The criticality of good Note Taking

Cast your mind back to the school or university days. I bet you were no different to me, sitting in large lecture theatres with a ton of other people. The lecturer or professor standing at the front, droning on about some very interesting topic or another. As for us, we were either switched off or furiously jotting things down, ensuring that we were capturing the most important aspects of the topic. Just for when it would come up in an assignment or exam later. Others brought their tablets out and took notes that way. Some of these notes we may still have, even in a box in the garage or in the roof. Now fast forward to the present day and somehow we have forgotten how to take notes and more importantly the reason this is so critical.

I knew that I did it and yet I did not do so consistently. I also know that I did not have a system. I set out to figure out a way to improve upon this and for the last few months I have to say that I got better, a lot better at this.
So why is it important? Taking good notes helps us
  • … to remember things –

let’s face it our minds are extraordinary. It is absolutely amazing how much we can remember and yet it is also true that at times it is difficult to recall things in the first place. Write it down and it will help to remember it better.

  • … to keep the mind clear –

at times we have so much going on that a nice ordinary structure of all the important facts is no longer the norm. It can be difficult to stay focused and not be distracted by those other things. It can help to be more calm and structured and not to mention creative in our daily lives.

  • … to be able to recall things –

how many times have been in a meeting when someone asks a question to which we know we had the answer. At other times someone makes a bold statement which we just know is not quite right but what was it then. Having your notes at hand allows us to be able to quickly recall past discussions points or findings.

  • … to see patterns and idea generation –

at times when reading through our notes do we see a pattern or relationship between the different bits of information. It happens in a way that we may not be able to do in our minds if not written down.

  • … it helps us to show that we are taking an interest. –

taking notes during a meeting conveys that fact that we are interested and engaged. It can be a boost to the relationship building.

Go Digital or Go Analogue
Do you remember that claim of the paperless office. The more technology we have the more we seem to print, at least some of us do. I am always amazed when I print out a report and walk to the office printer/copier to retrieve it, only to find other colleagues have printed all sorts including emails. One of my colleagues in the Sales Department, tends to print an email off and will then come over to discuss it with me. If he thinks that I can help, he will then leave the printout on my desk. Someone should tell him what the “e” in email stands for. Alas, I digress.
Where was I? Oh yes the paperless office. So perhaps the best thing to do is not to take notes using pen and paper but rather just type it straight into the notebook or tablet. Then it will be easier to file and share it later. Yes and no, and it really depends on the office culture. I use both but it depends on the occasion and whom I am meeting. Whatever you choose, do so to fit in to the environment but don’t alienate anyone. I attended a particular type of meeting where someone else brought a laptop also and continually thrashed away at his keyboard. I could not help but wondering if he was really engaged in our discussions or was just checking his email (I later found out he was!). I then thought about my approach and if this could be a barrier between me and the others in the room. I did politely used to explain at the start of the meeting that “I would be taking notes electronically and did not want anyone to think I was checking emails”. The fact I felt I had to justify myself provided me with an answer to the barrier question. Most of the time I settle for pen and paper. Nothing wrong with the old-fashioned way.
Notetaking system
Of course everyone has different styles and really there is no right or wrong. The one thing I would say is that I wanted it to be neat and structured as this would make reviewing easier later. I therefore wanted a new system. Firstly I did away with my A4 notepad – too big and too bulky. Next I purchased a nice A5 Moleskin notebook. This is much smaller and so much easier to carry it around with me and I am now much more disciplined to carry it around and bring it to meetings. The fact it is there then means that I am more inclined to make notes. At times it has also been extremely quick to glance at any notes from previous meetings.
I came across Bullet Journalling (see here) and adapted it slightly.
It is incredibly simple and yet extremely effective. This is what I use
note taking

Some of the notes are then typed up later into minutes and distributed. This does allow me to read through the notes again before committing them to the minutes and so are more likely to remember them. I have also found it of great benefit to be able to review the past notes quickly. At other times I bring the notebook and take notes electronically. It all depends on the reason, environment and the people I have meeting with. All in all there are days when you move from meeting to meeting and to be able to make quick notes has seen great benefit.
I feel I am more structured and remember things better. All the more important as we rush from one thing to another.

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