Posted in Uncategorized

Do your notes flow?

One of the things I’ve discovered over the years is the “flow” of my notes is as important as the content. What do I mean by flow? Let’s dig into this.

There’s normally two times I’m actively taking notes: when discussing or meeting with others and when I’m brainstorming ideas. In either case there is some bouncing around that happens, either from topic to topic or that wonderful stream of consciousness that generates the best ideas.

Capturing what I’m thinking usually isn’t too much of an issue. It’s connecting these various and often disparate notes into cohesive narratives that pose the challenge. My note taking is either analog in my notebooks or using OneNote. In one connecting notes is easy. In the other not so much.

Flow in OneNote

When capturing notes through OneNote, you can leverage the built-in outlining design of the notes or you can use hyperlinks to connect notes together. In either case (and they’re not mutually exclusive) the flow of the notes can be managed while being captured as well as after the fact.

Flow on paper

Capturing notes on paper can make flow management more difficult. Often notes on paper are more stream of consciousness than they are logically structured. I recommend taking time after capturing your raw notes to rewrite them into a logical, clear format. Not only does that help with organization but also with retention of the subject matter.

In either case it is key to capture context, content, and commitment. Understanding the reasoning behind notes as well as the specifics of a note, and ultimately any actions needed from the note can make or break your note taking system. Following my favorite process will help: Capture, Process, Report. Capture your notes then go back and process them into a format where you can report to yourself consistently and clearly the information.

Note taking is far more of a challenge for many than you would think and I count myself among them. Taking time to work and develop this skill pays off no matter what you’re doing.

Posted in Techniques

How to Take Better Notes in Meetings When You Have ADHD

Whether you have ADHD or not, better note taking techniques are always a benefit to both personal and professional productivity.  I’m a user of OneNote and paper depending on my mood.  If I’m using digital, it’s OneNote and I’ve sent information about the meeting from Outlook to OneNote.  The list of attendees, meeting agenda items, and location are all included and ready to be searched.  Just add notes, tag with To Do tags and I’m done quickly and efficiently.

On days where I’m not feeling the digital vibe I duplicate the structure on paper and take my notes by hand.  The important thing is for items where I feel I may have to search for a word, I make sure my printing is clear and readable. After writing the notes I take a photo into OneNote and then use the OCR search to locate what I need.

One of the keys I’ve found to help me focus on my note taking is to separate structure from content.  It’s easy to get distracted from what is being said if I’m trying to format it perfectly or wonder why something is out of alignment on the page.  By compartmentalizing the parts of the note taking process, I can leverage my rapidly changing attention rather than fighting it.

Another trick I recommend, especially if you’re taking notes by hand, is to section off a small part of your page for “random thoughts”. We all have them and it’s important to not let them take up the mental cycles we need to focus. When one creeps into your mental field of view, jot it down in the random thoughts area. Just the act of capturing it is often enough to get it out of your head and out of the way.

There’s no magic trick to 100% focus when taking notes (we all know how boring things can be at times) but if we do a little introspection and work with ourselves rather than trying to “fix” ourselves we have a much greater chance of success.

How do you manage your notes? Come tell me about it.

Posted in Coaching

Search vs structure for organizing your notes

Most note keeping solutions offer multiple methods of organizing your notes within their tools. You’ll find search, tags, labels, folders, outlines, and a variety of other less common structures. Determining what features will work the best for you in locating your notes after you’ve captured them can be a struggle at a minimum and derail your entire system at the worst. How do you know which features work for you and which is the best to implement in your personal productivity solution?

First thing to clear out of your head is you don’t need to choose one method or the other.  Both have strengths and weaknesses so it’s more a matter of determining what feature works when. In comparing your solution to how our brains work our logical starting place is search.

When we remember something, we don’t think to ourselves “well that piece of information is in this place in my head, in this folder, with this label.” No, we just think about the topic and our brain does the best it can at finding all the memories we have stored around that topic. Unfortunately the process is far from efficient and reliable, so when we think about digital searching with personal productivity solutions we need to concentrate on how the computer will search the contents of our notes (memories) to find all the items that match our search topic.

If we are going to rely on search to locate information in our solutions we need to make sure our notes contain the content matching the terms we will be searching with. For example, if you are storing a health insurance summary, you need to think about what you would plug into the search box to locate that document. The content and titling needs to match those terms so in this case if your instinct is to look for “health insurance” remember you will find the summary we mentioned earlier but also every other document with the same terms possibly making it harder to be specific quickly.

The flip side of the search coin is folders, tags, and labels.  These are helpful if you’re a browser rather than a searcher.  If your instinct when looking for materials is to start at a top level category, then drill down further and further until you reach your content. This type of structuring can be powerful if you are comfortable designing the organizational structure and then adhering to that structure for the retention of all your notes.

Setting up a defined folder / tag structure can be a challenge, with experts in the fields of taxonomy and tagsonomy spending months defining systems to organize commercial document management systems. I doubt you have months to bring your solution to a usable state (I know I don’t) so my suggestion is to start small and build up.  Create structures that match how you think and live every day, focusing on where and when you need access to your notes. Keep in mind that in most cases when you need a note or piece of information you typically don’t have a great deal of time to go looking for it through large, complex organizational structures (hence the phrase, “Google it.”)

So which is better? There is no clear winner of one over the other and I’ll readily admit I use both in my personal productivity solution. Creating and maintaining an organizational structure in your tools of choice such as sections in OneNote, notebooks in Evernote, or folders in Google Drive can make the location of content simpler with the downside of increasing the overhead of maintaining the solution. Combine structure with search for locating content quickly and making your note management a trusted part of your solution.