This post is part of our ✨7 Productivity Tips as EOY Gifts ✨ Series.
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Human beings forget things. So we write down what we think it's important and what we want to remember.
As simple as it sounds, the art of note-taking is not such an easy one to master. You might often find yourself lost in an ocean of Post-it notes or drowning in random files with half-done sentences that make absolutely no sense to you anymore.
Here's your lifeboat.
5 tips for taking great notes
Before we get to the actual hacks:
Taking notes is a helpful tool for storing and recalling important information when needed. No matter which technique you choose, make sure your notes are helpful and make sense to you. The techniques may change, but the purpose of taking notes should remain the same.
As always, prioritize what works best for you.
1. Be Prepared And Start With An Outline
First things first: have your tools with you and ready to use. Whether you use a notebook, an app, or a tablet, have them by you when going into the situation during which you're going to take notes (could be a meeting, a class, or a lecture).
Always assume you will be taking notes and save time by writing down the basic information before people even start talking (e.g., put the name of the meeting on the top beforehand: Weekly Status - Sept 12th, 2022).
It's also good to have an overall idea of what you want to capture from the meeting or class. This is not always possible, but when you can do it, it will help you focus your attention on the most important points and avoid note-taking overload.
2. Focus On Content And Let Your Brain Do Its Thing
Respect how your brain comprehends and retains information. Although everyone uses visual and verbal information processing to some extent, some people may prefer visual or verbal learning.
If you're with the first group, don't be afraid to doodle away and utilize symbols or diagrams when you're taking notes. I, for example, like to use the doodle of a star whenever something is really important.
If you're part of the latter group, keep in mind that writing less is more. Avoid jotting down full sentences and focus on essential words and phrases. If you try to write a full sentence, you'll most likely lose the next one. It's helpful to come up with keywords and phrases to quickly recall information: for example, more than 10 years ago, I started to mark as "M.N." (My Note) every comment that was mine, not part of the speaker was saying, and it helps me to this day (e.g., I might write down what my boss said and add a comment of mine: "experiment with different audiences for the next quarter - M.N.: maybe college professors").
In most cases, content must be your top priority - in other words, it's what you should worry about and pay attention to (and not if you're drawing or writing). Try to capture the essence of the discussion in your own words or symbols- don't just copy what is being said, but strive to synthesize it into something that makes sense to you.
3. Structure Your Notes
Structure your notes as soon as possible - if you can't do this while taking them, reserve 5-10 minutes right after (while all the information is still fresh for you) to quickly go over what you wrote and make sense of it. This will help avoid a cluttered mess later on.
Add headings, color-coding, bullets, and other visual cues - even if you're not necessarily a visual person - so that when you revisit your notes in the future, you don't have to go through all of them again.
4. Transfer Your Notes To Your To-Do List
Don't let action items linger on your notes, no matter how well-structured. After reviewing your notes, take any action items that came up on your trustworthy to-do list. You can find tips on how to make an outstanding to-do list right here.
This could be as simple as sending a follow-up email to someone or setting up a meeting with a specific person - but if you don't commit to actually doing it, all the effort of taking notes will be wasted.
5. Delegate Note-Taking to AI
If you have a lot of digital meetings or remote classes, you might not even have to take notes at all - you can have the content automatically transcribed and summarized for you by an AI digital assistant.
Augment AI is an app (in private beta) that gives you an AI assistant to call your own. Once your meeting starts, it will transcribe the conversation. At the end of the session, it will send you an email with the summary of the discussion - and access to the full transcript, of course. It also has a Recall feature that allows you to find anything that's ever been on your screen by simply typing what you need into it - besides other useful augments.
The best thing about having every meeting automatically transcribed is the confidence you get by being able to always go back and read exactly what was said. It's different from having a meeting recorded and a lot more practical. You save a lot of time quickly reading through the transcript, not having to watch a whole video and trying to find the part you need. The automatic summaries make it even easier.
Augment AI is in private beta at the moment. If you don't already use it, you can join the waitlist at augment.co