How To Take and Organize Notes

Dilbert Note Taking

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure” – Peter Drucker

“Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed, and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden, not a benefit” – William Pollard

Taking Notes

I’m sure that every influential person in the history of the world is an avid note-taker. Warren Buffett has been known to make  huge decisions based on notes he’d taken a decade earlier. My friend, Tim Ferriss, claims to have over 15,000 pages of notes! Needless to say, note-taking is one of the most over-looked properties of effective people.

Why We Take Notes: The human mind is like a sponge. It remembers everything that it ever knew like a super-computer. Yet, because it processes so much information daily, it needs a selection-system for the things that actually make a difference in our lives. So many people let things slip their minds, by falsely convincing themselves “Oh, I’ll remember that!”. Yet, every four years we forget why we voted for that candidate, and every few decades we forget the meaning of debt. The process of note-taking will seem petty and superficial to begin with but will become increasingly valuable overtime.

Here are some points to remember that will help you take notes effectively:

  1. Focus on Content. Don’t write down everything you see and hear. Be selective. Focus on the main message and paraphrase any new and interesting insights you come across. (This also includes any new brainstorms you have, whether it’s a better way to be effective, or a billion dollar business idea).
  2. Write a Topic. It’s very important that you include a general header for each note. This make it much easier for bundling later. It should be simple (no big words) but detailed to provide you with what that note contains.
  3. Keep it Short and Sweet. Don’t start writing an 30 page essay every time you attend a seminar. Simply focus on getting new insights. Forget good grammar, proper spelling and the nitty-gritty details. You can research the topic later.
  4. Go Digital. If you know what you’re doing you’ll be fine and besides, it makes it far easier to organize, add, re-edit and backup. If you write your notes by hand sit down and copy them to text. (It’s not as time-consuming as you think, and if you have decent handwriting you could even hire someone else do it for you).

Organizing Notes

We’re all told at some point in our lives that we’re great organizers. But when it comes to sorting out hundreds of pages of notes, things get tricky. Any system is only as good as its management. They key is to always have immediate access to anything you may have ever jotted down.

  1. Concentrate your holdings. It’s important that you keep all your notes in the same place or folders. Syncing various folders with similar file names gets confusing. (Using a Mac or Google Desktop file-searching comes in handy).
  2. Differentiate the Urgent from the Standard. If you have something that requires attention tomorrow and one that’s just a random interesting tidbit, don’t mix them up. The time-sensitive records will get lost in a sea of practically irrelevant information.
  3. Combine and Group. I’ve created two major documents that contain all my notes: a) “Basics”: This contains all major points, concepts and topics that I’ve taken notes on in the past. Your mind can recover an entire subject with just a few key words – use those words. b) “My Workbook”: This should contain all your notes, in much broader form, divided into subjects (Dreams, Motivation, Work, Family, Travel, etc). Then insert notes based on subject. Create sub-categories and organize accordingly. For ultimate effectiveness: Create a “Table of Contents” in “Basics” and link it to your categories in the “Workbook”.
  4. Backup Your Masterpiece! I cannot stress this more. Please backup your work! I suggest a) sending yourself an email with your notes attached b) copying them to a flash/USB drive and c) Printing them on paper – every time you add/alter any significant data.

The “PUTS” Process

  • Print – Print or read through article you find interesting. Prioritize time-sensitive and most interesting subjects.
  • Underline – Underline or paraphrase anything you find useful or interesting. Focus on key phrases or terms.
  • Type – Write down or type up those things you found most notable. This is great to do over the weekend.
  • Sync – Organize and group your notes into categories. This makes it easier to find when desired.

Use It!

Remember to read through your notes often, (however much, however often). Maintain and update it. Keep adding to it. It will be your wealth of information you’ll cherish in the years to come!


Here are a few ideas to include in your note categories:

  1. Mindset
  2. Goals and Dreams
  3. Motivation
  4. Meaningful Life
  5. Lifehacks and GTD
  6. Leadership and Personal Development
  7. People You’ve Met
  8. Purchases You’ve Made
  9. Major Goals You’ve Accomplished
  10. Wealth and Investing
  11. Entrepreneur (Getting Started)
  12. Business (Growth and Operations)
  13. Sentiment and Studies
  14. Personal Decisions
  15. Travel and Recreation
  16. Food and Cooking
  17. Family and Relationships
  18. Politics and World
  19. Psychology
  20. Music/Movies/Arts/Entertainment

If anyone has any suggestions of a program that helps you tag notes, your feedback is greatly appreciated, along with any other suggestion you have on effective note-taking.


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