Taking good notes is a compounding skill. You should be doing everything possible right now
We retain more knowledge, come up with better ideas, and actually think better when we take superb notes. The information that we collect and developed is safely catalogued instead of being lost forever.
Note-taking eliminates the need for our brains to store information (something they aren't particularly good at), and instead focus on its core function – forming new associations.
In effect, we are great at coming up with ideas and processing information. We are less good at remembering it. That's where our notes come in!
Reducing friction when taking notes
The biggest obstacle to effective note-taking is, and always has been, friction.
It's a painfully familiar feeling. Inspiration strikes – that magic idea hits your brain. Your eyes widen and your heart rate increases as you frantically look for a pen. By the time you find paper to write on... the idea is gone.
When we have a brilliant thought or idea, it's hard to imagine forgetting it. But all thoughts and ideas are fleeting.
The best thing you can do to improve your note-taking is to reduce the friction required to capture thoughts and information.
Note-taking templates give us a format to place to start immediately recording information, without any faff.
Why use note-taking templates?
When we take notes using a template, we get to focus on the thinking instead of the notes themselves.
If you spend all of your time structuring, organizing and processing your notes, you'll miss the information you're trying to record. It defeats the whole point of note-taking!
Note-taking templates give us a blueprint to call upon at any given moment in time to start taking notes with. Recording information becomes effortless.
It avoids having to start from a blank page. There is no set-up period. It saves time, sure. It also makes information easier to access and adds structure to our notes.
But the real benefit is in reduced friction. You'll never have to start from a blank page.
How to use note-taking templates?
Explore the different note-taking templates and find the ones that resonate with you. It's smart to try them out.
Watch a YouTube video and take notes. If it's a daily journaling format, try it for a few days.
When you find a few that really resonate with you, save them so that they're quickly accessible. Note-taking apps like Reflect let you save templates that you can call on by typing "/".
[insert gif of template]
If nothing else, you can save the templates as a note that you can duplicate when needed. There is still some friction here, but it beats not having anything to work off of.
💡 Tips for applying the templates below:
Instruction text will be put in italics, like this. Once you get comfortable with a certain note-taking template or format, you'll likely want to remove this text so that you don't have to write over it each time.
You will likely want to alter each template to match your own preferences and working style.
Try to consistently use the same template(s). You'll get more efficient at taking notes while retaining more information.
Note-taking templates that you can copy
Note-Taking Template #1: Bullet Journaling method
This system was developed by Ryder Carrol, the inventor of the Bullet Journal. While it is known as a manual journaling and task management method, it can also be accomplished digitally. It uses symbols to categorize entries into tasks, events, and notes. We've simplified it for digital use based on categories that are back-linked.
Daily Journaling involves having an ongoing Daily Note from where you base all of your note-taking from. Each day has a new page in the ongoing note where everything in your day goes. Each element is backlinked out to a page where you can provide more information.
The Daily Journaling method is more suited for overall knowledge capture than a method for studying a specific topic. With backlinking, it’s a great way to build up a second brain over time.
Developed by Walter Pauk at Cornell University, this system involves dividing each page into three sections: Notes, Cues, and Summary. This helps with recalling, reviewing, and summarizing notes efficiently. Given its start in academia, it’s great for lectures and educational videos.
The Cornell Method was developed for handwritten notes, but it can easily be applied to your note-taking app with this template.
Note-Taking Template #4: the Charting method of note-taking
The Charting method of note-taking is useful when you want to organize information into categories. You start by identifying categories that are relevant to the information you're taking notes on. You list these categories out into headings and fill them in with relevant information as you read or receive it. Afterwards, you can go through and reorganize or reorder the points to make more sense and be easier to retrieve information from. If you're using a networked note-taking tool like Reflect, it's also helpful to backlink these categories.
You can copy a template for the Charting note-taking method here.
Note-Taking Template #5: the mapping method of note-taking
This is a visual method of note-taking that requires you to draw diagrams of the ideas being discussed. We’re discussing it here with regard to modern digital note-taking because, if you use a networked note-taking app with a mind map feature, this will exist automatically.
If you have a networked note-taking app, you don’t need to worry about drawing or making connections. Just create back-linked notes, and you’ll see how they are all interconnected. In apps like Reflect the supporting points will be pulled in automatically
While difficult to make a template for this, we do have a custom prompt that you can use with AI tools like ChatGPT to suggest backlinks for your notes. You can copy it here, and it's built into Reflect as a system prompt of our AI tool.
Note-Taking Template #6: the SQ3R method
Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review.
This is more of a studying method but it’s good for any type of learning. This process encourages you to interact with your notes to understand and retain the material better. It takes a bit more time and engagement but solidifies the information solidly in your mind (and notes).
Survey: Skim the material to get an overall picture. Look at headings, subheadings, and highlighted words. No note-taking yet!
Question: Before you start reading, ask yourself questions based on your initial survey. What do you expect to learn? Write these down.
Read: Now read the material carefully, looking for answers to your questions and creating new ones.
Recite: After reading a section, try to recite the main points and answer your questions from memory into your notes. Then check the text to see if you were correct.
Review: After you've finished reading, review your notes. This reinforces what you've learned.
This is more of an exercise than a note-taking technique, although it does technically fall under the umbrella. It's a reflection to do each morning. It has you do a reframing exercise, list 5 things you're thankful for and a top priority of the day. But you can change it to whatever elements you'd like.
You can copy a sample daily reflection template here.
Note-taking Template #8: Evergreen notes
Finally we have the Evergreen note-taking format – a great template to use whenever you want to capture foundational information about a subject or topic. These are good for things that you know you'll want to live in your notes permanently to recall.
You can copy a note-taking template to use here. Alternatively (or in addition), you might find it helpful to add an #evergreen tag to your notes if your note-taking app allows it.
If you’d like to explore various methods of note-taking in more detail, check out this article.
Looking for a note-taking app where you can easily save and call on templates? Sign up for a free two week trial of Reflect.