Returning to the analogue world of note-taking

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I take a lot of notes in meetings. I’d like to say that I’m good at it – although that’s a subjective view – some one say that the essence of good note-taking is to capture the pertinent points and not the whole discussion but I’ll save that debate for offline (although it did come up in my recent appraisal…).  My preferred tool is Microsoft OneNote (at least on the PC) but there are issues around storing notes from meetings on personal devices (iPad, smartphone – and supporting cloud services) that strangely don’t seem to be an issue in the analogue world…

After a recent meeting with some senior management, where I found myself becoming the “minute-taker” because I’d been taking notes (intended for personal use), I decided that this wasn’t helping me establish myself as any more than just the most junior person in the room (I’ve been advised to think about parent-peer-child relationships in business meetings – not as in hierarchy but in terms of managing stakeholders and engaging at an appropriate level). Consequently, I’m dumping extensive notetaking in OneNote (at least for meetings – it still works for me at external events) and going back to a paper notebook.

I was recently given some Moleskine notebooks as a present and these are perfect for the job (there is a Moleskine app for iOS too but that kind of misses the point). But Moleskine products are a) attractive and b) expensive – that meant that I needed to find a system for note-taking that would 1) work well and not just end up as a horrible mess of hieroglyphics and 2) not result in pages and pages of notes just like the ones I used to make in OneNote…

I called my friend (and long-time Moleskine user) Garry Martin (@GarryMartin) for advice – after all, why not start from a system that works for someone else? Garry recommended an approach that’s outlined by Michael Hyatt in his post on recovering (or even rediscovering?) the lost art of note-taking, including the use of symbols for scanning later:

  • Indent everything.
  • Use stars for important things.
  • Use an open square for an action (and tick when complete).
  • Use an open circle for an action on others that needs to be tracked (and tick when complete).
  • Use a question mark for items that need additional research.

Additionally, Garry recommended the use a different colour when going back later with additional information.

It’s early days yet – and this is only one small step on a long journey but let’s see if this return to a simple notebook will help me overcome the digital mess that I’ve created in previous attempts to streamline my work.

2 thoughts on “Returning to the analogue world of note-taking

  1. Hey Mark

    Have you tried the the echo Live scribe smart pen? It’s the best of both worlds – you take notes in hand written format and it records everything you do or everything that is being said.

    Brilliant piece of kit

    All the best


  2. I used to know someone with one of these – looks great, but I’ll just lose it :-)

    (BTW, yours wasn’t the only recommendation – someone else suggested it on Twitter so I’m figuring it’s a popular choice)

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