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How to take great notes

Reinforce the fact that you’re listening

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in Workplace Communication

Smart managers treat note-taking as a vital skill. The act of writing down what they hear helps them retain key points, brainstorm for ideas and make connections between diverse elements.

Yet many business people don’t give much thought to their notes. They just grab a pen and start scribbling. Later on, they cannot even decipher what they wrote.

Here are some practical steps to make your notes pay off:

Prepare to write. Enter meetings with a pen and pad handy. If you’re poised and ready to write from the outset, you send a message to the speaker that you will treat what’s said seriously.

Many executives tell us that they like to see staffers who jot down what they hear. It signals that these employees intend to listen intently and collect facts accurately.

Use symbols. You don’t have to take a class in shorthand to develop your own abbreviations. Just create signs or single letters to represent frequently noted words or phrases. Example: If a boss describes steps in a new purchasing order procedure, refer to it as “POP.”

Apply color codes. Most speakers hop around from point to point. That makes it hard to outline what you hear in a tidy, sequential fashion. Organize your notes by using a different color ink to signify each main theme that a speaker addresses.

Example: Write with your red pen if you’re recording action steps, use blue ink for background facts and green to list your questions or concerns.

Avoid clutter. Don’t squeeze too many words onto a single sheet. Leave a one-inch margin on all sides of the paper so that your notes prove easier on the eyes. And try to only write on one side of the paper.

Skip spaces often, especially when a speaker gives examples, raises new points or refers back to an earlier comment. Dense blocks of text make it harder for you to pick up your notes later and extract key points quickly.

Prioritize what you hear. By selectively jotting down only the most important remarks and linking each point to the speaker’s larger message or overall goal, your notes can reflect the verbal “flow” that you want to capture on paper.

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