“Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,
And then thou must be damned perpetually.
Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven,
That time may cease, and midnight never come.”
Christopher Marlowe: Doctor Faustus
You’re on the beach of your dreams, under a sunset that flares with every color you can call to mind, plus a few you can’t even name. You’re listening to music that sets your body and soul tingling with pleasure. You’re making love with an intensity of feeling you never imagined could exist.
“All right, time’s up. Move along there now. Next one, please.”
“Your time is up. We haven’t got all day. You should have done all you need to do by now.”
“But . . .”
“No buts. If you can’t manage Nirvana-like ecstasy, plus a world-shaking orgasm, in three point five minutes, that’s your problem. I’ve got a universe to run here.”Advertising
Far-fetched? Not really. That’s where our world is headed. If it can’t be done in a few minutes or less, forget it. No time.
What do you need to slow down for?
I don’t advocate living more slowly for the sake of it. If you want to enjoy life, you need to go slow because that’s what it takes. Strip away enough time and, instead of the image I started this article with, you’re left with a picture on a calendar, a ring tone on your cellphone, and a quick fumble behind the door. The stuff of great experiences? I don’t think so.
Wine has to mature to become great. Cheese needs time to bring out the flavor. Gabble through the greatest poem at the speed of a sports commentator and you’ll be left with disappointment.Advertising
Why rush through life? Do you want it to be over so soon? Doesn’t it take time to appreciate its joys and experiences?
- Time to learn. Time is necessary to learn, to think, to reflect, and to internalize fresh ideas. The more you rush, the more you are forced to stick with what you already know.
- Time to think. Time to plan, to prioritize, and to choose how best to expend your attention and energy. Doing anything in haste increases the risks of missing key elements, making needless mistakes, and wasting effort.
- Time to enjoy. Rushing through an experience robs it of most of its value. Gobbling down a fine meal, leafing through a work of literature with more than half your mind elsewhere, allocating 10 seconds to see the sunset. You might as well not bother.
- Time for others. It’s not only unpleasant and callous to deny the people close to you your time and attention, it’s downright rude. Why do so many relationships break down nowadays? My bet is that those involved simply don’t allocate enough time to spend together, learning how to enjoy one another’s company.
- Time to be creative. You need time to reflect and see the links between items or areas of knowledge. The human brain doesn’t work well with disconnected ideas or pieces of information. In all those “gaps” where they appear to be doing nothing at all, the world’s outstanding creative minds are hard at work reflecting, ruminating, “noodling” with odd ideas—tinkering with patterns and unexpected connections. What you see as the result is a mental iceberg: nearly all the activity that brought it about is hidden below the surface.
- Time just to be. This is the only life you have. How much of it have you missed already because your attention and energy were elsewhere? How much will you still miss, because your days are so filled with activities that there’s no space left to just to live?
Money isn’t a substitute for time. However much you make, without time you can’t spend it or appreciate what you spent it on. Nor is wealth a substitute for love. And making more quick profits is definitely no substitute for true business success.
How much time do you really need?Advertising
How much of other people’s time are you worth? A few minutes? An hour? A day? A year? How long should they take to appreciate the full flavor of who you are as a colleague or a person? Would giving you less time than that mean they sold you short?
Fine, so that’s how much of their time you believe that you’re worth. Now, how much of your time should you give them?
Time is the magic ingredient. Take it away and what’s left is virtually worthless. Rushed, frantic living is no living at all.
Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life, and its companion site Slower Living. His recent articles on similar topics include Why a great deal of writing about work/life balance is sadly off the point and Counting your days: A cautionary tale and an idea to get life into perspective. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.
Last Updated on March 25, 2020
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’re focused 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?
Table of Contents
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- Why Successful People Take Notes And How to Make It Your Habit
- The Art of Note Taking in the Digital Age
- 7 Reasons Why Taking Notes Makes You More Productive
Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com