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7 Reasons Why Taking Notes Makes You More Productive

7 Reasons Why Taking Notes Makes You More Productive

If you can’t remember what you had for lunch two weeks ago, what makes you think you’re going to remember the most important points from your staff meeting, presentation or seminar? Taking notes gives you the opportunity to highlight key points and details that might otherwise slip your mind, and you never know when these fragments of knowledge will come in handy!

Tim Ferriss once quipped that he “takes notes like some people take drugs,” and even detailed his note-taking process on his blog. Taking notes not only helps you retain more information (I call the process “backing myself up”), but it’s also the key to boosting your productivity (as proven by Tim), both at work and at home. Here’s how:

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1. It relieves stress.

When your mind’s swarming with loose ends to tie, writing them down helps you reduce your cluttered thoughts, which reduces stress. It’s also a great way to set aside your overwhelm so that you can focus on the task at hand.

2. It helps keep your schedule in tact.

I’ve found that taking notes throughout my workday is the best way to stay focused on my to-do list. So many requests come to us from so many directions–emails, phone calls, text messages–that it becomes hard not to get sucked into the busy-but-not-productive whirlwind this creates. Before you know it, the day’s over and only a fraction of your to-do list is finished because you were too busy focusing on tasks that felt urgent, but really weren’t. I find that taking notes as new requests come in help me incorporate them into my future schedule without derailing my plans for that day.

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3. It is easy to convert your notes into a to-do list.

This is especially true during meetings and classes. Say you have a brainstorming session with co-workers or questions about a lecture you’re watching, so you write down what you need to follow up on afterward. The notes from your brainstorming session can be turned into a to-do list to make sure you accomplish what you need to after the meeting’s over, while your lecture notes give you a checklist to follow when filling in holes on what you’re learning.

4. You create quality reference materials.

If you want to become the best in your field, taking notes is your ticket to making it happen. As you build your career and keep track of what you’re learning, you’ll have easy access to your very own refresher courses.

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5. You can share your notes with co-workers and friends.

Quality notes not only help you build a strong arsenal of knowledge, but they can help make a difference in the lives of those you care about. If a new co-worker needs to get caught up on a project they’re working with you on, they can refer to your notes to catch up without feeling overwhelmed. If a friend misses class due to a family emergency, your notes can help them get back on track. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

6. It improves the quality of everything you do.

Whether you’re putting together a report for work or tweaking a recipe for your next social gathering, taking notes helps you improve every project, every hobby, and every event you participate in. It’s a detail-oriented way to process your learning experience, which eventually leads to expert status at work or satisfied guests at home.

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7. Taking notes makes you look good.

It shows you care and that you’re fully present during the learning process. Taking notes is a subtle action that reveals much about a person’s character: patience, determination, and attention to detail. It also shows you’re efficient and don’t allow what’s important to fall through the cracks.

How has taking notes improved your life?

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Krissy Brady

A women's health & wellness writer with a short-term goal to leave women feeling a little more empowered and a little less verklempt.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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