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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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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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