In a new Inc. webinar, Limitless author and memory expert Jim Kwik taught the audience a new way to take notes so as to get the most value out of them. You should start using it immediately -- I know I'm going to. It all begins with drawing a line down the center of the page.
I spend a lot of time taking notes and almost as much time thinking about how I could do it better. I switched from typing notes to writing them by hand when I learned research showed handwritten notes improve comprehension and retention. Once I started using a bullet journal a year or two ago, I began keeping important handwritten notes there (rather than in the notepads provided at every conference). That way I can always find them when I need them.
That was as far as my note-taking evolution had gotten -- until I attended Kwik's webinar and it changed my whole thinking about how to do it. Here's what I learned.
1. Draw a line down the center of a piece of paper.
To illustrate, Kwik picked up a pad and drew a line down the center of it. (If, like me, you're using a journal instead of a pad, it probably makes more sense to divide your notes into the left-hand page and the right-hand page instead.)
"On the left side of the page, I want you to capture," he said. "On the right side, I want you to create."
2. Filter what you capture.
Let's start with the left-hand side of your page or notebook. The reason handwritten notes aid in retention is counterintuitive: It's because you can't write everything down. When you type, you can capture pretty much everything that someone says. Unless you know shorthand, it's impossible to do this when writing by hand.
"So the reason why you learn better is because it forces you to add a filter and ask yourself questions about how important something is and how you'll use it," Kwik said. He had also explained during the webinar that the key to remembering things is your state of mind. Information in itself is not memorable, but it becomes a long-term memory when it's combined with an emotion, he said -- which is why you remember few of your high school classes, but may be able to recall many of the songs you listened to back then. With that in mind, make sure to write down reminders of examples and anecdotes, especially if they made an impression on you.
3. Ask yourself these vital questions.
What should you write on the right side of your page or notebook, the "create" side? I think you should let your imagination run free. Write down your responses to what you're hearing, including what doesn't work for you, what you think is very smart, and anything that gives you insight into your own life and work.
To get the most use out of what you're learning, Kwik also recommends writing the answers to three questions: How will I use this? Why must I use this? When will I use this? "If you start asking yourself, 'How can I use this? How can I use this?' you'll take that knowledge and turn it into power," Kwik explained. So, for example, if I was sitting in a meeting with a potential new client and taking notes this way, on the left side I might write down what they say they need and on the right side, what I can pitch them to fulfill that need.
Answering the question "Why must I use this?" will help you actually act on this knowledge, Kwik said. "You'll tap into purpose, which will give you energy to overcome inertia and procrastination."
What about "When will I use this?" Answering this question might be the most powerful thing you can do, because it means you're making a commitment to yourself that you will take action and thus reap the benefits of what you've learned. "The best performance tool you have is free -- it's your calendar," Kwik said. "You put investor meetings and client meetings in your calendar, but you don't put in your own growth."
Figuring out the what, why, and when of using new information gives you the best chance of getting real value out of what you've learned. I can't wait to try it next time I attend a meeting or (real or virtual) event.