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Published on October 29, 2018

Feeling Scattered? How to Organize Notes to Stay on Top of Things

Feeling Scattered? How to Organize Notes to Stay on Top of Things

You might be feeling scattered now, but, let me remind you: you’re in charge of the situation. You are in control. That’s a fact.

To stay on top of things, regroup and start picking up your notes one at a time and start organizing. The famous author, Anne Lamott, in her book about writing, taught writers to do it bird by bird; in other words, do it step by step.

As for me, my strategy is simple: take a pause, stop everything, and then get a page of notes; sort it out, put each one in its proper place; pick up another and put it where it fits, and so forth.

What could you achieve if you can organize your notes in a neat package so whenever you need them you can snatch them out and use them, pronto?

This article will walk you through some detailed tips on how to organize your notes so you can remain on top of your game.

What’s the bottom line? Your notes are tiny reflections of your thoughts and your very thoughts are reflections of the various aspects of your life. That’s why it’s crucial to know how to capture notes like a pro and to organize them in a method where in you can pluck out a specific note right when you need it.

1.Take a breath

Feeling scattered is normal when your notes are not organized, so take a breath. Remind yourself, you’re in-charge. Now that you feel in control again, stop everything and take three deep and long breaths. Gather yourself together and take this time to arrange your notes.

Just the mere act of stopping and knowing that you’re in charge changes your perspective. You’ll feel on top of things, immediately. Once you’re in this state — you can start to work.

2. Learn to take notes like a pro

There are different methods of taking notes and I will walk you through some of the most popular ones, but, first, why is it so important to take notes properly, anyway?

History has established: famous men, those Adams of substance have a habit of taking down notes like a pro. Men like Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, George Patton, Alexis de Tocqueville, and many others became successful with the help of a little pocket notebook. Hey, don’t get me wrong, famous women have the same story.

Let me break it down for you. The following are manners of recording notes[1] that will make you more successful with any endeavor.

Methods of taking down notes

The Cornell Method

The Cornell note taking method helps organize notes into summaries that are easy to digest. This method is convenient because the main points, details, study cues, and summary are all kept in one place.[2]

The note page is divided into 3 sections:[3]

  • Take notes during a conference or class using the main section.
  • After the conference, write down things you’ll need to remember and a prompt for each at the cues section so you can review your notes. You may also use this section for vocabulary words and in-depth study questions.
  • Write a summary of your notes in the summary segment at the bottom. It’s where you may highlight the main points, too.

Using the Cornell method, you can cover all types of events, lectures, or even meetings.

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The Outline Method

The Outline method is one of the best and most popular note-taking methods for students and professionals as well. It allows you to organize your notes in a structured form. This helps you to save a lot of time for further reviewing and editing.[4]

As the method’s name suggests, it requires you to structure your notes in the form of an outline by using bullet points to represent different topics and subtopics.

Start writing main topics on the far left of the page and add related subtopic in bullet points below using indents.

This method can be used in a variety of situations but works best if the lecture or class follows a relatively clear structure.

The Charting Method

It’s a practical and organized method for note-taking that involves a lot of data in the form of facts and statistics that you need to learn thoroughly.

The info will be jotted down in several columns, similar to a table or spreadsheet. Each column represents a category making the rows easily identifiable.

3. Ask questions

Asking questions leads to insightful information and this ultimately add up to more knowledge.

To keep you at par with the challenge of keeping notes organized, you need to list down questions you have in your mind. These questions will help you understand matters about the lecture you just listened to. The questions will also help you to have further studies about the lessons.

Always allot a section of your note pages for questions. This way, when you go home and review your notes you can answer those questions. They will solidify the info you took home and enable you to use them for assignments and any work.

4. Use visual cues

Use visuals. They will do wonders especially for visual learners.

Visual learning is one of the three basic types of learning styles in the Fleming VAK/VARK model. Learners usually utilizes graphs, charts, maps and diagrams in this model.

Also, to enhance knowledge absorption, use visual cues: try highlighting, underlining, or drawing arrows or huge exclamation points beside main or difficult concepts. They can help.

Why use the visual note taking strategy? Benefits of using visuals:

It improves retention, recall and understanding of information. It engages all types of learners as people connect more effectively when information is obtained via all the senses.

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The strategy helps note takers build connections between information and link the new knowledge to existing knowledge. It is often more enjoyable and refreshing to see visuals on notes and it enhances learning in any setting.

5. Record main points

This is a must for all notes you will ever take. This section on your note pages includes lecture titles, chapter titles, and big ideas only.[5]

If you do this, you will have an easier time adding the sub-headings and the details under each subheading.

Being able to record key points will give you a clear overview of your notes. Having this guide will make it easier for you to study your notes. Just a glance will help you find what you need at any particular time by merely looking at the main titles of your notes.

6. Write down important headings

Under the key points, you can write down important headings. Headings are a crucial element in taking notes. They help you pin down topics you want to focus on.[6]

Headings are very important because without them, you won’t be able to identify sections. You can take headings as titles of sections.

Usually, extremely short documents don’t require the use of headings. On the contrary, notes on these and other complex readings, lectures, or webinars, however, require headings because they help the note taker to identify main points of their notes.

7. Record important people and events

This is just common sense. You need to keep a record of important people and events of the affair, whatever it is. This way, you can help your mind identify topics and important points much easier.

You can associate important people with main subjects. The same case with events; you can connect events with points in a certain lecture or class.

One way you can do this is to separate an area for important persons and events under sections. Write one or two sentences why the person or event was mentioned to remind you of their connection to the particular section it was recorded in.

8. Refer to text, books, movies mentioned

Same as the point in number seven. When you encounter text, a book, a movie in a lecture, an event, a meeting, a seminar, or any teaching or presenting event, take note of important details.

These bits of info are crucial to the topics and points in the event. That’s the reason they’re mentioned in the first place. When you go over them, you will prompt your brain to remember the subjects and details of the points discussed.

When making notes, always jot down these significant facts to make learning and storing much easier.

9. Include relevant quotes

It’s common for speakers, teachers, mentors, coaches, etc., to feature quotes related to a lesson, a workshop or an event. Grab your pen and scrawl down those quotes or encode them digitally if you like. These will help you solidify points you need to remember.

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Quotes are easy to remember because they are short, easy to digest, and generally focused on a single point. By keeping them in one place, you assist your mental faculties to drive them into your memory so that when you need them; you’ll remember them or at least be reminded of where they’re stored.

10. Remember that your thoughts matter

This is very important. Writing down your own thoughts about the lessons, topics, subjects you’re getting is crucial to having notes that are usable.

Your own opinions and points recorded neatly increases your chance of learning and remembering things. Don’t write whole sentences. Scribble short phrases, or you may draw shapes or simple sketches.

For example, in notes on the history of music, you may draw a guitar. This can signify the time when guitar was invented, and other details about the musical instrument.

Your own insights that are written down make it easier for your brain to function way better when reviewing notes or when working on something wherein your notes are needed.

Your own opinions cement information in your brain; they’ll help you remember concepts, points of view, facts, statistics, data, or events more clearly and deeply.

11. Leave spaces

This could look unnecessary but it’s not. In your notes, leave some spaces for future notes when you’ll go sit down and review them.

The premise here is that when you review your notes, you’ll have more insights and opinions that are crucial to learning more about the topic of your notes.

This space can also be utilized to add more notes that you missed adding during the event. These notes may be more important than the ones you already have, so this is the best reason why it’s necessary to leave some spaces for further or additional notes.

12. Draw symbols

Spice up your notes. Draw symbols to represent main points and topics.

Visuals like symbols intensify the importance of main topics. Let me explain:

When you focus on the practicality of having symbols representing headings and main points, viewing your notes would be painless.

Let’s say, you look at your notes and if you’re a visual learner like me, the first things you’ll notice on the pages are the symbols with bold colors. They’ll guide you on the main topics of your notes, or the important points you need to know.

Symbols guide your eyes when searching for main topics and crucial points regarding your volume of notes.

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13. Get creative

Make it your own, use your creativity.

If you draw, then used drawings all over your notes. Don’t mince your ideas. Just keep drawing things.

Just make sure they are clear to you. This may facilitate note taking too because instead of words that are too numerous sometimes, you can just use simple drawings to mean two or three sentences; maybe even four or five.

If you’re good in using colors, and symbols, go ahead, fill your note pages with them.

The beauty of taking notes is that nobody will criticize you because you are the main recipient of the work.

14. Eye vocabularies mentioned

Capture and gather vocabularies you never encountered before. Look up their definitions and understand them.

These new words will do two things:

  • They will enrich your word- arsenal.
  • They will assist you in making dents in your memory making way for a more insightful and more intense recording in your brain.

Pages of notes will sparkle with new words. You can highlight them or you can set them aside in one area. Check the note taking methods under tip number two. No matter what method you use, just make sure they are defined and they are set apart, underlined or highlighted.

After the session or meeting, you can search for their definitions and then review your notes and understanding more of their meanings. This will absolutely add more value to your notes.

15. Give examples

Don’t neglect given examples. Most teachers, or lecturers give examples of points and facts about their lesson or topic.

Always make sure you collect those examples. A lot of workers or students underestimate the importance of examples and rely only on the points mentioned. This is a grave error.

Examples, if properly written down will help you study and understand facts and lessons presented.

Given examples enhance the learning curve of workers and students alike. They solidify the information being discussed.

The bottom line

The tips I gave can be done in combinations. You can also follow all the tips if you want. That’s up to you.

I suggest you pick one note-taking method and mix in some of the tips above. The important thing is — you will become an expert with one method and as you apply them, you will become better and better. When you do, you can take notes without feeling scattered and will be able to organize your notes effectively.

Featured photo credit: Adolfo Félix via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] GoodNotes, Medium: The Best Note taking Methods for College Students
[2] Cornell University: The Cornell Note-taking System
[3] Tools Hero: Cornell Note Taking method
[4] Kutztown University: Outline Method for Note Taking
[5] Oxford learning: HOW TO TAKE STUDY NOTES: 5 EFFECTIVE NOTE TAKING METHODS
[6] California College San Diego: How To Take Notes In College Like a Pro

More by this author

Anthony Dejolde

TV/Radio personality who educates his audience on entrepreneurship, productivity, and leadership.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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