Whether you’re taking notes in the classroom, the boardroom, or in your own home office as you plan for a project or hobby, you need a reliable system that will help you retain more of what you’ve learned. With better retention, your notes can become just that—short reminders and a summary of best practices. The ability to rely on more of your own memory will help you perform better on tests, in meetings, and in the midst of any other project. The next time you settle in with your favorite notebook and pen combo to start taking notes, follow these six note-taking tips.
- Take Notes Actively. This may sound odd (how could one take notes inactively), but the goal is to really focus on what you’re writing. Don’t just transcribe word for word what you’re hearing. Think about the words in the context of how you will use them later, and translate what you heard in a short summary. That brief, “In-your-own-words” summary is what you need to transcribe on paper and it’s what you’ll be more likely to remember.
- Use a Consistent System of Prioritization. Highlighters or different colored pens can help you consistently take note of things like words that are defined, subject headers, action items, or key takeaways. Once you establish a system that works for you, be sure to use it consistently. Soon, your mind will start seeking out, and relying on, your established visual cues during your studying and memorization activities.
- Understand What’s Important. It can be tempting to simply write down everything you hear or observe when taking notes but remember that your notes are not meant to be a complete transcription of a conversation or lecture. Their purpose is just to capture the essence of an idea and the most important facts and pieces of learning that you’ll need later. Apply a harsh filter to your notes and learn to only document what is truly important.
- Stay Organized. Do your best, even on hectic days, to remain organized. That means, avoiding the temptation to cram extra, illegible notes up the sides of the page or in the margins, stuffing separate pieces of loose leaf paper or sticky notes into your notebook, or breaking from the note formatting rules established in tip number two.
- Write Efficiently by Using a System of Shorthand. There is an official way to write in shorthand, but what’s most important is to use a system that works for you consistently. It may be as simple is abbreviating certain common words or terms that come up in your documentation, or using symbols in place of words when appropriate (e.g., “&” for “and”).
- Handwrite, Don’t Type. Studies show that you will retain more information if you handwrite your notes, rather than typing on a laptop or tablet. Invest in a quality notebook and set of writing instruments so that you can create a reliable set of notes you can trust to guide you in the future.