Back to the Basics of Note-Taking

In case you missed it, our business is creating note-taking software for iOS devices. We write often about productivity because that’s our bigger picture philosophy. And on occasion, we remind ourselves that our customers may need a refresher course on the basics of note-taking. Why? Because if you take notes that are useful, you can advance your career or do better in school. We’re serious when we say these note-taking tools can be the building blocks for your future!

Basics of Note-Taking

1. Be Prepared

If your teacher or colleague has requested that you read or prepare something, do so ahead of time. Having the foundation is essential to making the most of your learning and discussion time.

2. Arrive Early

Having your choice of seat in the room is to your advantage. You’ll be able to settle in to a comfortable location, get a good view of displays or whiteboards, and be able to hear better.

3. Turn Off Distractions…

Must we say this in every article? Apparently so! Multitasking doesn’t work. Distractions adversely affect your ability to take effective notes, learn key ideas and contribute to any discussion. Put your device in airplane mode if you must, but avoid chat, email or browse during your note-taking session.

4. Listen for Main Ideas

Avoid taking word-for-word notes. Interpret the main ideas and put them into your own words – it will help you remember the key points. Repeat: Use your own words.

5. Write Legibly

If you’re handwriting notes, write as though others may read them. If you’re typing your notes, don’t worry about spelling and punctuation. You can clean that up later. Make sure your notes are legible and meaningful before moving on.

6. Keep It Simple

Here’s a corollary to “Listen for Main Ideas”. Write the main ideas in simple, short terms (not complete sentences). Draw a quick illustration if it helps.

7. Use Keywords

In conjunction with “Keep It Simple”, note keywords used by the speaker. In school, these tend to be trigger words on a test. In business, they tend to be used to recall what happened in a meeting.

8. Use Symbols

Less writing or typing means more time to absorb information, so use symbols instead of words when you can.

  • $ = Dollars
  • & = And
  • % = Percent

9. Use Markers (Flags)

If a key point is made, make sure you highlight it with a marker. In CaptureNotes and CaptureAudio, we provide configurable flags for things like “Test Question” or “To Do Item”.

10. Participate

One of the keys to learning and building your career is participation in the discussion. Engage!

11. Ask Questions

If something is unclear, ask! Update your notes with what you learn.

12. Summarize

At the end of your class or meeting, summarize what was discussed. Take just a few minutes to review your notes and build a list of “talking points” for yourself.

13. Keep It Organized

What could be worse than poor notes? NO NOTES! Make sure you have a safe place to keep them: in a binder, on Dropbox, on a thumb drive – someplace you consistently keep all your relevant notes. File system FTW.

14. Review within 24 hours

Maximum value comes from reviewing within 24 hours. You may also want to circle back in a few days and review – but definitely recap the first day.

15. Compare Notes

Having a colleague or friend to share notes with is invaluable. You may miss something or prompt a discussion to understand something in greater detail. Fill gaps in notes and understanding!

16. Reflect

Did you learn something? Think about it on your drive home, in the shower or (even better) before you go to bed.

17. Recite

When you review, speak aloud what you learned. Tell your spouse what you think about the meeting, tell your parents what you learned in philosophy class or read your notes to your dog. Hearing it will reinforce the information in your mind.

18. Archive

Clutter is a bad thing, even for valuable notes. Do you have a place to put “old” notes. Consider keeping a deep archive for something that may be useful later. If not, round file!

Back to the Basics of Note-Taking

Note-taking is a valuable skill. Little improvements can have a huge impact, so start with simple ideas from our list and work up. You’ll benefit from incremental gains over time.


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