted below shows the benefit of writing versus typing has to do with the fact that when you’re writing, you are more engaged and taking notes of concepts being said, versus just typing the words verbatim without trying to understand the concepts when typing. You can type faster than you can write.
- Improves organizational skills. By prioritizing content and organizing effectively, you can develop key organization strengths.
- Increases creativity. Equipped with the ability to organize your ideas effectively, focus on a particular subject, and expand on ideas through knowledge retention, you can be more creative!
A study published by NPR shows many of the things mentioned above. This study by Sage Journals further confirms as well!
Sometimes, though, we can’t handwrite notes because of any number of reasons. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t capture it in some form. I use several different note-taking apps, but then combine them into my personal (subject specific) notepad and use that. For example, I use voice memos when I am exercising. I use a reminders app when I have a quick thought and in the middle of something else. I use the notes app on my phone when I have other details I need to capture but am on the move. I then take all of these and compile them into my daily to-do lists and important goals.
Alright, now that we know how important and how it can benefit you, how should you take notes?
Basic concepts to effective note-taking:
- Come to the meeting prepared. As I learned in my first meeting, not doing so can get you kicked out and embarrassed. Make sure to have a good writing pen with a backup, a clean sheet of paper (preferably in a notebook so you can keep track), and without any other distractions. Make sure you have read or listened to any appropriate content before the meeting. Have all of your previous meeting’s follow-up information ready for discussion during the meeting. HIGHLIGHT anything that someone says “this is important” or “write this down” or anything like that.
- Improve your Listening Skills. As essential as actually writing, active listening is a cornerstone to great note-taking. Just because a subject isn’t 100% in your area of responsibility doesn’t mean that you can’t learn or add something during the discussion. Make sure you are writing down the vital information, not just everything that’s said. I see this in a lot of meetings where people have their heads down and pens moving a million mph! Listen, digest, write, and follow-up. Make sure you hear what’s said.
- Find a structure that works for you. For me, since I’m left-handed, I make my daily notes (from the night before) on the right-side page since I have plenty of time. I start with the date at the top, and I divide the page by business/project. I put all the big goals associated with the business title. I reserve the left-side page for spontaneous thoughts and call/meeting notes. At the end of each day, I take those notes, compile them into a to-do list, and then create the following day’s goals. This may not work for you, so start, and you will develop your style. There are also a TON of predesigned notebooks out there that have different systems.
- REVIEW YOUR NOTES!!! This is (IMO) absolutely one of the most important steps that many people (yes, me too, all the time) overlook. After a meeting, call, or while you are creating your sections, make sure to spend an extra 2-3 minutes reviewing what was written down, making additional notes, and asking any pertinent questions about those notes. Clear, concise, and accurate notes are vital to accomplishing your goals, correctly and promptly.
I hope these few tidbits of information will help you in your daily life! Please reach out if you have any more questions!