What do you take notes about?

If you look at people at meetings, you’ll notice there is a very different level of note-taking. Some just jot down some keywords, others try to write down almost every sentence.
But why I noticed: what happens to those notes? Go ahead and ask. “I saw you taking a lot of notes during the xyz meeting, what did you do with them.” You’ll be amazed how 3-4 pages of notes turn into 2-3 simple tasks and the rest is never used again.
So for me:

  • keep it simple/essential
  • process the notes ASAP (turn into tasks/actions, whatever). The biggest gap happens here!
  • throw away

I have several pages (analog) for ideas/todos/projects to empty my brain if something occurs to me. I also try to process ASAP. But sometimes the page justs develops over weeks. I re-read my notes for that specific project and I add stuff. When it reaches some state of near-completion (ideawise), I turn it into a project draft, tasks or whatever. Also: then throw away.


Even if you never look at them again, the process probably improves mental retention. (If the event is one you want to remember…).


One of the reasons I use pen+paper a lot.


Like @Lars, a lot of my notetaking is analog.

During work meetings and phone calls, I use a Field Notes steno pad. I tend to note down just the key points or the things that concern me specifically. Sometimes I’ll write some notes before (or during) a meeting highlighting things I want to talk about during the meeting, so notes are input as well as output. Any tasks that I’ll have to accomplish get a star in the left margin and after the meeting I’ll go through the notes and transfer those tasks into OmniFocus. Once that’s done I tear the pages out of the steno pad, use a paper cutter to trim off the ragged top edge, and file them in a file folder for that project (I’ve noodled around with a digital workflow for storing these notes, but I haven’t adopted anything yet). I do sometimes reference the filed notes later.

Outside of meetings I carry a Field Notes Explorer’s Notebook and a Fisher Space Pen in case I need to randomly write something down. These notes tend to be much more ephemeral. If I need to keep them I’ll transfer them to somewhere else. The notebook just gets thrown away when it fills up.

On the digital end of things, I use Bear for both notes and short writing tasks. These notes might be my thoughts as I’m going through a document that I’m reviewing, notes for a presentation I’m making, information I want to keep (for the short, medium, or long term), notes that will become a piece of written work, notes about some problem I’m trying to solve that’s too big to keep in my head. A very diverse set of possibilities.


I’ve been nearly 100% “paperless” for years, but for PostIt notes for telephone calls.

I’m retired now, but when I was working I kept all my notes and project documents in Circus Ponies Notebooks (may it RIP), one for each project. Meeting notes I generally limited to “action items”. I also taught classes in the evenings and kept lecture notes and assignments in Notebooks, one per course.

Now I use OmniFocus for my to-dos, particularly for infrequent items (change the furnace filters?). Stickies as a PostIt substitute for things other than phone calls. Notes primarily for wine tastings. Reminders for shopping lists. Growly Notes for travel planning (my replacement for Circus Ponies Notebook). Scrivener for notes related to books I’m trying to get finished.

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I have a nasty habit of coming out of meetings with no notes and putting only needed to adjust my todo list, but that is likely a symptom of having my engineer hat on in most meetings.

Google keep is my notes taking app of choice, it gets used more like a shared clipboard between all of my devices.

I will occasionally draw out a diagram in an app on my iPad but when it’s time to actual take the conceptual idea and turn it into anything that diagram goes into omnigraffle to become a nice SVG image

As others have mentioned, the physical act of handwriting notes – either on paper or on an iPad screen, is far more retentive of what happened and what’s important, for me, than typing notes into an app. I have years’ worth of paper notebooks. There’s nothing like a good pen and a good notebook to help concentration in a meeting.

I use Bear and my top level note is a catch all for things I need to remember. But I have two tagged sections in it, one for music I want to check out and one for books to check out. As an avid reader and music fan, this works well for me. Nice that it syncs on all my devices too!

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I am a compulsive note taker - yep, the kind of person who usually walks out of a meeting with pages of typed notes. I do go back to them regularly and so do the members of my team, who know that the information is there and all decisions are documented along with the logic behind them.

I use OneNote for work notes and a standing meeting note includes:

  • Key decisions and their rationale
  • Action items for me
  • Action items for the team
  • Important information for the work area (highlighted in yellow)
  • Interesting information for the work area (highlighted in blue)

I use OneNote because it allows me to format it and flick it off as a PDF via email without leaving the app.

I also take notes in the work context for:

  • Meeting prep (actions I want agreed to, outcomes I’m seeking)
  • Diary of key thoughts
  • Drafting key concepts or complex communications I may have influence later

In my personal life, I use notes as a kind of virtual sticky note for things I need to think about or add to OmniFocus etc.

It would be no exaggeration to say that I reference my notes multiple times a day. They often end up circulated to quite senior levels of the organisation depending on the importance of hte meeting.


do you use OneNote on the Mac or a surface pad or other windows computer? The one thing I absolutely LOVED when I had a windows laptop years ago was OneNote. However, I don’t like it on the the Mac or iPad.

Sometimes I’ll take copious notes in meetings, not for actually keeping the notes for posterity but because it helps my brain to think and analyse what’s going on during the meeting itself. So in that case the notes are a practical tool for me during the meeting rather than something I will hold onto.

Most of the notes I have are just snippets of information really, for example what size socks I wear from this particular company, what lightbulbs I’m using, movies I want to watch (and the order I want to watch them in for superhero movies) et cetera.

My most important notes are there to help my memory specifically. So I have a folder full of little snippets of information from stack exchange that I collected whenever I researched something when programming. These take about 1/4 of my 260 notes (not many: I like to delete things).
If I write a useful bit of code such as for removing transparency using image magick, I copy that into Notes as well and add a little bit of background information explaining how I use it.

My most used note is one in which I store information about the songs that my wife and I are producing that let me know what my next action is on each of them. As it’s a note I can throw in other info and audio files as wanted.

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I use it on the Mac and iPad. It’s not as good as the Windows version - not be a LONG shot - but it’s okay and it’s free.

I seem to take notes in meetings to pay attention. Most of my notes are immediately trashed after the meeting. I generally will keep Things 3 open and Evernote. Evernote is where I write to pay attention and Things for key items for myself and others.

I’ve been using notability with the iPad pro and apple pencil to take handwritten notes. I’ve found that writing down with a pencil helps me remember better than typing and seems to help me stay focused.

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I’m a terrible note taker, taking very few and not knowing why I took the ones I did.

I wonder where / how one acquires the skill.

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I take notes on just about anything and everything. I call it a “journal” but it’s not the foo foo style or the feel-good stuff that other people do when journaling.

The most important thing I write down (in Bear Notes) is stuff relating to my business. If I learn how to do something I make a note just for that in case I ever need to do it again. Or what my competition is doing wrong and ways I can do better. Or plans of action I need to take.

I even take notes on how to load my printer a certain way for the thing I do twice that involves that printer.

I also take a lot of screenshots and save them in continuous section where I create a new journal every week. It gives my life a timeline and makes finding things easier. To refer back to older notes I use my timestamp that I wrote about here. I also have a Keyboard Maestro command that when I type certain letters grabs the url of Chrome since that is where I get most of the screenshots from. For the full page, I use Vivaldi browser since it has a screenshot tool that can capture the page in full to PNG.

The best part is my rants or stupid things I come across on the internet. I even put funny pictures for when I come back later to read.

About the only thing I regret is not starting sooner. It would have been nice to reflect back on my thoughts when my father was still alive or my old horrible job and the constant stupid things that would happen. If anything its great therapy.

I would add that using something like TextExpander or Keyboard Maestro really helps keep things organized and easier to find. I also like using Bear Notes because its simple and allows me to put as many pictures, voice memos, PDFs, or whatever attachments I want in the notes. I also recommend backing up the notes to another location as I’ve found its easy to get many of them after a while and Bear Notes has a great export as HTML feature that keeps the formatting and plus Spotlight can index those so makes finding old timestamps so much easier.

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Fascinating question:

I take LOTS of notes but they fall into several main types:

Quickie things to go into my inbox. I carry a David Allen Co Wallet with me on a belt pouch everywhere. No matter where I am I can take a quick note. I also have small 3 x 5 spiral bound notepads scatter around the house, in my purse, in the bathroom, on my desk basically everywhere I might think of something. These get used for the stream of consciousness thoughts, ideas, issues that come up during the day. They all get torn off and tossed into my paper inbox which gets processed daily into my GTD system. Notes I take at night are processed first thing in the morning because I’ve learned that if I don’t I may forget details. Here’s a few examples from the past 2 days. This list is unusual in that all of them made it onto my current active projects in my GTD system. Usually about 1/3 of my notes end up as someday/maybe ideas.

  1. Add new ivermectin lot # to LambTracker and mark previous as drug gone
  2. Pix of Tango for sheep newsletter re ram evals
  3. look up grassfed carcass $ at Ft. Collins
  4. Cortez hay for ewes?
  5. Film to Fulani
  6. Ysgawn bad attitude-brat add LTnote
  7. Wentworth missing all ear tags

I also use my phone camera to take notes by snapping pictures of things that I need to deal with. They also get processed daily into my GTD system. Recent example was snapping pictures of 2 rocking chairs we have decided to get rid of. Now they’ll either go on the local BB as free items or get donated to a local charity shop.

When I take on-line classes or listen to webinars I take paper notes with a modified Cornell system onto paper. They usually are in support of some project and end up as Project Support material in the paper file for that project. I pull out any action items from them and add them to my GTD system for the project.

Eventually all my notes get processed somehow into my existing filing systems. My Someday/Maybe ones end up in DEVONThink in the GTD S/M files. Current ones get added to Omnifocus projects and reference ones get filed in my paper filing cabinets.


I really appreciate everyone’s replies!
I’ve often thought it would be nice to look over other people’s shoulder to see how they work. Your answers to this post have helped that need.

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My biggest note taking need is when conducting telephone or face-to-face job interviews. Until recently I used “dead tree” paper and pen, but following the recent acquisition of 10.5 iPad Pro with Apple Pencil, all my handwritten notes are now digital in the Good Notes app.
This has been a game changer for me - no more searching for the right notebook, and then searching for the specific note. Just use the search function!
When making notes for existing projects or blog posts, I normally type straight into Evernote.

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I just bought GoodNotes. It’s impressive. The thing that has impressed me the most so far, is when I added a page to a notebook, and it intuited that I would want to use the same page template I used on the first page. Of course it makes complete sense, but a lot of programmers wouldn’t have thought that way.

I love GoodNotes. It gives the best “feel” when using the Apple Pencil and is a rock solid way to deal with annotating PDFs. It was one of the first apps I bought when the Pencil came out and I still use it frequently. If you are writing notes it is excellent.