Taking notes is a vital part of life. It allows us to focus on and remember important information that we’d otherwise forget. From meetings at the office to attending lectures or training seminars and even talking with family and friends, there are so many different occasions where you might need to take notes.
But there’s more than one way to take notes. You can use writing pens, digital note-taking apps, or try sketching out your notes if you prefer working with visual information. Learn how to optimize your note-taking process with these helpful hints.
Use a Pen and Paper
While digital devices and note-taking apps have become increasingly popular in recent years, studies show taking notes by hand is more effective when it comes to remembering important information over the long-term than taking notes on a laptop. Writing out information by hand helps us spend more time with the information at hand.
Autotype and other smart features can automate the note-taking process, which might help you save time, but you won’t retain as much information as you would if you were practicing your handwriting with a pen and paper. You’ll think about each word and letter as you write down key concepts, so you can easily recall this information down the road without having to go back over your notes.
Map Out Your Information
If you’re trying to absorb information that deals with lots of moving parts, such as a series of events or a timeline of information, try mapping out your notes. Like a diagram or flowchart, mapping out your notes helps you connect different subjects simultaneously. You can draw lines between different concepts to see how they’re related, giving you a sense of how these concepts fit together, so you can keep your eye on the bigger picture instead of getting hung up on individual terms and phrases.
This method of taking notes can be especially effective when studying history, learning new concepts, and weaving together different subjects and individuals. When you go back over your notes, you’ll quickly recognize the most important concepts without having to go through your notes line by line.
Try Sketching Your Notes
If you consider yourself a visual person, writing down hundreds of words might not be the most effective way to master new concepts. While some words may be necessary, you can also try adding drawings and sketches to your notes. This will help break up the page, but it also helps you work with and make sense of this information in new ways. Turning a concept into a drawing forces your brain to interpret this information differently. You can visualize the person, event, method, or process you’re trying to learn, so you’ll be that much more likely to remember this information down the road.
Utilize the Cornell Method
You can also try using the Cornell Method for taking notes, which means separating your notes into three distinct sections. Start by drawing a line down the left-hand side of the page about two and a half inches from the edge. Draw another line across the bottom of the page. The large section on the right-hand side of the page is for taking notes, while the left-hand side is known as the cue column. This is where you’ll add markers and comments to your notes, so you can highlight important information, ask questions, and clarify key concepts. The bottom section is for adding a summary of your notes, giving you a chance to reflect on everything you’ve learned.
The Cornell Method was coined by Cornell University, one of the most prestigious learning institutions in the world. It helps students organize new information, and each section forces these students to interact with this information in different ways. One section is for simply recording the information, the other is for annotating it, and the last is for summarization, so students are more than familiar with these concepts by the end of the lecture.
Highlight Key Terms and Headings
Staring at a long page of notes can be overwhelming for some individuals. Going through this information can be time-consuming, especially when every line looks the same. That’s why it’s helpful to break up the text by highlighting certain phrases, keywords, and concepts. You can use a highlighter, underline, or draw a circle around individual words, so you can quickly find these terms later without having to sort through your notes line by line. These concepts will stand out to you on the page, reinforcing their value in your mind over time.
Add a Summary
Adding a summary to your notes helps you revisit everything you’ve already learned that day. Thinking over these concepts a second time increases the chances that you’ll remember them later, but it also forces you to look at the bigger picture, including how this information is related and what these concepts amount to in the end.
This is also a great way to cap off a long meeting. You can organize your notes chronologically, separating meetings by the date they occurred. As human beings, we often shape events into a narrative to help us make sense of what happened in the past. Adding a summary gives you the chance to put this information to use by turning it into a story.
Taking notes won’t do you much good if you can’t find the information you’re looking for or you have a hard time remembering what your notes were about in the first place. You can try revisiting this information by sketching or mapping it out, adding a summary, or using the Cornell Method.
Effective note-taking is about prioritizing important concepts and organizing your thoughts in a way that makes sense to you. Use these note-taking strategies to make the most of your time at work or in lectures, so you can master the art of learning and retaining new information.
Guest Post: About the Author
Chris Napa serves as the Global Ecommerce Experience Manager for A.T. Cross Company, LLC. Chris oversees the customer experience on Cross.com from the Providence, RI headquarters. Before joining A.T. Cross Company, LLC., Chris was the User Experience Lead at FootJoy, part of the initial team that launched their Ecommerce site in 2016, and the Ecommerce Project Manager at TaylorMade Golf Company.