Take Faster Notes With Speedwriting & Strategy

SUMMARY POINTS

> Speedwriting is all about using shortcuts like abbreviations and symbols 
> Shorthand stenography is too hard to learn and use
> Use strategic note-taking skills to compliment speedwriting techniques 

OMFG, there are too many people talking at the same time!

John is rattling off all the critical steps for the project while at the same time, Monica is explaining changes in the schedule and Simon is chiming in with resource constraints.

And you’ve got to capture all the key points, comments, requests, to-do’s, etc.

As usual, you frantically try to scribble down everything that was said. And inevitably, you wind up missing most of the important stuff.

Your hands are cramped like crazy too.

You’re working hard to keep up with the pace of the meeting but it makes no difference. If anything, your handwriting gets worse. You can’t even tell what you’ve written.

When you come back to your notes later on, they make zero sense. You’re not even sure if they’re the right notes since they’re so disorganized. They’re as good as useless and it’s making you look bad.

It’s stressing you out.

We feel your pain, and we’re here to tell you about a better way of doing things.

You can avoid this stress, just by implementing a different system.

One that allows you to take faster notes that are effortless to decode when you need to.

And one that doesn’t make you feel like you’re en route to carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s time for a solution.

A Little Primer On Stenography And Shorthand

Shorthand, also known as stenography, used to be all the rage but it’s pretty much a dying art now.

Using stenography goes way back - even the Ancient Egyptians had their own systems for writing quicker than hieroglyphics would allow.

Today’s modern stenography pros can bang out over 200 words per minute and take word-for-word notes. This is because the average person talks between 125 to 150 words per minute, which is slower than the speed of good stenographers.

If you’ve ever watched a TV law drama or a movie scene held in a courtroom, you’ll often see a courtroom stenographer or reporter, sitting off to the corner. They’re using what looks like a tiny typewriter.

This mini typewriter is, in essence, a small abbreviation machine that uses a small set of letters instead of a full keyboard alphabet to capture everything.

When the lawyer or judge asks the reporter of what was said previously, whether it was a minute ago or an hour ago, they can recite it back word for word exactly. It’s incredible.

Sometimes, this can result in unintentional hilarity...like this official courtroom transcript:

ATTORNEY: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?

WITNESS: No.

ATTORNEY: Did you check for blood pressure?

WITNESS: No.

ATTORNEY: Did you check for breathing?

WITNESS: No.

ATTORNEY: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?

WITNESS: No.

ATTORNEY: How can you be so sure, Doctor?

WITNESS: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.

ATTORNEY: I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?

WITNESS: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law.

Imagine having that kind of ultra-fast note-taking ability! You’ll never miss another sarcastic comment in a meeting again.

Most people associate “stenography” or “stenographer” as that courtroom reporter. While the term “shorthand” is more commonly associated with stenography by hand.

So, instead of typing on a stenographic machine to take notes, you’re handwriting on paper. You are the “steno” machine.

It’s like office secretaries back in the 1950’s and 60’s that would take dictations from their boss using shorthand. The boss would speak out their thoughts for a letter to be typed up and the secretary would get everything down using shorthand and then recite it back to the boss word-for-word for review and approval.

Traditional Old School Shorthand Writing Systems Are Too Hard To Learn

That image above? It looks like some foreign language, right? It’s shorthand.

Shorthand uses a combination of simplified strokes and symbols to represent sounds and/or letters or full words.

Modern shorthand has three different styles/formats: Gregg, Pittman and Teeline.

Gregg has been most common in the US. The idea is that it’s impossible to write more than 40 words per minute if you use traditional English spelling systems. This is because each letter in the alphabet requires multiple vertical, horizontal and angled lines and/or curves.

If you switch to using simplified strokes instead of letters, you can write several words in seconds. Consonants tend to be straight lines or simple curves, whereas vowels have hooks or loops.

Pittman has been widely used in the UK. Traditionally, it was written using pens with nibs, which made it easy to create light and heavy strokes. It’s like the chiseled point of dry erase markers where you can make a thin or thick line.

A thin backslash stands for p, while a thick backslash is used for b.

This thin or thick format along with a set of simplified strokes is the foundation for this system.

Teeline has also been a popular shorthand style. It removes vowels and uses strokes to replicate the remaining consonants. It’s more basic than Gregg and Pittman shorthand but still involves a set system that needs to be learned.

Times have changed though and these traditional shorthand systems don’t cut it anymore in the modern workplace.

Using phonetics and symbols to replicate how words sound when they’re spoken is a great idea in theory. But, in actual practice, it’s another story.

The main problem with all of these shorthand styles?

They’re fucking hard to learn and pick up.

They’re difficult to master and put into action. It can take months and even years of practice to learn the systems well enough to make shorthand work for you on the job.

Nobody’s got time for that shit.

What you need is a system of shortening words so it’s easier to take notes without losing the essence of what’s being said.

This is where speedwriting can be a game-changer. 

Modern Speedwriting Is Where It’s At

Unlike traditional shorthand, speedwriting uses what you already know and doesn’t require you to learn a totally new system, format or structure.

This is absolutely key to making it easier to pick up and use.

Speedwriting uses the normal alphabet and common everyday symbols or abbreviations to represent full words. This allows most people to quickly adopt this style of writing and adapt it to their own skill levels.

It’s super helpful if you’re used to writing longhand, which is writing out each word completely, but it’s much quicker — mostly because there are a ton of shortcuts to speed things up.

Modern speedwriting doesn’t require you to learn and memorize a complicated system of strokes and weird symbols. Plus, you can even create your own system to make sure you can decipher things quickly and easily.

Whereas shorthand can often look like another language, speedwriting is common sense. It’s still a form of shorthand but it works much better in today’s modern world. 

Creating Your Own Speedwriting System

Like shorthand, traditional speedwriting has some informal rules and systems.

Trouble is, time isn’t on your side right now - you need to up your note-taking game right now. Preferably ready for the next meeting or call you need to take notes for.

So, how can you bring your own speedwriting system into play? And actually use it today at your very next meeting?

It’s simple.

It’s all about using shortcuts in your handwriting to speed things up without compromising legibility and understanding.

Here are some shortcuts that you can try out to create your own speedwriting system.

Do what’s easiest, what works for you and what you know you’ll remember when you decipher your notes.

1. Abbreviate Common Or Long Words

Abbreviations are a super easy way to speed up your note-taking. Use common abbreviations to save time. You can also make up some of your own as long as it's easy to remember what it represents.

Here are a bunch of common abbreviations that you should start using:

u = you
ur = your
Ex = For example
Etc = etcetera  
w/ = with
w/o = without
bf = before
bc = because
Est = estimate
Rqmt = requirement
Rqd = required
Apx = approximate
Cont = continue
Nec = necessary
Sch = schedule
Mtg = meeting
ppt = PowerPoint
xl = Excel
EOD = end of day
COB = close of business
FYI = For Your Information

One thing you’ll notice here is that these abbreviations aren’t random or complex. It’s easy to look at them and quickly decode them.

For more abbreviation ideas, check out this site called...wait for it, abbreviations.

It’s a searchable database that lists out and defines tons of common and not so common abbreviations across different industries and occupations.

Check out the “Business & Finance” section. There are tons of great abbreviations that you can learn or refresh your memory on.

2. Use Symbols To Replace Words Or Phrases

You know that feeling when you’re frantically scribbling down a long word or phrase and once you’re finally done, you have no idea what’s been said in the meantime?

We’ve all been there and struggled with the stress of missing something crucial.

Swapping some words for symbols avoids this scenario. You probably already use or have seen some of these symbols a lot so it makes sense to include them in your note-taking.

@ for “at”
$ for “money”
+ for "and/with"
→ for “leads to”
> for “more than”
< for “less than”
# for “number of”
K for thousand
M for million
~ for “about”

You get the idea.

It’s a great time-saver as often times, one symbol replaces several words.

3. Drop The Vowels & Don’t Worry About Being Exact

Save time by cutting out some or most of the vowels in words. It’s easy to read sentences, even when most of the vowels aren’t present.

This is the basis of the Teeline shorthand system and it’s a trick you can steal for yourself, especially when vowels aren’t at the start or end of a word.

You cn stll undstnd ths sntnce w/o all the vwls.

See?

In fact, you could mess up the letters in between the first and last letter of the word and you’ll still “get it.”

The brain is an amazing thing.

Check this out.

This was an internet meme that broke out in the early 2000’s that hit on the point of how well our brains can process things.

Scan through paragraph below. Then, consider what it actually says.

Ready?

“Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a tatol mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe and the biran fguiers it out aynawy.”

That shit is amazing, right?!

So, the point here is that you don’t need to write the whole word exactly letter for letter. Notes aren’t meant to be perfect grammatically or from a spelling standpoint. So, don’t sweat the details.

You can drop the vowels and/or mess up letters in between to keep things fast. So long as a few words here and there are spelled correctly, your brain can put it all together.

The important thing here is to keep it legible! 

Speedwriting Is A Tactic But Note-Taking Is A Strategy

The speedwriting tips we’ve explained above are super helpful in designing your own fast writing system. It’s perfect for when you need to capture a lot of information quickly.

However, what you capture is more important than how you capture it.

This is what good note-taking is all about. It’s more strategic.

Here are some of the core fundamentals of good note-taking. You can read more about these and others in the link noted above. 

1) You Don’t Need Every Word

Just because you can take faster notes with speedwriting doesn’t mean that you should write down every single thing that’s been spoken.

It’s not about transcribing what’s said. You’re not a court reporter.

Taking notes is about processing what is being said and then interpreting that information into a form that you can quickly write down and more importantly, understand now and in the future.

It’s all about grabbing the main points, key comments, important action items, etc. 

2) Use the Outline Method

This is the most commonly used method of note-taking out there. It’s easy to use, simple to understand and quick to refer back to.

Headings, bulleted sub-points, arrows and numbered lists are important parts of the outline method.

The main topic of the meeting or call is on the left-hand side of the page.

Subtopics are created underneath and slightly indented.

Under this, you can introduce new thoughts and points using bullets or numbers.

Using an outline gives your notes structure. When you review them, the key points will make sense.

Here’s a short minute and a half Youtube video that explains what the outline method looks like.

VIDEO: Note-taking Outline Method
YOUTUBE: UTM RGASC Academic Skills
LENGTH: 1:31

3) Bring Visuals Into Play

Sometimes, visuals just work better than words. Or at the very least, they can help supplement words. You’ve heard of the cliche, “a picture is worth a thousand words” and it’s a pretty good statement for taking notes at work.

Choose a few simple shapes like rectangles, squares, circles, triangles etc. Each shape can act as replacements for words or actions. Then, connecting these shapes with arrows helps to build your story of it all. All without actually writing out a long story.

For example, rather than writing down a complex step-by-step process word-for-word and struggling to keep up with the conversation, use a basic process-flow diagram with simple shapes and arrows.

Use simple rectangles to represent key steps or things and write a one word descriptor in each. Then, you can use line arrows to show the step-by-step flow. This method is a whole lot faster than writing out a long sentence. Plus, you’re capturing the key core thing of that step - boiling it down to the basics of it all.

You can also use circles with names to represent people or organizations.

And maybe even triangles or diamonds to represent decisions points or options.

You get the idea.

Simple shapes with short text quickly convey what it’s representing. And, combining a bunch of these things together with connecting lines or arrows can visually explain the whole idea much faster than writing everything down.

Plus, as humans, we’re much more visually-oriented in terms of absorbing and retaining visual data over text-based data.

Drawing even a simple image or diagram is a quick way to get the key points down without having to write everything down. You don’t want anything too complicated. The simpler, the better since it’s quicker!

Taking Notes Doesn’t Need To Be Stressful

Multi-person meetings with crazy agendas are nerve-wracking as hell. Often, we’re so obsessed with trying to capture every single thing that was said that we push ourselves to the brink of a panic attack.

It’s time to take a step back and change the way we do things - change them to be easier and make our work lives less stressful.

Strategic note-taking allows you to process and filter out the unnecessary bits while speedwriting lets your mind get all the key points down fast. The combination of these two things is what will take the stress out of any fast moving meeting or discussion.

Well, almost any discussion with exception to the world’s fastest talker.

VIDEO: Talking Fast With a Record-Setting Speed Talker
YOUTUBE: Great Big Story
LENGTH: 3:45

Summary points:
> This guy will blow away any courtroom reporter
> Don’t even think about speedwriting what he says
> Just record it and play it back at 1/10th speed

Once you get your speedwriting and note-taking skills dialed in, you’ll no longer be stressing out about fast paced meetings. In fact, you’ll actually start seeing it as a fun challenge. It may even help you get in the zone at work.

So, the next time you’re meeting with John, Monica and Simon, you’re not going to freak out and worry about missing something. You’ll get it all without missing a beat or breaking a sweat.

Feel Better,
[Cubicle|Therapy]