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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 October 22, 2020

      2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

      2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

      Good things come in twos: Peanut butter and jelly, Day and night, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The same is true for what sparks our creative energy: our thoughts and actions.

      Creativity is an inside job as much as it is about a conducive schedule, physical environment, and supportive behaviors. By establishing the right internal and external landscape, creativity can blossom from the abstract to the concrete and we can have fun along the way.

      Sparking creativity is all about setting up the right conditions so a spark is ignited and sustained. The sparks don’t fizzle out. They are allowed to grow and ripen.

      Think of a garden. Intention alone will not produce the delicious red tomato nor will the readiest seed. That seed needs attention at its nascent stage and as it grows a stalk and produces fruit. If we want to enjoy more than one fruit, we keep at it, cultivating the plant and reaping multiple harvests.

      Creativity lives in each of us like seeds in the earth or encapsulated in a nut. Seeds of ideas, concepts, designs, stories, images, and even ways of communicating that surprise and delight await activation.

      By sparking our creative energy, we activate these unique seeds. Like snowflakes, they are of a moment and always without a match. The smallest sparks encourage even the smallest, most dormant seeds to sprout.

      The good news is that our creative energy wishes to be sparked—to be invited to play. It wants to be our regular playmate.

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      1. Be Childlike in Your Thoughts, Attitudes, and Approach

      Being childlike in our thoughts, attitudes, and approach is an easy way to internally have our thoughts be gracious prolific gardeners to our creative energy. If we want it to come out and play and hang around as our regular companion, then let’s return to our 5-year-old selves.

      Our childhood selves are naturally curious. We still have that curiosity! All we have to do is remind ourselves to get curious. We can do that by simply observing and being with what is in front of us instead of making up a story about what won’t work or why something can’t be done. So, it’s about cultivating curiosity instead of jumping into judgment.

      Move Your Inner Judge to the Sidelines

      When we get curious, creativity percolates and, ultimately, takes its place in the world. To give a hand in choosing curiosity over judgment, we can move the judge that also lives inside us to the sidelines. The judge squashes our creative urges, even when they are as small as sharing a point of view. It’s that pesky voice that causes us to doubt ourselves or worry about what others will think.

      The judge is also risk-averse. The judge likes things to stay the same. Change makes the judge nervous.

      Creativity is all about risk and changing things up. It needs risk, even failure, to be its naturally innovative, dynamic, impactful self. The judge likes to convince us failure is something to be avoided at all costs.

      To move the judge to the sidelines and let curiosity reign, we can pay attention to who we are in conversation with and who is calling the shots.

      Is it the voice of fear, doubt, or anxiety (the inner-critic—the judge’s boss)? Or is it the voice of wisdom, courage, strength, and non-attachment, and of course curiosity (the inner-leader)?

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      We can easily tell the difference by how each makes us feel. The inner-critic depletes and slows us down, putting roadblocks in the way. The inner-leader energizes and a natural rhythm develops.

      It’s all about who we spend time with. If we wish to exercise, we will seek out our friends who go to the gym or hike. If we want to lose some weight, we will opt to eat dinner with someone who prefers a healthy spot over fast food.

      After getting curious, we can honor what our curiosity prompts us to do. The spark can do its job and a fire starts to glow when commitment enters. Our childhood selves were fully committed to being creative. That level of commitment is still something we are very capable of exercising!!

      Again, we need to let go of the judge. We can ask ourselves, what do we want to commit to—negativity that depletes our creative energy, depth, and output, or the understanding that our thoughts and attitudes matter and that right thoughts and attitudes are the sparks that really let our creativity come alive?

      Learn to Recall Your Childhood Self

      To get in touch with that unabashedly committed childhood self, recall your childhood self. If you have a picture, pull one out. Keep it around so you can remember to activate that innate creative nature that was prominent then and wants to be prominent now and always.

      Soak in the essence of that being. Commit to their commitment to brave and dogged trial and error because it is yours as well. You are that person.

      Remember how tenacious you were when you wanted to build that sandcastle. You kept at it as the waves came in. You built with fury or reconfigured the walls. Also, remember that there was a willingness to fail since you were as invested in the process as well as the outcome—but less with the outcome. You were willing to experiment and start again. There was vitality—the main lifeline of your creative energy—instead of a rigid attachment.

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      When you notice you are in conversation with your inner-critic or being held back by it, simply acknowledge, name it, and then switch to your inner-leader by taking a few good deep belly breaths, rubbing two fingertips together, or listening to ambient sounds in the background.

      Physical movements shift our negative thoughts over to the positive domain of the inner-leader. As our judge continues to sit on the sidelines, our ability to quiet the inner-critic becomes stronger. We taste freedom. A simple taste emboldens us to say no again to the judge and yes to what makes our hearts and spirits sing—our creativity.

      We begin to spark creativity to the point it no longer needs to be invited to play. It becomes our regular playmate—the younger sibling or the kid next door ready to have some fun, maybe even make some mischief by shaking things up.

      When we align with our inner-leader and think and act from its promptings, creativity flows up and out with ease, as it needs to!

      Letting those initial sparks generate a creativity fire that keeps burning is something we can all do! That’s the inside job.

      2. Listen to Your Inner Leaders of Creative Energy

      If we listen, our inner-leaders will let us know just what we need to set-up and do in our physical world to maximize that gorgeous, hungry creativity we now have flowing freely in us.

      The seed has been unlocked! So, now what?

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      To enable our creative energy to take its form and place outside of us, there needs to be spaciousness! Spaciousness in our physical worlds impacts our internal one. It lets the voice of the inner-leader be heard. It lets creativity have room to be sparked and acted upon.

      With a little discipline, we can easily create spaciousness in our daily lives—spaciousness that will spark our creativity and let it take shape.

      So, no matter who you are and what conditions help your creativity thrive, check-out these easy-to-implement basic suggestions:

      • Reduce or eliminate multi-tasking.
      • Say yes to what matters and what aligns with your big values and goals.
      • Say no to all else.
      • Say no again.
      • Schedule time in your calendar as you do with other things in your life to just be, to ponder, to let ideas percolate, and to create.
      • Spend time doing the things that bring out your creative energy. It could be walking, singing, or simply looking out the window.
      • Meditate.
      • Breathe—long breaths in and long breaths out through the nose.
      • Invite your body and heart into your experiences so your mind is a part of you and not all of you.
      • Try a new thing to spark your creativity. If you spend time running, try a different route. If running feels stale, cruise around a museum, or go for a bike ride.
      • Play a game. Indoors out or outside. Think of what makes you happy that you haven’t done in a while. Is it a physical game like badminton or cards? Maybe it’s storytelling? Play is creative, and it sparks the creative energy, too.
      • Spend time in the places that bring out your creativity. What spot in your home could be your spot for entering into that mode? Do you need to get out? Maybe a park bench is the right spot, with a book of poetry, or even nothing at all.
      • Spend time in nature. Nature brings us to a place of calm and awe and through that our creativity is easily sparked.

      Final Thoughts

      These are all habits—habits of mind and habits of doing. Experiment with what works for you. Have fun. If you give even 50% to altering your thoughts and actions, then you will begin to spark your creativity. It takes a lot of curiosity and commitment, but it can definitely be done.

      Our innate creative energy is a deep source of all that we seek—joy, connection, renewal. It deserves and looks forward to the changes you will make that will let sparks fly and ignite!

      More Tips to Spark Your Creative Energy

      Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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