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Published on August 28, 2018

Why Successful People Take Notes And How to Make It Your Habit

Why Successful People Take Notes And How to Make It Your Habit

I have always been an avid note taker. It has become a habit to carry my trusty moleskine and pen with me everywhere.

It helps me capture notes during client coaching sessions, write down inspiring headline I’ve seen, capture the insights from a seminar and becomes a place to write down ideas.

Taking notes helps me get things out of my mind and down on paper. It also inspires me to take action on the things I’ve written down.

These notes become my ‘creative reference point’ that I can take action from, refer back to, build ideas from and they help to improve my time management and increase my focus and productivity.

In this article, I’ll look into the importance of taking notes and how you can start to take notes, make it a habit and get closer to success.

Who are some successful note takers?

The art of note taking is a common habit among the world’s most successful people.

Taking notes can help you to organize your thoughts and record vital information in every area of your business and life.

Richard Branson believes everyone should be taking notes and carries a notebook with him everywhere. He credits note taking as one of his most important habits.[1]

“I go through dozens of notebooks every year and write down everything that occurs to me each day, an idea not written down is an idea lost. When inspiration calls, you’ve got to capture it.” – Richard Branson

Other highly successful note takers included:

  • Thomas Edison – During his life Thomas Edison captured over 5 million pages of notes. His note taking skills were developed to ensure that everything useful or important was captured and recorded so it could be referred back to as a powerful memory aid.
  • Bill Gates – According to many reports, Bill Gates is a big note taker and prefers to use a yellow notebook and pen to capture important information.
  • George Lucas – The Star Wars director kept a pocket notebook with him at all times for writing down ideas, thoughts and plot angles.
  • Tim Ferriss – Entrepreneur and author Tim Ferriss’s devotion to handwritten notes allow him to remember the most important parts of his life. He is quotes as saying “I trust the weakest pen more than the strongest memory.”

Other notable note takers from past and present include Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Pablo Picasso, Sheryl Sandberg, J.K. Rowling, Bruce Springsteen and Aaron Sorkin.

Why taking notes is important

Taking notes is an essential part of success in business and life. It can help you improve how you listen, learn, visualize and create.

“The best leaders are note-takers, best askers” – Tom Peters

But for many, note taking is still not a common practice despite its many benefits.

There are several reasons why taking written notes is important:

  • Help you emphasize the key points and get them clear in your own mind.
  • Help you engage with the content at a deeper level in a meeting, lecture or event and not lose concentration.
  • Help you to make links between related thoughts and ideas.
  • Allow you illustrate your notes to suit your personal style and help recall information.
  • Help you summarize information.
  • Let you make notes of anything you want to understand further or go deeper on at a future date.
  • Help you capture simple thoughts or ideas that could be lost.

Think about it:

Are you really going to remember everything? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to simply write down what you’re hearing, learning and thinking?

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The habit of note taking can be developed and has a huge upside.

Now, there are many apps that can be used for note-taking from Evernote to OneNote and many more. But the most successful people I’ve mentioned above also had another thing in common:

They used a pen or pencil and paper to write down their notes.

I, as mentioned earlier, prefer the pen and notebook method as it feels like the notes mean more, being written down. I follow a similar method when reading, even on my kindle.

I may bookmark the page but will write down key points or ideas I’ve taken from the book.

12 Benefits of note-taking

The benefits of note-taking include:

1. Free you up from information overload

We have so many things going through our mind at any one time that it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

So, write down all of your ideas, thoughts, frustrations, to do lists until they are all out of your mind and written down.

You can then spend some time putting the notes in some kind of order and deciding which thing or project will get your attention.

2. Make you a better listener

When you engage in listening, whether in a meeting, at a seminar or meeting friends, your brain is tuned to record and remember things.

Rather than the information be something that you hope to retain in your minds “I need to remember that”, you can make notes and continue to listen.

Rather than trying to remember what you’ve heard, you can make a quick note and carry on listening.

3. Make things feel more real

Something almost magical happens when I take notes. The words take on a new power and it helps me ensure that I take action as my brain is fully engaged.

Taking notes for the sake of taking notes isn’t really going to help you. Turning the notes into actionable ideas is what really matters.

4. Tune your mind ito capture important information

When note-taking begins to become a habit, it will start to feel natural to make notes during meetings, networking events, seminars and workshops etc.

A simple note or idea could turn into something much bigger. Richard Branson has said that if he had never taken notes, then many of Virgin’s companies and projects would never have started.[2]

5. Make you a more efficient reader

Whether you’re reading a book for personal or business development, note-taking can really help maintain focus and give you the ability to retain important quotes, processes or thinking techniques.

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You could underline and fold back the corner of the page but pulling out key elements of the book and then referring back to them gives you the opportunity to think deeper or look at ways you could action those elements in your business and life.

6. Improve your memory

Humans tend to lose almost 40% of new information within the first 24 hours of reading or hearing it. So, effective note taking can help you retain and retrieve almost 100% of the information you receive.

When you take handwritten notes, you are writing and organizing as you’re thinking, which forces your thoughts to process the information in a deeper way.

7. Help you better organize your thoughts

One challenge people have with note taking is to be able to organize them in a way that you can refer back to them later.

Note taking on its own isn’t enough. You have to revisit the notes and cement the important information in your mind.

If the notes are all over the place this is hard to do. To make this process simpler, you can keep all of your notes in the same place, keep the same format and review your notes on a weekly or fortnightly basis.

8. Improve your attention span

When you have a notebook and pen with you, you become more active and engaged in your environment.

You’ll focus more and pay more attention — a thought, quote, idea or learning experience. When you develop note-taking skills, you become more engaged, pull out and note down the information you want to capture.

You can then sift, sort and organize your notes to enhance your learning experience or pull out thoughts to develop into bigger ideas.

9. Train you to capture only what matters

Note-taking moves us away from transcribing everything that we hear in a meeting, coaching session or classroom.

With a pen and notepad at the ready our mind begins to tune in to the things or ideas that matter. We become able to filter out the ‘noise’ and focus in on the most relevant points, or keywords or ideas that we can build on later or refer back to.

10. Help you ask better questions

If you’re in a meeting and you’re fully engaged and taking notes, your mind can begin to open up and your thought process widens.

You begin to see connections that you might miss if you hadn’t jotted down a specific note. This helps you ask better questions as you may need something to be clarified further or it has opened up a new idea that you want to explore further.

11. Make you become a more active learner

The physical act of writing things down can often help clarify the thoughts and ideas you have in your mind.

Once things are written down, there is a form of mental stimulation and connection in the mind.

12. Help you achieve goals

A number of studies show that the process of taking notes helps people to boost learning and achieve their goals.

One of Brian Tracy’s core philosophies for goal achievement is writing down your goals as we are more committed to what we write down versus what we say.

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Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California, recently studied the art and science of goal setting:

She discovered, through group research, that those who wrote down their goals and dreams on a regular basis achieved those desires at a significantly higher level than those who did not. She found that you become 42% more likely to achieve your goals and dreams, simply by writing them down on a regular basis.

How to make taking notes a habit

Making note-taking a habit can make you more focused, more productive and more creative.

It can help you capture all of your thoughts, ideas and retain information that can set you up for success.

But how can we create a note-taking habit in our daily lives to ensure that it works equally well in the boardroom, meeting room, classroom or wherever you’re spending your time?

1. Invest in a notebook

Spend a bit of time finding a notebook that you love. Notebooks come in all shapes, sizes and colors, so it’s about finding the one that works for you.

I use a mixture of moleskins and leather bound notebooks from Florence.

If you don’t want to get that notebook out and write in it, then it will stay hidden.

2. Keep your notes in the same place

To ensure your notes are organized and easily referenced, then keep them in one place.

You may choose to have a notebook for different situations and learning experiences. One may be for ideas. You may have one for the office and for meetings. Another could be for personal development.

I personally keep all my notes in one place but they are clearly headed and indexed so I can refer back to them easily.

3. Carry a notebook with you

The simple act of carrying a notebook with you will inspire you to take notes.

Try this:

Have a notebook with you for 21 days and see when and where you are taking notes and when you’re not.

This will ensure you have your notebook handy for the meetings, activities and opportunities that matter.

4. Find your note-taking style

Many of us have different note taking styles, so find one that suits the way you think and that ensures you get the maximum benefit from the notes you’ve taken.

A one-word note or thought can be just as powerful as a more detailed overview of a meeting.

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A few note taking styles you can explore further and try out include:

  • Mind Mapping
  • The Outline Method
  • The Charting Method
  • The Cornell Method
  • The Maria Popova Method
  • Rapid Logging Method

5. Keep the same format

Once you’ve found a method and system that works for you, stick with it and amend it as you go along to your own personality.

If you chop and change styles, it will be more difficult to retrace and decipher your notes effectively at a later date.

One key to follow is to ensure that the notes page is dated and a headline or key topic is shown at the top of the page.

If you are creating different symbols or letters as a reference point e.g. M for Meetings, ensure this is included as well.

6. Review your notes

You may find it hard to find the time to revisit your notes but it’s important that you do.

Set time aside to review your notes, ideally within 48 hours of making them.

If you leave your notes gathering dust for a week or so after taking them, your recall won’t be as strong and you will be less inclined to take action on them.

Some notes will bring up further questions, some will require further thinking time and others won’t be a priority right now.

By taking the time to review them, you are always being proactive rather than reactive.

7. Take action

One of the keys to building a successful habit is that you achieve some form of success, however small.

This success builds momentum and helps you develop and grow every day. It also ensures that the habit sticks.

As Richard Branson said:

“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.”

The bottom line

Note-taking is one of the keys to success for many high level entrepreneurs and if you can make it a habit, you would make better decisions, solve problems better, be more creative, increase your learning and improve your productivity.

It may take a lot of discipline to make note-taking a habit in your daily life; but once you find a process that works for you, the benefits could be huge.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Mark Pettit

Mark Pettit is a Business Coach for ambitious entrepreneurs and business owners who want to achieve more by working less.

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new:

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

The bottom line

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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