Feeling Scattered? How to Organize Notes to Stay on Top of Things

You might be feeling scattered now, but, let me remind you: you’re in charge of the situation. You are in control. That’s a fact.

To stay on top of things, regroup and start picking up your notes one at a time and start organizing. The famous author, Anne Lamott, in her book about writing, taught writers to do it bird by bird; in other words, do it step by step.

As for me, my strategy is simple: take a pause, stop everything, and then get a page of notes; sort it out, put each one in its proper place; pick up another and put it where it fits, and so forth.

What could you achieve if you can organize your notes in a neat package so whenever you need them you can snatch them out and use them, pronto?

This article will walk you through some detailed tips on how to organize your notes so you can remain on top of your game.

What’s the bottom line? Your notes are tiny reflections of your thoughts and your very thoughts are reflections of the various aspects of your life. That’s why it’s crucial to know how to capture notes like a pro and to organize them in a method where in you can pluck out a specific note right when you need it.

1.Take a breath

Feeling scattered is normal when your notes are not organized, so take a breath. Remind yourself, you’re in-charge. Now that you feel in control again, stop everything and take three deep and long breaths. Gather yourself together and take this time to arrange your notes.

Just the mere act of stopping and knowing that you’re in charge changes your perspective. You’ll feel on top of things, immediately. Once you’re in this state — you can start to work.

2. Learn to take notes like a pro

There are different methods of taking notes and I will walk you through some of the most popular ones, but, first, why is it so important to take notes properly, anyway?

History has established: famous men, those Adams of substance have a habit of taking down notes like a pro. Men like Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, George Patton, Alexis de Tocqueville, and many others became successful with the help of a little pocket notebook. Hey, don’t get me wrong, famous women have the same story.

Let me break it down for you. The following are manners of recording notes((GoodNotes, Medium: The Best Note taking Methods for College Students)) that will make you more successful with any endeavor.

Methods of taking down notes

The Cornell Method

The Cornell note taking method helps organize notes into summaries that are easy to digest. This method is convenient because the main points, details, study cues, and summary are all kept in one place.((Cornell University: The Cornell Note-taking System))

The note page is divided into 3 sections:((Tools Hero: Cornell Note Taking method))

  • Take notes during a conference or class using the main section.
  • After the conference, write down things you’ll need to remember and a prompt for each at the cues section so you can review your notes. You may also use this section for vocabulary words and in-depth study questions.
  • Write a summary of your notes in the summary segment at the bottom. It’s where you may highlight the main points, too.

Using the Cornell method, you can cover all types of events, lectures, or even meetings.

The Outline Method

The Outline method is one of the best and most popular note-taking methods for students and professionals as well. It allows you to organize your notes in a structured form. This helps you to save a lot of time for further reviewing and editing.((Kutztown University: Outline Method for Note Taking))

As the method’s name suggests, it requires you to structure your notes in the form of an outline by using bullet points to represent different topics and subtopics.

Start writing main topics on the far left of the page and add related subtopic in bullet points below using indents.

This method can be used in a variety of situations but works best if the lecture or class follows a relatively clear structure.

The Charting Method

It’s a practical and organized method for note-taking that involves a lot of data in the form of facts and statistics that you need to learn thoroughly.

The info will be jotted down in several columns, similar to a table or spreadsheet. Each column represents a category making the rows easily identifiable.

3. Ask questions

Asking questions leads to insightful information and this ultimately add up to more knowledge.

To keep you at par with the challenge of keeping notes organized, you need to list down questions you have in your mind. These questions will help you understand matters about the lecture you just listened to. The questions will also help you to have further studies about the lessons.

Always allot a section of your note pages for questions. This way, when you go home and review your notes you can answer those questions. They will solidify the info you took home and enable you to use them for assignments and any work.

4. Use visual cues

Use visuals. They will do wonders especially for visual learners.

Visual learning is one of the three basic types of learning styles in the Fleming VAK/VARK model. Learners usually utilizes graphs, charts, maps and diagrams in this model.

Also, to enhance knowledge absorption, use visual cues: try highlighting, underlining, or drawing arrows or huge exclamation points beside main or difficult concepts. They can help.

Why use the visual note taking strategy? Benefits of using visuals:

It improves retention, recall and understanding of information. It engages all types of learners as people connect more effectively when information is obtained via all the senses.

The strategy helps note takers build connections between information and link the new knowledge to existing knowledge. It is often more enjoyable and refreshing to see visuals on notes and it enhances learning in any setting.

5. Record main points

This is a must for all notes you will ever take. This section on your note pages includes lecture titles, chapter titles, and big ideas only.((Oxford learning: HOW TO TAKE STUDY NOTES: 5 EFFECTIVE NOTE TAKING METHODS))

If you do this, you will have an easier time adding the sub-headings and the details under each subheading.

Being able to record key points will give you a clear overview of your notes. Having this guide will make it easier for you to study your notes. Just a glance will help you find what you need at any particular time by merely looking at the main titles of your notes.

6. Write down important headings

Under the key points, you can write down important headings. Headings are a crucial element in taking notes. They help you pin down topics you want to focus on.((California College San Diego: How To Take Notes In College Like a Pro))

Headings are very important because without them, you won’t be able to identify sections. You can take headings as titles of sections.

Usually, extremely short documents don’t require the use of headings. On the contrary, notes on these and other complex readings, lectures, or webinars, however, require headings because they help the note taker to identify main points of their notes.

7. Record important people and events

This is just common sense. You need to keep a record of important people and events of the affair, whatever it is. This way, you can help your mind identify topics and important points much easier.

You can associate important people with main subjects. The same case with events; you can connect events with points in a certain lecture or class.

One way you can do this is to separate an area for important persons and events under sections. Write one or two sentences why the person or event was mentioned to remind you of their connection to the particular section it was recorded in.

8. Refer to text, books, movies mentioned

Same as the point in number seven. When you encounter text, a book, a movie in a lecture, an event, a meeting, a seminar, or any teaching or presenting event, take note of important details.

These bits of info are crucial to the topics and points in the event. That’s the reason they’re mentioned in the first place. When you go over them, you will prompt your brain to remember the subjects and details of the points discussed.

When making notes, always jot down these significant facts to make learning and storing much easier.

9. Include relevant quotes

It’s common for speakers, teachers, mentors, coaches, etc., to feature quotes related to a lesson, a workshop or an event. Grab your pen and scrawl down those quotes or encode them digitally if you like. These will help you solidify points you need to remember.

Quotes are easy to remember because they are short, easy to digest, and generally focused on a single point. By keeping them in one place, you assist your mental faculties to drive them into your memory so that when you need them; you’ll remember them or at least be reminded of where they’re stored.

10. Remember that your thoughts matter

This is very important. Writing down your own thoughts about the lessons, topics, subjects you’re getting is crucial to having notes that are usable.

Your own opinions and points recorded neatly increases your chance of learning and remembering things. Don’t write whole sentences. Scribble short phrases, or you may draw shapes or simple sketches.

For example, in notes on the history of music, you may draw a guitar. This can signify the time when guitar was invented, and other details about the musical instrument.

Your own insights that are written down make it easier for your brain to function way better when reviewing notes or when working on something wherein your notes are needed.

Your own opinions cement information in your brain; they’ll help you remember concepts, points of view, facts, statistics, data, or events more clearly and deeply.

11. Leave spaces

This could look unnecessary but it’s not. In your notes, leave some spaces for future notes when you’ll go sit down and review them.

The premise here is that when you review your notes, you’ll have more insights and opinions that are crucial to learning more about the topic of your notes.

This space can also be utilized to add more notes that you missed adding during the event. These notes may be more important than the ones you already have, so this is the best reason why it’s necessary to leave some spaces for further or additional notes.

12. Draw symbols

Spice up your notes. Draw symbols to represent main points and topics.

Visuals like symbols intensify the importance of main topics. Let me explain:

When you focus on the practicality of having symbols representing headings and main points, viewing your notes would be painless.

Let’s say, you look at your notes and if you’re a visual learner like me, the first things you’ll notice on the pages are the symbols with bold colors. They’ll guide you on the main topics of your notes, or the important points you need to know.

Symbols guide your eyes when searching for main topics and crucial points regarding your volume of notes.

13. Get creative

Make it your own, use your creativity.

If you draw, then used drawings all over your notes. Don’t mince your ideas. Just keep drawing things.

Just make sure they are clear to you. This may facilitate note taking too because instead of words that are too numerous sometimes, you can just use simple drawings to mean two or three sentences; maybe even four or five.

If you’re good in using colors, and symbols, go ahead, fill your note pages with them.

The beauty of taking notes is that nobody will criticize you because you are the main recipient of the work.

14. Eye vocabularies mentioned

Capture and gather vocabularies you never encountered before. Look up their definitions and understand them.

These new words will do two things:

  • They will enrich your word- arsenal.
  • They will assist you in making dents in your memory making way for a more insightful and more intense recording in your brain.

Pages of notes will sparkle with new words. You can highlight them or you can set them aside in one area. Check the note taking methods under tip number two. No matter what method you use, just make sure they are defined and they are set apart, underlined or highlighted.

After the session or meeting, you can search for their definitions and then review your notes and understanding more of their meanings. This will absolutely add more value to your notes.

15. Give examples

Don’t neglect given examples. Most teachers, or lecturers give examples of points and facts about their lesson or topic.

Always make sure you collect those examples. A lot of workers or students underestimate the importance of examples and rely only on the points mentioned. This is a grave error.

Examples, if properly written down will help you study and understand facts and lessons presented.

Given examples enhance the learning curve of workers and students alike. They solidify the information being discussed.

The bottom line

The tips I gave can be done in combinations. You can also follow all the tips if you want. That’s up to you.

I suggest you pick one note-taking method and mix in some of the tips above. The important thing is — you will become an expert with one method and as you apply them, you will become better and better. When you do, you can take notes without feeling scattered and will be able to organize your notes effectively.

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