"Some of Virgin's most successful companies have been born from random moments--if we hadn't opened our notebooks, they would never have happened," Richard Branson wrote in a recent blog post. Note-taking is a simple process, yet Branson believes that most leaders neglect to break out a notepad to record their thoughts and the ideas generated in conversations.

Would you feel embarrassed to show up at a meeting with a notebook instead of a notepad? Branson says you need to get over it. "Many people think writing notes is below them--but everyone should be doing it as it can greatly improve what you do."

We may believe that we'll retain a good idea, but an entrepreneur has a lot on their mind and even the brilliant Branson admits to forgetting things before he even leaves the room. Branson says that no matter how big, small, simple, or complex an idea is, you should write it down. "But don't just take notes for the sake of taking notes, go through your ideas and turn them into actionable and measurable goals," he wrote.

Why pen and paper? You'd think a guy like Branson would pull out an iPad, or better yet, turn to an ever-present assistant to take notes. But no, he relies on a small notepad that's kept tucked away in his back pocket. He sees value in handwriting his notes so no detail goes unnoticed, no idea unexplored.

Why note-taking by hand is superior to using a keyboard.

Research suggests that when laptops are used to take notes, it results in shallower processing. We are more likely to remember conceptual information better when note-taking is done with pen and paper. Handwriting about your ideas, outside input, challenges and more will send a signal to the brain that the material is important. Note-taking by hand also improves our memory. Since it's a slower process we need to listen more carefully and be selective and summarize what we choose to write down. 

The New York Times quoted psychologist, Stanislas Dehaene as saying that when we put pen to paper a unique neural circuit is automatically activated. "There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain, it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn't realize," says Dehaene.

Of course, taking notes won't matter if you don't follow through. Use your notes to develop ideas, problem-solve, and create goals. Branson points out that Virgin Atlantic's success is in the small details, which means nothing can be forgotten or delayed.

My current notebook is a pretty pale pink, what about yours?

Published on: Jan 29, 2018