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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes effectively.

I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

And if you focus on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

What to Write Down

Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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1. Dates of Events

Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

2. Names of People

Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

3. Theories or Frameworks

Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

4. Definitions

Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

5. Arguments and Debates

Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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6. Images

Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

7. Other Stuff

Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

8. Your Own Questions

Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

1. Outlining

Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

2. Mind-Mapping

For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

Here’s the idea:

In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

3. The Cornell System

The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.[1]

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About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

The Bottom Line

I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

More Note-Taking Tips

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Cornell University: The Cornell Note Taking System

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Published on April 13, 2021

How To Find Motivation To Learn Anything Outside of Comfort Zone

How To Find Motivation To Learn Anything Outside of Comfort Zone

One of the best ways that we can make sure that we grow and develop as people is to keep learning as much as we can. Learning teaches us some new knowledge and new skills, and it also keeps our brains alert and active. Learning is great, but sometimes you can lose the motivation to get on and study. This can be all the harder if you learn something outside of your comfort zone or something that you wouldn’t usually think to learn.

The important thing to remember when it comes to learning, whether within or outside of your comfort zone, is that motivation is yours to find. But how do you get the motivation to learn?

Here are 10 ways to help you find the motivation to learn anything outside of your comfort zone.

1. Find Out Why You Are Procrastinating

Procrastination is one of the biggest reasons why people don’t have the motivation to learn. So, working out why you are procrastinating and putting your learning off is one of the first steps to finding your inspiration.

There are a variety of reasons why you may be placing it on the back burner. Here are some examples:

  • You are worried that you are going to fail.
  • You are finding the learning boring.
  • You are waiting for the perfect time to start.
  • You are feeling overwhelmed.
  • You are not sure where to start.

Once you know the reasons why you lack motivation, you can start to work on fixing it and getting back out there.

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2. Find Out Why You Are Doing It

As well as finding out the reasons why you keep procrastinating when it comes to your learning, you also need to remind yourself why you are doing it in the first place. Having this end goal in mind can be all the motivation that you need to get there in the end.

Everyone has their own reasons for wanting to learn, and you cannot say that yours is the same as someone else’s. This means that you need to think about what matters most to you.

It could be simply to develop yourself, it could be to take the next step on the career ladder, or it could be to retrain and be something else totally. No matter what reason you have for learning, finding out why you are doing it can motivate learning that you may find you need, helping you to get where you want to go.

3. Break It Down

Sometimes, you may lack motivation because you feel overwhelmed by how much you need to do. It may sound obvious, but one of the best things you can do is break down the material into more manageable chunks.

Think about how much realistically you can fit into one chunk and then assign a period to it. This could be one day or one week, depending on your end deadline. Once you break it down, you will see that it is not as daunting as you were worried that it would be and that you can get it done.

The important thing to remember is that you are in control of your chunks, which means you can decide how big they are and how often you focus on them.

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4. Choose a Reward

We are simple creatures by nature, and when we feel that we have done well, we will want some kind of reward. It doesn’t matter what the task is or what we want to do, if we reward ourselves, we will be much more inclined to try harder next time. This can help us to greatly improve our motivation to learn.

The reward doesn’t have to be anything huge. Sometimes, it can just be your favorite chocolate bar, some free time to read a book, or perhaps even a short session to soak in a nice hot bath. Whatever it is, you will want to try hard if you know something positive is in the future.

5. Stick to a Routine

The idea of sticking to a routine might not sound like an exciting way to get you motivated to learn, but the truth is that having a pattern can actually be one of the most valuable approaches to take.

The thing about routines is that they are something that we can get used to. When you do the same thing and the same kind of time or in the same order, then you will start to think of it as a habit that you do rather than something that you need to put a whole lot of thought into. While you need to focus on your learning, not having to think about the task at hand means that you won’t need to find excuses not to do it.

6. Seek to Understand, Not Just Memorize

When it comes to learning, most of the time, you will feel somewhat like a sponge, trying to soak all the knowledge up and keep it in your brain. Of course, this is in part true, but you must try your very best always to understand what you are learning.

Not only will this help you to succeed in your learning, but it can also help you focus if you are trying to make sense of the topic, rather than just reading through it and trying to memorize it. You will find it much more interesting, which, in turn, helps you stay motivated and push towards your end goal.

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7. Keep It Short and Sweet

The chances are, you are going to find it hard-going to study for long periods of time, especially if you have lots of other things in your life to focus on. This means that one of the best things that you can do to maintain motivation for learning is to keep it short and sweet.

When you study in a short burst, you will be allowing your mind to focus on that task and then have a break. This will help you stay motivated, and you can have multiple shorter bursts of learning but spread them out throughout the day.

8. Realize That You Can’t Stay Motivated All the Time

While you should do whatever you can to stay motivated, you also need to remember that sometimes, you are just not going to feel it. No one—not even the most successful people out there—will feel motivated all of the time. This doesn’t mean that they are any less dedicated to whatever they want to do or that they stand less of a chance to get there.

When you recognize that it is okay not to be motivated all the time, you can start to understand what you can do to get that motivation back and drive yourself forward.

9. Study With Someone

You may find that being lonely and studying alone is what is behind your lack of motivation to learn. We are social beings, which means that we need to be around others to feel the best.

This is not only in friendships but also in learning. Having someone else to study with makes you feel much more motivated for learning. Not only will you look forward to your time together, but you can also bounce ideas off of one another. You will also feel somewhat obliged to study with them, which means you will want to learn and want to find out as much as possible.

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10. Look After Yourself

When you want your brain to work the best that it can, you will need to make sure that you are taking proper care of it. Looking after yourself may sound like the simplest thing, but it can be really worthwhile.

When you look after yourself, you are thinking about your mental health, physical health, and any relationship issues you may have. There are so many ways you can take care of yourself, and you should know some of the basics if you want to focus on your extra work.

The main things that you need to remember to do are to eat well and drink plenty of water and other hydrating drinks. You also need to stay active and exercise as much as you can as being active is known to really positively impact how well you focus.[1]

You also need to make sure that you are sleeping as much as possible because tiredness never goes well with learning. It can make you feel sluggish and lose concentration.

Final Thoughts

It really is down to you to find your own motivation to learn. So, what are you waiting for?

Think about what you are studying, how much time you have, and how you can make things that little bit easier to manage. Then, you can start to ensure that you reach those end goals, whatever they are.

More Tips on How to Find Motivation to Learn

Featured photo credit: Chris Benson via unsplash.com

Reference

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