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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 May 21, 2019

How to Be More Creative and Come up with Incredible Ideas

How to Be More Creative and Come up with Incredible Ideas

Regardless of how creative you already consider yourself to be, there’s a good chance you would like to level up your creative abilities.

You might want to write a better song, think of better solutions to problems at work or around the home or maybe paint a picture.

In any case, the good news is that creativity is not born: it’s made, and each one of us has the potential to be more creative and come up with incredible ideas.

“Creativity is any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one.” — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The definition of creativity is broad, and reminds us that creativity is not limited to artists or musicians. It does however require that we have some kind of impact on the domain in which we create.

Creativity also emphasizes values.

“The process of having original ideas that have value” — Ken Robinson

This makes up for what Csikszentmihalyi misses out. For instance, we can make a change in the world without adding significant value. Any destructive act, like smashing a window, creates change, but it doesn’t necessarily create valuable change.

In short, there isn’t one single definition of creativity It’s up to us to find a definition that feels true and useful. When you know what your standard is, It’s much easier to embrace creativity and start to cultivate it.

And in this article, you will learn how to be more creative and take a good look at what goes into the creative skill:

1. Cultivate Focus

In order to create, there needs to be a focus on creating something, whether it’s a song, a theory, a product, or a sculpture.

You could also call this “drive” – it’s the initial spark that drives the solution to a problem, or the will to get on your laptop and start typing.

However, it’s worth noting there are different stages to the creative process: the divergent stage and the convergent stage.

In the divergent stage, we want a broad focus – we want to be willing to let in lots of different inputs, ideas and insights. This is the time for brainstorming all possible ideas and solutions.

In the convergent stage, we start to narrow our focus, like a camera lens. At this stage, we start to drill down to a handful of ideas or solutions, discriminating throughout the process.

How to cultivate focus?

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Take a 20 Minute Walk

Walking away and getting your heart rate up is the best free tool you have in regaining your focus.

I know it might seem counterintuitive to take a break right when you’re at your busiest, and especially when you’re drowning in your massive to do list, but the effects it will have on your clarity and ability to focus are undeniable.

Walking is physiologically proven to release stress, and clear your mind. In fact, most of my most brilliant ideas (and some pretty terrible ones too) have occurred on my daily walks.

If you give this technique a try, what you’ll find is that you’re much more productive than you were before you took a breather.

Over time, if you do these walks daily, you’ll quickly find that your to-do list starts to feel a lot less significant, and a lot more doable. It’s all about keeping razor focused, and that’s what short daily walks will gift you.

2. Build a Structure

When I wake up in the morning, I start the day with a structure in mind. I know that 15 minutes will be dedicated to meditation, 30 minutes to coffee and reading, 20 minutes to yoga and so on.

The structure of this morning routine might be boring, but the act of each task in itself has the potential to be, on some level, “creative.”

The point of structure is that it gives you the space to make time for something you want to do. It helps you carve out the time to do your creative work. Once you begin that thing in itself, you are free to go about it however you’d like.

Without structure, we can lose focus and can feel overwhelmed with possibility. If you’ve ever looked at a blank page and felt too overwhelmed with possibility to make a mark on it, you’ll know what I mean. How much easier it gets when you are given some guidelines or a deadline?

The trick is finding the right amount of structure for you and your creative needs. Too little structure and we feel overwhelmed. Too much structure, and we risk feeling limited and stifled.

Again, it’s worth thinking about creating in those two stages: divergent (less structure) and convergent (more structure.)

How to build a structure?

Create a Morning Routine

Your morning routine doesn’t have to be rigid or so arduous you dread waking up. In fact, it should feel like the opposite. When you get a routine that works for you, you’ll look forward to starting the day.

We all have different needs and preferences which can shape our ideal routine. In the book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, you can be inspired over 160 different creators’ daily routines, from Charles Darwin to Pablo Picasso.

Experiment with any that take your fancy, and see how you feel with a bit more structure to start your day.

You can also take a look at this article about morning routine for inspirations: The Ultimate Morning Routine to Make You Happy And Productive All Day

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3. Find Motivation

There is a theory that suggests: people will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself — not by external pressures. This is also known as intrinsic motivation; a drive that comes from within.

Think of a time when you did some of your best work — chances are you were totally absorbed in what you were doing, to the exclusion of everything else. You were completely focused on the work itself, barely noticing time flying by.

Now think of a time when you felt under pressure to perform. Maybe it was an exam, or a commission for an important client, or maybe your boss had told you “there’s a lot riding on this.”

Notice the difference? In the first memory, you were driven by intrinsic motivation, which made it relatively easy, even enjoyable, to be highly creative.

In the second memory however, extrinsic motivation was breathing down your neck, distracting you by whispering about the rewards for success and the horrible consequences of failure: likely making it harder to focus on the task at hand.

For this reason, intrinsic motivation, if you can find it, is what separates the good from great creative work.

This isn’t to say only internal motivators help. I personally get motivated by luring myself to work with a good cappuccino at my favourite cafe. That will get me ready to write or edit or whatever I’ve been avoiding.

How to find motivation?

Connect to Your “Why”

Your “Why” is your fuel: the thing that drives you forward, that gives you a reason to do what you’re doing.

‘He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.’ — Friedrich Nietzche

When you have a reason to do something, a purpose or a goal that matters to you, you can connect your daily actions to it. Then, each act becomes infused with meaning and you find that intrinsic motivation comes naturally.

The trick is to remember your “why” and connect with it on a regular basis.

Think about how you want to feel on a daily basis. What would you like to accomplish in the next year? What would you like for yourself in the next five years? How about in your lifetime?

Ultimately, the tasks you face on a daily basis, or at least some of them, will connect to a greater purpose if you follow this path and you will find you feel more motivated to create and less resistance.

If you aren’t sure where to start looking for motivation, this will help: How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

4. Be an Expert in a Chosen Domain

Research has shown that just as expertise in one domain does not predict expertise in other unrelated domains; creativity in one domain does not predict creativity in other unrelated domains.[1]

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So just because you can paint a pretty picture, doesn’t mean you can creatively solve a mathematical problem.

If you’ve taken one of those tests like the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, which will ask you to think of a bazillion uses for a pencil, and scored well, unfortunately this is only an indicator of divergent thinking skills. It is not a predictor for creativity all round.

The good news is, you can train your creativity in your chosen domain. Much like a muscle, you can isolate exercises to strengthen it.

Of course you can still do a total body workout – or atotal creativity workout – but it means your creativity-training exercises need to come from a wide variety of domains; not just thinking up uses for a pencil.

How to become an expert?

Make a Mastery Training Plan

Following our physical workout analogy, it’s worth applying the habits of great athletes to your chosen creative domain. For example:

1. Decide what area/s you want to work on

Much like a tennis player who decides they need to improve their serving technique, you can decide what area within your creative domain you want to improve at. Get specific.

2. Decide how much time you can dedicate

Most of us don’t have all day to train like a pro tennis player might, but you can likely squeeze 20 to 30 minutes in a day, if you want to. Whatever the time you can allow is, decide to dedicate yourself to it.

3. Review your progress

Finally, in order to check your progress, you can take regular reviews. Decide what your metrics are, and take time each week to check in with yourself.

How many days did you practice? How did you compare to the previous week? This kind of review can help you stay on track, and actually creates more intrinsic motivation as you see yourself develop.

5. Create a Conducive Environment

A psychologist in 1943 proposed that behaviour is:[2]

“a function of both the person as well as the physical environment they are in.”

I would suggest that the act of creating is a behaviour and that, even though it begins as an internal process, it’s very much affected by and even dependent on the environment we are in.

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I started noticing how environment affects me when I worked in an office. Over time, I realized that the more people who were in or who were talking, the more distracted I was. If I got to the office early before my coworkers arrived, I was twice as effective.

I was even more effective if I was at home. Now that I work from home, I know I’m even more effective when in certain coffee shops. Ideally, places that have high ceilings, gentle lighting, some barely noticeable background music – and excellent coffee.

It’s these little variations in our environment that can really shape our creative output.

If you’re an introvert, you probably do your best work alone. If you’re an extrovert, you probably do your best work in the company of others.

This isn’t to say you should find one way of doing things and stick to it: in fact, varying your environment from time to time is a great way to stoke the creative fire too, which we’ll touch on more later.

How to create a conducive environment?

Add or Subtract Stimuli

Novelty in our environment has been shown to stimulate the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that increases our desire to seek out reward.[3]

If you’re looking for creative motivation, adding some novelty into your environment can be just what you need.

On the other hand, some people are highly sensitive and when it comes to having too much stimulation in their environment, they find it difficult to focus.

Experiment with working in different environments. Note how you feel. Note whether you do better creative work or have more interesting ideas when you’re alone or with others.

Try listening to music, people chatting or try being in complete silence. Try a dimly lit room, try working in bright sunlight.

In each case, note how you feel before, during and afterwards and rate the quality of your work.

The Bottom Line

Creativity is not one particular skill or talent one can have. It comes in as many broad and unique flavors as there are people on this earth.

To be more creative, take little steps each day. Acknowledge where and when you feel most inspired, motivated and original and spend more energy in those areas.

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Featured photo credit: Sticker Mule via unsplash.com

Reference

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