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NOTES

Why You Should Be Taking Notes!

2 Oct 2020

Author: Lote Larmane

Our brains are superb idea generators and innovation machines. It is because of our ideas and cognitive abilities that we can live in a globalized world of sophisticated political, legal, and economic systems.

For all the benefits of our brains however, they have one tiny weakness – forgetfulness. I don’t know about you, but there have been countless occasions when I couldn’t for the life of me remember a good idea I had had just moments ago. Now, I cannot be sure about others, but taking a cautious estimate of one tenth of the global population being in a similar position at least once a month, that’s billions upon billions of good ideas lost. Ideas that could have led to greater global happiness and prosperity.

Having read the title of this blog post, you probably have figured out what I am getting at. Taking notes regularly is probably the simplest yet most effective way to organize your thoughts and ideas, improve them, and see them through to fruition. Scribbling something down in a notebook or adding notes to the BePrime app may seem like the least important thing on your path to self-improvement, especially comparing note taking to flashy things like setting goals or managing finances. But as Richard Branson so eloquently put it: “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.” If you don’t put your ideas down in your notes, they will never become goals and results.

I’ll divide this blog post into two parts. First, we’ll look over some of the benefits taking notes can bring. Second, I’ll offer a beginner’s guide to taking notes. Even if you are skeptical about the whole thing, I suggest you stick around. You may realize that note taking is not just for students, but it is something that can meaningfully change our lives for the better.

So Why Take Notes?

Getting back into the habit of taking notes may be harder than it might seem at first glance. Most of us associate notebooks with school or university – which for many was not the most harmonious period of our lives. Hence note taking may be somewhat tainted by the circumstances or the activity it is traditionally linked to. However, if you overcome these connotations and make note taking a staple of your everyday life, the benefits will come pouring down.

First, taking notes allows you to supplement your memory with additional details. Tim Ferriss – an American author and entrepreneur – has said that he trusts “the weakest pen more than the strongest memory.” And this is true – while our memories are notoriously unreliable, notes can allow us to recollect important events, occurrences, or conversations as they actually were.

In fact, this is my primary reason for taking notes on a daily basis. And in my case there really is not an overly practical reason – I just want to remember special moments in my life with reliable and detailed information. We all can resort to nostalgia, but it truly is something special to have additional information behind a certain day. Write down what you did, how you felt etc. Trust me – if you do this long enough, you’ll have a truly amazing life journal of photos, workout information, and notes to look back on. 

Second, it helps you pay attention and understand things more profoundly. In other words – you’ll be a better learner. By writing things down, you’ll engage more vigorously with the content you are consuming. During the note taking process you have to evaluate, analyze, and prioritize information. All those actions use different parts of the brain making it easier to recall facts and figures later on. Trust me – instead of cramming for tests or exams using books or Wikipedia, just attend classes and take detailed notes. Reread them latter and you’ll be more thoroughly prepared for any test than you could ever be doing anything else. In addition, that knowledge will last longer and will be far easier to rekindle.

Third, it will noticeably increase the quality of your work. It’s not just simply putting good ideas down on paper that will help you remember them latter. If you are taking notes, you can make connections between ideas, elaborate on them, build mind-maps, illustrate certain concepts, and lay foundations for something great. We constantly generate ideas – note taking can help us improve and catapult our ideas to fruition now or later without fear of forgetting.

Finally, taking notes allows us to relax and take a step back without losing anything. These days there are literally hundreds of different things happening around and within us – ideas, interactions, conversations, events, constant flow of information. Sometimes we may feel overwhelmed and burn ourselves out trying to get grips on everything. Taking notes allows you to take stock of what matters to you – what people, feelings, places, and other things fill you with joy. This information helps you to set or adjust any goals or tasks you may have. 

So, in a nutshell, take notes to boost your memory, be a better learner, improve the quality of whatever you do, and be less stressful. Just rid yourself of that unhelpful connection between school and note taking and you’ll be on your way to a happier and more productive life! Now all that’s left to figure out is how to take notes effectively!

First Step – Start Off Easy!

Any advice article on how to take effective notes will start off by saying that you have to find a note taking method. Truth be told, I don’t agree that this should be the first step. Since most of us begin as newbies, it is far more important to understand why you want to take notes and what particular things you are going to focus on. Each one of us has different needs, interests, and style, so I suggest starting in an unorthodox way – just write stuff down. Don’t worry too much about the contents of your notes, nor about their purpose. Write down the things you find important or interesting. If you like a bit more structure to what you do, I suggest picking a topic or a theme you want to focus on and take notes about that. For instance, if your goal is to lead a healthier life, add notes about health or fitness that you find helpful or inspiring.

If you still want a little tutorial on what to include in your notes, follow these general tips:

  • Record main headings – titles and big ideas only to help you structure what you do;
  • Write down important points and phrases under each heading;
  • Include relevant quotes – things you see in a book or hear during a class. These are great because they are short and direct;
  • Your thoughts matter – remember to include your opinions and assessments. This will help you to remember the topic and the facts better;
  • Leave room for future information and comments – you never know when you’ll return to a topic with a good idea to add. Better save some space.

Second Step – Form a Habit!

The important thing at the very beginning is to form a habit. While it may not seem like it initially, note taking will lead to a more fulfilled, more productive, and more creative life. So I suggest making the note taking process as easy and self-explanatory as possible.

The most important thing to remember is to take your notes in one place – be it an app or a notebook. Having your thoughts and observations written down in one place is not just an organizational matter. It will allow you to make the most out of the note taking practice by facilitating note compilation, analysis, and connection making. If you take your notes chaotically, chances are the habit will not take proper roots and slowly disappear. Do it systematically and you’ll see the amazing potential note taking holds. Using different notebooks for different topics is not a complete no-no, but what matters is that you stay consistent and organized!

Third Step – Review Your Notes and Adjust!

So let’s say you’ve been taking notes for a while now – writing down anything from what you heard in a podcast or a job meeting. This is when you can start to reflect on what you are doing and how you are doing it. Despite the first notes being rather unrefined, you’ll see that with time you develop your own personal approach and style. You’ll see what kind of information you enter, what kinds of patterns start to form, and are there any major themes about which you are writing. You’ll also notice that you are more and more aware of what you are logging and how it ties into your entire log/notebook/blog. 

In this phase you’ll also see how the way you take notes has changed over time. What improvements you’ve already made to make the process easier and more effective and what further steps could be taken to improve the quality of your notes. This is when I suggest checking out some other note taking methods and see if any of them may suit your needs and interests. Even if you have built your own unique note taking method, it might be helpful to see how others structure their notes to improve the quality of what you are doing. The Cornell method, the outline method, or the charting method are the most common approaches to note taking, but put in some research and you’ll find there are countless more.

Fourth Step – Take Your Note Taking to the Next Level!

The more you stick to note taking, the more of the benefits will start to show. You will be better organized, more attentive, less stressful, and, most importantly, – you’ll be a better performer at almost everything you do. If everything goes well, note taking can lead to a virtuous cycle of higher productivity that leads to even more efficient and better note taking that leads to even greater performance. Once the habit takes hold, let the good practice you have built over time evolve and make your life more and more awesome. You may even end up like me – starting off with simple scribbles in a notebook to having built a complex Microsoft Excel worksheet with evaluation and input sorting mechanisms that allow you to analyze your overall or category level achievements and tie your notes to tasks, goals, activities, and dates. 

So to recap – start off nice and easy, work on turning note taking into a habit, review and work towards improving what you do, and let it all evolve. Just don’t forget about the main thing in all of this – finding the right motivation. Work towards being happier and more productive rather than just doing this because everyone else does it! 

You can do it too! And what’s best is that BePrime can aid you along the way to success!

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