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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 October 9, 2018

    19 Ways to Improve Creative Thinking Skills in the Workplace

    19 Ways to Improve Creative Thinking Skills in the Workplace

    Our world is changing at faster pace than ever. In order to keep up, we are continually adapting to new technology and the changing industries.

    Employers are looking for employees who can solve problems, think creatively and be a leader in every situation.

    These 19 tips will help you find ways to improve creative thinking skills. You can also use these skills to gain credibility as a leader in the workplace:

    1. Set limitations

    In order to increase your own creative thinking, it helps to set limits for yourself, so you have to think outside the box to come up with solutions.

    Set deadlines, budgets or any other type of limitation to increase your creative problem solving. This will build your credibility as a creative problem solver as you come up with innovative solutions.

    2. Change things up

    If you find yourself falling into a rut and doing the same thing every single day, then you will likely struggle to come up with new ideas. This is why it is important to change things up in your routine and break out of your rut.

    Get your creative juices flowing by exercising at a different time, or trying something new for lunch. Move your desk to a different position or change your personal workspace.

    Any of these changes will help spark your mind and get the new ideas pumping again.

    3. Listen and care about others

    When you show that you care about others and listen to their ideas and thoughts, they will trust you more.

    “Leaders who listen are able to create trustworthy relationships that are transparent and breed loyalty. You know the leaders who have their employees’ best interests at heart because they truly listen to them.” — Glenn Llopis

    Listening to your coworkers allows them to be more open with you and feel that they can take risks and be creative.

    Discussing ideas with your coworkers will not only help you improve creative thinking techniques, but also set the environment for a more creative office.

    4. Find good mentors/critics

    If you want your creative work to improve, then you need to find a good mentor or critic who can give you positive feedback and help you to keep moving forward.

    As your work improves over time because of your dedication and your mentor, people will hold you in greater respect.

    Every type of creative work takes several drafts before it is ready to go. With your mentors, you can find ways to continually improve your work. Ed Catmull, president of Pixar said:[1]

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    “Early on, all of our movies suck. That’s a blunt assessment, I know, but I… choose that phrasing because saying it in a softer way fails to convey how bad the first versions of our films really are. I’m not trying to be modest or self-effacing by saying this. Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them go… from suck to non-suck. We are true believers in the iterative process – reworking, reworking and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its throughline or a hollow character finds its soul.”

    Use your mentor’s knowledge to bring your first drafts to life.

    5. Try and fail, a lot

    The best way to get better at things is to keep trying and failing until you improve. This enhances your creative thinking and shows your coworkers that you don’t give up easily and are willing to improve.

    The ability to take failure and turn it around is one of the best qualities of any leader.

    The Harvard Business Review reported:[2]

    “Darden Professor Saras Sarasvathy has shown through her research about how expert entrepreneurs make decisions, they must make lots of mistakes to discover new approaches, opportunities, or business models. She frequently references Howard Schultz who, when he started Il Giornale in Seattle, the company that Schultz used to later buy the original Starbucks brand and assets, the store had nonstop opera music playing, menus written in Italian, and no chairs. As Schultz has often said, “We had to make a lot of mistakes” before discovering a model that worked.”

    6. Be consistent (no tortured artists here)

    When you think of creativity, an image of a broken-hearted artist or alcoholic writer may come to mind. Many people today associate creativity with isolation, despair, alcohol and inconsistency.

    Just picture Jay Gatsby.

    While that is good for drama, that’s not really how creativity works. Creativity is fostered through consistent effort. Put in the work everyday and you will find your creative muscles and credibility will grow.

    As a leader in your workplace, you need to show consistency in everything you do, not just your own work, but throughout the company to build your business’s credibility.

    7. Be honest to yourself and others

    Acting dishonestly is one of the fastest ways for you to lose your credibility. Always be honest to the people around you and to yourself.

    If your coworkers feel that they can trust you, then they rely on you more and work with you better. Honesty is what builds a solid foundation for a successful workplace.[3]

    During the creative process, it is important to be honest to yourself. It’s easy to get carried away with fantastic ideas but you will need to learn to be honest with yourself about what is and is not possible.

    8. Collaborate

    The best work usually comes from teamwork. Katherine W. Phillips said,[4]

    “The fact is that if you want to build teams or organizations capable of innovating, you need diversity. Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving.”

    Show your coworkers that you value their efforts and perspective. By working together, you can create new ideas and make something better than you ever have before.

    Collaborating will not only improve your own creative thinking but will create a bond between you and your team.

    9. Use humor

    As a leader, you want your coworkers to feel comfortable to be creative and open-minded.

    Humor has been proven to help people to relax and feel more willing to try something new and helps foster creativity.[5]

    To improve your own credibility and help others gain confidence in their own creative thinking, use an appropriate sense of humor to lighten the mood when needed and to get those creative juices flowing.

    10. Be vulnerable

    This goes along with being honest with yourself and others. To be a creative thinker, then you have to be willing to fail, admit your failures and be open to receiving critique.

    This can be difficult especially in a workplace where you want to show your strengths instead of weaknesses, but by admitting yo ur weaknesses and being open to others, your credibility will grow as your coworkers know that you listen and are adaptable.

    Take a look at this article to find out Why Showing Vulnerability Actually Proves Your Strength.

    11. Have meaningful conversations

    Creative people love to have meaningful conversations. This is the best way to gain a new perspective.

    You have had a certain amount of experiences that have shaped the way that you see the world. But everyone around you may have different perspectives. By engaging with these people, you can learn more about their views. Try to walk in their shoes and understand their perspectives, especially if you disagree.

    Steer clear of shallow small talk and discuss bigger and more meaningful topics with those around you. Ask about their experiences, their hopes, their opinions and you will gain new perspectives that will assist your creative thinking.

    12. Be constantly learning new things

    Some of the greatest minds in the world (Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Mark Zuckerburg) have said they dedicate at least five hours every week to learning new things.

    They are passionate about growing their minds and learn about everything from nuclear physics to politics. As they learn about different topics, they look for ways to apply what they have learned to their own industry.

    Start your own educational journey today by finding some books you would like to read or finding high-quality articles online about each topic.

    Keep in mind your own industry and how you can apply what you learn to your job. You never know all the different ways astronomy can help your marketing efforts.

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    13. Experience it all

    Steve Jobs once said that creativity comes from experience.[6] The more experiences you have, the better connections you will be able to make to find solutions.

    Try to experience as many things as possible. You don’t have to go on some huge trip around the world to have more experience; simply meeting new people and trying new things will give you more experience that will build your creative skills.

    14. Give yourself some love

    When I was younger, I was given the advice to take the time everyday before I went out for the day to ensure I felt good about myself and fully confident. Sometimes this took the shape of wearing a new pair of shoes or writing in my journal that morning.

    I was told if I could take the time to prepare myself for the day, then I could focus all of my energy on the people around me. This is something that great leaders do today.

    Take the time to rest and prepare for the next day, so you can throw yourself into your creative work and help those around you.

    Self-care can be whatever it is that you need: a hot bath, going to the gym, walking your dog, reading, the list goes on and on. Figure out what energizes you, and do it as often as needed.

    15. Take ownership

    Accountability fosters your creative thinking because you know that others will see your work and know whether you did it well or not.

    Creativity works best under some pressure, so take your projects seriously by taking responsibility for them.

    Your coworkers will have greater respect for you as you take ownership for your work projects, even if you are disappointed in the results.

    16. Be reflective

    Hindsight is 20-20, so by looking back at past successes and failures, you can get new ideas for your work.

    Reflecting is a part of the creative process and will help you as you continue to create and work. Learning from the past sets an example for your coworkers and will improve your credibility among your colleagues.[7]

    “Creativity requires us to be confident in our areas of practice, whatever they may be. And reflection is an indispensable part of observing, developing, digesting and being in dialogue with our creative ’self’.”

    17. Communicate

    Communication is key to any good relationship and this includes the relationships between you and your coworkers.

    Notice how your coworkers handle critique and find the best way to give them constructive criticism. Notice how your coworkers handle conflict, and find a positive way to help each of them through it.[8]

    “Effective communication is one of the key prerequisites for a thriving workplace. It drives fast, clear and precise flow of information between individuals and groups. A lack of proper communication can greatly decrease productivity.”

    Communication is a skill that is vastly underestimated and incredibly useful in the workplace. As you develop this skill, you can become an impressive creative leader.

    18. Meet deadlines

    We have all experienced those coworkers who can’t meet a deadline with their projects. It can be frustrating and throw off everyone else’s work.

    To be a credible leader, don’t be that person.

    I’ve already mentioned that creativity works best with a little bit of pressure. When you try to meet deadlines, you force yourself to come up with creative ideas.

    Use your creative thinking to finish your projects on time, so you can meet your deadlines.

    Your coworkers will know that they can count on you to get the job done on time, which will likely lead to you getting more projects.

    19. Respect others

    No matter how brilliant you are, if you don’t show respect for the people around you, your credibility in your workplace will suffer.

    The opposite is true as well, if you show respect to each of your coworkers, your credibility as a leader will grow.

    Michigan Ross Professor Jane Dutton who has conducted research on the impact that mutual respect has on creativity said:[9]

    “Across our studies, we demonstrate that respectful engagement is more than simply a nice way to interact, but is a catalyst and cultivator of creativity.”

    By creating a friendly workplace, not only your creative thinking will improve but also everyone around you. With a work environment of mutual respect, ideas can develop into something incredible.

    The bottom line

    Creative thinking and leadership abilities are some of the top skills that employers are looking for. Start applying these 19 tips to your work, and you will see great results in your own work and with your coworkers’ work.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

    Reference

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