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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

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Anthony Dejolde

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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