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6 Steps to Effective Notes

6 Steps to Effective Notes

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    When I’m reading a book, I usually wind up taking quite a few notes. I keep track of ideas I want to follow up on, topics I want to read further about and even the occasional quote that seems just perfect for a project. I know my note-taking may be on overdrive — I’m usually reading for information on a specific topic that I’m writing about — but over the years, I’ve found some tricks to make the process a lot smoother.

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    I also asked around to find out how others take notes — how people keep track of information that they can’t just copy and paste into a handy text file for later. While there’s a lot of variation in the mechanics of the note taking process, there are some tricks that seem to work no matter what approach you take for information gathering.

    1. Keep your notes with your books

    No matter what you’re taking notes on, it should be easy to carry with your reading material. I prefer small notebooks that I can actually slide inside a book, but there are plenty of other options:

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    • A notecard or other piece of paper that can double as a bookmark
    • Post-it notes
    • Writing directly in the book (unless the book does not belong to you or you have a librarian in your family)

    More than once, I’ve been reading without anything around to take notes on. It’s easy to assume that you won’t forget an important idea — but that’s rarely true.

    2. Separate out your notes

    In my experience, most notes can be divided between action items and details you want to retain. While reviewing your notes will come in handy when you’re looking for a particular piece of information, it’s not particularly useful to have to re-write your notes in order to sort out actions you need to take. Instead, it’s more effective to clearly differentiate between the two from the start. The simplest approach is to just divide your notes in half: one side is for details and the other is for actions. If you’ve taken to writing in books or otherwise can’t divide your paper, the standard approach seems to be switching between different colored pens or highlighters — personally, I feel that adds a lot more work to taking notes, though. That’s one of the reasons I like notebooks so much: I use one page for details and the facing page for the steps I need to take.

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    3. Standardize your acronyms and short-hand

    I can’t even begin to count the amount of time I’ve spent trying to translate some abbreviated notes that I scribbled down with the assumption that I would still know what ‘A.’ stood for a month later. If you’re considering using an acronym or abbreviation that isn’t in common use, it may be worth reconsidering. I do make an exception for personal abbreviations: over the course of a project, it’s easy to create a sort of standardized abbreviations that only make sense within the context of that project. If you’ve really gotten used to that particular set of abbreviations, you stand a much better chance of using them in your notes and remembering their meanings.

    4. Your notes need to be legible, not perfect

    I’ve been showing my mother some tricks to promote her website, and we’ve fallen into a pattern: as we talk, she writes everything out on note cards. Then, later, she reviews the material, neatly transcribing it into a Moleskine she has dedicated to the process. Her notebook is perfect, filled with beautiful handwriting — but it’s also a very time-consuming approach. If you can read your notes and understand them, it’s okay to have somewhat messy notes. After all, you’re probably the only one who will ever see them.

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    5. Set aside time to process your notes

    Writing down all the next steps you want to take from all your reading is great, but they won’t ever get done unless you can get them out of your notes and in to whatever to do list or task management system you rely on. And if you plan to do anything with the detail-oriented notes you’ve taken, it’s important to get those into a format you can work with. If, for instance, you were writing up a blog post, I’d suggest typing up all the quotes that you plan to use from the book in question before you even start writing the post. Processing your notes generally not too big of a project to handle, as long as you can process the notes from the full book in one go.

    6. Stick with a system

    Whether you’re the type that relies on all the different colors of Post-it notes out there or you’re slowly codifying every book you read into your Moleskine, the important thing is to have a system and stick with it. As long as your notes look generally the same, you’ll be able to go back through them and find specific details much faster. You’ll also find that you’re better equipped to concentrate on the material in the book if you’re not worried about what color you need to write a particular phrase in for this particular project. You don’t have to adhere to the exact same steps of note-taking for each book you read, but having a general format and process to follow can make all the difference in how long it takes you to get through a book and how valuable your notes are after the fact.

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    Last Updated on May 20, 2020

    What Are Analytical Skills (And How to Strengthen Them For Success)

    What Are Analytical Skills (And How to Strengthen Them For Success)

    Everybody makes bad decisions. Some people, however, are more capable of making better decisions that inch them closer to success.

    These individuals are not ruled by emotions, desires, or hunches. Rather, they depend on their analytical skills to overcome challenges regardless of urgency or complexity.

    What Are Analytical Skills?

    According to Richards J. Heuer Jr., a former veteran of the CIA,[1]

    “Thinking analytically is a skill like carpentry or driving a car. It can be taught, it can be learned, and it can improve with practice. But unlike other skills, it is not learned by sitting in a classroom and being told how to do it. Analysts learn by doing.”

    Analytical skills can be considered as one of the critical life skills that are not taught in schools. It comprises of visualization, critical thinking, and abilities for gathering and processing information.

    Here’s a closer look at some of these abilities:

    Visualization

    Also tied to a person’s creativity, visualization is the ability to predict the possible outcomes of strategies and actions. In a professional setting, visualization involves the analysis of data – often through illustrations like charts, graphs, and detailed lists.

    Critical Thinking

    Simply put, a person’s ability to think critically can be measured by his or her consistency in creating reasonable decisions. It pertains to the ability to evaluate information, siphon what’s useful, and draw conclusions without being swayed by emotions.

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    As a critical thinker, you’ll find yourself challenging assertions and finding loopholes in proposed solutions.

    Computing

    Whether you like it or not, you need to be comfortable with numbers if you want to sharpen your analytical skills. Bear in mind that computing encompasses other skills like cost analysis, budgeting, and performing general calculations.

    In business, you need to use computations when weighing the risks and benefits of any given strategy.

    Problem-Solving

    Remember that analytical skills are used not just to understand problems, but also to develop the most suitable course or courses of action. This relates to your goal-setting skills, which involve breaking down and prioritizing between objectives.

    Resource Management

    Lastly, analytical skills involve some degree of resource management depending on the task at hand.

    For example, professionals with a tight schedule must know how to effectively manage their own time – also known as one of the most important resources in the world.

    Business leaders, on the other hand, must know how to manage company resources, including cash and manpower. Take note that the definition of analytical skills may change to match the requirements of a specific situation.

    For example, upon hiring a web developer, analytical skills may refer to the ability to determine the needs of online users, understand web analytics for optimization, and identify visual elements that can match a company’s brand.

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    The skillset above, however, should be applicable in most if not all scenarios.

    Develop Your Analytical Skills for More Growth Opportunities

    There’s no question that the right decisions lead to positive results. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a business or simply trying to climb the corporate ladder. By training your analytical skills, you position yourself for more growth opportunities while staying away from negligible actions you will regret.

    For example, you plan to launch a new startup in your local community – but struggle to decide the niche you want to enter. Since you’ve been a technophile your whole life, part of you desires to invest in a gadget store. If you’re passionate about your business, success will come – right?

    If you have sharp analytical skills, you begin to see your plans in whole new dimensions.

    What are the possible outcomes of this venture? Does the local market have a need for a new gadget store? How much do I need to get started – and how much should I sell to make a profit?

    Depending on your findings, you can determine the feasibility of your business idea without letting your emotions get in the way.

    6 Ways to Strengthen Your Analytical Skills

    There are several approaches when it comes to developing an individual’s analytical skills. For instance, psychologists agree that reading fantasy stories as a child can help sharpen critical thinking.[2]

    Research also suggests that undergoing traditional education has a positive effect on a person’s IQ and analytical skills.[3]

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    But as an adult, such opportunities to hone your analytical skills no longer apply. That’s why you need to devise a more deliberate, active approach yourself.

    Below are a few strategies to get you started:

    1. Ideate Business Ideas

    Developing a profitable business idea, whether you pursue them or not, involves numerous challenges. You need a ton of research, computations, and problem-solving to create a tangible business plan.

    You can organize your ideas with a note-taking tool like Microsoft OneNote or Evernote. Doing so will allow you to delve deeper into your analysis, organize your findings, and stay focused on roadblocks as well as how to solve them.

    2. Leverage Analytical Tools

    Aside from note-taking tools, you can also leverage other software that can help with analytical tasks. A money management app like Mint, for example, makes it easy to track your spending habits as well as manage your budget with visual tools. When it comes to prioritizing goals, you can use simple task management apps like Trello or Wunderlist.

    3. Have a Personal Learning Library

    Thanks to the internet, there’s a colossal amount of resources you can utilize to learn new skills, expand your vocabulary, and train your visualization muscles.

    Social media networks like SlideShare and YouTube, for example, offer mountains of tutorials you can access to your heart’s content.

    For a personalized learning library, you can download Instagram videos or GIFs from educational accounts like NASA Goddard and the American Mathematical Society. But if you prefer specific, technical skills, then a good place to start would be online learning platforms like Coursera, edX, and Alison.

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    4. Participate in Online Communities

    The internet is a great place to share experiences, opinions, and sometimes intellectual discussions with like-minded individuals. Reddit, for example, has a place or “subreddit” dedicated for every topic imaginable – from technology to entrepreneurship.

    For structured debates, you can head to websites like Debate.org and let other users choose the winner via votes.

    5. Seek Mental Stimulation

    To keep your mind sharp, make it a habit to engage in mentally stimulating activities, such as chess, puzzles, and brain training apps. A great resource would be Lumosity, which contains dozens of cognitive games designed by teams of scientists and game designers.

    6. Keep a Personal Journal

    Finally, keeping a personal journal allows you to take a second look at everything that happened in your day.

    Remember that writing about learning experiences lets you focus on the lesson rather than the emotion. It will help you analyze how you made your decisions, why you came to certain conclusions, and what you can do to improve in the future.

    Here’s How to Create a Habit of Writing in a Journal.

    Bottom Line

    As an adult, you are required to face a myriad of challenges on a daily basis. Work, school, business, relationships – the list goes on when it comes to the sources of life’s problems. With analytical skills, you can confront and overcome any obstacle standing between you and your goals.

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    Featured photo credit: Campaign Creators via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] M. S. Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences: Analytical Thinking?
    [2] KD Novelties: Why You Should Read Classic Tales to Your Children
    [3] Economic Inquiry: The Effect of Education on Cognitive Ability

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