Home | 29 November 2019

How I take notes in workplace

I started taking notes in workplace a few years back. What nudged me to start was that I occasionally forgot about my action items after a meeting; I felt forgetful. Since then, I’ve gone through different processes of note taking, and today I want to share what my current process looks like.

I carry a small physical notebook with me everywhere. There are 3 categories that I always note: (1) to-do items, (2) questions, and (3) notable info. Then, later on, I transfer these notes into a digital form.

My notebook with a pen

My mini Rocketbook with 4-color Frixion pen. The notebook is erasable with wet towel.

Noting to-do items is the most important action. When someone asks me to do something, I’ll never want to forget about it. Noting the deadline is as important. I write it down.

Noting questions makes me more informed. If a question pops up in my mind, I note it immediately. No matter how dumb the question seems. Don’t even think about answering it. I write it down.

Though notable info sounds vague, I have a low threshold for it. If something surprises me or I didn’t know about it before, I write it down.

Here you might notice the theme, “just write it down”. I write it down without thinking. When I write down a to-do item, I don’t think about what it entails. When I write down a question, I don’t think about the answer. When I write down notable info, I don’t label it as good or bad. I want to avoid developing impression prematurely. Writing it down without judgement frees my mind from the worry (that I might forget) and allows me to focus on the conversation at hand.

One skill developed with the above process is “Suspended judgement”, the ability to acknowledge without judging. It’s something I’m looking forward to getting better at over time.

When I have free time, I would go through my notes. One by one, I would think about it deeply, transfer the item to a digital form, and cross it out. This is a good opportunity to spend time researching, thinking, and elaborating on each noted item.

Crossed items

The transferred items are crossed with the red ink.

Transferring notes from its physical form to the digital form is an extremely beneficial action. It forces me to review the notes; this yields one more occurrence of Spaced Repetition, which helps me retain important info. The solitude while transferring notes also allows me time to think more deeply about what I noted.

My note taking setup is rather simple. I use a mini Rocketbook with a 4-color Frixion pen. With this combination, I can reuse the notebook forever. I note in these 3 style of bullet points: · (dot) for tasks, ? (question mark) for question, and - (dash) for notable info. On the digital side, I store notes in plaintext and sync to Github using my homegrown app, Git Notes.

Taking notes is a very personal process. What works for me might not works for you. You’ll need to iterate at your own pace to figure out what you like and don’t like. My general advice is to approach it casually. Don’t stretch yourself too much. This is similar to practicing meditation, yoga, or anything alike. We want to deepen our practices, but we only move forward when we are comfortable.

Once we have this noting-thinking loop built into our daily routine, enriching our note taking practice becomes much easier. We can become more considerate by noting other people’s states of minds and later thinking about how that impacts what you do. We can become more aware of our mistakes by noting and later thinking about how to avoid them next time. The possibilities are endless.

It has been a few years already since I started taking note. I feel more grounded. I feel more thoughtful. I feel more confident retaining the info flowing through me. So, I encourage you to start taking notes in workplace, and I hope my process serves as one example that you can take and personalize to suit your style.

Happy noting!