By Lissa Cupp, vice president, e-Commerce & Consumer Marketing, ACCO Brands

Note-taking plays an important role in everyone’s life, no matter age, profession or background. Think about it: We take notes during meetings, when we’re on the telephone, while we’re out-and-about, in a classroom or professional development setting…the list goes on and on.

Unfortunately, as a result of these many note-taking opportunities, there are plenty of actual jottings and scribbling that are distributed among notebooks, planners, Post-it® notes and loose sheets of paper. This is all the more reason to make sure your note-taking techniques are effective and efficient.

Just like other facets of planning and organizing, there is no one-size-fits-all method to note-taking. However, there are many similar components that are common among methods which have stood the test of time and lead to higher productivity. No matter the method you use, take a look at the following tips and suggestions to further enhance your note-taking skills:

  • A method to your madness: Indeed, taking notes without a method can lead to organizational madness. We suggest writing your notes out by hand, as studies continually show that this increases the retention level of the information at hand. However, if you prefer electronic, that’s fine as well. You may want to consider a “hybrid” of the two.
  • Follow the process: As much as we’re taught in life to be original, note-taking is an exception. Fall into a routine for taking, compiling and organizing your notes. By establishing consistency in your process (including the consistent use of the same method—written, digital or hybrid), you increase productivity by enabling quick scanning and location of information within your notes.
  • Form counts: Following a consistent process can be easily achieved with good form. That is, create a “hierarchy” when taking notes. Use indentations and bullets to keep similar topics grouped and organized. Much like an outline you’d put together when writing a paper, this hierarchy will create a smooth, easily-followed flow of information. Keep your notes neat, too—if you can’t read them, they are not useful.
  • Don’t include the kitchen sink: It’s easy to fall into the habit of writing down EVERYTHING you hear while taking notes. This can lead to information overload and lack of focus on the key messages. Train yourself to listen and pick out the important concepts. In addition, never hesitate to use shortcuts or abbreviations—just as long as you remember what they mean!
  • Keep it together: While you can find yourself taking notes at various times in multiple places, you need to keep them all together. Use a reliable tool that you almost always have with you, such as a planner. A planner is particularly beneficial because it can help you link information from your calendar, to-do lists and notes in one place.
  • Don’t let ’em gather dust: Assign yourself the daily task of reviewing your notes and taking the appropriate actions (e.g., write down scheduled meetings in your calendar). Letting notes sit too long after they’ve been taken can result in failure to translate them into actionable items.

The key to good note-taking is finding a system that works for you. These tips will help you get there. What are some of your note-taking techniques or suggestions? Please comment here and share your own tips and tricks!

[photo by S@Z]

4 thoughts on “Duly Noted: Seven Tips for Productive Note-Taking

  1. I rely on color coding a lot, so I either use appropriately-colored sticky notes or ink on my note paper. In the morning and evening, I merge notes with the to-do list or calendar in my planner, as you suggested. I also like bullet points!

  2. Good article, Lissa. I put asterisks by things I need to do and then put a checkmark through the asterisk when the task is complete. That way, I can quickly find my action items in pages of notes and take care of them.

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