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Lifehacker: The Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, and Better, Third Edition by Gina Trapani, Adam Pash

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Hack 34: Take Great Notes

Level Easy

Platform Pen and Paper

Cost Free

Like it or not, your work life involves meetings — status meetings, conference calls, brainstorming sessions, and at its worst, meetings for the sake of meetings. But a meeting is only as valuable as the action taken after everyone’s left the conference room.

Whether you’re headed to a business meeting, a university lecture, or a conference session, taking effective notes is a critical skill that moves your projects, your career, and your education forward. This hack covers three practical note-taking methods and how to make your own custom note paper for even better note-taking.

Method 1: Symbolize Next Actions

Using note paper or a simple text file on your laptop, indent each line of your notes from the left margin. Then, use a simple system of symbols to mark off four different information types in the left column space in the margin. The following table describes the most useful symbols:

Symbol Description
[ ] or check_box.tif A square check box denotes a to-do item.
( ) or o A circle indicates a task to be assigned to someone else.
* An asterisk is an important fact.
? A question mark goes next to items to research or ask about.

After the meeting, a quick vertical scan of the margin area makes it easy to add tasks to your to-do list and calendar, send out requests to others, and check ...

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