Why Successful People Take Notes And How to Make It Your Habit

I have always been an avid note taker. It has become a habit to carry my trusty moleskine and pen with me everywhere.It helps me capture notes during client coaching sessions, write down inspiring headline I’ve seen, capture the insights from a seminar and becomes a place to write down ideas.Taking notes helps me get things out of my mind and down on paper. It also inspires me to take action on the things I’ve written down.These notes become my ‘creative reference point’ that I can take action from, refer back to, build ideas from and they help to improve my time management and increase my focus and productivity.In this article, I’ll look into the importance of taking notes and how you can start to take notes, make it a habit and get closer to success.

Who are some successful note takers?

The art of note taking is a common habit among the world’s most successful people.Taking notes can help you to organize your thoughts and record vital information in every area of your business and life.Richard Branson believes everyone should be taking notes and carries a notebook with him everywhere. He credits note taking as one of his most important habits.((Virgin: Why Everyone Should Be Taking Notes))

“I go through dozens of notebooks every year and write down everything that occurs to me each day, an idea not written down is an idea lost. When inspiration calls, you’ve got to capture it.” – Richard Branson

Other highly successful note takers included:

  • Thomas Edison – During his life Thomas Edison captured over 5 million pages of notes. His note taking skills were developed to ensure that everything useful or important was captured and recorded so it could be referred back to as a powerful memory aid.
  • Bill Gates – According to many reports, Bill Gates is a big note taker and prefers to use a yellow notebook and pen to capture important information.
  • George Lucas – The Star Wars director kept a pocket notebook with him at all times for writing down ideas, thoughts and plot angles.
  • Tim Ferriss – Entrepreneur and author Tim Ferriss’s devotion to handwritten notes allow him to remember the most important parts of his life. He is quotes as saying “I trust the weakest pen more than the strongest memory.”

Other notable note takers from past and present include Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Pablo Picasso, Sheryl Sandberg, J.K. Rowling, Bruce Springsteen and Aaron Sorkin.

Why taking notes is important

Taking notes is an essential part of success in business and life. It can help you improve how you listen, learn, visualize and create.

“The best leaders are note-takers, best askers” – Tom Peters

But for many, note taking is still not a common practice despite its many benefits.There are several reasons why taking written notes is important:

  • Help you emphasize the key points and get them clear in your own mind.
  • Help you engage with the content at a deeper level in a meeting, lecture or event and not lose concentration.
  • Help you to make links between related thoughts and ideas.
  • Allow you illustrate your notes to suit your personal style and help recall information.
  • Help you summarize information.
  • Let you make notes of anything you want to understand further or go deeper on at a future date.
  • Help you capture simple thoughts or ideas that could be lost.

Think about it:Are you really going to remember everything? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to simply write down what you’re hearing, learning and thinking?The habit of note taking can be developed and has a huge upside.Now, there are many apps that can be used for note-taking from Evernote to OneNote and many more. But the most successful people I’ve mentioned above also had another thing in common:They used a pen or pencil and paper to write down their notes.I, as mentioned earlier, prefer the pen and notebook method as it feels like the notes mean more, being written down. I follow a similar method when reading, even on my kindle.I may bookmark the page but will write down key points or ideas I’ve taken from the book.

12 Benefits of note-taking

The benefits of note-taking include:

1. Free you up from information overload

We have so many things going through our mind at any one time that it’s easy to get overwhelmed.So, write down all of your ideas, thoughts, frustrations, to do lists until they are all out of your mind and written down.You can then spend some time putting the notes in some kind of order and deciding which thing or project will get your attention.

2. Make you a better listener

When you engage in listening, whether in a meeting, at a seminar or meeting friends, your brain is tuned to record and remember things.Rather than the information be something that you hope to retain in your minds “I need to remember that”, you can make notes and continue to listen.Rather than trying to remember what you’ve heard, you can make a quick note and carry on listening.

3. Make things feel more real

Something almost magical happens when I take notes. The words take on a new power and it helps me ensure that I take action as my brain is fully engaged.Taking notes for the sake of taking notes isn’t really going to help you. Turning the notes into actionable ideas is what really matters.

4. Tune your mind ito capture important information

When note-taking begins to become a habit, it will start to feel natural to make notes during meetings, networking events, seminars and workshops etc.A simple note or idea could turn into something much bigger. Richard Branson has said that if he had never taken notes, then many of Virgin’s companies and projects would never have started.((Richard Branson: The Importance Of Taking Notes))

5. Make you a more efficient reader

Whether you’re reading a book for personal or business development, note-taking can really help maintain focus and give you the ability to retain important quotes, processes or thinking techniques.You could underline and fold back the corner of the page but pulling out key elements of the book and then referring back to them gives you the opportunity to think deeper or look at ways you could action those elements in your business and life.

6. Improve your memory

Humans tend to lose almost 40% of new information within the first 24 hours of reading or hearing it. So, effective note taking can help you retain and retrieve almost 100% of the information you receive.When you take handwritten notes, you are writing and organizing as you’re thinking, which forces your thoughts to process the information in a deeper way.

7. Help you better organize your thoughts

One challenge people have with note taking is to be able to organize them in a way that you can refer back to them later.Note taking on its own isn’t enough. You have to revisit the notes and cement the important information in your mind.If the notes are all over the place this is hard to do. To make this process simpler, you can keep all of your notes in the same place, keep the same format and review your notes on a weekly or fortnightly basis.

8. Improve your attention span

When you have a notebook and pen with you, you become more active and engaged in your environment.You’ll focus more and pay more attention — a thought, quote, idea or learning experience. When you develop note-taking skills, you become more engaged, pull out and note down the information you want to capture.You can then sift, sort and organize your notes to enhance your learning experience or pull out thoughts to develop into bigger ideas.

9. Train you to capture only what matters

Note-taking moves us away from transcribing everything that we hear in a meeting, coaching session or classroom.With a pen and notepad at the ready our mind begins to tune in to the things or ideas that matter. We become able to filter out the ‘noise’ and focus in on the most relevant points, or keywords or ideas that we can build on later or refer back to.

10. Help you ask better questions

If you’re in a meeting and you’re fully engaged and taking notes, your mind can begin to open up and your thought process widens.You begin to see connections that you might miss if you hadn’t jotted down a specific note. This helps you ask better questions as you may need something to be clarified further or it has opened up a new idea that you want to explore further.

11. Make you become a more active learner

The physical act of writing things down can often help clarify the thoughts and ideas you have in your mind.Once things are written down, there is a form of mental stimulation and connection in the mind.

12. Help you achieve goals

A number of studies show that the process of taking notes helps people to boost learning and achieve their goals.One of Brian Tracy’s core philosophies for goal achievement is writing down your goals as we are more committed to what we write down versus what we say.Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California, recently studied the art and science of goal setting:She discovered, through group research, that those who wrote down their goals and dreams on a regular basis achieved those desires at a significantly higher level than those who did not. She found that you become 42% more likely to achieve your goals and dreams, simply by writing them down on a regular basis.

How to make taking notes a habit

Making note-taking a habit can make you more focused, more productive and more creative.It can help you capture all of your thoughts, ideas and retain information that can set you up for success.But how can we create a note-taking habit in our daily lives to ensure that it works equally well in the boardroom, meeting room, classroom or wherever you’re spending your time?

1. Invest in a notebook

Spend a bit of time finding a notebook that you love. Notebooks come in all shapes, sizes and colors, so it’s about finding the one that works for you.I use a mixture of moleskins and leather bound notebooks from Florence.If you don’t want to get that notebook out and write in it, then it will stay hidden.

2. Keep your notes in the same place

To ensure your notes are organized and easily referenced, then keep them in one place.You may choose to have a notebook for different situations and learning experiences. One may be for ideas. You may have one for the office and for meetings. Another could be for personal development.I personally keep all my notes in one place but they are clearly headed and indexed so I can refer back to them easily.

3. Carry a notebook with you

The simple act of carrying a notebook with you will inspire you to take notes.Try this:Have a notebook with you for 21 days and see when and where you are taking notes and when you’re not.This will ensure you have your notebook handy for the meetings, activities and opportunities that matter.

4. Find your note-taking style

Many of us have different note taking styles, so find one that suits the way you think and that ensures you get the maximum benefit from the notes you’ve taken.A one-word note or thought can be just as powerful as a more detailed overview of a meeting.A few note taking styles you can explore further and try out include:

  • Mind Mapping
  • The Outline Method
  • The Charting Method
  • The Cornell Method
  • The Maria Popova Method
  • Rapid Logging Method

5. Keep the same format

Once you’ve found a method and system that works for you, stick with it and amend it as you go along to your own personality.If you chop and change styles, it will be more difficult to retrace and decipher your notes effectively at a later date.One key to follow is to ensure that the notes page is dated and a headline or key topic is shown at the top of the page.If you are creating different symbols or letters as a reference point e.g. M for Meetings, ensure this is included as well.

6. Review your notes

You may find it hard to find the time to revisit your notes but it’s important that you do.Set time aside to review your notes, ideally within 48 hours of making them.If you leave your notes gathering dust for a week or so after taking them, your recall won’t be as strong and you will be less inclined to take action on them.Some notes will bring up further questions, some will require further thinking time and others won’t be a priority right now.By taking the time to review them, you are always being proactive rather than reactive.

7. Take action

One of the keys to building a successful habit is that you achieve some form of success, however small.This success builds momentum and helps you develop and grow every day. It also ensures that the habit sticks.As Richard Branson said:

“Go through your ideas and turn them into actionable and measurable goals. If you don’t write your ideas down, they could leave your head before you even leave the room.”

The bottom line

Note-taking is one of the keys to success for many high level entrepreneurs and if you can make it a habit, you would make better decisions, solve problems better, be more creative, increase your learning and improve your productivity.It may take a lot of discipline to make note-taking a habit in your daily life; but once you find a process that works for you, the benefits could be huge.

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