David Strittmatter

Why and how I always take notes

If you don’t write your ideas down, they could leave your head before you even leave the room – Richard Branson


  • Just listening to a talk isn’t enough to retain the content
  • We’re able to keep more knowledge when we take notes
  • By simply bringing a notebook to a meeting and writing down your thoughts, you already make a significant contribution to your continuous learning

Practical advice:

  • Always have your notebook with you
  • Be meticulous with structure & write down the date and a headline
  • Write down things that are unclear to you and questions

Dear friend,

You most likely know this issue: You attended a meeting or a lecture, read a book, or watched a video some time ago, and you can’t really remember the content of it.

You spent a substantial amount of time consuming the information – yet, it’s lost not long after.

When I was at conferences, listened to the keynote speech, and was offered highly valuable information, I still wasn’t able to retain the relevant details.

Some day, I thought that has to change. And from this moment, I’ve always brought my notebook with me and took notes no matter what kind of meeting, presentation, or any other form of information exchange.

In today’s blog article, I want to illustrate why note-taking is an underrated habit and give you my personal tips on effective note-taking.

Stop wasting your time

If we let our professor’s, colleague’s, or someone else’s presentation wash over us, we won’t be able to retain the content much longer than a day. Our brain needs to engage with information to create new synapsis and store it. Just listening to a talk isn’t enough to retain the content. We need to work with it: Summarize, question, link, structure, etc.

Moreover, I often had the problem that I couldn’t keep up when I didn’t engage with the content. In lectures or meetings lasting 60 minutes and longer, it’s really difficult to stay focused all along.

Further, the less I pay attention to a presenter, the more I became bored and felt unpleasant. In high school, I loved answering questions of the teacher, sharing my view, and taking part in discussions. It made the time run much faster. Today, in meetings, it’s pretty much the same.

In my opinion, therefore, it is a waste of time not to engage with the information and just get through events such as a meeting or presentation.

Note-taking is an underrated habit

While in college, there’s a relatively strong emphasis on effective note-taking, in the professional environment and our private life, many of us don’t apply this valuable habit.

Effective note-taking engages us with information. By summarizing, structuring, linking, or writing down questions, we’re able to keep more knowledge, have an easier time to keep up, and feel less unpleasant when we’ve to sit through something. Simply taking notes forces us to pay more attention, making our time more worthwhile.

In my opinion, it’s quite unfortunate that we don’t make use of this great habit in our personal and professional life. Continuous learning is key to a happy, fulfilled, and successful life. If we don’t grow personally once we’re out of college, we won’t be able to live life to the fullest.

By simply bringing a notebook to a meeting and writing down your thoughts, you already make a significant contribution to your learning.

How to advance your note-taking

The most important part of note-taking is to always have your notebook with you. It doesn’t matter what device you use – whether it’s an iPad, a laptop, a conventional paper-and-pen setup, or something else – as long as you feel comfortable with it.

Second, it’s vital to write down the date and a headline in order to systematize your notes. You don’t want to experience this disgusting feeling when you cannot find an important record.

Third, be meticulous with structure. By using arrows, bullet points, symbols, and underlining phrases, I organize my thoughts. By doing so, I not only save a lot of time writing down my thoughts but also retain more information since I need to engage more with the content.

Forth, write down things that are unclear to you and questions. By doing this, you engage even more with the information and facilitate the later revision of the notes.

Finally, find your very own note-taking technique. There’s plenty of methods how you can streamline and make your notes more effective. I’m not an expert on this subject. Yet, I can highly recommend you to try the Cornell Method. I’ve been trying out this technique for 3 weeks, and it’s been working out pretty well so far.

It gives your notes a clear structure and the setup enables a more streamlined review. Using this technique, I feel like to retain more information and have a higher comprehension of the content. Trying it out was definitely worth it.

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