3 rules for better note taking


In school, taking good notes improved our understanding and retention of the material, leading to better papers and test scores.

In a law practice, good notes can help us win cases by helping us see aspects of the case we might otherwise miss.

Good notes also help us create better articles, presentations, and books.

Learning and using what you learn starts with good note taking. Here are 3 rules to help you do that:

(1) Record the source.

Attribution of authoritative sources lends authority to what you write or say about a subject. Recording the source will also allow you to go back to the original material if you want to take another look, or find other material by the same author.

(2) Don’t just write what someone said. Write what you think about what they said.

One of the best ways to get more out of your notes is to record your thoughts and ideas about the points you read or hear immediately after you hear them. Write down why they are important, other ideas and questions they make you think of, examples from other books you’ve read and from your own experience, and notes about what to do with this information.

In law school, after I wrote a note, I often wrote my opinion—what I thought about the point made by the court, the professor, or fellow student. I also noted related cases or ideas, and questions I wanted to explore further. This helped me study more effectively, recall the material during exams, and write more persuasively.

I did the same thing in my practice. I recorded what a witness said, for example, and then added my thoughts and questions about what they said, and how I might use it, in the left margin of the page.

The Cornell Note Taking Method advocates this. They also suggest that when the lecture, interview, or chapter is done, you immediately add a summary at the bottom of the page.

(3) Reread and review your notes after you write them. Preferably more than once.

Add additional thoughts. Add links to other notes you have on the subject. Then, re-read and reflect on your notes again, to re-enforce what you’ve learned, and explore additional ideas you can use.

Taking better notes takes practice. I know that after I hear a presentation or read an article, I’m usually in a hurry to move on to the next video or article. I have to remind myself to record my thoughts about the subject and how I could use my notes.

When I take time to do this, I almost always find my notes are more useful to me. Try it and I think you’ll find the same thing.

Evernote for Lawyers ebook


My first YouTube video in over 3 years


Oops, I did it again. After a hiatus of more than 3 years, I uploaded a new YouTube video. It’s a quick overview of mind-mapping using Xmind software.

The video is unscripted and done without notes. I was trying out my screen-casting skills using screencast-o-matic software and wasn’t planning on uploading it, but when it was done, I thought it wasn’t terrible and you might like to see it.

While you’re on YouTube, you might want to watch a funny video I did 5 years ago, call The Convention. It’s about an attorney going to his first ABA convention and may be good for a few chuckles.

No matter how disinclined you are to doing a podcast or any other content creation requiring a regular commitment of time, even the busiest attorney can occasionally create simple videos and post them online. Even me.

Anyway, let me know what you think of my new creation, or if you have any questions. And if you have any requests for additional videos, as Ross Perot used to say, “I’m all ears”.


Calling all note-taking junkies–come and get your fix


Who knew?

I had no idea how many different note-taking methods there were. Different methods for different styles and a variety of situations, from classroom to courtroom and everyone in between. And then I read a blog post, The Ultimate Guide to Note-Taking, which I heartily recommend to you.

Even if you’re not a note-taking fanboy or girl, or looking for something different from what you currently use to record notes or ideas, you’re bound to find something you can use.

The post presents a wide variety of note-taking methods, including the traditional outline/list method we first learned in grade school, visual methods like mind maps and charts, the Cornell method, and more. The author first demonstrates a paper version of each method, and suggests how it might be adapted for digital.

I think we all develop our own methods of taking notes. I know I did, first in law school, and then in depos and court. For the latter, I would write down what a witness said, what I thought about what they said, and notes to myself about what to ask in cross or what to look into when I got back to the office. I used abbreviations and visual marks to identify notes to zero in on when I later reviewed them.

I do something similar when I’m listening to a presentation or in a business meeting.

I’m going to study this blog post to see how I can use some of these methods for recording tasks and projects and for taking notes on books and blogs.

If you want to talk nerdy to me, check it out and let me know what you think.


The need to read (books)


If you are a book lover like I am, you know there’s never enough time to read everything. In, “How to read a lot of books,” college student and fellow book lover Dan Shipper shares how he read lots of books.

First, he keeps track of everything he wants to read in Evernote. He always has his list with him so he can pick up books on his “want” list any time he’s in a book store. Of course I keep lists in Evernote, too, but I buy mostly ebooks, now.

Next, he prioritizes his master list (using Trello) so he knows what to read next. I’m more of a shoot from the hip kinda guy, so unless I’m working on a project that calls for me to read a certain book, I just pick something I feel drawn to and read that. If I did prioritize my list, however, I would use Evernote tags instead of another application.

As for actually reading the books, Shipper follows this rule: “I never read more than one book at a time, and I always finish every book I start.” Here, I disagree.

I often read several books “simultaneously”. No, not literally. I start one book, then switch to another before finishing the first. I may go back to the first or go on to another. Why? I like the variety, I guess. When I get tired of hearing one author’s voice, I like to tune into someone else’s.

As for finishing every book, I must ask why? There are a lot of bad books out there. Why continue reading something that’s boring or that doesn’t deliver on it’s promise? Why punish yourself? So you can say you finished what you started? So you can tell yourself you gave the author a fair shot?

Besides, the 80/20 rules tells us that 80% of a book’s value is contained in 20% of the pages. If you can deduce that value by skimming or by skipping chapters, why wouldn’t you do that?

I guess it depends on why you are reading. I read to gain information, mostly. (I don’t read much fiction these days.) When I can get most of the information I need or want without finishing the book, I do.

Not finishing books is one of my top productivity strategies.

Finally, Shipper says he takes notes as he reads and records the page numbers, so he can refer back to those notes in the future. I do that, too. On Kindle, you can highlight passages and add notes and the system will keep track of those highlights and notes, along with the page numbers. (I haven’t figured out how to export them, though. I’d like to save them in Evernote.)

So, that’s what I do to read (or skim) lots of books. What do you do?

Glad I’m done with this post. I’ve got five books I’m planning to start.

If you use Evernote, get my Evernote for Lawyers ebook. If you don’t use Evernote, helloooooo!