taking good notesNotes taken in meetings, lectures, workshops, etc., can end up being a jumble of action items, ideas, discussion points and the like. Often the most critical notes taken are commitments to do things, but those can get buried in all the other writing unless you read through line by line to find them. And if you don’t take the time to do that, the task isn’t remembered until it’s too late.

Here’s a tip for making notes more usable.

Keep a blank left hand column on every page. It doesn’t have to be ruled, just start writing about an inch from the left. In that space go icons that identify what kind of a note it is. Insert the icon as you’re jotting the notes. Later, the icons will be easy to spot and you can pick them out quickly as you skim over your notes.

Some examples…

  • For action items, draw a small box in front of the task. As you complete the task, put a check in the box
  • If you’re jotting a note about a book, website, or other resource you may want to access at some point, draw an R (for Resource) with a circle around it.
  • A gem of an idea that doesn’t require a specific action? Make a star in front of it.

You can make up your own legend, just make sure you keep it simple and stay consistent. You don’t want so many icons that you confuse yourself. And consistency is important.  Try using this note taking system for awhile before you change it up or try something else.  It needs some time to feel more comfortable and routine.