I took a lot of notes in high school. I remember color coding stuff in freshman biology to help me memorize. Other than memorization, I didn’t really understand the point of notes. Everyone else was doing it, so I figured I should too. I never really looked back on my notes unless I was memorizing something. I think math was the exception. I think the examples we did in class were better than what the textbooks offered, so I depended on my notes.
I drastically reduced the number of things I take notes on when I started college. I took notes in my 8 AM English class my first semester only to keep me awake, and I’m pretty sure I spent most of the time paying attention to my handwriting instead. I did not take notes in my statistics class last semester. If I did scribble stuff down, I threw them away when I got back to my room. All of the examples were from the book anyway, so I didn’t need them.
It’s almost impossible for me to write an essay without taking notes. I generally write down some bullet points and then handwrite a page (handwritten) at a time. The following is part of a first draft I wrote for an essay from my first semester.1
It’s well-known that taking notes, regardless of whether or not you look over them afterwards, has a big impact on content retention. So, I generally like to scribble stuff down. These notes eventually ended up in the trash (well, most of them).
And then I noticed something weird. We have a stand-up meeting (SUM) at work every day, and sometimes I find myself forgetting what I worked on. We have them at 3 PM, and I basically forgot everything except what I was working on right before the SUM. Weird. I also don’t remember most of the things I worked on while I interned during the semester. That makes sense though, right? I had five classes, lots of reading and writing to do, plus exams and stuff. I just don’t have the mental capacity to handle all of this context switching.
Oh hey, I wrote about context switching before: Mastering the art of context switching.
And as part of the journey to master the art of context switching, I’ve learned a new technique: taking notes often. I see at as like… saving my mental context down. I always carry around a notebook in my backpack for this reason. If I think about something that I want to get back to later, I just write it down. Not only that, I’m also writing down stuff that I do. If I’m at work and I start working on something new, I scribble down a few lines about it.
I almost always have my notebook out during SUMs. My coworkers might notice me scribbling stuff down as the first few people start talking about what they’ve been working on. The interesting thing is that I’m not writing down what they worked on, but rather what I worked on. It helps me backtrack, and when I’m ready I just read off the list.