6 Note-Taking Methods and the Apps That Make Them Easy

note taking apps

How many times have you learned something new, only to forget most of the details shortly after? Or, left a meeting to find that the information shared went in one ear and out the other? Or, even brainstormed and researched a topic on your own, only to find that what you worked on is not easy to interpret a week later?

Being able to jot down important points in a way that is referenceable, understandable, and useful after it has been said is truly a challenge. In today’s tech-focused world there are so many applications out there to help with note-taking, but if you don’t know how to take notes well, in a way that works for you, these will fall short.

There are many options for note-taking methods, and systems to support your method. Mastery of note-taking, in conjunction with the right system, will be a game changer for your professional life.

Here are some note-taking methods and the online tools you can use for each (all the tools we mention are either totally free, or have a useful free version!)

Mind-Mapping

Mind-mapping is a note-taking method where you draw visual diagrams using lines to represent relationships between ideas and items. Mind maps are a visually pleasing way to take notes—giving trigger words for subjects—helping with retention and memorization. This form of note taking is useful for visual learners. It is also easy to add to and manipulate as you go. Times that are great for mind-mapping as a note-taking method are planning (events, marketing programs, etc.), mapping out notes you’ve taken to help clarify and understand the situation and connections, and meeting notes.

**ProTip: map out the meeting agenda before the meeting starts so you are ready to take notes efficiently during the meeting.

Tool recommendation:

Mindmeister: Mindmeister is an online tool where you can efficiently build out a mind map as your note-taking method

Features:

  • Cost: Free version for 3 maps, then $4.99/month
  • Make your mind map from scratch, or use a template to get you going
  • Star your favorites, and easily search your maps and organize in folders

2. Visual Boards

Using visual boards to take notes is a unique method that can be very helpful in the right situations, for the right people. Using visuals to remember what was discussed or what you brainstormed will trigger memory retention as well as help inspire more creativity. Visual note-taking can range from flow charts, to images, to drawings. Visual boards are great to use when taking notes for creative projects—content, marketing programs, design projects, etc. An added bonus is that your visual board may be easily turned into a presentation.

Tools:

Pinterest: More than social media, Pinterest is used to pin pictures, websites, ideas—things you want to remember or that inspire you. This is a form of note-taking!

Features:

  • Cost: Free
  • Organize by boards to make it easily referenceable
  • Collaboration: Browse your friend’s boards, share boards together
  • The world wide web is your oyster, and an easily pin-able one!
  • If you haven’t taken advantage of “private” boards, this can be great, too, for work collaboration.

Milanote: The tool for organizing creative projects. Milanote is a visual board that allows you to put up all sorts of options for note-taking. You can set up brand guidelines, checklists, post images, link to sites—you name it. Milanotes screams creativity and can be a very effective tool for note taking.

Features:

  • Cost: Free (with limited storage, or $9.99/month for unlimited)
  • Create multiple boards with a lot of visuals
  • Great for creative planning and reference

3. Outlines

Outlining is a classic note-taking method. Start with a subject, break it down into sub-bullets, and continue on within your organization. This method can be great for quickly jotting down what is being said in a meeting or a lecture, while keeping some level of organization. Originally made popular by pen and paper, online note-taking systems help outlines to be more flexible. Outlines are an effective note-taking method for when you are learning and observing. It is great for making sure you get down all the info you will need after the meeting or lecture.

Tool recommendation:

Workflowy: Workflowy is a blank canvas that turns into the ultimate outline. Type out your subjects, and expand each one as far as you need. Workflowy makes it easy to add info to subjects as you go.

Features:

  • Cost: Free
  • Expandable outlines
  • Can become task lists
  • Easily searchable

4. Lists

Not all note taking needs to be with complicated systems or maps. Sometimes all you need for note taking is a list: to-do lists, shopping lists, event lists, etc. When appropriate, keeping it simple with a list is a very helpful form of note taking. Two classic examples of note-taking lists are your grocery list, or a checklist for what needs to be done for an event.

Tool recommendation:

Google Keep: Google Keep gives you a way to make quick and easy lists. It has a very friendly mobile version so you can make them and access them on the go. It also has the option to make non-list notes, but the list-making feature is excellent and very efficient.

Features:

  • Cost: Free
  • Checklist that includes completed items
  • Easy organization
  • Great mobile access

5-6. Sentences and Charts

We’re grouping these together, because there are a couple note-taking tools that support several note taking methods. Most tools that allow you to create charts will also give you a blank slate for sentences, letting the two methods be available at the appropriate time. Not all scenarios will warrant the same note-taking method.

Sentences

Taking notes with the sentences method means you are literally writing down sentences. You are completing thoughts and writing down what others are saying. This method can take more time to complete and review, but you likely won’t have to try to re-interpret what you meant while originally taking the notes.

Use sentences when you are observing or learning in a setting where you have time to take down information word-by-word. This is a great system to use when you are meeting with someone who you do not read well, or someone giving you complex information. Sentences help you to remember someone’s exact words, that way you can specifically reference what you’re needing clarification on during follow-up.

Charts

Using charting for note-taking is when you utilize charts to organize thoughts and information in block-style. You can group and show relationships using rows and columns. Charts allow for quick organization, side by side comparisons, planners, and much more. A great example of when to use charts is when you are doing research between different similar software products to help choose which to implement for your organization.

Tools:

Evernote: Evernote is versatile note taking system that has blank sheets, as well as templates. Find templates and tools to chart out your information into comparison sheets, planners, etc. You can also organize your notes into notebooks for easy organization.

Features:

  • Cost: Free (with limited storage)
  • Has blank page – great for sentences and outlines
  • Has templates and tools allowing for charting
  • Collaboration available

OneNote: This has very similar features to Evernote. It gives you blank space great for sentences and outlines, but it also has templates to help you chart out the most complex scenarios.

Features:

  • Cost: Free
  • Easy search and organization
  • Great formatting tools to make your notes easier to review
  • Microsoft tool that integrates smoothly with other Microsoft tools
  • Collaboration available

ZoHo Notebook: Zoho notebook combines many of the above note-taking methods into one tool. You can create notebooks (for easy organization) that you fill with cards. These cards can be used for different note taking methods, depending on what is appropriate for your current situation. Use an audio card, an attachment, images, checklists, etc.

Features:

  • Cost: Free
  • Supports multiple note taking methods
  • Easy notebook organization
  • Collaboration available

If you find a method and a system that works for you, you won’t ever have to worry about remembering what was said in last week’s meeting. No more stressing that you won’t be able to recall yesterday’s lecture, or that you will forget that brilliant idea you had last week. No note-taking method is wrong. Find what works for you, and you will find that your notes will set you free.

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About the Author

Chelsey Lewis

Chelsey Lewis

An executive assistant and writer, Chelsey Lewis has extensive experience in business operations, customer success, leadership, and training, primarily in the SaaS industry. She has her BA in Strategic Communications from the University of Minnesota and now resides in Northern Montana. If she isn't coordinating chaos, she can be found on her family farm or hiking in Glacier National Park.