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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 June 18, 2019

    5 Types of Leadership Styles (And Which Is Best for You)

    5 Types of Leadership Styles (And Which Is Best for You)

    It takes great leadership skills to build great teams.

    The best leaders have distinctive leadership styles and are not afraid to make the difficult decisions. They course-correct when mistakes happen, manage the egos of team members and set performance standards that are constantly being met and improved upon.

    With a population of more than 327 million, there are literally scores of leadership styles in the world today. In this article, I will talk about the most common leadership styles and how you can determine which works best for you.

    5 Types of Leadership Styles

    I will focus on 5 common styles that I’ve encountered in my career: democratic, autocratic, transformational, transactional and laissez-faire leadership.

    The Democratic Style

    The democratic style seeks collaboration and consensus. Team members are a part of decision-making processes and communication flows up, down and across the organizational chart.

    The democratic style is collaborative. Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek is an example of a leader who appears to have a democratic leadership style.

      The Autocratic Style

      The autocratic style, on the other hand, centers the preferences, comfort and direction of the organization’s leader. In many instances, the leader makes decisions without soliciting agreement or input from their team.

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      The autocratic style is not appropriate in all situations at all times, but it can be especially useful in certain careers, such as military service, and in certain instances, such as times of crisis. Steve Jobs was said to have had an autocratic leadership style.

      While the democratic style seeks consensus, the autocratic style is less interested in consensus and more interested in adherence to orders. The latter advises what needs to be done and expects close adherence to orders.

        The Transformational Style

        Transformational leaders drive change. They are either brought into organizations to turn things around, restore profitability or improve the culture.

        Alternatively, transformational leaders may have a vision for what customers, stakeholders or constituents may need in the future and work to achieve those goals. They are change agents who are focused on the future.

        Examples of transformational leader are Oprah and Robert C. Smith, the billionaire hedge fund manager who has offered to pay off the student loan debt of the entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College.

          The Transactional Style

          Transactional leaders further the immediate agenda. They are concerned about accomplishing a task and doing what they’ve said they’d do. They are less interested in changing the status quo and more focused on ensuring that people do the specific task they have been hired to do.

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          The transactional leadership style is centered on short-term planning. This style can stifle creativity and keep employees stuck in their present roles.

          The Laissez-Faire Style

          The fifth common leadership style is laissez-faire, where team members are invited to help lead the organization.

          In companies with a laissez-faire leadership style, the management structure tends to be flat, meaning it lacks hierarchy. With laissez-faire leadership, team members might wonder who the final decision maker is or can complain about a lack of leadership, which can translate to lack of direction.

          Which Leadership Style do You Practice?

          You can learn a lot about your leadership style by observing your family of origin and your formative working experiences.

          Whether you realize it, from the time you were born up until the time you went to school, you were receiving information on how to lead yourself and others. From the way your parents and siblings interacted with one another, to unspoken and spoken communication norms, you were a sponge for learning what constitutes leadership.

          The same is true of our formative work experiences. When I started my communications career, I worked for a faith-based organization and then a labor union. The style of communication varied from one organization to the other. The leadership required to be successful in each organization was also miles apart. At Lutheran social services, we used language such as “supporting people in need.” At the labor union, we used language such as “supporting the leadership of workers” as they fought for what they needed.

          Many in the media were more than happy to accept my pitch calls when I worked for the faith-based organization, but the same was not true when I worked for a labor union. The quest for media attention that was fair and balanced became more difficult and my approach and style changed from being light-hearted to being more direct with the labor union.

          I didn’t realize the impact those experiences had on how I thought about my leadership until much later in my career.

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          In my early experience, it was not uncommon for team members to have direct, brash and tough conversations with one another as a matter of course. It was the norm, not the exception. I learned to challenge people, boldly state my desires and preferences, and give tough feedback, but I didn’t account for the actions of others fit for me, as a black woman. I didn’t account for gender biases and racial biases.

          What worked well for my white male bosses, did not work well for me as an African American woman. People experienced my directness as being rude and insensitive. While I needed to be more forceful in advancing the organization’s agenda when I worked for labor, that style did not bode well for faith-based social justice organizations who wanted to use the love of Christ to challenge injustice.

          Whereas I received feedback that I needed to develop more gravitas in the workplace when I worked for labor, when I worked for other organizations after the labor union, I was often told to dial it back. This taught me two important lessons about leadership:

          1. Context Matters

          Your leadership style must adjust to each workplace you are employed. The challenges and norms of an organization will shape your leadership style significantly.

          2. Not All Leadership Styles Are Appropriate for the Teams You’re Leading

          When I worked on political campaigns, we worked nonstop. We started at dawn and worked late into the evening. I couldn’t expect that level of round-the-clock work for people at the average nonprofit. Not only couldn’t I expect it, it was actually unhealthy. My habit of consistently waking up at 4 am to work was profoundly unhealthy for me and harmful for the teams I was leading.

          As life coach and spiritual healer Iyanla Vanzant has said,

          “We learn a lot from what is seen, sensed and shared.”

          The message I was sending to my team was ‘I will value you if you work the way that I work, and if you respond to my 4 am, 5 am and 6 am emails.’ I was essentially telling my employees that I expect you to follow my process and practice.

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          As I advanced in my career and began managing more people, I questioned everything I thought I knew about leadership. It was tough. What worked for me in one professional setting did not work in other settings. What worked at one phase of my life didn’t necessarily serve me at later stages.

          When I began managing millennials, I learned that while committed to the work, they had active interests and passions outside of the office. They were not willing to abandon their lives and happiness for the work, regardless of how fulfilling it might have been.

          The Way Forward

          To be an effective leader, you must know yourself incredibly well. You must be self-reflective and also receptive to feedback.

          As fellow Lifehack contributor Mike Bundrant wrote in the article 10 Essential Leadership Qualities That Make a Great Leader:

          “Those who lead must understand human nature, and they start by fully understanding themselves…They know their strengths, and are equally aware of their weaknesses and thus understand the need for team work and the sharing of responsibility.”

          The way to determine your leadership style is to get to know yourself and to be mindful of the feedback you receive from others. Think about the leadership lessons that were seen, sensed and shared in your family of origin. Then think about what feels right for you. Where do you gravitate and what do you tend to avoid in the context of leadership styles?

          If you are really stuck, think about using a personality assessment to shed light on your work patterns and preferences.

          Finally, the path for determining your leadership style is to think about not only what you need, or what your company values, but also what your team needs. They will give you cues on what works for them and you need to respond accordingly.

          Leadership requires flexibility and attentiveness. Contrary to unrealistic notions of leadership, being a leader is less about being served and more about being of service.

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          Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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