Taking Note: An Introduction to the Value of Notes & Note-Taking

Tips & Stories

Taking Note: An Introduction to the Value of Notes & Note-Taking

Posted by Taylor Pipes on 19 Feb 2016

Posted by Taylor Pipes on 19 Feb 2016

Notes are everywhere.

They surround us at pivotal moments in all phases of our work, from research to inspiration. They come in many forms: addresses, appointments, confirmations, epiphanies, equations, ideas, quotes, lists, transactions, and visual diagrams.

They are transferred across all manner of media. They fill up scraps of papers, they’re jotted down on Post-it Notes, etched along the margins of published books, scrawled into beautiful leather bound notebooks, captured with audio recordings, and jotted into laptops and mobile devices.

At best, they look like this:

Yet, at their out-of-control worst, they can look (and feel) like this:


Note-taking is an incredibly personal, profound, and individual skill. It’s been practiced almost as long as we’ve been able to verbally communicate, from pigment daubed on cave walls through clay and papyrus, ink and printing press, and now in digital form.

While the medium has evolved, the message remains the same. What we can glean from our intimate scribbles forms the foundation for all our brilliant ideas and helps create a framework for understanding all we set out to accomplish. For proof, one needs only glance at the long and storied list of some of our most prolific note-takers: Pliny the Elder, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Charles Darwin, John Lennon, Leonardo Da Vinci, Henry Miller, Kurt Cobain, Truman Capote, and Albert Einstein.

The fundamentals of note-taking are taught early in childhood education and further utilized in collegiate and professional settings, but their utility accelerates when the process advances beyond test preparation or perpetuating silos of private knowledge. Instead, notes should fuel our ideas and accelerate our thoughts into published books, research papers, business projects, or your most audacious creative ambitions.

With the right understanding of your goals, one of these systems can help get you there.

Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll take a look at a selection of note-taking methods and styles. From commonplace to the Cornell Method, we’ll explore their role in our daily life, talk with people who embrace particular models of note-taking, and help you see how they can impact your life and work.

What’s your note style? Share your story in the comments or via Twitter. We will publish our favorites throughout the month.


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8 Comments RSS

  • Barbara @ Simplify Days

    Looking forward to seeing the note-taking styles! Oftentimes, when I tell people that I teach digital organization they reply with, “Well I still need paper.” I smile and say, “So do I.” 😉 Everyone needs paper! Even “paperless” advocates. One of the most effective ways for me to integrate paper into my routine is to sit down every Sunday and write a specific daily FOCUS for every day that upcoming week. I find it can be easy to get lost in the many tasks and to-dos in my digital system. My written daily focus helps me make sure my MOST IMPORTANT item for that day gets the attention and time it needs. It’s a great way to stayed focus on my big goals and projects. I’m looking forward to this series! Great article.

  • Kjell Norden

    Note taking is important and life saving for me because I am doing my own business. Notes is covering information about products, customers, meetings, events, pictures, contest, private notes, save important email, newspaper stores and more. Early in school a teacher told me “use a computer”. The reason was my writing was more then bad and teacher was not able to evaluate my home assignment. From that day I have used more or less every device I could find, lots of different apps for note taking. Three years ago I found Evernote and now I do not need to look for new note taking apps. iPad and Evernote works perfect every time. Back home I use my Mac or Evernote webpage to take care of todays notes. The only I need to do know is to learn how to collect all information for a specific purpose in the best way. At the same time I am paperless and that is good for the planet. 🙂

  • JMichaelTX

    What a great blog! I just want to say this is a very welcome change from the view of “note taking” expressed in this video:
    The Evolution Of Evernote’s Story with Andrew Sinkov (former EN VP of Marketing), Fall 2014

  • SAS

    I use Cornell method. I handwrite in OneNote, though use a separate section for Actions rather than the bottom. Then after I summarize on the left hand side, I PDF it and export to Evernote (I use OneNote rather than my favorite EverNote because Evernote doesn’t pick up the stylus on my Thinkpad Yoga very well).

  • Mark

    I always like to read articles on note taking. It’s one of those things that despite how much I try to do it better, it always feels inefficient. Hence, really looking forward to reading the follow-on articles you offer.

    Aside from my Moleskine notebook, I’m paperless. Evernote lies at the center of my paperless universe. I use it for everything including task management. I could not imaging life without Evernote. There isn’t anything out there that does everything so well.

    I use the backpage method of note taking, deriving it’s name from the term “backwater.” Opening up my Moleskine notebook, I’m presented with two pages. The right page is filled with notes. Each pair of pages is dated at the top of the left page. Other than that the left page, or the “backpage,” is left blank at the time of taking notes. periodically when I review my notes, the backpage serves as space to add fill-in notes, add a sketch after the fact, highlight important sections of my notes. The backpage serves whatever purpose I need it to after the fact. And yes, my Moleskine notebooks lasts half as long. But hey, there’s a price for everything in this life.

    So there you have it.

    • Libby H

      I totally relate with you, Mark. Try as I may, my “note-taking” just doesn’t satisfy what I believe it should entail. I am not alone. I’m an older student, and to be honest, I never learned how to take notes in elementary or junior high. Then again, I was rather hyper and my attention span was quite short. Today, it being better self controlled, I really seek a note-taking system that I can connect with and stick to.

  • nelson estrada

    I use a modified cornell method. I have a body of the note, and I also leave space on margin for topic notes and questions. I also leave room for a summary. The modified part is that the body of the note is usually outline style but I can also have drawings and other things too.

    Something that I have been using more and more is sketch notes using a Moleskine. Check out http://rohdesign.com/sketchnotes/ for some awesome tips. It really forces me to focus my notes on the essential things and use quick sketches to illustrate a complicated idea.

    Also using templates to note take has really simplified my note taking digitally. I have templates for weekly recaps, reflections, goal setting, and document collection that really helps me organize my thoughts as I capture them

  • Valentina

    I’m somewhat of a chaotic note-taker. I take notes on myriad paper notebooks, as well as digital notebooks apps. I save bits and pieces of things I find interesting on the web in Evernote, which is more of a digital scrapbook than a well-organized notebook. XD