Effective note-taking methods are important for better information retention, improved outcomes and increased productivity. But effective note-taking skills aren’t as well-utilized as we might think. Here’s how to take good notes at work, school or in private so that you can empower yourself with effective note-taking methods.
“The faintest ink is more powerful than the strongest memory.”
Contrary to popular belief, taking notes is not an outdated process. Converting vast chunks of information into precise action and follow-up notes is an art. Different forms of the note-taking process continue to trend on social media. For example, the recent surge in bullet journaling is not only popular among students but also freelancers and professionals.
Studies have shown that taking notes can improve memory and information retention by 30%! Regardless of your note-taking skills, simply leaving a quick note or ‘breadcrumb’ for yourself can improve your ability to recollect insights. So why aren’t we maximizing this benefit in our normal workdays?
Ideally, your notes should represent a complete and concise outline of the most significant ideas and points during the meeting. Some teams record their meetings and conversations and get them transcribed so that they have an accurate record of all their information. However, the issue with transcribing long conversations is your limited ability to review pages of transcripts. While you don’t need to know what Mark got for Father’s Day, you do want the top 10 decisions, action items and follow-up points from that meeting.
When you take notes, it provides you with an opportunity to highlight key details and points so that you can review these afterward without having to relive the entire meeting again. Not only is reviewing the full transcript of a meeting a menial task, but it’s also a poor value-for-time task for professionals. That’s why our team not only captures our conversations, we use Notiv as an effective note-taking method that cuts our review process down to minutes yet improves the amount of information retained.
This means that by taking notes, we can effectively act on action items and decisions to drive better business outcomes for our team and clients.
Why you should master effective note-taking methods
We are in the age of technology and most of us have spent the better part of our lives connected to some form of technology. It can be argued that because of technology, our attention spans are shorter than ever.
In 2015, Microsoft published a controversial report claiming that the average individual now had a shorter attention span than a goldfish! While there is some debate over the exact figures, what we can agree on is that the way we consume, use and share information has changed with technology.
In the same study, Microsoft found that:
- 50% of the surveyed people reached for their phones when they had nothing to occupy their minds.
- 67% consumed news via social media.
- 59% felt dependent on the technological devices they used daily.
- 67% used multiple technological devices simultaneously.
According to Statista, over half of the world’s population is online.
With this increasing interconnectivity, it’s a lot easier to get distracted. All it takes is one ping, beep, ding, or ringtone to undermine your concentration and cause you to miss something important. The whole process creates a busy, yet unproductive lifestyle centered around instant gratification.
As our ability to consume information becomes easier, our capacity for information increases and we start to expect to see instant progress. This is where it’s useful to hone your note-taking skills. Taking notes is a great way to track or schedule the time you spend on a task, while improving your focus, keeping you on track and improves your productivity.
Whether it is your personal life or professional life, effective note-taking methods play a critical role in managing and improving your lifestyle. Let’s dig a little deeper into how these fragments of knowledge can change your life and business.
Taking notes can relieve stress
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by that long list of mental tasks you have for the day? Writing them down on paper can help you organize your cluttered thoughts, reducing stress and improving your focus. When you’re stressed or if your mind is cluttered, it can be easy to forget important tasks, which at work, can mean that your team, project or client suffers a poor outcome.
Your meeting notes help your team to stay aligned
If you’re working in a team, it’s often not enough to just take notes. Those notes need to be in sync across the team or you risk misalignment. By clearly articulating your deadlines, challenges, and deadlines, you focus your team, empowering them to efficiently act.
With effective note-taking methods, your notes need not consist of illegible chicken scratches or doodles. Notes are a valuable material that you can share with your co-workers to build a strong arsenal of shared knowledge. Think of the concept of an augmented brain where records of the meeting conversation help your team members to create alignment among team members by providing accurate information. With well-informed team members, you can improve the productivity of your team and deliver better outcomes.
Notes can help shape your conversations
The shared knowledge base of the meeting notes can help organizations move a meeting conversation forward and help you stick to your agenda. If you’ve been taking notes, you can easily support the facilitator in keeping the meeting on track. When you’re able to engage and take effective notes, you are in a perfect position to recognize when the discussion has veered off-topic.
Let’s dig a little deeper into how effective note-taking methods can help you get tangible results and how to develop great note-taking skills.
How to sharpen your note-taking skills
Effective note-taking is not all about recording every word that is speaking, but it is a process through which you crystallize the whole conversation into outcomes. Jot down the major items and bullet points as a list instead of turning the conversation to entire paragraphs and words. Write all the points with the flow without really worrying about grammatical mistakes, and you can revisit the whole document before you send the meeting notes via email.
There are 4 main effective note-taking methods that you can master today!
1. The List Method
This form of note-taking involves listening down the information that you exchange indiscriminately. While it does not focus on information processing, it’s a great way to take quick notes because you don’t have to think too much about it. This means of note-taking also necessitates a post-meeting review so pull out relevant and high-level insights.
2. The Outline Method
With this note-taking skill, the core driver is to prioritize the material that you capture. Key ideas go to the left, sub-ideas are indented below and each idea is organized into a hierarchy. This helps you understand how the information you’re discussing fits into the structure and deepens your understanding of the bigger picture.
3. Concept Maps
If relationships between different moving parts are what you’re interested in, a concept map can be an effective note-taking method. At a glance, you’ll be able to understand the interdependencies and identify blocks in your current processes. With a concept map, you’ll also be able to move from one topic to another with ease, whilst capturing the different ideas and relationships.
4. The Cornell Note Taking System
Developed by Professor Walter Pauk in the 1950s, the Cornell method is a very specific means of capturing notes, outlining priorities and reviewing information. The format is simple and consists of a header, two columns and a footer.
This method will help you make sense of your notes due to the simple yet specific format.
How to take good notes at work
Pay closer attention to what the speaker says and ask questions
For effective note-taking, it is essential to clarifying questions to articulate speaker points more accurately or to bring an agenda to a close. Listen to the speaker and paraphrase what you hear.
Organize notes in a hierarchy
If you organize notes in various categories or color-code them to make separate topics easier to distinguish and recall. Take some time to review the notes afterward and ensure that everything captured is accurate.
Focus on noting down the right things
Great meetings result in a shared and clear understanding by each team member and involve actionable steps. While taking notes in the collaborative environments and team meetings, you should focus on:
- Facts (John is the project lead)
- Deadlines (This project should be completed by Sep 30)
- Decisions (The team should be divided into four parts)
- Action plans (The next meeting will be led by the project manager in the next week)
- Q&As (Take notice of the questions brought up during the meeting)
Use technology as your virtual assistant
If you have one-to-one meetings, interviews, focus groups or other meetings that require you to be engaged with the other party instead of taking notes, these strategies can be hard to implement. These are the times when you are engaged in discussion, and while you want to capture what’s being said without missing any essential points, it can also take you away from the conversation. You can capture those insights without putting a laptop-shaped wall between you and your client. We must realize that sometimes, personal connections are far more critical than writing down every single point of interest. If you’re not already using an app to help you capture those notes, record down your thoughts and insights as soon as the meeting is over, while everything is still fresh in your mind.
The next time you are preparing notes, clearly define your goals and think about your environment and then tailor your note-taking plan based on that.
Leveraging technology to take better notes
To effectively take notes, you need to be able to capture information accurately and quickly. However, it’s not always a viable option to be manually taking those notes. Luckily, with the advent of the #voicefirst movement, we can use technology to Meet Better.
While you can master these techniques in a day, consistently taking effective meeting notes is equally important as the skills. This is where a meeting assistant or platform can step in to enhance this process. Leveraging technology for better notes can be as simple as storing notes in an accessible shared space or as integrated as using a meeting intelligence solution that assists you in planning, meeting and reviewing your meeting. This list is not exhaustive. A whole host of note-taking product and team management platforms are available to you. But when it comes to choosing the right product, ask yourself these simple questions.
- Are the outputs of this software clear and actionable for those who were not present at the meeting?
- Are the outputs of this software quickly accessible to all team members?
Taking notes is a critical aspect of managing your personal and professional life. Effective note-taking is a basic skill that you should learn regardless of where in your career you are and what industry you’re in.
This article first appeared on the Notiv blog.