Why notes matter and how to take good ones

Note-taking is an important skill for any product marketer, and one I’m personally trying to improve on.

I gave this short presentation during my opening remarks at the PMM Summit last week.

Why you should take notes and how to do it well 👇

We encounter noteworthy information, ideas, and inspiration every day from things like customer interviews, internal meetings, analyst calls, or presentations at a conference.

But if we fail to capture and learn from it, we’ll simply forget everything.

I love the quote from Richard Branson — “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.”

So, why is note-taking so important?

🆙 It boosts our learning

There’s a concept called the “Generation Effect” that explains how information is better remembered when it’s generated from your own mind instead of simply being read or listened to. It’s the process of taking notes — not the notes themselves — that helps you grasp new concepts.

🧰  Notes are a repository of our thinking

From an article written by Nick Blackbourn, PhD, ‘Notes give you a way to catalogue the best ideas you’ve encountered, and what you thought about them.’ Your notes allow you to easily recall concepts you came across in the past. They spark new ideas, inspire writing, and set the stage for new projects.

Now that you know why note taking is important, here are three tips for taking better notes:

1️⃣ Prepare to take notes

You’ll take far better notes when you take even a couple of minutes to prep before hand. Walking into a presentation? Look at the abstract and take a couple of minutes to write down:

  • Questions on the topic?
  • What you’re hoping to learn?
  • Challenges around this topic?

You’re priming your brain to think critically about the topic so you’re mentally prepared to learn.

2️⃣ The point is to learn the material, not just document the session

The goal is not to transcribe a meeting or copy a presentation verbatim. The point is to reflect on the information, write it in your own words and add your own thoughts. Notes don’t have to be long either. Enough is enough.

3️⃣  Revisit, share, and teach if you want to retain

The best way to remember important information is to review your notes shortly after taking them. Better yet, teach the material to others. Take the opportunity to post your key learnings in Slack or schedule an internal session to present back to the team.

For example, I’ve posted summary notes on LikedIn after my last two PMM summits. It’s great to share these insights with my network, but, selfishly it helps me better retain what I’ve learned.

So grab your pen, notepad, tablet, laptop, or phone and start taking better notes.