Taking notes helps us think better. The compounding effects of better thinking over the course of a life could be profound. You might capture the business idea that changes your direction. A medical note could end up saving your life. A connection might develop that otherwise wouldn’t have.
Knowledge is powerful, and our notes let us store things our brains could never hope to.
Taking notes also leaves us with a calmer state of mind. We think more clearly and come up with better ideas. Nearly every successful person, no matter their field, has a note-taking habit of some kind.
But healthy habits can be hard to start, and even harder to maintain. If you’re trying to start (or re-start) a note-taking habit, keep it simple and fun. Avoid overcomplicating it at the start. Know exactly what to write each day, and make sure your system is as frictionless as possible.
Choose the right note-taking medium
The first decision you have to make is whether to go analog or digital. You can either handwrite your notes or use a digital tool.
The latter is highly recommended. If you use a tool that has a mobile app, you can take and access your notes from anywhere you have your phone. Typing is much faster than writing, and taking voice notes blows both out of the water. New AI integrations make organizing notes a breeze.
Note-taking apps also make it easier to recall our notes later on. Even the most meticulous of hand-written systems take time to reference, and the physical volume becomes impossible to carry regularly.
Still, there is something magical about writing by hand, so if that's what it takes to build a habit, start there.
If you decide to go with an app or software tool, prioritize a few things:
A simple and easy UI – if your tool has a learning curve, building a habit becomes substantially more difficult.
Accessible on mobile – make sure you can take notes on the go.
Reliable and high performing – if your app is too slow and crashes all the time, it’s going to be hard to use.
Organization system – it’s recommended you choose a networked note-taking system that uses backlinks. It’s much easier than organizing into folders.
Data portability – you might not want to stick with your first note-taking tool, so make sure you’ll easily be able to take your notes with you should you decide to switch tools.
Develop a method for taking daily notes
What you write each day will depend on what you are trying to get out of note-taking. Increased productivity? A better mental state? Capturing and storing information? Each will have a best suited format.
Here are a few to consider.
Method 1: Log your day
This is a great way to store information. Just keep a running log of your day in some kind of daily note. Write down what happens, people you meet with, things you learn, everything!
As a bonus, if you use a networked note-taking tool that uses backlinks, you'll naturally build up a second brain over time. This makes it easier to form further associations with information your brain would have otherwise lost.
Start by making a simple list. Don't spend much time on it. As you start to build that habit slowly, start adding more reflections and thoughts into the line items you add.
Method 2: Daily journaling
This one is good for cultivating a better state of mind. If you haven't yet, read our blog post on reducing anxiety through note-taking.
There are a ton of different formats you can use for a daily journal. Some common ones:
Gratitude journaling – write down a few things you are thankful for
Reframing – take negative thoughts and force yourself to re-frame them positively
Top priority - write down the most important thing for you to accomplish that day
Top of mind - list anything that seems to be on your mind
Method 3: Mind dump/to-do list
Sit down and list out every single task and thing you might need to do in the day. Keep going until you can't think of anything else. Then go through and order from most to least important. If you find items that don't really need to get done, remove them.
Now you have your to-do list for the day! You not only know exactly what you need to get done, but your mind is clear. You're confident that there is nothing swimming around in your head that you missed. This is also a great place to list and track your habits.
Have a template to call on each day
Once you've decided on your format, make a template to easily start each day. Tools like Reflect have templates built in, but if your tool doesn’t, you can always save the format and paste it in each day.
If you're taking notes in an ongoing note, pin it somewhere you can easily reach whenever you need. If it's hard to get going, you probably won't stick with it long.
If you want to see exactly how to start a note-taking habit in Reflect, watch our video where we walk you through the methods above.