How to Take Notes

Questions This Guidance Answers: 
  • What's the best way to take notes?
  • What is the Cornell method?
  • How do I use my notes?

This cast describes an effective way to take notes.

If you go to meetings all the time... no, wait. BECAUSE you go to meetings all the time, you need an effective way to take notes. There are certainly a LOT of different ways to do so, but if you ask a hundred or so executives, some common themes emerge about what works and why. For most of us, we write too much, and get too little value, for all the wrong reasons.

We figure, at 10 meetings a week - and we KNOW you go to more than that, it ends up being 5,000 meetings every decade... so maybe 25,000 meetings CONSERVATIVELY in your professional career.

In other words, whether you realize it or not, you need to be good at taking and using your notes.


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This was a great cast. I have the

This was a great cast. I have the opposite problem sometimes, I take too few notes. The last point about taking action quickly helps with this a lot; to get it short term memory into an action item. Hopefully with the template you guys have provided I won't miss an who's, what's or when's.

Thanks for the netcast on taking notes

Thanks for the netcast on taking notes - great information for everyone.

I wanted to point the community to a couple of great resources: My favorite online form generator site has a Cornell Note Generator. It allows you to customize and download a PDF of your form(s) -> http://incompetech.com/graphpaper/cornelllined/

Another site I use quite a bit for my paper/GTD/scribbling needs is DIY Planner at -> http://www.diyplanner.com/. You can d/l some great planning and notetaking tools that will really help your effectiveness.

Thanks for covering a much needed topic

Thanks for covering a much needed topic and for offering very practical tips on how to be a better not taker. Here's another Cornell Method PDF Generator: http://www.eleven21.com/notetaker/ It offers a little more flexibility for creating a page header (e.g., you can include your name, current month and perhaps company or project name). I've been using it for over 2 years with great success.

This is an excellent Podcast. I find

This is an excellent Podcast. I find the information EXTREMELY helpful. I have one bit of feedback though. Please stop using "I" when you should use "me." Bad grammar takes away from the professionalism. In the Podcast promoting your conference I believe you said something like "Mark and I's feelings won't be hurt." In another podcast you used I as the object of a preposition. Again, the podcast is awesome but please clean up the grammar.

dmatthe52001- Welcome to the world

dmatthe52001-

Welcome to the world of complibuts.

And a twofer at that!

It's a beautiful thing(s)(!).

Mark

I really liked the idea of no typing

I really liked the idea of no typing during meetings. It does seem pretty easy to handle the situation when it involves your directs. However, how do you handle the situation where it is your boss or even your boss's boss that is doing the "blackberry prayer"?

I really liked the "treo prayer" idea.

I really liked the "treo prayer" idea. That never occured to me. Thanks for putting that in my vocabulary.

I do very much agree about PC's in

I do very much agree about PC's in meetings being a distraction, especially with people emailing. I have adopted the no PC's approach in my 1-1's and staff meetings after these recent casts, but I still struggle on the ban on PC's overall:

I have been religiously using my PC for notes for years now, and I am a very very fast typist. I can look you in the eye while I type and still type at least 2X faster than I write. By typing notes they are instantly online, searchable, emailable, and portable. For example, I have notes from every meeting I've ever had with me when I travel to Japan...tough do to that with paper. Also, it's very easy to avoid dropping actions because I search for "AR" (Action required) which I use consistently in all my notes.

I've been toying with the idea of making a little sign that I post on my PC in meetings (on the back side for others to see): "My wireless is off, I'm just taking notes". Thoughts? Is that ridiculous or a good compromise?

Heinlein- Well, we wouldn't call it

Heinlein-

Well, we wouldn't call it ridiculous, but we don't recommend it. As I think we mentioned in the show, the perception of others is part of the issue, and I doubt that your sign - I laughed, but I get it and admire your adherence to a successful habit - will make much impact.

Long term, if you have any aspirations for executive life, your habit will likely have to go.

And yet, long live diversity.

Mark

There is a part in Lencioni's book, 5

There is a part in Lencioni's book, 5 dysfunctions of a team, where Kathryn the new CEO adressed the problem with one of the team members during an off site. She was accused to be old fashion and not enough high-tech.

I loved the aswer she gave:

"...it is more a behavioral issue than e technological one."

d.

Hi Mark and Michael Great podcast on

Hi Mark and Michael
Great podcast on "How to Take Notes" There was a lot of useful information. I just have one question. I have always captured the attendees and purpose of the meeting in my notes. Is this good practice? If so what area of the Cornell template would you capture this information.

At the

At the top!

Mark

Hi Mark and Mike, "How to take

Hi Mark and Mike,

"How to take Notes" was an exceptional cast. I have always struggled with this, because, I want / need to capture everything in order to revert back to them.
More recently, in the majority of committee meetings, we now had dedicated Admin's who will take the notes for us and e-mail them within 24 hours to the group. I still take notes to help me, but have found this to very beneficial.

I have utlized my laptop in one committee that I chair. Purpose was to immediately finalize a charter/purpose statement for the committee vs. handwriting the verbiage. It's there, it's accurate, it's legible.

Are there times, when typing could be accepted as stated above?

Thanks

Todd

Todd- Sure, there are times. But

Todd-

Sure, there are times. But frankly, I can't imagine it in the role of chair, ever. The purpose of the chair's role is to help everyone else be effective. Typing doesn't do that. Have someone else do it for you.

And wanting/needing to capture everything has got to be resisted. It's a waste of bandwidth and time.

Mark

Mark & Michael, very useful podcast,

Mark & Michael, very useful podcast, thanks!

I wanted to pass along a tip suggested by Steve Ruben, on using Gmail as a "business dairy", which I think is relevant to note-taking. After a meeting, you can call a message transcription service such as "Jott.com" from your cell phone, and read-in your notes. The service will convert your spoken msg into text, and email it back to you... instant minutes! Jott also provides a playable recording. Of course there are some msg length limits, but I've been using this tool for a couple of weeks and it really rocks.

Rubel's original blog post is at: http://www.micropersuasion.com/2007/04/a_few_weeks_bac.html

Cheers,
Alex

Alex- Thanks for the tip! Both Mike

Alex-

Thanks for the tip! Both Mike and I use Jott, although I'm not wired into it yet. It has become, for me, the solution to "getting something written down that I have in my head and I don't want to stop to write it down" (because my phone is ALWAYS with me.

Never thought about it for meeting notes, though. Well done.

Mark

Great podcast, I am going to ask my

Great podcast, I am going to ask my directs to listen to as well for some coaching ideas as we can all take better notes. I find that you are absolutely correct in the fact that so many people take very ineffective notes (a lot take none at all). I am going to have a training class on notetaking after practicing the Cornell method a bit. I owe you guys so much for all the help.

Have you guys ever used Mindmanager from Mindjet http://www.mindjet.com in meetings ? I know the use of PCs is somewhat banned, but we take group notes with it (in addition to good ole pen and paper by each person). We use 1 PC in the conference room and project Mindjet on the screen. I send the notes in PDF of the mindmap out via email after the meeting with action items (checkboxes beside the action items).
After listening to the podcast, I realize that many of our issues with people not being on the same page is everyone not taking good notes and our lack of true meeting effectiveness.
This stuff works well and extremely fast with the right facilitator as you jot down first, then drag into trees. It is a great brainstorming tool as well. I found it with some GTD stuff and have started the culture throughout our company, one department at a time. I hope I am not throwing out a big band-aid over the true problem, but it helps our meetings stay focused.

We couldn't disagree more! Isn't

We couldn't disagree more! Isn't diversity grand?

Mark

Could you explain why you disagree

Could you explain why you disagree Mark?
I live in Mindmanager for the majority of my work but I have found it just does not work projected in most meetings. I use it to create and publish the map as an agenda. If the person taking minutes is fluent in MM then they might use it in the meeting, but the projection thing just seems to distract the attendees.

As for my notes, I'll tend to take them on the printed mindmap of the agenda as a written mindmap that includes symbols for various actions, people, dates, etc. (All the element from the Cornell System but in a diagramatic format. I then take this into ResultsManager to maintain my action lists.

That said I should relate this to my

That said I should relate this to my post on the teleconference cast. I find that a projected screen using conferenceing software *helps* the focus in a teleconference. But as Mike said the best teleconference is a looooooong way from a well run face to face meeting.

I was disagreeing with the meeting

I was disagreeing with the meeting leader using it. It's just not possible to run a good meeting and take solid real time notes.

Someone else doing it, on a screen, seems just like using some of the technology we suggested, and that's fine.

Mark

I was wondering if you can purchase a

I was wondering if you can purchase a notpad with the paper formated to the Cornell format? This is really good cast and i have been using the template you provided and one off the links Tron provided. I really like bounded paper so i was hoping there might be a place to buy a notepad... any help would be great.

Hi Guys, (we met at the Pizza place in

Hi Guys,
(we met at the Pizza place in Virginia a while back)

My problem is that most of the folks I work with in the intelligence community DON'T take notes. Really....as crazy as this sounds, people just don't write anything down.

What I do is carry a bunch of these folded up note pages from http://www.pocketmod.com/
in my notebook. They're small and engaging....people seem very attracted to them. When it's obvious that someone has a "What to do" and is sitting there without writing anything down, I pass them one of these. (and usually a pen since they forgot that too).

Another couple of points on note-taking.

(1) Lance's rule: "The first to email out notes WINS". Yup - after every meeting I quickly send out the actions from the meeting. Since I got them out first, my interpretation of the actions and assignments always gets taken as fact and has never been challenged. Can you spell "spin"?? ;)

(2) On the translation from my notes to email, I start each bulleted action as follow:
[Action - ]
example:
[Action - Lance H.] Contact vendors for communication protocols.

The action part is in red. No mistaking it....it's pretty obvious and everyone sees that person has something to do. My notes seem to get emailed back to people when they forget to do their tasks.

PS - I've been using the cornell generators mentioned above for a long while....very nice.

Whoops...some of that text got dropped

Whoops...some of that text got dropped since it was interpreted as HTML code.

It should say:
[Action - name] text of the to do

example:
[Action - Lance H.] Contact vendors for communication protocols.

Levenger.com sells notepads that are

Levenger.com sells notepads that are formatted fairly close to the Cornell model. Really nice quality, heavy bond paper - simply terrific to write on.

You can see them here: HTTP://www.levenger.com/PAGETEMPLATES/PRODUCT/Product.asp?Params=Category=322-323|Level=2-3|pageid=2835|Link=Txt

Hi Mike and Mark, I disagree with the

Hi Mike and Mark,
I disagree with the part of "all time attention" at a meeting.

Have you ever heard an attendee after a meeting saying: "now back to work" ? or "Because of so many meetings I do not come to work any more".
Why meetings often are not considered as work?
Now the extreme version:
At my meetings my team can and should do what ever they like. Stand up, waking around, answering e-mails, go out for a while, leave for the rest and so on. When the meeting is not valuable, I want to get the feedback immediately!
Now more clearly, it depends on the type of the meeting. At my regular management meeting the agenda is open for everyone (till 24 hours before start). Attention to the topic owner is a part of friendliness and interpersonal culture. You listen when others talk, and you involve the others when you talk about an issue. Normally we have 6 to 10 topics (plus 4 fixed topics) for a monthly 4 hours meeting. Attendees come from different countries or join by video or phone. When a topic is not interesting for one or two, they should do something else. This 4 hours are our social time as well. I can’t avoid it at the remote attendees, so why I should differ at the life attendees.
I remember my daughter at first class in school. When I explained something to here, she did something else. This drove me crazy. But when I've asked about what I have said, she repeated word by word the last 3 sentences (more than I remembered myself). I have learned, that looking to your face dose not mean that someone is listing to you, and doing something else dose not mean they do not hear you.
This "visible attention to the speaker" is often just for the speaker’s ego and no value for attendees.

I fully agree with the note taking part. I use a booklet where I take all my to-do’s (at meetings, one-on-one’s or by my own, and check each when I have done it or strike it through when I came to the decision to don’t do it.

And I am a big fan of your show!
Thanks,
Horst
(you know me already, my directs introduced me and you kindly repeated it on air. Worm thanks to you and my Team)

Horst- We know you're a great boss,

Horst-

We know you're a great boss, so we certainly respect what you are doing!

And, we know that what you're doing works for you, and would NOT work for 90% of the manager we know.

Glad you're a fan of us and diversity!

Mark

Interesting cast. I enjoyed the rant

Interesting cast. I enjoyed the rant begining "your not Data" and ending "It's lonley in space" was fantastic.

I actually wondered whether the

I actually wondered whether the meanderings about Star Trek and Baseball might be practical jokes. If this had not been a podcast but a live presentation, I bet there would have been at least some of the furious scribber type of people having a hard time afterwards trying to figure out what their notes really are about ("... hate yankees ... that use blackberries ... in outer space ...")

Sometimes the lines between two friends

Sometimes the lines between two friends talking/taking some tangents (which I am WAY too prone to), and staying on point and maybe being a little too dry are too fuzzy.

I remember thinking about the lonely comment..."ugh..too far..." Thankfully, Mike has a light touch, and some of my gaffes are there for posterity.

We're doing our best, and we love the feedback!

Mark

Any thoughts on how to deal with

Any thoughts on how to deal with driving and taking calls which might require notes? Obviously note taking and driving falls under the same heading as using hand held phones, eating a huge sandwich, applying make up, reading a book/map, etc. It is just dangerous and sometimes illegal. Yet, with today's schedules and demands you will often get caught driving and getting pulled into calls. I pull over for emergency vehicles, not conf calls. Any thoughts.

@mobrien: See earlier in this topic for

@mobrien: See earlier in this topic for "jott.com". Great service.

Call your landline voice mail. Leave a

Call your landline voice mail. Leave a memo. Or call your assistant and dictate to their voicemail.
You do need to double check actions or main heads at the close of a conversation to 1) make sure you got the conversation 100% and 2) drive the important points further into your memory for recall.
If you set your phone to voice activation then you don't need to put your sandwich down. :)
Chris

I picked up a pilot's kneeboard a few

I picked up a pilot's kneeboard a few months ago for taking notes in the car - especially during MT podcasts. It provides you with a stable platform to write on. Well worth the money. You can find them here: http://www.marvgolden.com/knee-boards/index.htm

I'm a OneNote user and found two

I'm a OneNote user and found two versions of the Cornell Note Taking stationary available at Microsoft Office Online. If you use OneNote and use the Help function, search for Stationary & Cornell. I'm enthusiastic about the possibilities. Thanks!

Hi Mark and Michael, This was a

Hi Mark and Michael,

This was a wonderful overview of effective note taking. I created my own system a couple years ago. I was amused to see my peers and directs slowly adopting the system over time. I tend to offer suggestions to my directs, especially if organization is a problem; however, I like to let my folks use their own systems. After a while, everyone was showing up at meetings with a template similar to mine.

I found your overview of the Cornell template interesting and helpful. My wife is even interested and may listen to the cast! I am going to give it a try. It will be interesting to see how long it takes other folks to adopt it if I find it useful.

Great work!

Loved the podcast. For the past two

Loved the podcast. For the past two years, I used a top wirebound "project planner" notepad from Ampad that I love- it's discontinued. We just found the product at corporate express that fits in my padfolio. It's AMP-20076 just in case anyone wants to look it up. This and the Levenger are the only two I have ever seen with this design.

Thanks Mark and Mike, another great

Thanks Mark and Mike, another great cast. I wanted to ask your advice on note taking in meetings that are more akin to information briefings (where the who, what, when technque isn't always appropriate). In other words there are times when I need to attend a meeting and there are not necessarily actions arising from it (for me or others) but I feel compelled to note some of the information "in case I need it" as a reference. I'm then unsure how much is enough.

Cheers

Simon

I have not been able to download this

I have not been able to download this podcast. Only 82 kb record is downloaded. Would please correct it?
Thanks

ansoj, As far as I can tell, the

ansoj,

As far as I can tell, the file is fine.

Most likely, the issue you are having is with your browser having cached an incomplete download. If you clear your browser cache and try downloading again, you'll most likely solve the problem.

Mike

I love the template, I tried it today

I love the template, I tried it today and it worked (and even better I did my actions within an hour after leaving the meeting).

Just a pity I don't have neater writing (by the way I can't draw, doodle or mindmap either).

Maybe they will improve with practice!

Hi there. Just chanced on this post.

Hi there. Just chanced on this post. Great podcast and excellent tips.

Here's a system developed specifically for business. Kind of an extension of Cornell Notes. Also uses symbols and abbreviations, but in a formalized way.

Very effective. Incredibly easy. Free. :-) (Disclaimer: I invented it.)

http://www.mightynotes.net

Would love any feedback.

Still Relevent

Still a great Podcast.  I have a hard time, as I am a huge OneNote fan, but can definitely see where a laptop can portray distance from the rest of the team. 

This is entirely a great way

This is entirely a great way to make notes of everythign you think is important, specially on your business agenda.

Cheers,
Karter of how to name a company

Note-taking has been an

Note-taking has been an important part of human history and scientific development.The person taking notes must acquire and filter the incoming sources, organise and restructure existing knowledge structures, comprehend and write down their interpretation of the information, and ultimately store and integrate the freshly processed material. -James Stuckey