Today, more and more we need a way for effective note-taking, but most of the times, we fail in finding a quick and effective way of keeping our important notes, ideas, and tasks. The reason is that we try to do a lot of the things (or a few,…) with our notes, resulting, the most of the times, to make them unusable.

Notes is a very important aspect of our information capturing-collecting-organizing-processing-reviewing process and a key component in any productivity system.

If you consider that:

“The pen is mightier than the sword” – Edward Bulwer-Lytton (From wikipedia)

then, the effective note-taking skills and habits, increases your capacity for learning, doing and perform in an optimal way!

The art and the form of a good note taking system is, for the most of us elusive, and most of the times, we found ourselves jolting quick, random, unorganized and mostly unusable notes on margins, napkins, post-it notes, loose notebooks, Filofax, on our PCs, mobile phones, etc.

The Search for a Ubiquitous Note-taking System

It seems that there is no any single productivity system, to match exactly the note-taking requirement of each person, even though some, seems more promising than others! And always there are pros and cons for everyone that it been proposed or used.

Most of the times we trapped in a cluster of conflicting, sometimes, questions such as:

  • Analog or Digital note-taking system?
  • Can we use a hybrid (Analog & Digital) System?
  • Note-taking in a text file or with a trusted suitable application?
  • We should use Filofax, Moleskine, or something else?
  • etc.

Why Do We Need an Effective Note-Taking System?

There are many reasons supporting the necessity for an effective, if not a ubiquitous, note-taking system:

  • Not enough time to organize effectively our work,
  • A pressing job or personal demand/request does not leave room for other tasks,
  • A task with higher priority over the work of taking notes about the task,
  • Negligence of noting down what is important,
  • Lack of experience of noting the relevant notes you going to use later,
  • An absence of an effective collecting/organization system for the tasks to proceed, or the information to be remembered,
  • An absence of documented and verified procedures that would permit the proper capturing of an idea, task or information, and its further process,
  • A lack of a review process,
  • <…>

The Art of Effective Note-Taking

Generally, effective note-taking involves a system that would support all the phases of the effective capturing, organizing and processing ideas, information, data, tasks, activities, events, etc.

The system, you are going to use, should be simple, easily applicable and implemented in various analog and digital media. Furthermore, should be coherent, flexible and consistent in order no open loops be left unattended.

Many systems, ways, and procedures have been proposed as the best candidates for a ubiquitous, note-taking system, either in analog form or in a digital medium. But most of the systems seem to agree to some basic principles, that define the effective note-taking practice. These are:

  1. Note the relevant,
  2. Note immediately what’s to be done or have to be done,
  3. Use the same symbols, shortcuts, etc to denote the same things, across every medium you use,
  4. Select methods, ways, application and tools that are highly flexible and portable across various mediums,
  5. Write the notes in a place you going to look later,
  6. Review your notes, eliminate the ones have been done, re-organize the rest,
  7. Use one place (analog or digital) for recording your notes, available to you all the time (i.e. a notepad). And use constantly ONLY that (Do not use many different systems – analog or digital – or when you have to use both make sure the one is your master – have tracked all your notes [!!!]. In this way, you would know what has been done etc),
  8. Use one system/ way/ mode /signs for recording your notes. Use the same either to the analog, to the digital or the hybrid system you use, but keep it simple and same in every medium (i.e. if you use a tick for a task you have complete, make sure you can use a tick [or similar sign] to the other media you use),
  9. Have a way for tracking progress, and
  10. Develop or use a way for Ubiquitous Notes Capturing.

Effective Note-Taking? Take a Peek at What Is Out There

As it has been mentioned, further above, there are various systems that can support the practice of effective note-taking. Each of them has its basic principles and its restrictions and it is not always easy to select the one against the other. Some of the ones that can support the effective note-taking are:

Furthermore, besides the systems to be used, the form of an effective note-taking system may be varied. May be in:


As you can see, there are various methods and systems that can be used for effective note-taking. All these provide certain advantages and disadvantages. The ration of advantages/disadvantages and the ROI for each methodology, technique, application, tool, and the procedure can be used, lays off course to your personal requirements.

My opinion is to select a simple system for note-taking, that can be implemented across various mediums (paper, PC, Smart Phone, etc), invest in its usage and follow it in a consistent manner, in order to provide its results. Of course, as always, it is a matter of what we know and can use best and in an efficient way!

Action Points: It is possible to change your note-taking system, in order to select a more coherent and efficient one, or not? If you should choose, what system for note-taking would you choose? Do you think, that the effective note-taking is an important skill today, or not?