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5 Tips for Effective Digital Note Taking

5 Tips for Effective Digital Note Taking

    Being a full time student, working two part time jobs, being married, and doing some writing and development on the side proves to be daunting. With my discovery of GTD a few years back I was like everyone else; enamored with the idea of getting things off their mind to then produce better and more effectively. I instantly grabbed onto the practice of “ubiquitous capture” by taking notes so I wouldn’t let as many things fall through the cracks.

    At first I just used a junky old notebook and a crappy Bic pen. I slowly improved my tools as any good, geeky GTD student would. But it wasn’t until I switched over to a full digital work-flow that I started to see real benefits with the use of my system. I am in a very technical field at work and technical major at school; computers and devices are around me all day long. It only made sense to capture and process thoughts and actions digitally as it was faster and more “iron-clad” for me.

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    Here are 5 tips on on digital note taking as well some of the pitfalls to look out for.

    Make sure to stay engaged

    There is absolutely nothing more annoying that someone click-clacking their way away on a keyboard or iPhone when you are trying to have a conversation with them, regardless if they are actually taking notes or not.

    If you are a very fast typer, maybe around 50+ WPM it is a good practice to listen to what someone is saying then jot down a sentence or two to summarize it. Or, if you are in a meeting you could always say, “one second while I get this down so I don’t forget.” The idea is to capture what you need without constantly looking at your screen or phone and not paying attention.

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    Edit and consolidate

    One of the biggest things that I noticed from taking extensive school notes was that a lot of the stuff was pure garbage. I would say that out of typing through a whole 55 minute lecture, I had about a couple of pages of text that was extremely out of order and mostly indecipherable. After taking a look through each class’s notes I soon realized that I have about a half a page of bullet points that were really important and all the rest was considered details and reference.

    Now, I wouldn’t say delete everything that isn’t the main points of what you captured, but I would say to consolidate your notes. One good way of doing this is to summarize your notes from a meeting and then take the original junk that you typed down and save it in a “repository” of some kind just in case there was a minor detail you actually did need later.

    Make them available from anywhere

    I am a very mobile person and because of that I need a way to input notes and access them from anywhere I have an Internet connection or device. My tools of choice that make this happen include Springpad, Evernote, and Simplenote. I won’t go into which one I think is better; the important thing is that you can reach them from anywhere and all of them are decently reliable and extremely useful.

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      Put a voice to your notes

      Something that I have found to be game-changing when it comes to capturing information is recording a lecture or meeting while taking notes. There are several ways that you can do this, but what I have adopted is the Livescribe pen and paper so I can write naturally, record audio with my writing, and still have digital notes that can (somewhat) easily be transformed to text. You can of course use tools like OneNote for Windows and Circus Ponies NoteBook for Mac to record and type at the same time.

      Have you ever had a note you took during a meeting that didn’t make a lick of sense? I know I have. Yet, when recording audio and locking it up to your notes you can refer back to what was being said around the moment you were capturing it. This helps clarify and make your notes come “alive”. Of course, you definitely want to tell your colleagues that you are recording them before hand, that is unless you are looking for someone to sue you.

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      Choose a tool and stick to it

      The biggest tip, and this goes with everything that is related to personal productivity systems; find a tool you love, one that works well for you, and stick to it. I am Captain Fiddly when it comes to list making, project tracking, note-taking, and productivity software. About a year and a half ago I gave up on googling “best note-taking tools” and “best online GTD systems” and just stuck with what I had and what worked well enough for me.

      If you have a productivity system itch like I do, pick something simple like Simplenote or if you want a little more power, Evernote or Springpad and devote 30 days to that tool. I guarantee after 30 days that “itch” will go away and you can concentrate more on getting things done rather than finding the best new note tool that doesn’t exist.

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      CM Smith

      A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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      Last Updated on April 19, 2021

      The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

      The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

      Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

      The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

      Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

      In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

      When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

      Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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      1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

      When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

      As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

      That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

      The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

      What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

      Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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      There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

      So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

      2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

      When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

      No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

      3. Move Your Body

      A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

      It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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      So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

      4. Connect With Another Person

      Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

      One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

      Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

      5. Use Your Imagination

      When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

      That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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      And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

      Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

      Final Thoughts

      Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

      Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

      More on the Importance of Taking a Break

      Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

      Reference

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