Taking Killer Notes That Keep You On Top Of Your Game

Taking useful notes that apply to learning, presentations, and meetings.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #16

Note Taking for Learning

You, Jill, are a student. You are taking notes to learn, probably while reading a book or hearing a lecture, or listening to a podcast. You'll read or hear facts and reasoning. Facts, you jot down if you think you'll need them later. If you hear, "the population of Zorbia is 346," just write down, "pop. Zorbia = 346." Generally, facts are easy to find in books, so when taking notes, my priority is to listen for reasoning.

Reasoning is when you hear why things happen, or how one thing affects another. That's the real meat of learning! When you encounter cause/effect words like "why," "because," "since," or "so," you've found reasoning. For example, "Since Zorbia is so small, it has no negotiating power in the United Nations." Bingo! You now know that size is related to negotiating power. (And some people say size doesn't matter. Hah!) When listening, don't try to overthink this; just write down reasons and logic when you hear them. Do the thinking when reviewing.

Speaking of size, punt the tiny words like "a" or "the" or "is" to save time. At least in English, you can often speed write by skipping some vowels. So "Zorbia" becomes "Zrb" or "Zrba." Also engage your whole brain with colors, shapes, or pictures. Even simple ones. I use a four-color pen and highlight important-seeming points in color. Or I'll write a big green exclamation point next to reasons, so that they stand out.

The very act of taking notes helps you learn, even if you don't review them. Check out the mind-mapping  website of brain expert Tony Buzan. . In mind maps, your notes are key words linked together in a big, beautiful, spider-web looking thingee. You can go fast, since you only write single words, and later, you color in the map and add symbols. It activates your whole brain and you get to fulfill those childhood Spiderman fantasies at the same time!

You'll also learn best by relating what you're learning to what you already know. If you have time, jot down the connection to deep meaningful facts. "Pop. Zorbia = 346 =  number of pages in 1997 hardcover edition of The Untold Tales of Spiderman, by Stan Lee." Yes! (Excuse me.) Just remember on the test to answer 346; that's not the time to mention Spiderman.

For reasoning, find other places where same reasoning applies. "Size = negotiating power, e.g. (that means "for example"), small kid never gets to choose which sports team he's on." (Let's not ask why I chose that example. My therapist and I are on it. OK?) I sometimes can find reasoning examples while listening, but usually I add those only if I'm taking notes while reading, or if they jump out at me, or when I'm reviewing.

Today's transcript will include some sample notes and a link to Tony's mind-mapping website.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT. 

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