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Last Updated on December 3, 2019

How to Organize Notes and Stop Feeling Scattered

How to Organize Notes and Stop Feeling Scattered

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:

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.

More About Note Taking

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 January 21, 2020

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

Do you forget stuff every now and then? Are you trying to enhance your memory but not sure how?

All you need is the right memorization techniques to make the most of your memory.

The human brain is fascinating. More specifically, the vast interconnections within our mind. Mendel Kaelen compares the human brain to a hill covered in snow,

“Think of the brain as a hill covered in snow, and thoughts as sleds gliding down that hill. As one sled after another goes down the hill a small number of main trails will appear in the snow. And every time a new sled goes down, it will be drawn into preexisting trails, almost like a magnet. In time it becomes more and more difficulty to glide down the hill on any other path or in a different direction.”

The intent of Kaelen’s discussion is to think of new ways to temporarily flatten the snow. Kaelen remarked,

“The deeply worn trails disappear, and suddenly the sled can go in other directions, exploring new landscapes and, literally, creating new pathways.”

The idea here is to temporarily rewire your brain, or as Michael Pollan remarked in How to Change Your Mind,

“The power to shake the snow globe, disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility-entropy-in which more salubrious patterns and narratives have an opportunity to coalesce as the snow slowly settles.”

So, how can we rewire our brain allowing deeply worn connections to disappear and new connections to form? The answer is quite simple. We must change the way we store information in our mind.

    Let’s examine 5 specific memorization techniques that will change the way you think and remember information.

    1. Build a Memory Palace

      What is it?

      The method of loci[1] (aka memory palace) is a method of memory enhancement using visualizations with the use of spatial memory. It uses familiar information about your environment to quickly recall information. It is a method that was discussed by Cicero in an ancient dialogue called De Oratore.

      How to use it?

      Ron White discusses in How to Memorize Fast and Easily: Build a Memory Palace, that it’s essentially a room or building that you have memorized and you use locations in the room to store data. Ron informs us,

      “You memorize locations in a room and then you later go back to those locations to retrieve the data that you want to remember.”

      Example

      An easy 5-step example, in the form of a Wiki, can be found at Artofmemory.com. Let’s examine the the steps:

      • Step 1. Choose a place that you know well. For example, your house or office.
      • Step 2. Plan the route and pick specific locations in your route. For example, your front door, bathroom kitchen, etc.
      • Step 3. Decide what you want to memorize. For example, geography, list of items, answers for a test, etc.
      • Step 4. Place one or two items, with a mental image, and place them in your memory palace. Exaggerate your images. For example, use nudity or crazy images forcing it to stick in your mind.
      • Step 5. Make the image into a mnemonic.

      You can learn more about this technique here: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

      2. Mnemonic

        What is it?

        A mnemonic is a memory device that aids in retention and/or retrieval of information. Mnemonic systems are techniques consciously used to improve memory by helping us use information already stored in long-term memory to make memorization easier.[2]

        How to use it?

        Mnemonics make use of retrieval cues to encode information in our brain allowing for efficient storage and retrieval of the information. The trick is to learn how to easily create mnemonics. If you find that you struggle with creating your own, try the following website: Mnemonic Generator.

        Example

        I recently came across a video using mnemonics to memorize countries. Memorizing Countries using Mnemonics is a video created as an introduction to a class for using memory techniques to learn the names of countries on maps.

        I actively search for videos that provide enormous educational value, yet receive very little exposure. At the time of this writing, this video has received less than 4k views. Let’s examine the video.

        Goal: Create a mnemonic to memorize the countries in the Caribbean (just the countries you need to learn).

        Step 1. Looking at a map – write out each country (for which five were chosen).

        Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico.

        Step 2. Write the first letter of each country vertically.

        C

        J

        H

        D

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        P

        Step 3. Create a sentence or phrase.

        Cubs

        Just

        Hate

        Doing

        Push-ups

        Cubs just hate doing push-ups. (Cuba Jamaica Haiti Dominican Republic Puerto Rico)

        3. Mnemonic Peg System

          What is it?

          According to Artofmemory.com, a mnemonic peg system is a technique for memorizing lists and it works by memorizing a list of words that are easy to associate with the numbers they represent.[3] These objects are the pegs of the system.

          How to use it?

          The trick is to create a Number Rhyme System with each number having a rhyming mnemonic keyword.

          Example

          Let’s look at an example of a Number Rhyme System:[4]

          0 = hero

          1 = gun

          2 = shoe

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          3 = tree

          4 = door

          5 = hive

          6 = sticks

          7 = heaven

          8 = gate

          9 = line

          Another technique like the Peg system is the Number Shape System.[5] Here you are assigning mnemonic images based on the shape of the number. Watch the following video for an example of this system: Number Shape System for Memorizing Numbers.

          4. Chunking

            What is it?

            Chunking is a way to remember large bits of information by chunking them into smaller pieces of information. We are more likely to then remember the information when we put the small pieces back together to see the entire picture.

            How to use it?

            In the video Chunking – A Learning Technique, we can see that there are several ways to chunk information.

            Example

            Let’s examine a simple example using a nine-digit number.

            Step 1. What is the number you are trying to remember?

            081127882

            Step 2. Cut the number into smaller pieces through chunking.

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            081 – 127 – 882

            Let’s look at one more example from the same video.

            “Piano teachers will first demonstrate an entire song to students. They will then ask their students to practice one measure at a time. Once the part has been learned and the neural connections in the brain have been built, then students go on to the next measure. After all chunks have been played separately, they are combined until the entire piece is connected.”

            5. Transfer of Learning

              What is it?

              Transfer of learning is a way to learn something in one area and apply it in another. Authors of Thinking at Every Desk, Derek and Laura Cabrera inform us about the transfer of learning,

              “If a student has a high transfer skills, she can learn one thing and then teach herself 10, 50, or 100 additional things.”

              How to use it?

              There are two specific ways to use it:

              1. Vertical Transfer (aka Far Transfer). Think of learning something in grade school and applying it another grade or later in life.
              2. Horizontal Transfer (aka Near Transfer). Think of learning a concept in history and applying it in math.

              Example

              I provide a detailed step-by-step example for this technique in this article:

              Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

              The Bottom Line

              The key to using the techniques discussed here is to remember that we must actively think about information.

              We cannot simply drill information into our brain through rote memorization. We must change the way we think about memorization. We must find a way to “shake the snow-globe” in our mind or flatten the snow so that we can create new learning paths.

              Or as Derek and Laura Cabrera point out, we must insert “Thinking” into the equation,

              “Information X Thinking = Knowledge”

              More About Enhancing Memories

              Featured photo credit: Nong Vang via unsplash.com

              Reference

              [1] Remember Everything: Memory Palaces and the Method of Loci
              [2] The Learning Center Exchange: 9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory
              [3] Art of Memory: Mnemonic Peg System
              [4] Art of Memory: Number Rhyme System
              [5] Art of Memory: Number Shape System

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