Advertising
Advertising

Published on August 20, 2018

17 Note-Taking Tips That Will Transform How You Retain Info

17 Note-Taking Tips That Will Transform How You Retain Info

How many times have you listened to a presenter and forgotten what they said moments after the presentation?

Learning is important for our growth. We should take advantage of the opportunities we have to hear from experts. If you can’t remember what they say afterwards, then it’s time to start improving your note taking.

Note taking is an art that takes practice and discipline. It certainly isn’t easy when a flood of information is coming towards you and you have to decipher what’s important to write down and what’s not.

This list of 17 note taking tips will help you in any class, presentation, or meeting:

1. Determine important content

Note taking should never be a transcript of every word said, but rather a summary of important information and questions.

If you’re going into a history class, you’ll want to remember names and dates especially. If a coworker is doing a training on SEO, you’ll want to pay more attention to terminology and recommended practices.

Anticipate before any presentation, meeting, or class what kind of content will be important to remember later.

2. Eliminate distractions

Remember when your teacher turned off your phone in class? That might still be a good idea.

Whatever you find unnecessarily steals your attention during presentations needs to be eliminated as a distraction.

If you are taking notes on a digital device, close any unrelated applications or resources. If you know that Hank from accounting is going to talk to you a lot, maybe you sit next to someone else.

Advertising

The point is to keep all of your attention focused on the subject material and note taking.

3. Keep calm

If you’re too nervous about note taking, you’ll probably make mistakes. Understand that your notes probably won’t be perfect every time, but you can always get help and clarification later.

Note taking is difficult, so acknowledge your mistakes and improve on them.

4. Go digital

Use an app, online tool, or software. Note taking apps are available for your laptop, tablet, or phone. They make it easy to take fast notes and add things such as photos, links, checklists, and locations.

If you feel like your handwriting is hard to read later, typing your notes will fix that. If you find yourself madly erasing after not organizing your notes correctly, than being able to copy-paste or hit control-Z can save you lots of valuable time.

5. Start sketching

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Many people understand concepts better in a visual context.

Try sketching some drawings to go around the notes you write. It can quickly jog your memory about what you were thinking and makes your notes more entertaining to go through later.

Just don’t get carried away and miss the important stuff. You will still want to combine drawings with plenty of actual words.

6. Make something visual

Take your notes and organize them visually. If drawing isn’t your thing, you can still add some flair to your notes. Use something like microsoft publisher to inject some creativity into your notes.

Imagine your flyer is going to be used to teach someone else as you create it. This method forces you to spend more time with the content and can help organize it in such a way that makes more sense to you.

Advertising

7. Mapping method

The mapping method of note taking is based on diagramming your notes. It looks like a flowchart or a spider’s web between topics and subtopics. It’s a nice way to visually organize your notes that may be interconnected.

Here’s a more detailed guide on how to do mind mapping:

How to Use a Mind Map to Organize Your Life

8. Cornell note taking method

The Cornell method is a great approach for organizing your notes into easily reviewable sections.[1]

You draw a line a couple inches from the bottom and then another line a couple inches from the left side, to create three boxes. The largest section you use to take notes however you’d like. The smaller left portion is for short cues to remind you what to specifically study later. The bottom section is where you write a summary of what you learned.

9. Outline method

The outline method turns your notes into easily digestible bullet points.[2]

Write them like you’re outlining a story. You’ll have main points from individual topics or subjects, then write bullet points underneath each one with the supporting information.

10. Charting method

With the charting method, you will make a table with categories to be filled out.[3] This is fantastic for organizing material that you know will follow a particular outline.

For example, if you are learning about different types of animals, you can make columns about where each animal lives, what does it eat, and how long it typically lives. Each row would have a different animal and you simply go across your columns and answer each question.

11. Sentence method

Write down important points from the lecture in a basic sentence structure. You can add headers and separate your sentences into their own lines to help keep organization.

Advertising

This works especially well for writing down useful quotes or statistics.

12. Record it

If you worry about missing important details or find yourself a better studier by listening, then you should record the presentation or class.

Use your phone’s recording system or get software that automatically transcribes what’s being said. There are technical limitations with transcription software, so you may need to watch it carefully to correct any mistakes.

13. Ask for clarification

Your notes are close to worthless if you don’t understand them while writing them. Make sure to ask the teacher or presenter any questions you may have. Chances are someone else will be grateful that you asked about the same thing they were confused about.

Take courage and work hard to understand the concepts the first time around so that you’re not even more confused later on.

14. Summarize afterwards

After a class, presentation or meeting, write down a summary of what the key points were. This is important for memory retention of the subject material and to see if you have any lingering questions to be addressed.

Good summaries should include not only the key points, but also further applications to the subject material, questions to be researched, and a list of tasks to be completed.

15. Continue the discussion

Once you’re done with listening and note taking, turn to someone nearby and talk with them about what you learned.

You can ask them questions about what stood out to them or what changes they would like to make based on the material. You can ask questions about things you perhaps misunderstood or did not receive a clear answer to.

Continuing the discussion with someone else is an excellent way of applying the material and cementing it in your memory.

Advertising

If you have a meaningful conversation about it, that information has a much greater likelihood of being retained.

16. Review your notes

What you retain from the first time you take notes will quickly fade if you do not review them later. Hopefully, you have used one of the above methods to make your notes easy to go through and perhaps even entertaining.

The important thing is that you take the time to go over your notes later so that you can remember what you learned and further reflect upon the points made.

17. Share what you learned

Even better than reviewing your notes is reviewing them with someone else. This gives you the opportunity to teach what you’ve learned.

Use a flyer creator to creatively showcase what you’ve learned.[4] Doing so will help you realize points you did not fully understand or need to better review.

Your review partner may even come up with valuable questions for you to reflect upon and apply to your notes.

Final thoughts

Don’t be afraid to mix up some of these note taking methods together. You may find that a portion of your notes is better organizing in an outline format, but then decide that you need to make a chart for another portion.

The point is to be organized and do what makes the most sense for you. Even if the person next to you is clearly organizing their notes according to the Cornell method, perhaps a different strategy will appeal to you more. Note taking is meant for yourself, so do it in whatever way is best for you.

Now you have the chance to use what you have learned. Note taking is only valuable when it serves a purpose later.

If you learn something interesting, come up with ways to apply it at work or in your home. Review your notes often to find different applications. Use the knowledge you have gained to make a difference in your life or the lives of others.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Christina Sanders

A digital marketer who is experienced in marketing and communications, helping people to lead a successful business.

19 Ways to Improve Creative Thinking Skills in the Workplace The Good and the Bad of Motivating Your Team with Stretch Goals How to Write Great Meeting Minutes So Nothing Gets Lost in Translation 17 Note-Taking Tips That Will Transform How You Retain Info

Trending in Smartcut

1 How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work 2 How to Ask for Help When You Need It Most 3 How Much Do You Need to Give Up to Start Over? 4 Is It Really Better to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone? 5 Do You Want to Know the Secret to Living a Fulfilling Life?

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

Advertising

But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

Advertising

The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

Advertising

I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

Advertising

More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

Read Next