Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Puzzled About Where to Take Notes? Part II

Reading the previous post is a prerequisite for understanding the argument I make here. If you have not already read that post, please take a moment to do so now.

Over the last several years, I have begun to notice more and more people taking notes on laptops convention sessions. In the last two years, iPads and other tablets are becoming more frequent. In addition, I notice a huge difference in what is being used depending on the type of convention. At a technology event, it seems the vast majority are using technology to take notes. At non-tech conferences, paper still rules. Do those who take notes digitally know something others don't. Do some of them use take notes digitally simply because they think that's what they are supposed to be doing?

My Own Experiment
Even though my paper journal is working, I am always open to a better way of doing something...provided it is truly better and not just different. I recently attended a full-day workshop and took the opportunity for an experiment...taking the notes that day on my tablet.

The seminar room was outfitted with round tables, so I had an excellent flat surface for the tablet. It did not take me long to figure out that I was less attuned to the speakers than I would have been with my paper journal.

At the end of the day, I had produced pages of digital notes instead of pages of hand-written journal notes. "Not much of a difference," I thought. I am still left with the task of dissecting those notes to determine what the to-dos are, just as if I was using paper. I now had to file those digital notes somewhere on my computer back home.

Since the days activities really touched on several different subjects, figuring out how to file them by subject would take more time that the set of notes was worth. Remember the Stanford 87% rule? These notes just didn't seem like they were going to be make the 13% cut. If I transfer the notes to some sort of chronological filing system, I have exactly the same thing as I would have had with my paper journal, and nothing more. With my paper journal, filing consists of closing the book. I just don't think I can match that sort of speed with the digital notes.

But What If I Want to Share?
What if I want to share those notes with the world? Wouldn't that be a reason to take the notes digitally and then post them later? Absolutely...but, I am a firm believer that what is posted for everyone to see should be of quality.

I learned in college that when you take notes, you often do not know for sure what is important and what is a bird-walk. Some parts of the lecture may even be confusing. So, during my college days, I took notes on scrap paper. I did not worry about a neat outline form. Thinking about the form takes away from thinking about what's going on in the class. I didn't worry about spelling. I worried about getting the content on paper.

Later in the day, I re-copied those notes into my notebook. It was during that time I made decisions about what was important and what could be omitted. I looked up words if I was unsure of the spelling. I consulted the textbook on points which were unclear. When I was finished, the notes were pristine. I had something of quality. I had something that would insure success on the test, the final exam, and during graduate courses...success on comps.

What does that have to do with sharing your meeting or convention notes? Everything. How good is the first draft of your notes going to be? Whether you take them initially on paper or in digital form, you experience the same challenges I did with all of those college courses. Revision, and lots of it, is essential if the result is going to be of quality.

There comes a point where so much revision is needed that starting with a blank screen is easier. If you are going to share notes with a large number of people, take the time to give them something of quality. Lay the notes, either handwriting or digital, alongside a fresh screen. Create a neat outline form. Improve the wording from the original. Omit the superfluous. Then, share your quality product with others.

My Take
Perhaps I will have different advice some time in the future. But for now, I am sticking with the paper journal. I trap the notes in the journal and then close the book. No filing. No re-copying. Later, I read the notes and decide what I actually need to do. The "to-dos" go in my digital task list. That's it. At the end of the month, I reference the notes in the digital "Table of Contents" outlined in both of my books. I have not found anything easier...and I am all about easy!

What is your method for taking notes? If you have a digital method, I would like to hear about it. If you have a good paper system, I would welcome hearing about that as well.

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