Why is it important to take good notes?
I graduated college and graduate school several years ago. I took notes like crazy when I was in school and they were my own cryptic code for the subject at hand. I thought I was “done” with this style of summarizing information.
To this day, I keep a notebook within arm’s reach at work. Every meeting, phone conversation and even some personal conversations are recorded in my notebook. Most of the time, I extract brief points or tasks from the discussion. Other times, I have long volumes of knowledge written down on the page. I have years of notebooks filled with these tidbits of past conversations on my desk.
School is over, why should I continue this?
My memory is not what it used to be…
Let’s face the facts. Memory declines with age. Under stress, I tend to forget many things discussed during the work day. Remember what I ate last week? I can never remember what I had for breakfast this morning. Life throws so much information in our direction, how can we remember everything?
Write it down. Transfer information from short term to long term. Allow pen and paper to serve as your memory.
Let me misquote this… In an interview, Albert Einstein was asked for his phone number. He got up from the seat and opened the phone book and showed his number. When asked why the smartest man in the world doesn’t know his own phone number, the physicist replied, “Why do I remember a trifle when I write it down?”
Use note-taking to support your long-term memory. If it is written down, the information can be referred to at any time without having to memorize it.
My notes have saved my back more times than I can count!
,Ever disagree with a customer over something said in a meeting? Does your boss remember the conversation differently than you do? Do coworkers neglect to follow through on agreed-upon tasks? Are you running into disputes over dates, times and actions from the meeting?
Remember the old notebooks? Last week, I found the meeting minutes from a discussion almost two years ago and I was able to show the skeleton of the meeting attendance and discussion. My customer refused to appear, changed the terms of our contract and challenged me on the validity of our claim. Looked in the notebook, showed that he was there and agreed to the bullet points in the conversation. We have yet to find consensus between our perspectives; However, I was able to start with the basic agreement that was negotiated.
As my memory was not clear and neither was my customer’s, my notes clarified our position. Dates, facts, attendance and action items are stored for my retrieval.
Does media matter? (Written vs Electronic)
For me, the answer is yes. I am a visual learner first and a tactile learner second. I need the physical movement of writing to help me reinforce a concept, capture knowledge, or learn a skill. Seeing it and making it real works well for me.
I’ve often wondered about tablets that capture handwriting, and I haven’t taken the plunge yet. As a former PalmPilot user, I quickly learned that electronic capture does not work for me. Taking typed notes can be a challenge as a self-taught typist. When I’m creating an idea in my head, I can type very well. When I am converting someone else’s ideas, I am much slower than writing.
Use whatever works best for your learning style. Media is only important if it contributes to awareness. Auditory learners can record everything on their phone voice memos. Visual learners can benefit from a tablet to doodle their conclusions. Tactile people may prefer pen to paper like me. Use several methods. Just take notes!
Tips and tricks for business notes
Here are some things that work for me. I suggest you try them out and tweak the ideas to suit your needs. Use these as my guidelines to help create your own unique system.
- Date everything. Always put the date (and time) in the header. This date index will help you when searching for information.
- For meetings, record attendees. Make sure you capture as many of the conversation participants as possible. For accountability, know who is who.
- Subject heading. Identify specifically what was discussed in the conversation. Again, this habit defines the context and helps to find the subject while searching.
- Use a symbol to indicate the actions required. I “star” everything that is actionable to me. I can review my notes and easily find these tasks in the margin. Use something memorable to you—circle the task, highlight it, make it stand out on the page!
- Do not use complete sentences. Use shorthand to help with speed.
- Don’t summarize every single word. Focus on key points and elaborate as necessary.
- Use a notebook or single file for notes. A couple of dozen Post-It® notes or 15 sheets of paper on your desk are useless. Limit notes for the archive to a single source. Multiple sources add to the confusion!
Is all this note-taking common sense?
,Professionals take a lot of training, spending years in school or developing their expertise over many years of hard work. I would like to believe that this information is common sense that everyone should know.
In my observations, most professionals do not possess this skill or prepare for it. Many people go to meetings with nothing in hand. Some bring phones and text or surf when meeting. Others grab Post-It® notes and decorate their desks with colorful squares.
We all learn differently and have unique styles. My comments in this article reflect how I work, and I recommend ideas that have worked for me. Sometimes reading about someone else’s successful actions is enough to inspire new behavior in you. My goal is to share my ideas to help those struggling to achieve modest growth in their influence.
If a person walks away with a simple idea of how to improve their memory at work (or at home), my message is well received. For others, they may not see the value in my note-taking message. For those who have taken the time to read, I hope my recommendation will help you be more effective and efficient in recalling details. My note-taking has definitely helped me over time, and I hope it can help you too.
Thanks for reading, and take note!
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