Over the last year or so, when I attend conferences (or meetings, or anything I want to make sure I remember something) I leave my laptop either in it’s bag during sessions, or I don’t bring it at all. This has worked out great, and just how I thought it would. I get much more out of sessions (etc.) when I’m taking notes by hand.

I think the main reason is that when I’ve got my laptop open, I’ve also opened a whole world of distraction. When you’ve only got a pad of paper and a pen or pencil, you can better concentrate on the world around you. I’ve also found that my notebook is a great place to capture ideas. Sometimes I get really great ideas when I’m at a conference. What I’ll do is open my notebook so that I’ve got two pages showing. On the right, I’ll take notes. On the left, I’ll jot down any ideas that come to mind.

At the top of each page I write the date and title of meeting. This way I’ve got kind of a running journal of everything I attend. It might seem awkward at first, but it really works well.

I highly recommend you give it a try. I can see how it might not be an improvement for some, but my guess is many of you would begin to get a bit more out of your meetings and conference sessions.

18 Comments on Taking Notes By Hand

  1. Duane says:

    What always failed for me on this front was my lack of organization. Specifically, I’d misplace my notebook, then inevitably swing by the office supply closet and get a new one, and before you know it I had 6 notebooks going, each having just a few pages of notes. Coupled with my sparse note-taking to begin with, I wasn’t finding them too useful.

    Make sure you keep track of your notebook!

  2. Such Stuff says:

    Sometimes manual is still better

    I have yet to find a perfect notetaking gadget. More often than not, simply being able to type, no matter how fast, will not suffice to capture an idea. Over at To-Done, Keith speaks h…

  3. Something that I know I have a problem with, and possibly others as well, when you’re in a meeting don’t sit there and just doodle over your notes. I have an undeniable urge to draw while I’m in a meeting be it at work, or at a conference. I can’t help it. I really have to concentrate at paying attention to what is being said and to take notes to stop myself. I don’t know how many notepads I’ve gone through because of doodles.

  4. Good post, Keith! I’ve had the exact same experience. But it’s interesting to see how others have had trouble — with organization, doodling, or whatever :-)

    To stay organized, I basically use notepads as an input-only device. Every day or after a big meeting or conference, I try to “download” my notes into a list of ideas, email or other communication, or actionable items.

    Occasionally I have to go back and search my notepads for something I missed. But since they’re in roughly chronological order, it’s never too hard to find what I am looking for.

    Do you do any kind of methodical “download,” Keith? Do you use the notebooks themselves for reference down the road?

  5. mike moore says:

    I take my Pocket PC with me to meetings and write any notes directly on it. When I’m back at my desk and have an opportunity to organize my thought’s I get my Pocket PC notes and along with my memory, update a task in Outlook that is dedicated to the particular topic at hand. I like to keep notes by topic and just add a date to it when some update is needed. These topic specific tasks are always with me at meetings because they’re part of the Pocket PC PIM when I synchronize with Outlook.

    The last thing I like to see in a meeting is someone trying to flip through 10-15 pages of notes trying to find something that happened weeks ago. That is the reason I keep things by topic and not by date.

  6. At the last SXSW I tried both approaches. My problem with taking notes by hand is that my handwriting is slow, and the faster I write the less readable it gets. Often I end up with scribbles even I can’t understand.

    At some point I tried turning the brightness on my iBook all of the way down while I took notes. I could still see the text at a certain angle, and it completely eliminated the “distraction” aspect, allowing me to focus on listening and taking notes.

    It also made me appear completely insane, which I consider a benefit.

  7. Kris says:

    Ditto on the six notebooks and the sloppy handwriting. Hate to disagree here, but those concerns, coupled with the built-in search capabilities of software like OneNote (or even a personal wiki), mean I’ve gotta stick with the laptop.

  8. Annette says:

    Maybe it’s a national difference, maybe I haven’t been to that many seminars lately, but here in the UK I really don’t recall people getting laptops out at seminars…I just think it’s not done over here.

    And I have to say I think it’s a good thing not to have a laptop running in a seminar….or even a PDA…quite apart from the distraction element for the user, they’re distracting for those people sitting either side of the user.

    I think that the absolute best way to ensure maximum retention of info from a seminar is

    a. ensure you get a printout of the seminar notes from the seminar host – preferably before the seminar.

    b. take hand-written notes during the seminar and make sure you take the time to go through those notes afterwards. If possible make your notes on the printouts given out during the seminar. And if you have bad handwriting or are slow at taking notes, work to fix this. Just practice. The results will prove worth the effort.

  9. Rob Sanheim says:

    I agree for the most part, but there is value in having a laptop up and running if you’re in a technical presentation where the code/examples/whatever is online. Its nice to be running code samples and tweaking them live as the presenter runs through them, for example.

  10. Achieve-IT! says:

    Taking Notes By Hand

    Is paper better than technology? D. Keith Robinson over at To-Done has written about how he finds a notebook much better than a laptop computer for taking notes during meetings. His reasons include the distractions that the laptop produces in

  11. Glenn says:

    Notebooks are awesome. I have always preferred handwriting notes in class or just for general purposes. I normally write all my ideas and thoughts in a notebook. I will even design web layouts in hand first on most occasions.

  12. Markus says:

    It’s quite symptomatic for our time, or perhaps of weblogs that you can actually make a post saying “Look, I have a great idea for taking notes – it’s called pen and paper!”


    Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to be reminded from time to time.

    Personally I consider pen and paper superior in at least one situation, lectures and seminars, because it gives you a chance to repeat the material when you type it into your computer. For meetings though, I prefer a laptop because you don’t need as much postprocessing…

  13. I use a binder to take notes, and I only write on the right (front) side of the paper. Usually I keep those notes in order by date, and use another section to group ideas and comments by topic. This is especially helpful in class, when I can use the notes from the lesson to make comments on my own notes from the textbook or external reading.

    I’ve never used a laptop or computer to take notes during a meeting or class. I find it much easier to take the notes by hand, because then I can draw lines and circles and put comments exactly where I want them, to group things that make sense together.

  14. DrDon says:

    Here’s a great tool – the Cross Ion pen. It’s made to fit comfortably in pockets. http://www.cross.com/catalog/p.....e=Ion+Pens

  15. I think this isn’t first time I see somebody saying that people should use pen and paper. And it’s good to see that. While computers have their good sides it’s still better to use paper to take notes.

    If you really want to use computer, collaborative text editor like SubEthaEdit allows you to take notes together with other people. That could help to get more detailled notes if there is several of people using it. Editor like that could be also useful for team meetings.

    Anyway, whether you use paper or computer it’s important to take those notes or you don’t remember much of it later.

  16. testanchor47


  17. dattatreya says:

    i want detail notes about the wireless monitering

  18. Artie Breland says:

    You did not show any sample ways of taking notes at a meeting. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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