illustrations of Thomas Frank, Rashelle Isip, Darren Chait, Genevieve Colman, Kate Sull

5 Ways to Be an Expert Notetaker

In this How to Hack It, five experts provide tips on how to become a better notetaker, from learning timesavers to revisiting your notes.

Create keyboard shortcuts.

I use a couple of text expansion apps (AutoHotkey on Windows and Alfred on Mac) to create shortcuts that automatically expand into longer snippets of text. For example, typing “adr” will paste my address. I also have keywords that will paste multi-paragraph messages I use repeatedly. Evernote is working on a way to create headings and subheadings, but for now you have to manually change the font size and bolding of a line to create a heading. This takes a lot of time. My shortcuts take less than a second after I press a short key combination. —Thomas Frank, Founder, College Info Geek

Add a table of contents.

Designating and organizing one notebook for meeting notes keeps everything you need in one place. First, write “Table of Contents” at the top of your notebook’s first two pages. Then start numbering the pages on the third page. For each meeting, write the name and date on the top of the page, then divide the sheet into three sections, with the middle section taking up the most space:

  • Prep: For capturing ideas, thoughts or questions you want to bring up.
  • Notes: For recording the information presented at the meeting.
  • Next Steps: For post-meeting action items.

After each meeting, write down the subject and corresponding page numbers in the table of contents. —Rashelle Isip, Professional organizer, The Order Expert

Concentrate on actionable insights.

Notes are the interface between the meeting and everyone who wasn’t there. The most helpful notes, therefore, are a summary of insights and actions—not a transcript. Focus on: meeting objectives, outcomes and rationale, a summary of dissenting viewpoints, team updates, data points. —Darren Chait, Co-founder and COO, Hugo

Try mind mapping.

Old-fashioned paper works just fine, but online tools can help make notetaking easier. Online mind mapping tools like MindMeister allow you to create and assign tasks in real time and edit the map easily. Plus, these online tools offer limitless space—no more running out of room in a notebook or on a whiteboard. —Genevieve Colman, UX researcher, Veterans United Home Loans

Find a style that works for you.

Mind maps are great for visual thinkers. Write the topic of the meeting in the center of the page and draw branches out to each topic discussed. —Kate Stull, Membership and marketing coordinator, Humboldt Arts Council

Review notes weekly.

Many of us take notes and never look at them again, but revisiting your notes is the key to making them valuable. Set aside a 15-minute block of time on your calendar each week to review notes, spot any ongoing issues to be resolved and write down any follow-up questions. —Kate Stull, Membership and marketing coordinator, Humboldt Arts Council

Illustrations by John Jay Cabuay