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Ready, set, note!

Note-taking is not just for school and college goers. The rest of us also need to take down notes quite often, but doing it the usual way i.e. mostly in longhand is tedious. You’re in luck though, because there are several shortcuts that you can take to capture everything from lectures to meeting minutes to to-do lists. Let’s explore some of those shortcuts today.

Note: We’ll be focusing on digital note-taking A Quick & Dirty Guide to Perfect Digital Note-Taking A Quick & Dirty Guide to Perfect Digital Note-Taking Learn how to take notes the right way. Here are some of the most effective tips for becoming a digital note-taking pro. Read More for now, but you’ll find many of these tips handy for analog note-taking as well.

Use Symbols and Abbreviations

You already know how symbols and abbreviations work. It’s just a matter of adding them to your workflow to speed things up. Use @ for at, * for important, $ for money, != for not equal to, # for numbers, wt for weight, info for information, and so on. Browse websites like CopyPasteCharacter to find new symbols to add to your workflow.

symbol-dictionary

Also, stick to universal symbols and abbreviations for easier recall:

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ref = reference —> not confusing
w/o = without —> not confusing
nt = note-taking —-> confusing

Avoid using the same symbols for multiple items unless you’re 100% sure that you can instantly figure out what those symbols mean based on context. For example:

Down arrow = decrease, download —> not confusing
Right arrow = result, transfer —> confusing

List and Summarize

A listicle or point-wise outline makes for a simpler, more organized approach than scribbling down everything in paragraphs. Break your notes down into a logical list of key ideas. Use bulleted and numbered lists to expand on them. Rely on keywords and phrases instead of full sentences. Learn to identify information that’s trivial at best and leave it out.

Also, use hashtags, @mentions, and other digital elements to highlight important ideas, group similar ones, add calls to action, etc. This makes it easier to scan your notes and recall relevant points faster at a later date.

You’ll also want to add Markdown to your note-taking workflow Learning Markdown: Write For The Web, Faster Learning Markdown: Write For The Web, Faster Markdown is essentially a syntax language for formatting text as you write. It’s fast, and built for people who write for the web. Read More . This shouldn’t pose much of a problem, because many note-taking apps come with Markdown support these days. You can even use Markdown for Evernote with Marxico.

We recommend using a note-taking app that’s designed for creating outlines 5 Tools For Outlining Ideas For Writers And Artists 5 Tools For Outlining Ideas For Writers And Artists An outline is nothing but a hierarchical breakdown of what you plan to write or create. Arranged according to levels of importance and flow, and marked by numbers, roman numerals, headings-subheadings, indentations, or any other... Read More , such as Workflowy or Fargo. If you’re on a Mac, consider these three outliners for OS X 3 Mac Outliners to Help You Organize Your Projects & Thoughts 3 Mac Outliners to Help You Organize Your Projects & Thoughts Outlining is a smart way to take ideas from the scrambled mess that is your brain and arrange them for clarity and purpose. And yes, "there's an app for that." Read More as well. Remember, Microsoft OneNote can also double up as an outliner 12 Tips to Take Better Notes with Microsoft OneNote 12 Tips to Take Better Notes with Microsoft OneNote These 12 tips show you how to take better notes in MIcrosoft OneNote. Today, digital note-taking is as much about skill, as it is about the tool. Read More .

The advantage of using a digital notepad for creating outlines is that you can rearrange them at will anytime without messing up your notebook.

Use Graphic Elements

Sometimes words are just not enough to plot a map of an idea or a thought process. You need a visual way to see how different ideas fit together and how they interact with each other — precisely what a mind map is.

To start laying out your notes in the form of digital mind maps, you’ll need a dedicated tool for it. Consider using one of these eight free mind mapping tools 8 Free Mind Map Tools & How to Best Use Them 8 Free Mind Map Tools & How to Best Use Them For an office worker, a mind map can be a solo brainstorming tool or a collaborative idea collection. In the right hands, a simple mind map can help make better decisions. Read More that we have covered before.

If list-based note-taking isn’t working out too well for you, try Scott Young’s flow-based note-taking method, which involves an active, creative approach to note-taking via mind mapping.

By the way, mind mapping is not the only note-taking strategy that takes a visual approach. There’s another one that’s quite popular — sketchnoting.

Sketchnotes are a genius way of capturing ideas using a combination of simple drawing elements and words. Simply put, sketchnoting is yet another form of storytelling. Don’t worry about not having good drawing skills. You need just five basic graphic elements — the dot, line, triangle, square, and the circle — to get started with sketchnoting How To Visualize Ideas, Information & Data Using Sketchnoting How To Visualize Ideas, Information & Data Using Sketchnoting If you're a student or someone who takes notes a regular basis, you may be interested in a fun and even artistic movement called Sketchnoting. Sketchnoting is like notetaking, but it includes visual notes as... Read More .

Sketchnoting works best with pen and paper, but you can also make it work with any drawing app on a tablet-like or stylus-based device. The iPad in particular has several apps that you’ll find to be convenient for sketchnoting. Penultimate and Paper are two of the most popular ones.

Learn Shorthand or Create Your Own

Dismissed shorthand as an outdated note-taking method? You might want to reconsider, because it’s probably worth the rest of the techniques in this list put together.

With Shorthand, you can compress entire paragraphs into a few squiggly lines. Of course, learning how to do that is another story altogether. It requires patience and persistence. As long as you have those, the web will gladly supply the right tools to help you learn shorthand. This series of free shorthand lessons is a good place to begin.

Pitman shorthand is the best known among shorthand systems, but it’s not the only one available. Check out this guide to alternative handwriting systems to understand what your options are.

You could also study how an alphabetic shorthand system like EasyScript works and use that knowledge to come up with a shorthand system of your own. After all, rules are easier to remember when you’re the one making them up! Be sure to keep a legend just in case you need a quick recap of how to abbreviate certain words or what certain symbols mean.

Drop Your “E”s and “U”s

Another trick to save time while writing notes or typing them is dropping vowels from words. Your eyes will still read the words just fine. Of course, you have to be selective about which vowels to drop if you want the words to retain their readability. For example:

lawn mower = lwn mwr (readable)
automobile = atmbl (unreadable), autombl (readable)

Now read this sample snippet:
2 othr updts tht yu’ll love in Inbox on mbile? Sngl-tap shrng for trip plns & 1-shot mltpl photo attchmnts to emails.

Not too difficult, right? The text does look a little weird, but you’ll get used to that too.

Use a Text Expander

If you want to shorten words and phrases, but wish you could read them back in full, you do have a partial solution in the guise of a text expander. You can use it to create a repository of shortened keywords and have them expand automatically when you type them in a note-taking app. We recommend the cross-platform text expander PhraseExpress, which has quite a few awesome uses beyond text expansion 7 Awesome Uses For PhraseExpress Text Expander 7 Awesome Uses For PhraseExpress Text Expander In my never-ending quest to find new ways to automate my activities in front of the keyboard, and to shave precious seconds off of my work schedule, I always appreciate new and creative technologies that... Read More .

Dictate Notes

Dictating notes into your phone or computer is also quite convenient, once you get over the initial hiccups that come with using any dictation software. Siri, Google Now, Cortana, and Dragon Dictation are four of your top choices for dictation.

If you’re on Android, it’s time to start using OK Google Why Every Android User Needs to Be Using "OK Google" Why Every Android User Needs to Be Using "OK Google" The "OK Google" command is extremely useful, but lots of Android users aren't even taking advantage of it. Here's to make the best of it! Read More , for notes and more. You can also replace the native Android keyboard with Swype Keyboard, which allows you to use Nuance’s well-known voice recognition function, Dragon Dictation, with a keypress. If you’re on iOS, get acquainted with its inbuilt voice dictation feature Type Superfast With Real Time Voice Dictation in iOS 8 Type Superfast With Real Time Voice Dictation in iOS 8 It's time to do less typing and more talking with the new real time voice-to-text feature in iOS 8. Read More .

Hipo is another useful app for voice notes. What’s interesting is that it categorizes your notes automatically. You can also supplement audio notes with text and images.

hipo-voice-notes

If you’re afraid of missing out on crucial information, you could use a recorder to capture audio from a meeting or a lecture, so that you can refer to it later. You’ll need a go-ahead from your boss or professor to do this. The problem with this recording approach is that you’ll still have to sift through the audio to ferret out the information that you need.

Though, OneNote does a neat job of combining voice notes with any text notes you add for context.

Switch to a Tried-and-tested System

Instead of using an assortment of note-taking techniques, you could adopt a standard system that comes with guidelines for taking notes and creating outlines. Bullet Journal is a good place to start. It gives you a sensible framework for taking notes of any kind while staying flexible enough for customization.

Bullet Journal uses a set of symbols to distinguish between tasks, events, notes, etc. and also to give them additional context. From there, it builds up to a set of modules, each of which represents a specific kind of notebook entry.

The Bullet Journal method is an analog system, but you can adapt it for digital note-taking quite easily. As an example, see how Nancy uses Evernote as a Bullet Journal How to Use Evernote as a Bullet Journal How to Use Evernote as a Bullet Journal There are many ways to use calendars and to-do apps. Take Evernote, a journaling system called the Bullet Journal, and no coding experience whatsoever, to create a completely tailored organization system for yourself. Read More . You can apply the same principles to any other note-taking app of your choice, such as Microsoft OneNote or Simplenote.

For task-based note-taking, the Circle system is also effective. It involves using a small set of circular symbols to identify tasks as important, delegated, in progress, cancelled, etc.

the-circle-system

And let’s not forget the Cornell note-taking method, which comes highly recommended for university students. It involves the following sequence of actions for handling note-taking: record, question, recite, reflect, review. Here’s the official PDF that summarizes the Cornell system.

Increase Your Typing Speed

Even typing faster can give your note-taking efforts a big boost. To speed up your typing, switch to a superior keyboard layout How I Quickly Mastered A Superior Keyboard Layout Without Losing Productivity How I Quickly Mastered A Superior Keyboard Layout Without Losing Productivity If you're reading this on a computer, look at your keyboard. Chances are it's a QWERTY keyboard, or something closely modeled after QWERTY, like AZERTY for French or QWERTZ for Germany. Is that really the... Read More and learn how to touch-type Learn How to Touch-Type With These 8 Top Tools & Tutorials Learn How to Touch-Type With These 8 Top Tools & Tutorials Learning how to touch type could mean the difference between 10 words a minute to more than 40. That could also mean the difference between adding half a day to your productivity. Or, more than... Read More better.

You might even want to switch to an alternative keyboard that’s designed to make typing easier. We recommend SwiftKey if you’re on Android. Graffiti Pro for Android is also worth checking out. If you’re on iOS, take a look at our roundup of nine alternative iOS keyboards 9 Alternative iOS Keyboards To Make Your Typing Easier Or More Fun 9 Alternative iOS Keyboards To Make Your Typing Easier Or More Fun When Apple finally stopped acting like an overprotective parent and introduced third-party keyboards, everyone went keyboard-crazy. Read More .

Keep a Notepad Handy

Having a notepad ready to go at all times saves you from fumbling around for a blank surface to write or type on. That notepad could be a sticky note on your desktop, a home-screen or lock-screen widget 5 Excellent Lock Screen Widgets for Android 5 Excellent Lock Screen Widgets for Android One of the perks of having an Android device is that you can natively add widgets to your home screen. Some widgets are highly specific and only useful situationally, but then there are those amazing... Read More for your favorite note-taking app on your phone, or a pen and a piece of paper tucked into the back pocket of your jeans. I use a text file named Scratchpad as a notepad. It’s accessible super quick from the sidebar in my text editor, which is open 24/7.

Set up a Reliable Workflow

The beauty of note-taking is that you can tweak it to suit your needs. You can stick to a single note-taking technique or use different ones for different kinds of note-taking.

For example, you could use a Bullet Journal for tasks and monthly errands, switch to mindmaps when you’re fleshing out a presentation, and use an outliner option to capture meeting minutes effectively Make The Minutes Work: How To Take Effective Notes During A Meeting Make The Minutes Work: How To Take Effective Notes During A Meeting It’s a skill which few people have perfected; the perfect meeting minutes. The record of events saves you headaches further down the line. Here's how you take effective minutes in a meeting. Read More . Or you could use a combination of sketchnotes and voice recordings for taking down any kind of note. What’s important is that you create a standard note-taking workflow, complete with techniques, templates, and indexes. This will make it easier to just grab your notepad and get started with note-taking anytime.

What’s Your Note-taking Strategy?

Whether you swear by digital notepads or prefer to stick to good old pen and paper 6 Simple Reasons Why Paper Can Still Be Your Killer Productivity App 6 Simple Reasons Why Paper Can Still Be Your Killer Productivity App Paper can be a more potent tool for productivity than a computer or a touch device, and shouldn't immediately be dismissed. Not convinced? Here are six reasons why paper is still relevant. Read More , there is an awesome note-taking workflow out there for you. You just need to experiment a bit to perfect it, and you can begin right here — with the note-taking tips we just laid out for you.

What is your preferred method for note-taking? Do you have any tips for quicker note-taking that could help others? Mind sharing them with us in the comments?

Image Credit: daydreaming by szefei via Shutterstock

  1. Patrick Schouten
    August 13, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    I use the Livescribe Echo 3 pen (http://www.livescribe.com/en-us/smartpen/ls3/)

  2. Tony
    May 26, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    I prefer to use Goalton.com for note making

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      May 27, 2016 at 12:49 am

      Hadn't heard of that one before. Thank you for sharing it,Tony.

  3. Kelsey Tidwell
    May 22, 2016 at 1:54 am

    Akshata, I'll suggest the Microsoft app "Office Lens" for smart phones for perhaps another angle on digital note taking. It's for use when your professor/teacher/lecturer puts notes up on the board and you're too lazy to copy them by hand lol.

    Sound kind of nondescript? I mean, you can take pictures of notes with your phone without a special app, can't you? Of course! But this app is definitely special in what it does with the picture...

    We can't always be fortunate enough to be front-and-center in the lecture hall, sitting in the perfect location for the perfect perspective on those life-saving notes. My luck generally places me somewhere far to the sides, causing my note photo to be terribly skewed and many times unreadable.

    Office Lens to the rescue! As you aim at the notes with your phone, the app draws a box around the target area. It'll latch on to anything in view range, so you have to subtly position the phone until the box encloses the notes. You snap the picture, then Office Lens performs digital magic and takes the skewed and slanted picture and turns it into a perfectly-proportioned and readable rectangle of very neat lines of text. :)

    Now, when I say that this is another angle on note taking...you see what I mean hee hee.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      May 22, 2016 at 6:12 am

      I have been meaning to replace Scanbot with Office Lens, but somehow never got around to it. Thank you for bringing it up, Kelsey. That should have made it to my list. I have heard nothing but good things about Office Lens.

  4. Kevin
    May 21, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    I love taking notes electronically and via pen/pencil/paper.

    Thanks for this article: very informative and a great idea generator.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      May 22, 2016 at 6:12 am

      Good to hear the article helped, Kevin!

  5. Peter Buyze
    May 20, 2016 at 6:09 pm

    Good article !!

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      May 22, 2016 at 6:13 am

      Thank you, Peter :)

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