On taking notes


I have been remiss at writing new content for this blog, and whilst this topic isn’t one that I said I’d post about (those posts are coming, I promise), it’s something I was discussing yesterday and so is at the forefront of my mind.

Like many people I still use pen and paper when taking notes, and regardless of the type of meeting I stick with three basic categories.

  1. [] Actions either for me or my team to do. Includes things that need done immediately or things which it would be good to do in the future.
  2. ? Questions on things I want to learn more about, which relate to my team. Whilst these may also be actions (typically they involve asking people questions) I differentiate them because, until I’ve asked the question, I don’t know enough to decide on whether there is anything to be done (caveat: if it is a burning issue, I’ll like put this against both categories ? [] ).
  3. I Information which covers all sorts of things from useful URLs, to quotes, to product names and so on.

I also “style” my notes, with the appropriate shorthand symbol first, then a gap, then the text for that item. Keeping that consistent makes it very easy to scan down my notes to process them.

[] email report to Fred
[] speak to Tina about next phase of work
? what is the cognitive learning project, who is running it?
[] write a blog post on the Information Strategy Pyramid
I stats for last week 103 open, 74 closed

Processing the notes, again, depends on the type of note.

For actions as, unless they can be done straight away (I think that is a GTD methodology thing? If it takes 1 minute to do it, and 1 minute to write it up and put it in a list, then you are better just doing it), they are transcribed into an online task manager application I use called Remember the Milk. It has a very nice iPhone app which makes it easy to “take my list” with me at all times.

Questions are simply a matter of being asked. That may drive further actions or information which are captured accordingly.

Anything I’ve noted down as information is either processed electronically, if it’s something online I’ll visit it and either bookmark it in my del.icio.us account, add it to my list on Instapaper (again, which has an excellent iPhone app), or grab it and store for later in Evernote (again, a useful iPhone app helps).

Whilst all of that seems like a lot of work, it’s very maintainable, and I spend less than 20 mins a day processing my notes. However it helps me keep on top of several different streams of work, and so far it hasn’t let me down. I’ve been using the shorthand symbols for a long time now, but obviously the electronic processing of these things is new.

So, what about you? How do you take notes? Are you a mindmapper? A random scribbler? Or do you, like one lady who attend a presentation I did a few years ago, do you draw out the subject and the notes in one go?


  1. I like your use of symbols — I’ll have to give that a try.

    I find that for anything other than (more or less) straight question-answer discourse, taking notes by hand is easier for me. The goal of my style is to not lock any one item too tightly in a linear flow, making it easier for me to connect ideas that didn’t come out in close chronological proximity.

  2. Gosh, my notes are very disorganised compared with you and very unartistic compared with the linked example.

    I jot things down by hand, with no particular symbolisation and don’t routinely transfer them all to anything else – but then I don’t have an iphone or 3g.

    Some items send me to our bug logging software, some might become a note on our authors’ wiki or in a comment topic in a help project and others might end up in an email, but it’s a bit random.

    So thanks for raising the issue. I might even be able to turn it into one of my objectives.

  3. Finally, I know there is someone else besides me who does this with their notes…while my legend isn’t quite the same, I do have specific symbols for my notes:

    ? Question. I will put initials next to identify the person who should be asked
    ! Note to self/general information
    –> Action Item

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: