Master Effective Note Taking Methods in a Day
6 June 2021
Whether for seminars, trainings, or debriefings, note-taking remains a complex exercise. Note-making can quickly become challenging during these occasions and many become frustrated about not being able to jot down all the important points discussed during meetings. Even if you are a quick typer or adept at shorthand, there can be a huge gap between the pace of writing and the average speaking speed of many participants. This typically results in scattered and poorly organized notes.
By knowing and using some effective note-taking methods, you can keep track of important information in an organized manner. Taking notes improves your memory, enhances recall, and increases the retention of information. Regardless of your note-taking skills, simply leaving a quick note or ‘breadcrumb’ for yourself can improve your ability to recollect insights.
Taking notes is an evolving process, and different types of note-taking methods continue to trend on social media. For example, the recent surge in bullet journaling – a way to organize your tasks list, notes, all in one place – is not only popular among students but also freelancers and professionals.
Why You Should Take Notes
We are in the age of digital technology. The rapid advancement of innovation has permeated our daily lives and interactions, but its exposure has affected our cognitive abilities too. Our attention spans are shorter than ever due to information overload and over-dependence on tech.
In 2015, Microsoft published a report “Attention Spans” – an attempt to understand the role of technology on human attention. It presented statistics about our ability to focus and claimed that the average individual now has 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 respondents reached for their phone 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 Supplygem, over half of the world’s population is online.
With instant access to computers and online platforms, it’s a lot easier to get distracted. All it takes is one notification or beep to undermine your concentration and cause you to miss something important. Here, note-taking can help to enhance your concentration and listening abilities.
Taking notes is a great way to track or schedule the time you spend on a task, while improving your focus and improving your productivity.
Your notes should highlight key details and points that you can review later without having to relive the entire meeting again. You may consider using a software to capture your meetings and conversations. It will help you save time, cut the review process down to minutes, and improve the amount of information retained. Additionally, you will be able to effectively act on decisions to drive better business outcomes for your team and clients.
Whether it is your personal 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.
Note-Taking Tips Before You Start
It is a good idea to differentiate the essentials from the superfluous when taking notes. Here are some key points to remember before you start:
Make a plan: You should make an outline or structure to identify the main points. Include titles and subtitles such as introduction, conclusion, example. Your key to taking good notes is to focus on the idea, not the sentence.
Use a note-taking system: Follow a note-taking method that is suitable for the specific meeting. These methods keep you focused throughout the meeting and improve your attention span, comprehension and retention. Besides, you learn how to prioritize, note important ideas and discard unnecessary content to organize your notes effectively.
Start taking notes before the meeting starts: Your early preparations will help you capture the important details during the meeting. After making an outline/structure, fill in the main details:
1. Date and time of the meeting;
2. The purpose;
3. The attendees;
4. Milestones/ discussion items from a previous meeting;
5. Any question(s) that are to be asked.
Don’t attempt to write down every word: You may want to capture the discussion word by word, however, with many participants and fast-changing topics, writing down everything is not feasible. To boost your efficiency, write short sentences with keywords as your focus, even using abbreviations and symbols to prepare quick and easy notes.
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 to have an accurate record of their discussions. However, not everyone has the time to review each and every page of the transcript. Not only is reviewing the full transcript of a meeting a laborious task, but it also eats up a lot of professional time that could be spent on more valuable tasks.
Best Note-Taking Methods
If you’re working in a team, it’s often not enough to just take notes. What you record should clearly articulate deadlines and challenges, so the team can efficiently act on them. Effective note-taking is not about recording every word spoken; it is a process through which you crystallize the whole conversation into outcomes.
For instance, you can jot down the major items and discussion points as a list instead of faithfully transcribing entire paragraphs. Don’t worry about grammatical mistakes, you can easily revisit the notes and tidy them up before sharing them.
We’ll share with you some of the most well-known note-taking systems. These methods are easy to follow and allow you to take detailed notes while remaining attentive. They also help you to memorize and retain information better.
The Cornell Method:
The Cornell method is a specific system used to capture notes, outline priorities and review information. The format is simple and consists of a header, two columns and a footer.
In the header section, note the date on which we take the note, the conversation topic, reason for meeting as well as the name of attendees.
In the cue column, summarize the main ideas, keywords, and concepts, drawing diagrams if necessary. Make sure that the note is concise so you can read it easily later.
In the notes column, write the most important things to remember. You can also note some questions relating to the notes that you’ve taken.
Lastly, synthesize your meeting notes in a few sentences in the footer section. So when you review these notes later you will be able to quickly know what they refer to without having to read them in their entirety.
The List Method:
This list method is a simple and linear practice which, as its name suggests, takes notes in the form of short phrases or numbered lists. 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.
Every new discussion point, fact or decision is listed on a separate line, numbered as you progress.
This method is a bit more organized than creating paragraphs for every discussion item and captures key details, but sometimes it will be difficult to recall major or minor discussion items from the numbered sequence.
The Outline Method:
With this note-taking skill, the main idea 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.
The outline method highlights main discussion items as well as the link between relevant points. It is easier to review these notes as all the points are recorded in an organized manner. However, this system requires that you capture the conversation accurately, which is impossible when following fast-moving conversations.
The Charting Method:
Charting is a classic note-taking method that uses a table, so you can connect facts and relationships between main topics easily. It uses columns to categorize and organize the information as you write it down, making it easy to access and recall later.
You can create columns to separate key pieces of information with appropriate headings. This method works best for people who attend many meetings and want to keep a running list of important discussion points for each one.
This method creates a network of interconnected ideas. You start by writing the purpose/main discussion item in the center of the sheet, and then draw branches that represent the different connected points from there. You can mention any dates, facts or ideas/concepts that relate to the main topic.
The shared knowledge base of the meeting notes will help teams move a meeting conversation forward smoothly. 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.
How to Take Good Notes at Work
Focus on facts and keywords
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 note of the questions brought up during the meeting).
Organize notes in a hierarchy
If you organize notes in various categories or color-code them, the notes are easier to distinguish and recall. Take some time to review the notes afterwards and ensure that everything captured is accurate.
Pay close attention to what the speaker says and ask questions
To make effective notes, clarify questions (if appropriate) to articulate speaker points accurately. Listen to the speaker and paraphrase what you hear.
Use technology as your virtual assistant
If you have one-on-one meetings, interviews, focus groups or other meetings that require you to be engaged instead of taking notes, the strategies mentioned above can be hard to implement. When you need to be engaged in discussion without distraction, you can use an app to help you capture those notes, meaning once the meeting is over, all you need to do is review.
The next time you are preparing notes, clearly define your goals, think about your environment and then tailor your note-taking plan based on that.
Leveraging Digital Note-Taking Systems
Most people don’t use pen and paper to record conversations, and some are leveraging digital tools to replace the handwritten notes. It’s not just about your preferred taste, it is about becoming efficient by using technology, storing it appropriately for future meetings, and sharing with others to keep them on track.
You might be reluctant to go digital and tired of staring at your laptop or tablet screens. However, there are meeting management tools that can record entire meeting conversations and let you actively participate in meetings.
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