The Art of Taking Notes

This week, I was talking with a friend who had just attended an offsite conference. We got to talking about the value and luxury of being able to sit and listen to a presentation by someone else in your field of expertise. Not only do you stand a decent chance of picking up some new knowledge and information, but you get a chance to “constructively daydream” about your role, your team, and how you’re showing up as a leader. It’s like taking your mind and imagination to a fancy spa – if you use this time wisely, you can really come out of the session feeling incredibly energized.

So, don’t waste these opportunities by just sitting there and listening politely. Get out a pen and a pad of paper, and use the two greatest thinking tools ever invented to make some notes in these four areas (you might even divide the page into four equal quadrants for this):

New Learnings. Title this one “knowledge or facts” or whatever you like – this is where you will capture the traditional notes from the session. Jot down a fact or figure, or some interesting twist on a model, process, etc. Use this space to capture anything that you want to remember to tell your team, look up later, etc. What is resonating with you from the presentation? Jot it down here…

Implications. Next to that, write down anything you’re hearing that has implications or application back to your team. This can be a very exciting set of notes, as new ideas pop into your head, sparked by what you’re hearing. In other words, make this a series of bullets about how you might apply the new learnings back on the job. I often start these with “talk to ___ about…” or “start…”

Questions. A third set of notes to take will take your mind away from this particular presentation a bit – just start writing down questions you want to explore back on the job. For me, these often start with: “what if we…” or “can we…” or “should I…”.   These questions may or may not be associated with what you’re listening to, but once you get on a roll, you can fill a sheet of paper with just basic questions you want to find the answers to – either by yourself, or as a team.

Your Leadership. Finally, leave room on the page for some self-reflection. Jot down 2-3 things you’ve been doing really well as a leader lately, and 2-3 things you know (in your heart of hearts) that you should be working on. Write down ideas for behavior change as you push yourself to “do better” when you get back to the office. Sometimes, I will admit, I sneak in the old standby – the to-do list. That’s a whole separate page, usually, and just serves as a good reminder of what needs to be accomplished in the next week or so. The next time you’re at a conference or an external meeting, try this method for taking notes. Challenge yourself to be more imaginative and creative when sitting in the audience. What’s cool about conferences is they take us out of our day-to-day routine; they give us time to think, frankly. Put that time to good use – you might be surprised by the volume of great ideas you’ll generate!