At first glance, taking notes effectively does not seem to be a particularly difficult exercise.
But taking notes can quickly become a headache as soon as you have a lot of information to process: you can quickly get caught up in the flow of your notes and lose track.
After taking notes without any particular method during my studies, I learned the hard way that a good note-taking technique is key to organize your ideas and tasks. Whether it is to easily organize yourself after a meeting or to better assimilate the knowledge of a lecture, knowing how to take notes efficiently is a skill that is useful in everyday life.
So here are some tips to take notes even more efficiently!
Taking notes effectively:
Choose the right tool
Computer, notebook, binder or loose sheets… Taking notes efficiently starts with choosing the right medium for your notes.
If you need to share your notes with other people, go digital: writing directly on the computer will save you hours of tedious work retyping all your notes.
If, on the other hand, the notes you take are for your own use, choose the tool you feel most comfortable with, whether paper or computer.
I personally prefer to take my notes on paper whenever possible. This allows me to mix written parts with drawings and diagrams much more easily if I need to illustrate a concept or idea: my brain assimilates information in a very visual form more easily. But this is of course a very personal preference!
I also find it easier to use bullets and signifiers (such as arrows for example) on paper than on the computer.
I personally use the PROJO planner’s Notes book to take all my daily notes, whether it is when I am in meetings for my projects or when I am brainstorming on my own.
This way, I keep EVERYTHING in my PROJO planner, and get to organize both my notes, schedule and tasks in one place.
Taking notes effectively:
Getting ready to take notes
Effective note-taking begins with a few minutes of preparation. I’m not talking about sharpening your pencil, but rather preparing for the upcoming meeting.
I can’t tell you how many times as a young graduate I have ended a meeting with the frustrating feeling that I didn’t cover all the useful points and left with a lot of unanswered questions.
Preparing your note-taking doesn’t require hours of work: it can be done in 10 minutes of reflection. You just need to ask yourself what you expect from this meeting and how it can help you move forward effectively in your work.
Make a list of the points to be discussed and the questions you need answered. This list will provide an initial basis for note-taking for the next meeting.
Taking notes effectively:
Create a system for sorting information out
Most people take notes in a linear and chronological manner without really questioning the effectiveness of this method. However, this very simple way of taking notes can be improved very simply with a few tricks.
One of the secrets to effective note-taking is to sort out information as you transcribe it from oral to written form.
This will allow you to identify different types of entries in the flow of your notes: the information you are given, the questions that come to mind, the tasks to be distributed and planned, etc.
Using an information organization system that meets your needs is therefore essential for effective note-taking. While it is always possible to reorganize your notes afterwards, doing this work as you take notes has two major advantages:
- If you know exactly how to find the questions you need to ask or the different tasks defined during the meeting, it will be much easier to close the meeting with everything you need to get to work. An organized note-taking system saves you the energy of sending emails in the hours/days following the meeting because you are missing crucial information that you could have retrieved directly.
- Taking notes efficiently also saves valuable time if you need to share the result of your notes or simply process them for your own use. Well-organized information avoids having to search for key elements in notes that span several pages.
One of the most widely used note-taking systems is the Cornell method. The Cornell method allows you to take notes efficiently based on a division of the note page into 3 main sections.
I don’t use this method, which requires you to prepare your pages in advance, but it is thanks to its fundamentals that I have been able to refine my note-taking technique to take notes efficiently.
It’s really a must in terms of method!
Now that we’ve covered the “basics” of effective note-taking (the choice of medium and preparation), let’s get to the heart of the matter!
Taking notes effectively on paper
If you use paper to take notes, the best way to take notes efficiently is to use bullets and divide your page into several sections. A 2- or 3-section layout is sufficient to cover most needs.
Using bullets and signs
That’s why I always choose the paper format rather than the computer whenever possible. Bullets are a simple and very quick way to classify information according to its nature as you take your notes. The bulleting system I use to take notes is very similar to the one I use in my PROJO planner.
All you have to do is think for a few minutes about the type of information you want to highlight in your notes (numbers, dates, questions…) and create a simple and effective system of bullets to distinguish them.
Of course, it is always possible to use a colour code instead of a system of bullets. But it is more difficult to have a fast note-taking rhythm if you have to change pen every two lines. The (famous) 4-colour pen can then be an ideal tool to introduce a colour code in your notes without having to systematically bring a set of 10 pens to the meeting.
Split your page into sections
If the Cornell method recommends dividing the page into 3, I use a 2-column layout in my notebook: the main section is the note-taking space, and the vertical column on the left is for bullets and signs.
For example, if during my note-taking I think of a question to ask, I write the question in full in the main section and I draw a circle in the left column.
This bullet based system allows you to very quickly find all the questions you may have in a large volume of notes, and make sure you have an answer for each one before closing the meeting.
This system also works perfectly for tasks and deadlines: define one bullet for tasks and another for deadlines. And change the status of the bullet on your notes (fill it in, check it, cross it out…) when the task has been assigned to someone, or the deadline has been added to your calendar.
When the meeting closes, you just have to quickly review the left column to make sure that no entry has remained “open” and that you haven’t forgotten anything.
Then, don’t forget to migrate the tasks you have been assigned in your planner or bullet journal.
Taking notes effectively on the computer
Taking notes in digital format is a whole other exercise. I find it a bit less fluid, but that’s mostly because bullets aren’t really an option then (unless you’re an Jedi with keyboard shortcuts).
If the note-taking rhythm is moderate, color-coding may be the best way to organize information, but I think it’s simpler to manage several documents in parallel.
I’ve always seen my project manager colleagues use several windows with 2 parallel documents to take notes, and I quickly took the fold too!
Why 2 windows?
The first window is your main note space: this is where the information that is shared goes, and generally speaking everything that is said during the meeting or the course.
The second window is a kind of checklist: this is where you can write down the questions you can ask, but also the tasks, the next actions to be done. This second window allows you to put aside the elements that need to be dealt with: you are sure not to forget a question you need an answer to, and not to miss a task that needs to be planned.
Once the meeting is over, all you have to do is copy and paste tasks from your “checklist” window at the bottom of the notes document so that everyone has the action plan defined together.
This way, everyone in the meeting knows what action plan has been decided upon. It is also a good entry point for subsequent meetings: starting with a review of this action plan allows you to quickly take stock of the project’s progress without spreading yourself too thin.
Taking notes effectively is not necessarily a difficult exercise, but it does require organization and discipline. It ensures that key information is not overlooked and can be easily retrieved.
In the end, it’s worth the effort: whether numerical or handwritten, structured notes save time! It is also a skill that is particularly appreciated in a team!