Here Are 5 Note-Taking Tips For Your Next Meeting Or Class
Have you ever found yourself starting a meeting or a class feeling pumped and ready to go, but a few minutes in, boredom and distraction starts kicking in? Before you know it, you are twirling your pen in your hand and doodling eyes on your notebook, all while missing the important parts of the class or meeting that you should have focused on? If you have, you are not alone, as our transition into the digital age with virtual meetings and classes have made it harder for us to focus.
However, here are a few note-taking tips that can help you remain proactive in retaining information and contributing to your meetings.
1. Write Your Notes Instead of Typing
The way we have taken notes has changed over the years, creating a debate on whether notes should be hand-written or typed. However, your choice of note-taking should reflect what you wish to prioritise.
If you want to take speedier and more detailed notes, type them out. Typing requires less muscle movement, so you can store more information while it is being mentioned and have the time to catch it in a document. This helps with detail-oriented and fast-paced meetings or classes so can ensure you do not miss out on any information.
If you wish to remember your notes easily in the future, write them down. Writing requires more muscle movement that varies in diversity and pressure. This creates a link between your brain and your hand movement when taking in information. Furthermore, since writing is slower, the tendency of shortening notes to their main points is higher. Therefore, you will better retain the main idea of the meeting or class. If you worry about paper wastage, consider a more sustainable option like using a tablet to write your answers.
2. Organise Your Notes
It can be tempting to just write your notes line by line, in any blank space that we can find, or even on the back of a napkin that we got from our morning coffee. However, formatting your notes in a way to make them easier to read and to process can help when reviewing them in the future. There are a few known methods to this:
a) The Outline Method
This method uses a staircase-like approach with the main points on the leftmost side and the details and expansions gradually being indented to the right. This utilises the way we tend to read, which goes from left to right. This ensures that the most important points will be read first followed by the elaborations.
- The First Point
- The first detail or elaboration
- Additional examples and supporting details
- The first detail or elaboration
b) The Cornell Method
The Cornell Method utilises a two-column method of keeping information. Within these columns, the smaller column on the left side contains all the key points or important information from the meeting. The right side of the column that takes up more space is for the more bulky, detailed information.
c) Mind Maps
This is a very common tip and there are many types of mind maps, but the two mind maps I find particularly helpful are the tree and bubble map.
- The treemap has the main subject that branches out to subtopics in a vertical hierarchical manner.
- The bubble map practices the same concept. However, it has a circle as the main subject in the middle that branches out into subtopics all around it. Mind maps are useful to help visual learners due to their reflection on how our mind works.
Whilst notes can follow a certain format, it is best to use multiple methods. It is all a matter of mixing and matching! For example, you can even insert a mind map in the bulk information section of the Cornell method.
3. Identify Key Concepts
A common misconception of taking notes is to simply copy down whatever is presented. Although it can be tempting to do so, the practice does not engage your brain. This is because your mind is likely going to tune out instead of taking in concepts. A study from Mount St-Vincent University found that simply copying notes creates a phenomenon called intentional forgetting because the brain is signalling to you that since you have already written the information down, you do not need to remember it. You are simply regurgitating information without comprehension. It can also be rather stressful, because you will worry if you have forgotten to copy an important point.
However, consider identifying key concepts or main ideas to take note of. This is a metacognitive strategy that helps you engage in active listening and understand the subject as you write it. As you strive to understand what the main point is, you will end up listening more actively to the presenter. In other terms, it helps you learn and remember as you are writing and not zone out. It also helps to make your notes concise and productive upon further future reading.
A good way to help you identify the main topics is usually at the start of a meeting or class. This is usually outlined in the meeting or class objectives. By identifying these main points, your notes can be centred around the expansion of points.
4. Use Visuals
Note-taking doesn’t have to be boring. You can keep it fun with some colours or little doodles on what best represents each component of your notes!
Adding little visual cues is based on the Dual Coding Theory, which suggests using verbal and visual materials makes learning easier. Little doodles and highlights add another format to the same information, which engages both sides of your brain to process information, and you can remember information in two ways in the future.
A simple way to jazz up your notes is by highlighting important keywords or details. Besides adding a cute pop of colour, it also draws your attention to points that you know you’ll want to remember. If you enjoy doodling, add little drawings to illustrate key topics in images. Try drawing a lightbulb to represent imagination or ideas!
5. Review and Summarise
Take a look back on the meeting. Try rewriting notes in your own words to make sense of the information that you have just absorbed. Spend 5 to 10 minutes reflecting on and truly absorbing everything by rereading your notes. After that, you can take actionable follow-up steps by adding items to your to-do list based on the class or meeting outcomes and calendar events so you do not miss out on anything. Furthermore, this will also help when you look back on your notes in the future to recall what you have accomplished.
In the digital age, we can easily use our phone to take pictures or get documents from the meeting leader or lecturer that summarises the meeting. However, it is still more beneficial to adopt traditional methods of note-taking! It has proven many healthy cognitive functions and ease in retaining information later on. Try some of these techniques out, and see what works best for you!