The Best Note Taking Method That is Never Discussed

I grew up in an age when shorthand was quite a standard high school subject. Some of my sisters were proficient at shorthand as they were expected to have this skill to progress a secretarial career in an office environment. No shorthand – no job.

For me, like many others, we had to develop other note-taking skills as we worked our way through our own high school experience and then into university and ultimately the workforce.

My note taking skills were never exemplary and my handwriting was at a level of beauty where I was the only who could interpret the scrawl. Nevertheless, I was able to take sufficing details out of my university texts and my ongoing personal book selections to make progress.

Whilst I haven’t pursued more effective note taking methods, I have always been on the lookout for a better way of finding content that I had produced, including notes, for review or reuse. This search has given me a deep appreciation for tools such as Evernote but this still didn’t offer me a step change in the note capture process.

I am a strong proponent of mindmaps for the widest range of tasks and I have used mindmaps to organise notes but this still wasn’t delivering an advantage in the capture of notes.

My 4 Methods

In the last 12 months, I have used 4 methods for note taking with very different experiences and advantages.

Pen & Paper

Not much to say here and for me, this is the worst method. Very stilted and I often feel I am jarred out of the reading flow to capture my notes. A proven method no doubt, but I wasn’t landing on this as my preferred method.

Digital Pen & Paper

I was a Kickstarter buyer of the Neo Smartpen. A really interesting development and I bought into the idea of pen on paper and content retrieval through the Neo app. A variety of paper sizes also offered the right amount of flexibility from A6 to A5 to A4 paper sizes. When the pen arrived, I was totally on board and stocked up on replacement nibs and paper.

Where it fell down for me was the consistency of content reproduction into the app. This was a huge disappointment and after multiple troubleshooting attempts and nib and paper swaps, I have retired the Neo.


I didn’t stay with this too long but was enticed with the thought of using a Fiverr service to transcribe -I balanced that thought with the rapid realisation that my notes are not that important.

Audio – but speech to text

This was a great accident.

I have Dragon speech-to-text and a decent microphone (ATR 2100) which I use to do the occasional podcast and screen-casts for communicating with clients and prospects. I had just finished using this combination one afternoon and decided to start reading Leading Digital by George Westerman. As I started to read, the note-taking reflex hit and I reached for my pen and had the distraction of thought that introduced the microphone.

My curiosity got the better of me and I turned the microphone on and had the Dragon software ready for speech capture. The beauty of this set-up is the notes are only taken as you speak so there isn’t an ongoing recording happening between notes.

This turned out to be the step-change that had previously eluded me.

Over the days that I read Leading Digital, I would simply:

  • Open Evernote as my note capture software.
  • Start the Dragon software; and
  • Turn on the microphone.

Sample from my note taking: 

Leading Digital by George Westerman

From this process, I end up with notes that matter to me and without needing to physically shift, I am not losing my flow. The bonus is by capturing in Evernote, I can have the notes available across multiple and synced devices with the ability to search 100% of the notes I have taken.

My advantage was having the software and the microphone. My recommendation is to get the software and a microphone. The advantage far outweighs the cost.

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