One should always be paying attention to the subtle quirks in the behavior of people you have a sense you can learn something from. A lot of learning happens between the lines, by mimicry and repetition of patterns that you can eventually modify to suit your own personal style and behavior.
It was this attentiveness that lead me into the practice of note taking.
While working on a project with two seasoned tech executives, the then CEO of the company I was engaged with, and the CTO of our client - we had a week-long session to work out some audacious goals for a new platform we were looking to conceptualize, and after a couple of days of working closely together I realized they always carried around a notebook with them, and I noticed how they always seemed to be making annotations in it.
I did some due diligence and, to my surprise, realized taking notes is an ancient practice that seems to have been common among many of the great minds of times recent and past, and it’s a practice that is constantly evolving by those who undertake it, resembling an ever perfecting art with a clear objective of enhancing the capacity of our focus.
By this point I had become very curious, and I must admit a few times during my 20s I had tried to keep a digital journal, and I abandoned the endeavor every time, not long after having started.
So, let me share with you some tips that made note taking work remarkably well for me:
Stick to pen and paper
There’s something about engaging your hand and reading your own handwriting that makes the note taking experience personal, and I’m sure it has an impact in both your ability to relate to the ideas, memories and impressions you’re taking note of, as well as your ability to recall them. I tried digital note taking, and it just did not have nearly the same impact.
Another benefit of not going digital is focus: if you are using your mobile device to take notes, simply getting to the right app means having to jump over every possible distraction — you will find notifications, new emails and perhaps the dark hole of a facebook notification on your way to your write your note. The chance of getting sidetracked, or perhaps in a slightly better scenario simply have your thought diluted by noise in your brain from the notification you are trying to ignore, is simply too high.
Whereas if you have your notebook handy, nothing will distract you, you will be focused and silent, and your mind fully engaged.
Stick to pen and paper, take your time to find the right notebook that you can comfortably carry around everywhere, and pick a pen or pencil that feels right at home in your hand.
Use visual cues
Do you want to do more research on something? Use the margin of the page and add a little icon that is representative and meaningful to you, and use it everywhere you need to remind yourself to do further research on something.
Is this the name of a person you need to track? Or perhaps you have to ask questions about the subject once the other party is done with their statements?
Come up with your own set of icons for all these types of cues, and use the margins of your page to annotate with them, they will become very handy when reviewing your notes.
Make it a habit
I believe habit building is a key to success - the more integrated and automated a practice is in your life, the more guarantees you will have to really maximize the value you get out of it (if you are interested in habits, click here).
Carry your notebook and pen with you always, and establish a clear cue - open it and be ready to take notes as soon as you sit down.
You will need more than one notebook
I started with my note taking practice using a single small notebook, but as time passed, it became evident I needed more than one. It started to become complicated to track different categories of information in a single notebook which ran out space rather quickly.
In one notebook I make business related notes, it’s the one I use whenever I’m in meetings or talking to some colleague or teammate.
Another one, I use for tracking my learning, any concept I want to follow up or better understand, books I want to purchase, anything related to knowledge.
Finally, a third notebook for personal notes, not quite a journal but a place to keep my thoughts around family and life in general.
Take some time to review
Going over your past notes is a great opportunity to recall important concepts, for remembering to follow up with people or to pick your next good read, so review them often.
Give it a try! May not work out just right the first time, but I encourage you to try it a few times, find the right mix you need, and I hope you’ll start seeing the benefit in the art of taking notes soon enough. Please do share your experience with me by commenting in this post!
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