Why Become a Note Taking Ninja

Pad & Pencil - Simple and Effective
Pad & Pencil – Simple and Effective

Everyone knows that taking notes is sensible, but it’s more than that, it’s an essential skill.

  • The brain can only hold 7 things, how are you going to overcome that?
  • The advantages of paper and pencil ‘v’ electronic devices to record information (note take) and how to do it effectively
  • How becoming a note taking ninja can help you manage information effectively and make you the office superstar

So here’s why note taking is an essential skill. The brain can only hold about 7 things (+ or – 2) and informing tell when more stimulus comes in, something is likely to drop. Most people are subject to so much stimulus now days, those 7 things are constantly changing as the day progresses.

What actions did you take at that 10am meeting? What was the exact point someone was making about your proposal? Can you remember all you need to?

George Armitage Miller famously said on this 7 thing ‘limit’; “My problem is that I have been persecuted by an integer”

The simple answer therefore is – Record It.

Using your phone/iPad/laptop seems like a great way to capture and use information, and in many ways it is (easily transferrable/editable/Cut & Paste/searchable and has minimalist storage). But I want to remind everyone of the power of paper and a pencil.

Why a pad and pen (or paper and pencil) – Advantages

  • Nobody is trying to steal it
  • Small and lightweight
  • Hard to damage
  • You are never anywhere where you can’t lay your hands on paper or pen
  • Writing doesn’t look like you are distracted in a meeting (Electronic devices do)
  • No boot up time or multiple clicks to get to the right app
  • Its so quick, much quicker than I can type
  • Attention. For short notes/periods of time, I can write whilst still retaining eye contact with a colleague. I can’t touch type so if on a laptop, I would need to break my attention from them.
  • Does not need to be plugged in or rely on batteries (which will fail just as you need them)

Disadvantages and Counter Arguments

  • Hard copy can be easily lost when every other piece of work is electronic. So take photos of key notes into Evernote or just a keep a photo image file with date and note subject title.
  • Not editable. If it’s that important, type it up later to create and editable version
  • Not searchable. Scanned documents or photos can be searched in two ways, by file name (see above) or by contents (Evernote has handwriting search for premium users). Also, if using a notebook rather than loose leaf, generally you take notes from front to back chronillogically. By dating your notes, you will be able to quite quickly find a particular note by a manual date ‘search’.
  • Not easily shared. If it needs sharing, type it out electronically. Retyping notes requires you to remind yourself of the disucsion and points made, a great way to have a deeper understanding and retain knowledge mentally to be at your fingertips.
  • Possibly seen as old fashioned or old school. Possibly (although unlikely), but you will be seen as an accurate, credible and effective member of the team. That will be the area of focus, not how modern your gadgets are.

Why is this even important? Is it worthy of your attention? What leaders crave most from their people (other than delivering results) is that they are accurate and reliable. Being able to quickly access key information isn’t about being a show off, it’s about saying I take my job seriously and therefore I want to ensure that we have the right information at hand.

Let me be clear though, I’m not saying you should become the meeting minutes taker for all meetings, just ensure your own notes and informative. And because they are yours, you can be creative and use whatever format and style you want such as:

  • Mind map
  • Bulleted lists
  • Visual note taking

With a weekly 1 hour team meeting costing somewhere around £6k per year[1], you can show how you are recording the outputs and value of that expense. That builds credibility.

So what works for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

[1][Average UK salary at date of writing is £26,500 (£13.74 per hour) means that a 1 hour team meeting for 10 people costs £137.40. And if you have a weekly standing 1 hour team meeting, over the year that adds up to around £6k]


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