As I've noted on some other threads, I'm a nut about pens, pencils and paper. It goes without saying this includes writing also. I would say I border
on OCD about some elements (paper is certainly one). As a former technical drawer and draftsman I take a lot of pride in writing on paper. One piece
of advice I always tell people who want to learn writing is to RELAX. I say this because I even have to tell myself this periodically. Taking notes is
one of these areas.
Taking effective notes is a subject there are probably tens of thousands of papers on, and there are as many different 'systems' for the same. This
post isn't really about any specific system, but rather some tips I've found over the years which help in taking better notes...
NOTE - These same principles apply to notes on a computer if that's what you choose. I prefer paper, but to each their own. Personally, I don't like
computers in a meeting simply because they act as a shield of sorts, distancing people from the discussion, but that's just me.
I break down note taking into two broad categories. 1.) Making notes about something I want to do, write about or remember. Essentially, these are
notes to myself. And, 2.) Taking notes of a conversation or meeting. The latter (#2) is the focus of this post.
Taking "effective" notes of a meeting or discussion is by far the most difficult type note taking. Writing down a bunch of non-sensical fragments of
crap is easy, but taking effective pertinent notes is something altogether different. Some have the luxury of having a dedicated note-taker in a
meeting, but most do not. The other thing to remember is, as a meeting participant you have to not only take notes, but also participate (i.e. talk)
as well. Capturing the whole conversation, when you're part of it, can be a real challenge.
Here's some things I've found which really help:
Never start at the top of the page
- Putting a title on the note page is okay, but never start your notes on line #1 of the page. If you
do this you've likely already failed. Here's why; if you start on line #1 you've already pre-programmed yourself that you're going to take what I call
"linear" notes. In other words, you are going to act like a human tape recorder converting speech to text. Forget it; it's impossible! The average
person speaks at 110-150 wpm. Even the fastest shorthand note takers can only keep up with about 100 wpm. If you've got 4-5 people in a meeting this
rate can go up to 2-300 wpm. (a trained court stenographer may be able to keep up, but they have highly specialized equipment and are highly trained
Leave lots of space between subjects
- Conversations / meetings are usually circular in nature when it comes to different topics. If you
leave space between subjects (like lots of lines), you can come back and fill in more detail when the discussion circles back. If you don't leave
space, similar subjects get broken up and your notes make less sense later (when you need them). People by nature don't discuss things in a purely
linear way, especially not in a group. Decorum and manners cause people with something to say to bring their point up when there's a good opportunity
(this is why conversations often circle back). A meeting leader may have a list of things they want to get through, so they'll often move on to the
next subject before everyone is done discussing it. Secondly, successive topics are usually related (again, another reason for circle backs). Leaving
space to fill in detail later will save your bacon every time.
Paper is cheap
- Don't worry about notes being a masterpiece or work of art (hard for me sometimes). In an ideal world we would capture
each element of a discussion in this perfectly orderly way, several lines of discussion followed by a space and then the next subject, right? Never
happens that way! Sometimes you may leave too much space between subjects. So what, just leave it; paper is cheap. Don't worry about getting every
single line filled in before going to a new sheet. You can fix it later if you're really OCD, but the main thing is capturing the whole discussion.
A picture is worth 1,000 words
- If someone draws a diagram on a white board, take the time to replicate the drawing. It may seem
simplistic at the time, but it's amazing how much more sense notes make when the diagram on the wall (which gets referred to 85 different times) is
also in your notes. Cell phone cameras work okay for this too, but it's better if you can quickly sketch it right in your notes (rather than having a
separate picture file).
Paper is cheap
- Repeat? Nope, it really is! Use it, waste it. Can't say it often enough. Paper is cheap! "But, but, but...I'll fill up
my whole nice notebook if I waste paper!", some will think. Well, buy a cheaper notebook. The notebook is for "notes", and pretty doesn't score any
points in the end, but effective notes DO!
Don't get fancy
- Some folks get all fancy with different colored pens or get all hung up using some specific system. Conversations
rarely follow some perfectly orderly format. When you try to fit these imperfect conversations into that perfectly orderly format you wind up spending
more time worrying about your 'system' then the conversation itself.
Did I mention Paper is cheap?
- Well, you get the point.
Less is more
- Wait...you just said "paper is cheap", this is a conflict!! No, it's different. You don't have to capture every word, but
capturing the essence of the discussion can be as simple as a single word, and fragments of relevant points. Capturing every word will just put you
behind the discussion. Capturing thoughts, questions, points and major elements keeps you right up with the discussion.
These are the main points. Hopefully these points help, and others have suggestions to add.
edit on 5/10/2016 by Flyingclaydisk because: (no reason given)