As an accomplished taker of meeting notes (although I’ve never quoted that on a CV or mentioned it during an interview), I was unaware of the role that James Madison played in the development of the American Constitution until 2018; an advocate of developing your note-taking skills no doubt.
When James Madison and the other fifty-six delegates to the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in May 1787, they intended to amend the Articles of Confederation. They ended up creating a new constitution and Madison, representing Virginia, became the chief recorder of information.
He took A LOT of notes.
As the president of the Constitutional Convention, George Washington rarely actually participated in the debates. However, when the Constitution headed to the states for approval, Washington took an active role in the ratification process. It was the notes of Madison that allowed Washington to get a clear understanding of the outcomes of the proceedings.
Why worry about Developing Your Note-Taking Skills?
Continue to develop your note-taking skills as you’ll never know what MASSIVE IMPACT they could have later. Only record the keywords that you need to get an idea of the point. Take notes in your own words. Structure your notes with headings, subheadings and numbered lists.
Code your notes—use colour and symbols to mark structure and emphasis. Use colour to highlight major sections, main points and diagrams. Underline, circle, star, etc. to identify key information, examples, definitions, or other important materials.
If you miss something, write key words, skip a few spaces, and get the information later. Leave a space on the page for your own notes and comments.
The Importance of Active Listening
Before you even begin to jot down notes, the art of active listening comes into play. Being present in the moment allows you to discern the key points from the filler. Learning to focus your attention in the meeting, lecture, or conversation sets the foundation for effective note-taking. Remember, you can’t jot down what you didn’t hear in the first place!
The Cornell Method: A Structure to Consider
Developed by Walter Pauk, an education professor at Cornell University, this method involves dividing the note page into three sections: cues, notes, and summary. This allows you to review and test your knowledge later, making the notes more useful for both immediate understanding and long-term retention.
Digital vs. Analog: Choose Your Medium Wisely
While traditional pen-and-paper methods have their merits, digital note-taking apps like Evernote or Microsoft OneNote offer functionalities like easy editing and searching, syncing across devices, and multimedia inclusion. The best medium for you will depend on your comfort level, the nature of the information, and how you plan to use the notes later.
Mind Mapping: A Visual Approach
For people who think more visually, mind mapping can be a great way to organise your notes. This technique uses a tree-like model of ideas to promote free association and spark memory recall. It can be particularly useful for summarising complex topics or brainstorming new ideas.
Don’t just take notes; engage with them. Annotate the margins with questions, reactions, or follow-up points. This turns your note-taking into an interactive process, enriching your understanding and retention of the material.
Spaced Repetition for Long-Term Retention
After the meeting or lecture, it’s advisable to review your notes at intervals over time to help cement the information in your memory. Apps like Anki can be very useful for this, using the principle of spaced repetition to aid long-term retention.
Shared Note-Taking: A Collaborative Effort
If you’re in a setting that allows for it, consider dividing the responsibility of note-taking among several people. Each person can focus on capturing different aspects or sections, which can later be compiled for a more comprehensive record.
Practice Makes Perfect
The more you take notes, the better you’ll get at distinguishing the wheat from the chaff. Keep refining your methods, adapting to the subject matter and the setting. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different styles and approaches until you find what works best for you.
Note-Taking is a Life Skill
Developing your note-taking skills is not just for students or professionals; it’s a lifelong skill that can help you in countless situations. From meetings and webinars to personal book summaries and planning, the art of note-taking can be a game-changer in how you retain and recall information.