How to take good notes is a great question. Many people aren’t sure how to take good notes because we’re never really taught how to take notes in school. Isn’t that odd? We spend all that time in school and take TONS of notes, yet there isn’t a single class in grade school or high school that teaches effective note taking.
In this article, I’m going to show you the approach that I use to take notes. This will not be a tactical post, by that I mean we won’t get too far in the weeds about exactly what software to use or what my current “tech stack” is. I will list a few options throughout the piece, but I’ll do another article in the future where I specifically dive into the technical aspect.
For this piece, I want to teach you a methodology I use to take good notes that you can actually use. This note taking system is useful whether you’re a student, a teacher, an employee, a business owner, a start-up entrepreneur, or someone who just loves learnings.
Because the reality is, we forget most of what we learn. In fact, one study showed that employees forget 50% of what they just heard in a meeting within 60 minutes!
So, it’s obvious that how to take good notes is an important skill to have, whether you are reading a textbook, listening to an audio file on Amazon Audible, or the iPhone. One of the biggest questions I get about good note taking is what should you take notes on and how should you structure it.
I’ll answer that in this article, but first, let me tell you why you should listen to someone like me.
Why Listen To Mike Giannulis On How To Take Good Notes
I won’t belabor the point too much, but I’ve done some pretty cool things in my life and I owe a lot of it to my ability to take good notes and retain information. First, I’ve been able to create multiple seven-figure companies in different industries and one eight-figure publishing company.
I am working as the CEO of a new company now that I believe will be my next eight-figure business someday. Also, once I created this process, I finished off my MBA in less than 3 months at Western Governor’s University. I finished 8 classes in 19 days. I had to wait around to do my final capstone project which is the only reason I wasn’t done in 30 days.
I’m also a productivity nut who always seeks to achieve more. I track my word count in Grammarly as well so you can see my output.
I read multiple books per month, listen to hundreds of hours of audio a year, read umpteen articles, and love learning. Ok, with that out of the way, let’s get started.
Note Taking With The META Approach
My meta approach to note taking borrows from the wise words of Stephen R. Covey:
Begin With The End In Mind.Stephen R. Covey
This simply means if you want to get somewhere specifically you should know where that is before you start on your journey. This holds even more true for taking notes. Because I’m an acronym junkie, I came up with a nifty way to remember the 4 questions you need to ask yourself before you get started on any book.
Let’s look at what I mean by each of those. The first question you need to ask yourself is what Medium will you be consuming the information in. Mediums include options like books, articles, podcasts, audiobooks, magazines, youtube videos, and even textbooks or lectures. All these are different mediums that deliver information.
The reason you want to know this is so you can craft a different strategy for how you will take the notes. For example, I’ve seen it works very well to use Google Keep to take good notes while I am listening to a non-fiction book on audible. However, if I am reading a book on my kindle, it makes more sense to use the built-in highlight feature on my kindle and sync the data later using Readwise.
Next, you want to take your experience into consideration. This means looking at what you already know and what you’ve already done. Experience includes lived experience, shared experience, background, age, gender… all the factors that make you, you.
You want to take this into account because it will modify the way in which you attack the note taking process. If you’re already accomplished in the field you’re about to study, odds are you can take a more lax approach.
If it’s brand new to you, you may want to take a brute force approach where you inundate yourself with information pass the point of overwhelm before you take any notes at all. This is a baptism by fire or a “jargon jumble” where you may not understand half of what is being said. This is how I feel when I study autophagy, which is new to me. Words like MTOR, amino acids, ketones, glycogen, and rapamycin. And that’s ok. You’ve got to start somewhere. Knowing your experience can also help you pick the right material to start with.
And that leads us to Time. There are really two types of time we are talking about. The first is how much time do you have to commit to learning the material. The next is what is your time horizon or put more simply when do you want to have this knowledge transferred into your mind.
Obviously, this will change how you take notes and how you study. Studies show that if you have 10 hours to study you would be better off to study one for a day for 10 days instead of studying for 10 hours straight. This is because of a principle known as Spaced Repetition.
Spaced repetition means you are more likely to remember and retain information if you are exposed to it multiple times. If you think about it, it makes sense. The more often you see something, the higher the likelihood you will remember it.
And that brings us to the last piece of this puzzle. Accomplish. This one is pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll explain it anyway because it’s my favorite one. You could think of this word accomplish as other words like Aim or Agenda. In short, you want to ask yourself how you will be using this information. What is the goal when you are done?
If the goal is to just be entertained, then you don’t really need to pursue a good note taking strategy, right? You also want to ask yourself about what you are learning. Are you learning something mental or something physical? Are you developing a skill or working with your hands and thus need time to create muscle memory?
This will also affect how you end up using your time to learn the new information. This will also change up the strategies that you will employ even with taking notes.
This post has gotten too long, so I’ll stop here. In the next article (part 2), we’ll go over the three main takeaways you want to get when taking notes. In all, I am guessing this will be a 5 part series on how to take good notes.
Part 2 is here now. It’s all about the 6 items you need to extract to take good notes.