“Just let me look at my notes.”

How many times have we heard a person say that? It could be a manager, a student, a lawyer, a secretary, a writer, or anybody who has to remember key information. Note-taking is an essential skill in many areas of work and study.

But is note-taking really useful in helping us to understand, remember, and retrieve essential points when we most need them? The answer from research is a resounding yes, although individual styles and methods may vary enormously.

For example, recently when Mark Zuckerberg was addressing a meeting of young entrepreneurs, you could have heard a pin drop: everybody in the room was listening intently. But only TWO people, who happen to be legendary investors in Silicon Valley and arguably the most successful people in the room, were actually taking notes!

“Great leaders are never too proud to learn.” – John Donahoe, CEO, eBay

Just in case that doesn’t convince you of the importance of taking notes, here are 10 reasons note-takers are on the fast track to success:

1. They are actively learning.

The action of writing information down is a great way to get fully involved in the learning process. Note-takers are much more actively involved because they are processing the information and getting the essential facts down on paper, or on a tablet, or laptop. They are starting the process of understanding and making connections- although this will have to be consolidated later on.

“You have to make your own condensed notes. You learn from MAKING them.” – Peter Rogers, author of Straight A at Stanford and on to Harvard: How to Learn Faster and Think Better.

2. They understand the importance of remembering the information.

Students need to remember all relevant information when confronted with an exam question. A speaker may not have their notes at hand but will still have a better chance of actually remembering the facts if they have taken the time to prepare notes. Research backs this up. Howe in 1970 found that students who had taken notes were 7 times more likely to remember facts a week later than those who had not.

3. They know how to organise their notes and data.

Students and managers face a real challenge when it comes to storing and retrieving all their notes, data, contact information, and customer feedback- just to mention a few sources of information. If a student has a good old fashioned filing system, that may work, but modern technology is now providing remarkable solutions for storing and retrieving a variety of information. Imagine being able to email a client with just two clicks. Here is an example of an excellent tool called Transpose, which does all this and much more. Successful students and managers know that time is of the essence when it comes to finding information easily and quickly, and having a system for effective note-taking helps them to achieve this goal.

4. They know how to prepare for note-taking.

Very often, the student or manager may have to listen to a difficult lecture or be placed in another situation where they worry that taking notes will be more demanding than usual. If it is a lecture, there will usually be a text that the professor will be referring to. Prereading is an essential element here as through doing this they can get a good gist of what the text is about. In doing so, they can look up unfamiliar terms and concepts, check data, dismiss irrelevant or less important information, and begin to understand the main points before the lecture begins.

“Prereading is a game changer. It changed my life…Everyone is smarter when they have seen the material before. You will be too.” – Peter Rogers

5. They devise their own efficient note-taking system.

Who says that getting down information in complete sentences is a great idea? Usually you will need to use shorthand or some other system. In addition, verbatim note-taking leaves out many essential elements in the learning and retention process. Visual mapping is a great way to get around this problem- especially if students happen to be visual learners. Students can devise spidergrams and mind maps which are effective. Naturally, it does depend a lot on the subject matter. Many people invent their own list of abbreviations and symbols of common terms which come up again and again. This is a great time saver.

6. They are clever at spotting cues.

Note-takers have a lot going on. They have to hone their listening skills and get their writing/typing up to speed and also fully concentrate. If their attention in any of these areas fails, then their notes will often feature gaps. I remember my own efforts at college when I sometimes missed the essential point. Efficient note-takers will develop a sixth sense for spotting verbal and non-verbal cues which will be a great help. Here are some examples:

The speaker will often pause and sometimes repeat a point, sometimes speak more softly and maybe change tone or inflection. There are also some non-verbal cues where the speaker will have slides, write on the board, or make a dramatic gesture. Note-takers recognize these and use them to gain time and save mental energy.

7. They do not rely on getting the teacher’s notes.

Lots of students love asking the lecturer for a copy of their notes and with PowerPoint and other software, this can be easily done. But the results for the students are mediocre, to say the least. These students are not going to be high flyers if they do this all the time. The key to successful learning is engaging with the materials, processing the information, and then restructuring it later to boost comprehension and retention of the content. Note-taking is the most effective way of doing this.

8. They become more efficient readers.

Many students take notes while reading texts and managers may have to plow through tedious manuals. Note-taking is an excellent way of maintaining focus and helping you summarize the key points. They ask themselves, “what were the main points?” and if they have problems remembering, they can always have a quick look at their notes. They invariably become better and faster readers. Their distraction level while reading is also reduced because they have to pay attention to recognize any notes they may wish to make.

9. They are always ready to write down ideas.

Richard Branson has observed that if he had never taken notes during meetings and networking, then many of Virgin’s companies and projects would never have even been born. He makes a great justification for taking notes and ruefully comments that women are much better at note-taking than men.

“No matter how big, small, simple or complex an idea is, get it in writing. But don’t just take notes for the sake of taking notes, go through your ideas and turn them into actionable and measurable goals. If you don’t write your ideas down, they could leave your head before you even leave the room.” – Richard Branson

10. They know that taking notes helps them achieve their goals.

This is no accident or coincidence. There are quite a few studies which now show that the actual process of taking notes, longhand or type-written, helps people to boost their learning and also achieve their goals. Researchers at the Dominican University of California have discovered that writing down goals and sharing them is crucial in helping people to achieve their aims. The researchers estimated that a person’s chances of success were increased by 33% when they actually completed this process. There is also a fascinating book called Write it Down, Make It Happen by Henriette Anne Klauser which explains why and how writing down goals is so important for achieving success.

Now the next time you attend an event, conference, networking chat or meeting, notice how many people are taking notes. They are the ones who have been or will be the most successful in life. Will you be one of them?

Featured photo credit: Beautiful hipster woman taking notes at modern office via shutterstock.com

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