Take note, taking notes is important: how does it help?

Personal productivity No Comments

Research on note taking, for example here, suggests it benefits the notetaker on 5 levels:

1. It helps you capture what is being said so you can remember it later. Much of the information we take into our short-term memories (which is what we are using most of the time) is quickly forgotten: between 30-60% after an hour and probably more than 90% after a few days. That’s why discussions towards the end of a meeting often forget (or repeat again) what was said at the start.

2. It helps you understand what is really being said and makes it clear when you need to ask for clarification because you don’t. The trick here is to summarise and not to write verbatim (unless someone has used a particularly important or noteworthy form of words).  When you write in your own words, you increase the sense-making processes going on in your brain.

3. It helps you order and summarise. As you write, you can see the different groupings of ideas, which are detailed and which are more high level, those based on logical arguments and those revealing how people are feeling. From this you can abstract to identify and describe the key themes that are emerging and spot any gaps in the thinking.

4. It helps you connect the ideas you’re hearing with things you already know. This is the opportunity to bring in other ideas and data that relate to the discussion and to synthesise these in a way that improves your understanding and insights.

5. It helps you conclude what to do next. You see more clearly the questions you could be asking, the insights you could be sharing, the opinions you could be advocating or the actions you could be proposing. And it helps you decide which of these is the right one to use at the right moment (not just what happens to be at the front of your mind).

As you move up each level, you are doing more to embed the ideas in your mind and deriving more value in how you process and use them. And, crucially, this is not just about how you use notes after a meeting. It is about how much impact you have ‘in the moment’ – developing the skills to think on your feet and make the best possible contribution there and then.

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