How to Take Notes

Taking notes is a skill you can use and continue to refine throughout your career. Taking good notes can help you remember important information, prioritize tasks and create records for key ideas to look back on as you need them.

In this article, we will discuss why note-taking skills are important, how to take notes and when to avoid taking notes.

Why note-taking is important

Taking notes can be a helpful tool for recording, remembering and referencing important information. Writing down ideas, instructions or other information that will help you be better at your job is an important skill to use and develop in your career.

Here are a few benefits of taking organized notes:

  • Organize your thoughts. Taking notes allows you to edit, elaborate on and update information about important tasks, projects and relationships. Taking notes can help you arrange your thoughts.

  • Remember important information. Writing down information can help you remember and recall it later. When you take notes at a meeting or during a presentation, the information you want to remember is more likely to stay top of mind.

  • Refer back to previous information. Taking notes can also be helpful when you need to refer back to specific data points or other pieces of information. It is especially helpful when you have taken notes in preparation for a meeting or interview.

  • Prepare ideas. Writing down your thoughts and ideas ahead of a meeting can help you feel more confident and prepared. Even if you do not refer back to your notes, it might be helpful to simply write them down so you can see and remember them.

  • Stay focused. Because work is typically very busy, you might be thinking about other projects or tasks during a meeting or presentation. Taking notes can help you stay focused.

  • Create a shared record of a conversation. If you’re meeting with another person or group, it can be helpful for one person to take notes so that you can all agree on what was said. Sharing these notes with everyone in attendance can make it more likely that work will move forward as a result of the conversation.

When you should take notes

While taking notes is not appropriate in every setting, there are a few settings in which taking notes might be helpful, including but not limited to:

  • Before interviews: Taking down notes for common interview questions and questions you’d like to ask your interviewer can be helpful, especially for phone interviews.

  • During interviews: Be sure to write down key information you get from the interviewers including what they are looking for in a candidate, what it takes to succeed at the company and more. Recall these details in your follow-up and thank you notes.

  • During meetings: Take down key due dates, next steps, people you should contact, statistics and other pieces of information that will be helpful to your work. Often, sending a follow-up email with your notes and key takeaways to the attendees after meetings showcases your listening and communication skills.

  • During conferences or presentations: Taking notes during presentations and conferences is useful when you’d like to refer back to thoughts or ideas that were impactful to you.

  • When ideas for issues, projects or meetings come to mind: Throughout the day, ideas to resolve issues, items to bring up in your next meeting or other thoughts will enter your mind. Write them down so you remember them when it is important.

  • During conversations: If you have a call with a client or colleague, you mind find it helpful to jot down information that builds relationships with them. For example, you might record their weekend plans, hobbies, birthday, names of their pets or children or other things that are meaningful that you want to remember.

When to avoid taking notes

If you have an important or sensitive meeting when face-to-face interaction is important, you should avoid taking notes. For example, if you have been called into a meeting about a serious event that occurred at the company, simply focus on active listening as to not distract the speaker or others in the room.

You should also be sensitive when taking notes during an interview. While it is important to write down key pieces of information for your own knowledge and to reference in thank-you notes, it is more important to show that you are interested and attentive through eye contact and body language. Find a balance between writing notes and active listening during interviews.

Additionally, be aware of the culture around computers at meetings. While it is accepted and encouraged at some companies, others might frown upon having your laptop open during meetings as it might be considered a distraction. If laptops are not accepted, bring a notebook and pen instead.

Best ways to take notes

Taking notes is often subjective as different people will find different ways of note-taking more helpful than others. To find what works for you, try taking notes in one way for a week or two. Then change methods the next week and see what is most effective. There are several options for note-taking, and you might use one, two or all of them depending on the scenario:

  • Notebook and pen
  • Computer or online document
  • Note-taking software or app
  • Calendar or organizer
  • Small notepad or sticky notes

When taking notes, follow these steps to keep your thoughts organized and refer back to the information you need with ease:

  • Title your page or section of the page with the date and subject of your meeting, conference, conversation or presentation.
  • Provide context for your notes so you understand the purpose of what you wrote down.
  • Use bullet points and other formatting tools such as numbers, indentations and dashes to organize your page for easy reference.
  • Instead of writing entire sentences, only write as much information as you will need when you go back to your notes. This way, you can capture more information.
  • Highlight or flag key information such as due dates, contact information or important instructions. Add key dates to your calendar with reminders, if necessary.
  • If you are sending your meeting notes to attendees in a follow-up email, be sure to summarize it with key takeaways and next steps.
  • If you are giving a presentation or preparing for an interview, highlight key sections so you are able to quickly see the information you need to.
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