Advertising

How to Take Good Notes at Work: 6 Effective Ways

Advertising
How to Take Good Notes at Work: 6 Effective Ways

It’s important to be able to take good notes because these notes can become your inspirations and ideas later. If your notes are messy, you may not be able to just recall what you’ve learned.

Author Tim Ferriss has his entire shelves containing nothing but notebooks filled with his daily scribblings. Not one to mince words, the self-optimization guru once wrote:[1]

“I take notes like some people take drugs.”

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson is another avid note-taker:[2]

“Some of Virgin’s most successful companies have been born from random moments – if we hadn’t opened our notebooks, they would never have happened.”

In college, there was such a strong emphasis on effective note-taking — I still have a few stacks of my own spiral notebooks, filled with furiously scribbled lecture notes. Once we embark on our professional careers, however, many of us lose that habit. But keeping a written log of all new content — during meetings, brainstorms and while reading — remains an essential productivity and learning tool.

As CEO of my own company, I’m seldom caught without a notepad. Time is my most precious resource and note-taking lets me extract the most value from how I choose to spend mine. It also signals to my employees to do the same.

If you’re wondering how to optimize this simple habit, here are some expert-backed tips on how to take good notes.

Advertising

1. Be Old-School — and Use Your Own Words

Like the chicken or the egg, it’s a fundamental question: should I use a paper notebook or a digital note-taking app?

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Alexandra Samuel strongly advocates for digital note-taking. She argues that taking notes with an app like Evernote is the most efficient use of time and makes later retrieval quick and easy.[3]

Not everyone agrees though. According to Maggy McGloin, another Harvard Business Review contributor, research has found that analog note-taking has concrete benefits. In one study, researchers found that digital note-takers took lengthier “transcription-like” notes, as compared to hand-writers, and did significantly worse on later conceptual questions.[4]

Even when participants were explicitly instructed to not take notes verbatim, typers continued to write in a “transcription-like” manner. While typing encourages mindless transcription, handwriting pushes us to create more succinct notes and distill information for increased comprehension.

Using a laptop or tablet opens you up to more distractions, too, like checking your Twitter feed or seeing what’s new on Facebook. Surprisingly, one person’s web browsing can negatively affect the learning of her neighbors. In one study, student participants who could see the screen of a multitasker’s laptop — in this case, looking up movie times — scored 17 percent lower on comprehension tests than students who had no such distraction.[5]

Personally, I’m an analog notebook user — I find it much easier to focus and it forces me to translate information into my own shorthand. Other old-school note-takers include Bill Gates, who prefers a yellow notebook, and George Lucas, who carries a pocket notebook.

But even if you can’t part with your laptop or tablet, avoid transcribing verbatim. Practice not just listening, but processing what’s being said and using your own words.

2. Be Meticulous with Structure

Another matter to consider before you jot anything down: how to structure your notes. Utilizing a consistent organization method is key for referring back to your notes later.

Advertising

The Journal of Reading compared different methods and found that the most rigorously structured notes — with hierarchal ordering and numbered subsections — scored highest in terms of quality and accuracy. The second best was a two-column method, wherein writers used the left column for new information and the right column for follow-up points and key themes.[6]

Tim Ferriss swears by indexing, which involves manually numbering the pages of a book or notebook and creating a quick and easy-to-scan index of topics inside the front or back cover.

Maria Popova, creator of the hugely popular Brainpickings.org, tears through many books each week and incorporates her learning into daily blog posts.

She’s able to grasp the concept of an entire book at breakneck speed using an indexing method. As explained to Tim Ferriss, Popova creates an alternate index on the (typically blank) last page, where she notes important ideas as she reads. Next to those ideas, she’ll list the pages where they pop up. Then, Popova uses these analog notes, based on ideas rather than keywords, to synthesize a book once she’s ready to write about it.[7]

I use as many organizational techniques as I can — indexing, headlines, numbering and bulleting. I also leave a margin for my questions, observations and action steps — which leads to my next strategy.

3. Jot Down Your Questions and Insights

Whichever structure you choose, always leave room for your personal reflections. Global CEO Coach Sabina Nawaz recommends using wide margins, where you can jot down “your ideas, judgments, rebuttals, and questions to each of the points you’ve written down.” Nawaz explains,[8]

“By marking them to the side, you separate your own thoughts from what others say.”

This technique not only forces you to continually engage with and analyze the information you’re receiving — assisting with learning and comprehension, rather than rote transcription — it also enables you to organize future follow-up questions and courses of action.

Advertising

As soon as I finish a meeting or conference, I review my margins and email myself a list of any next steps — like an email to draft, an appointment to make or inspiration for an article to write. That way I make sure I’m translating new ideas into actionable plans.

4. Record Non-Verbal Behavior

A colleague tells you: “We’re ready to share our new product with the company next week.” But his body language — nervous fidgeting and a worried look — isn’t communicating much confidence. In that situation, note your observations and make a point to bring them up later.

“Hey Neil, you said you were ready earlier, but I was wondering if you’d like to run the presentation by me and iron out any kinks.”

We communicate a great deal with non-verbal behaviors, including our body language, demeanor, and affect. According to Patti Wood, a body language expert and author of Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma, in a face-to-face interaction with just one person, you can exchange up to 10,000 nonverbal cues in less than a minute — probably more than our words alone.[9]

Sometimes, what’s not said is just as valuable as what is. For example, if I give a presentation and get crickets when I ask for questions, that might signal that I’ve done a bang-up job. But it also could mean that my colleagues are unwilling to challenge my perspective. And as I’ve written before, healthy conflict is essential for an organization’s growth and innovation.

Non-verbal behavior can reveal an issue that needs to be addressed immediately. Investing a bit more to record and address these observations can save time down the line.

5. Review Later

Taking notes serves two functions: to organize and store new content and cognitively encode that content. In other words, it’s a means of storing and learning new information.[10] That physical storage function is useless unless you actually review your notes later and reflect on what you’ve written.

Research on student test performance highlights the importance of reviewing. One study from the 80s that was published in the Teaching of Psychology Journal found that students made mistakes on exams not because they’d taken bad notes, but because they weren’t re-reading them beforehand.[11]

Advertising

Though you’re probably beyond the days of cramming for exams, recalling what you learn is just as, if not more important, to your career — because it no longer pays to forget new information the moment we’re done being tested on it.

As Richard Branson writes:[12]

“Don’t just take notes for the sake of taking notes, go through your ideas and turn them into actionable and measurable goals.”

That’s why I block out time on my calendar at least once a week to read through my notes — from meetings, conferences, calls, you name it. As CEO, there’s rarely a moment in my day that hasn’t resulted in a few ideas jotted down.

6. Prepare Notes Before Meetings, Too

One final piece of advice: never walk into a meeting empty-handed. To maximize efficiency, always prepare notes ahead of time, including material to cover, questions and action items.

No one exemplifies this better than Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. In a profile for Fortune, Miguel Helft writes:[13]

“Her days are a flurry of meetings that she runs with the help of a decidedly undigital spiral-bound notebook. On it, she keeps lists of discussion points and action items. She crosses them off one by one, and once every item on a page is checked, she rips the page off and moves to the next. If every item is done 10 minutes into an hourlong meeting, the meeting is over.”

These might be the only kind of notes that you don’t need to keep for later review (unless you record more notes on the same page).

Advertising

Together, these note-taking strategies can help you organize meetings and streamline your workday.

More Note-Taking Tips

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Aytekin Tank

Founder and CEO of JotForm, sharing entrepreneurship and productivity tips at Lifehack.

smart objectives What Are SMART Objectives? (And How to Use Them) How To Set Employee Goals To Help Everyone Grow What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity) The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again How to Increase Attention Span If You Have a Distracted Mind

Trending in Smartcut

1 10 Effective Ways To Make You a Fast Learner 2 8 Time Management Strategies for Busy People 3 50 LinkedIn Influencers To Follow, No Matter Your Industry 4 How to Break Bad Habits (The Only Effective Way) 5 15 Daily Rituals of Highly Successful People

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on October 7, 2021

Are You Addicted to Productivity?

Advertising
Are You Addicted to Productivity?

“It’s great to be productive. It really is. But sometimes, we chase productivity so much that it makes us, well, unproductive. It’s easy to read a lot about how to be more productive, but don’t forget that you have to make that time up.”

Matt Cutts wrote that back in 2013,[1]

“Today, search for ‘productivity’ and Google will come back with about 663,000,000 results. If you decide to go down this rabbit hole, you’ll be bombarded by a seemingly endless amount of content. I’m talking about books, blogs, videos, apps, podcasts, scientific studies, and subreddits all dedicated to productivity.”

Like so many other people, I’ve also fallen into this trap. For years I’ve been on the lookout for trends and hacks that will help me work faster and more efficiently — and also trends that help me help others to be faster. I’ve experimented with various strategies and tools . And, while some of these strategies and solutions have been extremely useful — without parsing out what you need quickly — it’s counterproductive.

Sometimes you end up spending more time focusing on how to be productive instead of actually being productive.

“The most productive people I know don’t read these books, they don’t watch these videos, they don’t try a new app every month,” James Bedell wrote in a Medium post.[2] “They are far too busy getting things done to read about Getting Things Done.”

This is my mantra:

I proudly say, “I am addicted to productivity — I want to be addicted to productivity — productivity is my life and my mission — and I also want to find the best way to lead others through productivity to their best selves.

But most of the time productivity means putting your head down and working until the job’s done.” –John Rampton

Addiction to Productivity is Real

Dr. Sandra Chapman, director of the University of Texas at Dallas Center for BrainHealth points out that the brain can get addicted to productivity just as it can to more common sources of addiction, such as drugs, gambling, eating, and shopping.

Advertising

“A person might crave the recognition their work gives them or the salary increases they get,” Chapman told the BBC.[3] “The problem is that just like all addictions, over time, a person needs more and more to be satisfied, and then it starts to work against you. Withdrawal symptoms include increased anxiety, depression, and fear.”

Despite the harmful consequences, addiction is considered by some experts as a brain disease that affects the brain’s reward system and ends in compulsive behavior. Regardless, society tends to reward productivity — or at least to treat it positively. As a result, this makes the problem even worse.

“It’s seen like a good thing: the more you work, the better,” adds Chapman. “Many people don’t realize the harm it causes until a divorce occurs and a family is broken apart, or the toll it takes on mental health.”

Because of the occasional negative issues with productivity, it’s no surprise that it is considered a “mixed-blessing addiction.”

“A workaholic might be earning a lot of money, just as an exercise addict is very fit,” explains Dr. Mark Griffiths, distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. “But the thing about any addiction is that in the long run, the detrimental effects outweigh any short-term benefits.”

“There may be an initial period where the individual who is developing a work addiction is more productive than someone who isn’t addicted to work, but it will get to a point when they are no longer productive, and their health and relationships are affected,” Griffiths writes in Psychology Today.[4] “It could be after one year or more, but if the individual doesn’t do anything about it, they could end up having serious health consequences.”

“For instance, I speculated that the consequences of work addiction may be reclassified as something else: If someone ends up dying of a work-related heart attack, it isn’t necessarily seen as having anything to do with an addiction per se – it might be attributed to something like burnout,” he adds.

There Are Three “Distinct Extreme Productivity Types

Cyril Peupion, a Sydney-based productivity expert, has observed extreme productivity among clients at both large and medium-sized companies. “Most people who come to me are high performers and very successful. But often, the word they use to describe their work style is ‘unsustainable,’ and they need help getting it back on track.”

By changing their work habits, Peupion assists teams and individuals improve their performance and ensure that their efforts are aligned with the overarching strategy of the business, rather than focusing on work as a means to an end. He has distinguished three types of extreme productivity in his classification: efficiency obsessive, selfishly productive, and quantity-obsessed.

Efficiency obsessive. “Their desks are super tidy and their pens are probably color-coded. They are the master of ‘inbox zero.’ But they have lost sight of the big picture, and don’t know the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.”

Advertising

Selfishly productive. “They are so focused on their own world that if they are asked to do something outside of it, they aren’t interested. They do have the big picture in mind, but the picture is too much about them.”

Quantity-obsessed. “They think; ‘The more emails I respond to, the more meetings I attend, the more tasks I do, the higher my performance.’ As a result, they face a real risk of burnout.”

Peupion believes that “quantity obsessed” individuals are the most common type “because there is a pervasive belief that ‘more’ means ‘better’ at work.”

The Warning Signs of Productivity Addiction

Here are a few questions you should ask yourself if you think you may be succumbing to productivity addiction. After all, most of us aren’t aware of this until it’s too late.

  • Can you tell when you’re “wasting” time? If so, have you ever felt guilty about it?
  • Does technology play a big part in optimizing your time management?
  • Do you talk about how busy you are most of the time? In your opinion, is hustling better than doing less?
  • What is your relationship with your email inbox? Are you constantly checking it or experience phantom notifications?
  • When you only check one item off your list, do you feel guilty?
  • Does stress from work interfere with your sleep?
  • Have you been putting things off, like a vacation or side project, because you’re “too swamped?

The first step toward turning around your productivity obsession is to recognize it. If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then it’s time to make a plan to overcome your addiction to productivity.

Overcoming Your Productivity Addiction

Thankfully, there are ways to curb your productivity addiction. And, here are 9 such ways to achieve that goal.

1. Set Limits

Just because you’re hooked on productivity doesn’t mean you have to completely abstain from it. Instead, you need to establish boundaries.

For example, there are a lot of amazing productivity podcasts out there. But, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them all in the course of a day. Instead, you could listen to one or two podcasts, like The Productivity Podcast or Before Breakfast, during your commute. And, that would be your only time of the day to get your productivity fix.

2. Create a Not-to-Do List

Essentially, the idea of a not-to-do list is to eliminate the need to practice self-discipline. Getting rid of low-value tasks and bad habits will allow you to focus on what you really want to do as opposed to weighing the pros and cons or declining time requests. More importantly, this prevents you from feeling guilty about not crossing everything off an unrealistic to-do list.

3. Be Vulnerable

By this, I mean admitting where you could improve. For example, if you’re new to remote work and are struggling with thi s, you would only focus on topics in this area. Suggestions would be how to create a workspace at home, not getting distracted when the kids aren’t in school, or improving remote communication and collaboration with others.

Advertising

4. Understand Why You Procrastinate

Often, we procrastinate to minimize negative emotions like boredom or stress. Other times it could be because it’s a learned trait, underestimating how long it takes you to complete something or having a bias towards a task.

Regardless of the exact reason, we end up doing busy work, scrolling social media, or just watching one more episode of our favorite TV series. And, even though we know that it’s not for the best, we do things that make us feel better than the work we should do to restore our mood.[5]

There are a lot of ways to overcome procrastination. But, the first step is to be aware of it so that you can take action. For example, if you’re dreading a difficult task, don’t just watch Netflix. Instead, procrastinate more efficiently,y like returning a phone call or working on a client pitch.

5. Don’t Be a Copycat

Let’s keep this short and sweet. When you find a productivity app or technique that works for you, stick with it.

That’s not to say that you can’t make adjustments along the way or try new tools or hacks. However, the main takeaway should be that just because someone swears by the Pomodoro Technique doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for you.

6. Say Yes to Less

Across the board, your philosophy should be less is more.

That means only download the apps you actually use and want to keep (after you try them out) and uninstall the ones you don’t use. For example, are you currently reading a book on productivity? Don’t buy your next book until you’ve finished the one you’re currently reading (or permit yourself to toss a book that isn’t doing you any good). — and if you really want to finish a book more quickly, listen to the book on your way to work and back.

Already have plans this weekend? Don’t commit to a birthday party. And, if you’re day is booked, decline that last-minute meeting request.

7. Stop Focusing on What’s Next

“In the age when purchasing a thing from overseas is just one click and talking to another person is one swipe right, acquiring new objects or experiences can be addictive like anything else,” writes Patrick Banks for Lifehack .

“That doesn’t need to be you,” he adds. “You can stop your addition to ‘the next thing’ starting today.” After all, “there will always be this next thing if you don’t make a conscious decision to get your life back together and be the one in charge.”

Advertising

  • Think about your current lifestyle and the person you’re at this stage to help you identify what you aren’t satisfied with.
  • By setting clear goals for yourself in the future, you will be able to overcome your addiction.
  • Establish realistic goals.
  • To combat addiction, you must be aware of what is going on around you, as well as inside your head, at any given time.
  • Don’t spend time with people who have unhealthy behaviors.
  • Hold yourself accountable.
  • Keep a journal and write out what you want to overcome.
  • Appreciate no longer being addicted to what’s next.

8. Simplify

Each day, pick one priority task. That’s it. As long as you concentrate on one task at a time, you will be less likely to get distracted or overwhelmed by an endless list of tasks. A simple mantra to live by is: work smarter, not harder.

The same is also accurate with productivity hacks and tools. Bullet journaling is a great example. Unfortunately, for many, a bullet journal is way more time-consuming and overwhelming than a traditional planner.

9. Learn How to Relax

“Sure, we need to produce sometimes, especially if we have to pay the bills, but, banning obsession with productivity is unhealthy,” writes Leo Babauta. “When you can’t get yourself to be productive, relax.” Don’t worry about being hyper-efficient. And, don’t beat yourself up about having fun.

“But what if you can’t motivate yourself … ever?” he asks. “Sure, that can be a problem. But if you relax and enjoy yourself, you’ll be happier.”

“And if you work when you get excited, on things you’re excited about, and create amazing things, that’s motivation,” Leo states. “Not forcing yourself to work when you don’t want to, on things you don’t want to work on — motivation is doing things you love when you get excited.”

But, how exactly can you relax? Here are some tips from Leo;

  • Spend 5 minutes walking outside and breathe in the fresh air.
  • Give yourself more time to accomplish things. Less rushing means less stress.
  • If you can, get outside after work to enjoy nature.
  • Play like a child. Even better? Play with your kids. And, have fun at work — maybe give gamification a try .
  • Take the day off, rest, and do something non-work-related.
  • Allow yourself an hour of time off. Try not to be productive during that time. Just relax.
  • You should work with someone who is exciting. Make your project exciting.
  • Don’t work in the evenings. Seriously.
  • Visit a massage therapist.
  • Just breathe.

“Step by step, learn to relax,” he suggests. “Learn that productivity isn’t everything.” For that statement, sorry Leo, I say productivity isn’t everything — it’s the only thing.” However, if you can’t cut loose, relax, do fun things, and do the living part of your life — you’ll crack in a big way — you really will.

It’s great to create and push forward — just remember it doesn’t mean that every minute must be spent working or obsessing over productivity issues. Instead, invest your time in meaningful, high-impact work, get into it, focus, put in big time and then relax.

Are You Addicted to Productivity? was originally published on Calendar by John Rampton.

Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

Advertising

Reference

Read Next