A few days back, we highlighed Ben Casnocha’s view that experts take notes. Taking lots of notes sounds great, but can often be a time-consuming process. Serial note-takers among us: how do you take notes? What systems, shorthand, or tools do you use?

And for those that have trouble taking notes, what is the main barrier you’re facing?

  • http://bombtune.com Wells Baum

    Depends on the amount of information presented and that which I need to understand. Typically make a printout, take notes, and then connect the dots on the computer when I summarize.

    Some good notetaking apps: http://bombtune.com/post/37552918866/the-right-tools-apps-that-will-save-you-time-and-headach

  • alexfi24

    I do one of two things, depending on the environment and location of my meeting or experience:
    1) on a computer: Evernote
    2) hand-written: in an Action Method small notebook – with room for action items!

  • HongVan

    I take note by both tradition and digital way, then arrange them by folder. My biggest problem is, sometimes I need a quote or something but I can’t recall which folder is it.

  • JorgeD

    I use Evernote for everything: work, personal life, projects, ideas, journal, etc. the main advantage that I see is that by having all my notes centralized in Evernote, makes them accessible, searchable, manageable, and thus, useful.

  • TheHonorableAT

    I have a Problem with note taking because it seems like a barrier to getting things done.

    I get lost in it sometimes.

    With that said, I use pen and pad when I can and Evernote for audio and note syncing

  • http://www.ovenell-carter.com/blog Braddo

    Depends: for meetings and general research I use Evernote mainly for the way I can sort and tag. For presentations, I sketchnote. I try to capture only the big ideas and those things I don’t know and are new to me, knowing I can always look up the details or call the presenter if I need them: http://ww.pinterest.com/braddo/sketch-notes/ The biggest advantage in sketch noting, I find, is that the taking and processing of notes happens at the same time.

  • Colby

    I use Evernote, whether on my laptop at a meeting or on my phone at a conference presentation. I only have a few very general notebooks, and while I don’t use the tag feature, I always type several keywords at the top of each note to make it searchable.

  • http://evanlovely.com Evan Lovely

    I used to be the biggest Evernote evangelist, but am no more as I don’t want all my reference material stuck in a monolithic database with poor exportability out. I currently use Markdown and plain text files that are tagged with Open Meta. This approach allows my notes to become blog posts in seconds as Markdown can easily export to HTML, or if the note becomes big enough, or is a series of notes, it could be exported as a book in PDF, ePub, or an incredibly wide array of formats. I also am a fan of Sketchnoting, and I take photos of those after and either embed them in the Markdown notes they are related to, or save them as a PDF tagged “notes”.

    • Markus Freise

      Yeah. Goog questions, Colby. Evan?

  • James G

    Hipster PDA and a notebook when it’s long form. And a comp book for notebook, because they are cheap.

  • Harjyot J

    Evernote, while I’m using my laptop.
    A pocket notebook, while I’m on the go !

  • clover

    If my notes are for my personal benefit only, longhand in a notebook. I always get the same kind. I forget the brand, but it’s spiral bound across the top and each page is college-ruled on the front and graph paper on the back. I use the front pages for notes and the back of my notes pages for sketching and brainstorming. I don’t usually refer to my notes later, or ever. I find that taking them helps keep me focused in meetings and helps me remember the discussions.
    If I’m sending out minutes or following up on meeting action items, I take my notes in a notepad doc in a really simplified bullet-point outline format.
    I know a lot of people love Evernote, but I just don’t dig it myself.

  • http://raymondduke.com/ Raymond Duke

    I tried Evernote but found the user experience too busy. It was like a cockpit in an airplane.

    I’m currently using Google Keep. It does the job perfectly. I don’t need 101 features — just simple note taking and the recording of thoughts every now and then.

    One more thing: I try not to capture every idea. Sometimes I’ll let an idea sit in my mind for awhile to test it’s saliency. If it sticks after a few hours, it’s worth keeping. If I forget it, then it wasn’t a good idea.

  • Chet Chin

    StyleNote Pro on both my smartphone and tablet. Sometimes, Color Note.

    Evernote is more a central depository of my notes taken on various devices.

  • Patrick Umsted

    I carry a small notebook in my back pocket wherever I go. In meetings, I use TextEdit.

  • Janna Barrett

    • The first 2 pages of my notes and/or sketchbook are saved as a Table of Contents. When I finish notes on a subject, I go back to the TOC and fill in what those pages are about.

    • I put an asterisk in the margin next to anything that requires action.

    • I try to write notes as if somebody other than me will need to look at them later—neat handwriting, descriptions or specific file names/locations, and complete sentences when possible.

    • Val Baca

      I started using your “Table of Contents” method for my newest notebook and it’s awesome! Thanks!!

  • AgileK

    Field Notes – in a leather slip cover; I go through a book once a fortnight, and keep it on hand every waking hour.

  • Laure

    Papers App (by FiftyThree) FTW!

    • Sean Blanda

      You take notes in that? Interesting!

  • http://www.heatherphysioc.com/seo-blog Heather Physioc

    I take tons and tons of notes. My memory just isn’t good enough not to. I don’t use a lot of fancy shorthand or tools – I happen to be a fast typist/writer and do ok. Maybe it’s old school, but it works for me. The only down-side is that I can’t function without my notes sometimes. I probably need a better digital system to later tighten up and store my notes.

  • oracle

    Moleskine is my way.

    I am amazed by technology, and I am the typical early adopter, but after all, I am an analog lover.

    I am, by the way, looking for a digital sketch book to take handwritten notes, but I can’t find any (surprise). I don’t like the iPad for that, I tried, but it is akward; and the Livescribe wifi pen for Evernote looks bulky and complex.

    Any help…?

    • Wim

      same here, no meeting without my Moleskine X Large notebook + a Lamy Safari fountain pen. Never fails, never runs out of battery (always carry a spare ink cartridge)

      It’s amazing how much better handwritten notes stick to your mind and get processed by your brain rather than stored on a device. After a while your eyes-and-memory search engine start working very efficient as well.

      When in listen-only mode, I doodle to keep my mind from wandering off while listening, it also keeps your creative thinking active.

      • oracle

        Absolutely right. I learnt this when I was 9 at the school.
        The most beatiful was my handwritten lesson notes, the better was my marks for that lesson.
        I found out that I loved the process of studying only by making it something artistic and personal.

      • Colby

        I get the connection with mind, hand, and paper, but how do you recall or use that information later? I’m only 29 and I can’t remember putting on underwear this morning. I don’t carry around every napkin I’ve written on, but I have all the notes I’ve taken in Evernote since 2008. I can search and BAM, there’s that lecture on whatever topic. It’s like a secondary brain.

      • Wim

        Recalling what you’ve written down in what notebook is a result of training I guess. Performing a “search” in your handwritten stuff goes remarkably fast after a while, no matter what the size of the info is. I’ve experienced “forgetting” more about notes which I totally entrusted to my laptop.

        You still store information (partly) in your own memory when taking handwritten notes. The effort of handwriting keeps you mindful of _what_ you are noting not just _that_ you are noting it. More important, it also keeps the information more readily at hand in your mind in any creative thinking process later on.

        I might be mixing facts and opinions here, I do carry iStuff around but was not born and raised with them. It might have more to do with habits & preferences and what you are actually using your notes for.

  • Val Baca

    I was using evernote 100%, until my job put it on their “forbidden list” (even despite using local notebooks). I loved how I could make a new note in a second and it could be on all my devices. I still use it for personal notes (including planning my wedding). I now use MacVim to make my notes using markdown to format my notes not edit needed (requires minimal effort compared my typical note style).

    • Janna Barrett

      I’ve found in my case that the act of physically writing the notes is what makes me remember them. If I type it, or even if I write it on the iPad, I forget it almost instantly.

      Maybe it’s the fact that, for me, writing takes more time and so I think about the information longer? Or maybe it’s just because I’m a visual learner and on recall I can visualize where a specific note is on a piece of paper.

  • http://www.larrymcallisterii.com/ Larry McAllister II

    I am a huge proponent of my full-size Mead 5-Star notebook. I usually take my notes in outline form, making taking the notes faster and allowing me to add additional notes in the margins and sketch out ideas if I need to. It also make writing up reports on projects a lot more simple. At conferences, I have a tendency to type shorthand notes on my iPad in Apple’s default Note app, additionally I take lot of photos with whatever camera I have with me and combine the notes and photos on my computer later.

  • http://notebookandpenguin.com/ Chatman Richmond Jr.

    I rock a simple notebook for quick notes just to get ideas down on the page, and then I let them fight for a while and pare the bad ideas from the good ones. The good ones then find a more organized home in WorkFlowy where I tag what needs to be done now and what can be done later. That’s about it.

  • debbyhamac

    I use my S-Note for taking down notes. I bullet the notes, it will make my note taking “smarter”, drawing “it” is way more better and taking pictures if I have to. The S-note makes me do it all-in one app.

  • Matthew Nash


  • Sarah Peterson

    I take notes by just writing down major points or action items or questions I want to think about later. I often circle action items so they make it onto my actionmethod.

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