Our lives are busy, so people love to talk about productivity and what “life hack” saves them a few minutes or makes their lives incrementally better, and since meetings are a fact of most people’s lives, it’s easy to find varied opinions on the best approach to note-taking. This article, The Benefits of No-Tech Note Taking, published at The Chronicle of Higher Education, contends that taking notes on paper is better for learning, and I agree with that. But this addresses only one function of note-taking and, like most articles taking one side or the other, overlooks that there is a place for both tech and non-tech notes.

I’ll state as qualifications that my life requires a tremendous amount of note-taking, as a consultant and advisor, as a writer, as a speaker, as a member of half a dozen boards and committees and who knows how many miscellaneous projects. I’ve had to develop an approach that is both highly efficient and truly effective. The way I see it, there are two modes of note-taking:

  • Scribe, where the goal is to capture the specifics and the essentials of a meeting or event for posterity and for the benefit of others. If I’m in this role and taking notes for the sake of distributing them to others in the meeting or who missed it, I generally take them in Evernote (note: referral link) on my laptop and they’re very much like a transcription with actionable points pulled out. That way it’s simple to copy and paste into an email or just share the note directly from Evernote.
  • Student, where the goal is to learn. If I’m in a meeting, discussion, or lecture where I want to deeply absorb what’s being shared and integrate it into my own knowledge, I usually take notes on paper in my Moleskine notebook. They also tend to be much more freeform, incorporating sketching, diagrams, and lines connecting thoughts on the page. I also scan these notes periodically so I have them in Evernote as well for reference, complete with tags to make them easy to find.

It’s just like me to be all “both/and” rather than “either/or” but it’s true: in my very busy life, this split approach has served me really well. If you’re struggling with your notes, I hope this helps you.

Notes on paper vs. notes on laptop: which is better?
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