20 Day Challenge Day 7 – Note Taking Methods

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Timer Begins -21:35

There are many important skills in life or professionally that no one ever teaches you, but can make a difference in your effectiveness. Time management is one. Running a meeting another. And, one I’ve been thinking a lot about is the art of note taking. Here are some of the things that I have learned.

Reason for Taking Notes

There are a lot of reasons to take notes. Create a record. A reference for later. Or, in my case, often the process of note taking itself is helpful in processing key themes to memory. I find that, while I do use notes for later reference some of the time, most of the time it’s a process for organizing the key ideas in a way that my brain can upload them. I take the conversation down to its bullet points and sketches and then I can remember it. Understanding your reason for taking notes can be helpful in determining the best methods and tools to use for the job.

Tools for Capture

The tool you use to capture your notes is highly personal. I have tried many methods…some more than once.

Considering my primary reason for note taking is for memory purposes, one of my favorite capture tools is a Moleskine notebook. I love its size and feel and it’s easy to write and draw. It just feels good. The upside to Moleskine is a singular capture tool that’s easy to carry, but the downside is those notes cannot be filed with the project they refer to without ripping out a page.

A second tool I’ve used over and over is a yellow note pad. A few quick lines drawn across the page to organize (see methods below) and I can capture my notes and drawings easily. The benefit of this tool is a lot of information on a single page and pages can be separated and filed away in a project folder. Also, if you loose a note pad, you’re not likely to loose all of your notes and it’s easy to grab a new pad and begin again. I continually return to this tool as my most successful approach.

When it comes to handwritten note taking, I prefer an old fashioned pencil. I do carry a Fisher Bullet Space Pen in my pocket for when I don’t have a sharpened pencil at the ready.

Next there’s electronic note taking. Many people are trying to move to paperless note taking. This makes a lot of sense and has a lot of benefits. There are a number of options here including Google Docs, Microsoft OneNote, and my personal favorite, Evernote.

Evernote allows you to capture files, pictures, type written notes, and soon, hand written notes. It syncs between iPhone, iPad, and a desktop app. You can also share notebooks with others and collaborate or share data. Awesome tool. I use it frequently to capture lots of data, but there is one limitation for me….I cannot type and talk. I lose focus on my audience, have trouble remembering, and spend most of my time trying to spell and type badly. This is my limitation of going electronic, but if you don’t have this issue, Evernote is awesome.

One product that I have seen others use and really like is Livescribe, which blends handwriting, synced audio recording, and electronic storage. I have no firsthand experience, but I do predict this is a great merge of old and new. Please post a comment if you have experience with this product as a solution. It does also work with Evernote.

Special Note: There are emerging electronic note taking options for the iPad that use a stylus to handwrite notes. I have not found an iPad app that works reliably well to replace paper or a stylus that feels as good as a pencil.

The Method for Taking Notes

This is probably the aspect of taking notes I am most curious about and I find myself constantly peaking over people’s shoulders to learn how they take notes. I already mentioned I do a blend of notes and sketches that help me capture and recall information. A common method of note taking is to simply free write in paragraphs or do bullets. Some also use a form of mind mapping to connect ideas visually.

My Method. I prefer to use a method that involves dividing my paper into sections to capture specific data. My current approach evolved from learning from a friend Jeremy Solomon. Jeremy draws a line down the center of the page to create two narrower columns for your notes. This enables easy reading of notes. At the top he creates boxes for capturing next actions and items you are waiting for from others. He also creates a box to capture the agenda and another to jot down the names of those in attendance and where they are located at the table. It’s a quick set up, but provides some standardized work for capturing a lot of data that is easy to recall later. This is my current go to method.

Another method I discovered is called the Cornell Method and was created by Walter Pauk and Brigham Young University. It’s based on a six step study system that includes: record, reduce, recite, reflect, review, and recapitulate. I’ve never tried this approach, but Lifehacker provides a nice summary here. It appears to be more aimed at lecture notes, but it’s worth a look. It does remind me a little of Chris Argyris left hand column technique of writing notes around dialogue captured when consulting.

Closing thoughts…note taking has many purposes, tools, and methods. I recommend testing various approaches and finding one that matches what you are trying to accomplish, is simple to use, and easy to access when needed. Please share in the comments area if there are lessons you’ve learned that I did not cover here. I’m especially interested in learning more methods used for taking notes. Pictures would be great.

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Finish time: 60 min (too long)

I had calls this morning that resulted in me not doing the post first thing. My day soon took a life of its own and here I am at night, during my personal time, doing today’s post. I was very, very tempted to allow this to be my first missed day, but pushed through. I did not like doing it late or during my personal time. I can see my wife giving me not so pleasant looks. I’m also distracted by the Daily Show. I will try tomorrow to fit in a post earlier. I do predict tomorrow will be similar and I may be doing a post around other activities. I do wish I had an extra post in my pocket for days like this.