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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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      Last Updated on August 16, 2018

      16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

      16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

      The same old motivational secrets don’t really motivate you after you’ve read them for the tenth time, do they?

      How about a unique spin on things?

      These 16 productivity secrets of successful people will make you reevaluate your approach to your home, work, and creative lives. Learn from these highly successful people, turn these little things they do into your daily habits and you’ll get closer to success.

      1. Empty your mind.

      It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it?

      Emptying your mind when you have so much to remember seems like you’re just begging to forget something. Instead, this gives you a clean slate so you’re not still thinking about last week’s tasks.

      Clear your mind and then start thinking only about what you need to do immediately, and then today. Tasks that need to be accomplished later in the week can wait.

      Here’s a guide to help you empty your mind and think sharper:

      How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster

      2. Keep certain days clear.

      Some companies are scheduling “No Meeting Wednesdays,” which means, funnily enough, that no one can hold a meeting on a Wednesday. This gives workers a full day to work on their own tasks, without getting sidetracked by other duties or pointless meetings.

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      This can work in your personal life too, for example if you need to restrict Facebook access or limit phone calls.

      3. Prioritize your work.

      Don’t think every task is created equal! Some tasks aren’t as important as others, or might take less time.

      Try to sort your tasks every day and see what can be done quickly and efficiently. Get these out of the way so you have more free time and brain power to focus on what is more important.

      Lifehack’s CEO has a unique way to prioritize works, take a look at it here:

      How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

      4. Chop up your time.

      Many successful business leaders chop their time up into fifteen-minute intervals. This means they work on tasks for a quarter of an hour at a time, or schedule meetings for only fifteen minutes. It makes each hour seem four times as long, which leads to more productivity!

      5. Have a thinking position.

      Truman Capote claimed he couldn’t think unless he was laying down. Proust did this as well, while Stravinsky would stand on his head!

      What works for others may not work for you. Try to find a spot and position that is perfect for you to brainstorm or come up with ideas.

      6. Pick three to five things you must do that day.

      To Do lists can get overwhelming very quickly. Instead of making a never-ending list of everything you can think of that needs to be done, make daily lists that include just three to five things.

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      Make sure they’re things that need to be done that day, so you don’t keep putting them off.

      7. Don’t try to do too much.

      OK, so I just told you to work every day, and now I’m telling you to not do too much? It might sound like conflicting advice, but not doing too much means not biting off more than you can chew. Don’t say yes to every work project or social engagement and find yourself in way over your head.

      8. Have a daily action plan.

      Don’t limit yourself to a to-do list! Take ten minutes every morning to map out a daily action plan. It’s a place to not only write what needs to be done that day, but also to prioritize what will bring the biggest reward, what will take the longest, and what goals will be accomplished.

      Leave room for a “brain dump,” where you can scribble down anything else that’s on your mind.

      9. Do your most dreaded project first.

      Getting your most dreaded task over with first means you’ll have the rest of the day free for anything and everything else. This also means that you won’t be constantly putting off the worst of your projects, making it even harder to start on it later.

      10. Follow the “Two-Minute Rule.”

      The “Two-Minute Rule” was made famous by David Allen. It’s simple – if a new task comes in and it can be done in two minutes or less, do it right then. Putting it off just adds to your to-do list and will make the task seem more monumental later.

      11. Have a place devoted to work.

      If you work in an office, it’s no problem to say that your cubicle desk is where you work every day.

      But if you work from home, make sure you have a certain area specifically for work. You don’t want files spread out all over the dinner table, and you don’t want to feel like you’re not working just because you’re relaxing on the couch.

      Agatha Christie never wrote at her desk, she wrote wherever she could sit down. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Thomas Wolfe, at 6’6″ tall, used the top of his refrigerator as a desk. Richard Wright wrote on a park bench, rain or shine.

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      Have a space where, when you go there, you know you’re going to work. Maybe it’s a cafe downstairs, the library, or a meeting room. Whenever and wherever works for you, do your works there.

      12. Find your golden hour.

      You don’t have to stick to a “typical” 9–5 schedule!

      Novelist Anne Rice slept during the day and wrote at night to avoid distractions. Writer Jerzy Kosinski slept eight hours a day, but never all at once. He’d wake in the morning, work, sleep four hours in the afternoon, then work more that evening.

      Your golden hour is the time when you’re at your peak. You’re alert, ready to be productive, and intent on crossing things off your to-do list.

      Once you find your best time, protect it with all your might. Make sure you’re always free to do your best uninterrupted work at this time.

      13. Pretend you’re on an airplane.

      It might not be possible to lock everyone out of your office to get some peace and quiet, but you can eliminate some distractions.

      By pretending you’re on an airplane, you can act like your internet access is limited, you’re not able to get something from your bookcase, and you can’t make countless phone calls.

      Eliminating these distractions will help you focus on your most important tasks and get them done without interruption.

      14. Never stop.

      Writers Anthony Trollope and Henry James started writing their next books as soon as they finished their current work in progress.

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      Stephen King writes every day of the year, and holds himself accountable for 2,000 words a day! Mark Twain wrote every day, and then read his day’s work aloud to his family to get their feedback.

      There’s something to be said about working nonstop, and putting out continuous work instead of taking a break. It’s just a momentum that will push you go further./

      15. Be in tune with your body.

      Your mind and body will get tired of a task after ninety minutes to two hours focused on it. Keep this in mind as you assign projects to yourself throughout the day, and take breaks to ensure that you won’t get burned out.

      16. Try different methods.

      Vladimir Nabokov wrote the first drafts of his novels on index cards. This made it easy to rearrange sentences, paragraphs, and chapters by shuffling the cards around.

      It does sound easier, and more fun, than copying and pasting in Word! Once Nabokov liked the arrangement, his wife typed them into a single manuscript.

      Same for you, don’t give up and think that it’s impossible for you to be productive when one method fails. Try different methods until you find what works perfectly for you.

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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