Take Better Notes To Reduce Information Anxiety

SUMMARY POINTS

> Great note taking lowers stress and makes you awesomely productive
> Handwritten notes are more effective than typing
> Don't take notes verbatim - use keyword groupings
> Use note-taking tactics like the Cornell Method or Mind Mapping

We’ve all had those crazy ass days at work, rushing from meeting to meeting and taking a million calls. All while frantically scribbling down or typing out notes on every discussion point and what needs to be done.

The problem is, the next week, your boss marches up to your desk and asks how you’re doing with marketing stats she needs for the report due at 3pm. You know, the ones she asked you for in the meeting last week.

Cue inner panic….What marketing stats???

Cue outer calmness…..I’m almost done. I’ll have it to you in an hour!

The instant she leaves, you’re scrambling through your notes from last week's meeting. Nothing is making sense. You can’t even see anything about marketing stats. Hang on, are these even the right notes??

Sound familiar?

Accurate note taking during meetings and on important calls can reduce stress, increase your productivity and keep you focused.

The most common reason to go searching through old notes is figuring out who is supposed to do what, key decisions that were made and clarifying context for requirements.

Why Awesome Note Taking Skills Are A Workplace Superpower

Ok, maybe not the kind of superpower with a cape and a place in a Marvel comic but a superpower all the same.
Working on your note taking skills will:

1. Impress Your Boss 

We don’t mean impress them with your actual notes …”Hey boss, check out my insanely thorough notes from the meeting...and my handwriting, it’s incredible huh?!”

No. Don’t do that.

Let your boss be impressed by your work that results from detailed notes.

You’ll be super organized with projects, keeping deadlines ticking along nicely and not have to ask questions to your boss or colleagues that have already been answered in the meeting. That’s totally unprofessional and annoying. 

2. Keep A Rogue Boss In Check

Have a boss who likes to change his or her mind (and deadlines!) frequently?
Or conveniently ‘forgets’ important details you’ve discussed?

Brilliant note taking skills to the rescue!

When your boss brings that report deadline forward a week, you can be all like “I’m working towards the original deadline we discussed in the meeting (point to highlighted, underlined, bolded deadline date in amazing notes) so if you want to change it, what other priorities can shift?”

3. Lower Your Stress Levels

When your notes suck it has a domino effect on the quality of your work and stress levels. If you’re producing poor or inaccurate work because you didn’t take the time to write down all requirements you’ll be redoing work over again and your boss won’t be a happy camper.

More work + angry boss = STRESS.

The good news is, with a little practice and discipline, even the world's worst note taker can improve. It’s all about finding the right method.

In this post, we’ll look at a few popular note taking methods, most developed for students while attending lectures but can easily be applied to a workplace meeting or call.

Secretly though, we all wish we were back in college.

Pen vs Keyboard - Which Is More Effective For Note Taking?

Research seems to suggest that the pen is mightier than the keyboard when it comes to taking notes that maximize knowledge retention and understanding of information.

In this paper published in the Association of Psychological Science, US researchers, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, found that taking notes with a pen, rather than a laptop, helped memory recall and comprehension.

Here's why.

When we take notes with a pen, we usually write less content than when we type. This means we’re actually summarizing the information as we go along, which helps our brains to better synthesize and understand the content.

On the other hand, typing notes on a keyboard we tend to type longer notes, almost verbatim, without summarizing. This stifles the ability to absorb the content on a deeper level.

The participants who took their notes on paper were more readily able to recall what they had learned 30 minutes after the lecture. 

Popular Note Taking Strategies

There are a bunch of popular note taking strategies you can use for office meetings with a trusty pen, paper and if you wanna get fancy, colored markers.

1) The Cornell Method - Great For Visual Learners

The idea of the Cornell Note-Taking System is to organize ideas/concepts spatially, so if you’re a visual person you’ll find this method super helpful.

How it works
The idea is to organize the page of your notebook with space for these three things:
- Notes = Copying down the information
- Meeting cues = Key points, ideas, questions
- Main ideas = A summary of everything discussed

It’s a smart idea to record the date and topic of the meeting at the top of the page to keep everything in order.

Here’s an example of how to divide your page(s) before the meeting. If you write with your left hand, you may want to flip the sections around. Aim to make it as easy and quick to take notes in the meeting as possible. 

During The Meeting
The large box called "Meeting Notes" is for jotting down all the notes.
Focus on topics, key action items, dates and requirements.
Skip lines between ideas and topics presented so everything remains clear.
Don't write in full sentences - Use keyword groupings instead. It’s much faster. 

Right After The Meeting
1) Review And Clarify 
Take a few minutes to do this as soon after the meeting as possible.
In the left hand column Meeting Cues, list out all the key points, ideas or questions. 
Correct any illegible handwriting so you’re not tearing your hair out later trying figure out what you wrote.

2) Summarize It
In the Summary section, write a summary of all the main points.
Include overall themes, final decisions/results and any action items that you may have.

This video will give you a quick visual overview of how you can make your own Cornell Method note sheet and how the to use the method correctly.

VIDEO: Note-Taking 101 Using The Cornell Method
YOUTUBE: Blacknest
LENGTH: 2:18

Summary points:
> Create and label the 4 sections
> Main notes in the largest section
> Key points, ideas and facts in cue section
> Summaries at the bottom

* * * FREE BONUS PDF * * *
The Cornell Method is one of our favorites. And, if you don’t want to ‘draw’ your own Cornell sheet each time, we’ve actually created a clean-n-simple version here that you can download, print and use for note-taking.

Print out a bunch double-sided and then three hole punch them so that you’ll have a small stack ready-to-go. After filling out a page with notes, put it into a “meetings” three-ring binder in chronological order for easy future reference.

2) Visual Mind Mapping - Perfect For Brainstorming Sessions

A great way to take notes during a brainstorming or strategy meeting is by using a mind map.

Mind mapping is a free flowing tool, a technique designed to use both sides of your brain. This helps you retain ideas while maintaining concentration during long meetings where the agenda may jump all over the place.

How It Works
There’s no right or wrong way to do a mind map but a few basic principles will help get you started and from there, you can figure out what works best for you.

Prior To The Meeting
Ask for a copy of the agenda so you have a summary of the key points that will be covered during the meeting. The idea is to create the structure of your mind map BEFORE the meeting, based on the agenda points, and then add notes to it during the meeting itself.

In the center of your mind map, start with the topic of the meeting.
For example: STRATEGIES TO INCREASE ONLINE SALES BY 25% BY DECEMBER.

Then branch out from the key topic of the meeting, to list the sub-agenda items.
For example: FACEBOOK MARKETING, ADVERTISING, EVENTS, SALES CALLS

Based on the above, this is how your mind map outline may look before the meeting:

During The Meeting
It’s time to build your mind map out with all the content that flows from the meeting. As ideas and concepts are presented, draw off a branch from the sub-agenda items and list them down.

A few tips:
1. Use arrows between items to indicate one idea flows to another
2. A box or idea with no arrow is an important item but not directly related to the topic of the meeting
3. Jot down the names of anyone who contributed to the item

Based on the above, this is how your mind map may look like after the meeting:

3) The Outline Method - Super Basic Note Taking Strategy

As you’ve probably guessed from the name, this method creates an outline of the topic and breaks the notes down into subtopics.

How It Works
At the top of your page, write down the main topic of the meeting.
Underneath, jot down each subtopic.
Underneath the subtopics, write down key points.

As meetings can jump around, it’s a good idea to leave some space before starting a new sub topic, in case the discussion returns to that topic and you’ll have more key points to add. 

4) A Trail Of Breadcrumbs

This note taking strategy is more intensive, requiring you to write down more information than the others listed above but it’s effective.

You jot down the notes with enough detail as if you were planning to give them to someone who wasn’t at the meeting to get them up to speed. 

It's very much like traditional meeting minutes.

How It Works
Record every topic that comes up.
Expand on each point discussed related to that topic underneath.
Don’t transcribe every word but use a little more detail than the above methods.
Use short paragraphs and phrases.

What are the ‘Must Capture’ items when note taking?

Now you’ve got a few different note taking strategies to choose from, let’s take a look at the most important things to capture in your notes:

Action Items 
Jotting down any action items (ie - to-do tasks) assigned to you or your team is a must.
Simply write down who is responsible, the specific task details and the due date.

Outcome
Capture any results or decisions that were confirmed in the meeting.
Clearly define the final outcome.

Requirements
Any requirements needed for a successful outcome.
I.e. - if marketing is to increase the number of weekly cold calls, the team requires either a new part-time member or each person to work an additional hour on Thursdays.

How About A Quick Practice Run?

Join this short 2.5 minute brainstorming meeting below, follow along with the attendees and see if you can capture the essence of the boss’s objectives....because they sure didn’t. 😉

VIDEO: Worst Brainstorm Meeting Ever
YOUTUBE: Fast Company
LENGTH: 2:26

Extra Tips For Effective Note Taking

1) Keep It Simple
Generally, you should aim to summarize the key points of the meeting, not transcribe every word spoken. Feel free to skip words and use incomplete sentences or keywords as suggested earlier.

2) Review Right After The Meeting
After the meeting, don’t just snap your notebook shut and forget you even wrote anything down. Take a few minutes to clean up your notes and reorganize where necessary. Fill in any gaps that you may get stuck on later. Taking the best notes in the world won’t have any value if you never bother to review them again!

3) Create A Smart Filing System
Create a system where you can easily access and search through old meeting notes. A mistake can be combining meeting notes in the same notebook as general day to day work notes or to do lists; things get lost. Instead, consider having a separate notebook just for key meetings and calls.

4) Invest In A Notebook That You Love
Keeping the above point in mind, you’ll want to invest in a great notebook that you’ll love and treat with care. No more lugging around scrappy, coffee stained paper and random post-it notes.

5) Make Smart Food Choices Before The Meeting
No matter how much you think you’ve nailed your note taking strategy, if you go into the meeting hungry or your blood sugar is crashing after that 3pm sugar binge, you’ll feel fuzzy headed and your note taking skills will suffer. Stay awake and on the ball by fueling up on a healthy meal or light snack before the meeting.  

6) Keep The Same Format
While it may take a little experimentation to figure out which note taking style works for you, once you’ve got it nailed, stick with it! This will make reviewing, and most importantly understanding, your notes much easier weeks later. No more “WTF planet was I on when I was writing this?!” moments.

The bottom line is, if you can dominate in your note taking skills, you’ll:
> Improve your productivity
> Achieve ‘I’m on top of everything’ awesomeness
> Reduce workplace stress
> Impress the heck out of your boss or at least keep her rouge requirements in check! 

That’s a pretty amazing return for just investing a little time choosing a method and honing your note taking super power. Maybe it does deserve a cape and a Marvel comic after all!

Feel Better,
[Cubicle|Therapy]