Create a Note-taking System to Boost Your Learning and Growth

Todd Henry from Accidental Creative shares his note-taking workflow in his book ’The Accidental Creative’.

Todd creates a new index card for every book he reads and every meeting he attends. Every morning, he reviews his notes from the previous day to identify questions, ideas and action items. When he picks up a book again, or goes to a meeting, he reviews his previous notes from the book, or his notes from previous meetings, to refresh his memory.

I follow a similar system, but instead of index cards, I use Ulysses app. When I am reading a book on Kindle, or reading a web article on Instapaper, I save my highlights on Ulysses. Similarly, when I am writing my morning journal, or taking meeting notes on MyScript Nebo, I convert my handwritten notes to text and save them on Ulysses.

Then, every evening, before I go to sleep, I process my notes from the day. I edit some notes to makes sure that I have captured the essence of what I needed to record. I add my own thoughts to many notes, including whether I agree or disagree with it. If the note triggers a question, idea, or action item, I add them to the note. Then, I add tags to the note, including the author, the source, and 3-5 free-flow topic tags. Finally, I add tags for whether the note has questions, ideas or action items attached to it. Finally, if the note needs to go into my work, personal or writing to-do queue, I duplicate it and put it there.

Given that I journal everyday, participate in back-to-back meetings at work, read 100+ books a year, and subscribe to 100+ blogs, I take a lot of notes. It takes me at least an hour every night to process my notes from the day. If I miss a day or two because I am eating out or attending an event, I put aside an hour or two on Saturday morning to process my notes, and clear my Ulysses inbox. Then, I set up filters for questions, ideas and action items from my notes, and review them every week.

Collecting, clarifying, organising and reviewing my notes is a significant time commitment, but I feel that it’s as important as collecting, clarifying, organising, and reviewing my to-do lists. In fact, managing my Ulysses notes inbox is at least as important as managing my AirMail email inbox in my Getting Things Done (GTD) setup.

If you don’t yet have a habit of reading books and blogs, listening to audiobooks and podcasts, or watching conference talks or video courses, I would highly encourage you to create a learning plan for yourself. If you already read, listen to or watch content that helps you learn and grow, I would urge you to create a note-taking system that works for you.

Use a Moleskine notebook, or a stack of index cards, if you like paper. Or, use a note-taking app like Evernote, Ulysses or Bear. Or, use a hybrid digital-analog system, by taking handwritten notes on MyScript Nebo and converting them to text.

Process your notes every day or every week, and organise them into a structure that works for you. Divide your notebook or index card stack into sections, if you are using a paper-based system. Organise your notes by folders and tags, and automate the workflow between your email, notes and to-do apps, if you are using a digital system. Then, review your note-taking system every month, to get the most out of it.

If you already use a variation of this tip, and have had success with it, I would love to learn about your experience. And, if you have been inspired to create a note-taking system after reading this post, I would love to know what impact it has had. Do share your experience in the comments below or on Twitter @gauravonomics.

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Author: Gauravonomics

Recovering creative re-learning how to create a daily writing and sketching practice for the second half of life