Notetaking is an essential skill for ADHD adults to be able to take away essential information from various types of conversations. Yet, you may not know how to do it very well. Here’s how you could do it better.
- Notetaking is an essential skill for ADHD adults.
- Notetaking can help you focus and attend, synthesize information, and retrieve the information later when you need it.
- To do the above you can use one of the two suggested structured ways of taking notes.
- Learn how to process notes after the meeting to ensure you are taking away the most relevant information.
When you were in school, if you took notes, you were likely motivated to do so because you wanted to remember the information for a test or a quiz or exam. But I’m guessing, unless you took a study skills class, you might have not learned how to do so very well. So now as an adult, you might not take very many notes, maybe because you’re not sure what to write down or you think you’ll remember what you need to remember. Alternatively, you might take down every last word because you don’t want to forget anything and you’re still not sure what’s most important to include in your notes.
In either case, you may come away from meetings or discussions not feeling very confident you have the clarity you need regarding the takeaways. And now you may think you just can’t take notes very well. Yet, note taking really is an essential skill for everyone and, especially for ADHD adults. As doing so can help you focus and attend to the conversation as well as understand and synthesize the information and retrieve the information later when you need it.
No doubt, it can be challenging when you have ADHD to follow all the bouncing balls in a meeting or conversation to be able to extract the most salient information when you have to contend with various distractions, which might include a fly buzzing about, a nearby conversation outside your door, a colleague tapping on their computer loudly and your own intrusive thoughts or any number of things. It may seem nearly impossible to pay attention at times.
But using a structured way to take notes can help you focus and attend to what’s going on. Think about it. How many times have you gotten distracted by other your own ideas or ones that came up in a conversation? And either you start thinking about these ideas and lose the thread of the conversation, or you forget the idea because of your ADHD related working memory challenges. Again, having a structured way to externalize the information will help you capture the idea in the moment, attend to the conversation, and be able to think more deeply about the idea later when you have time. Because you won’t have forgotten about it.
No doubt you’re still going to miss some things. It will happen. Maybe more than you would like. So, in addition to taking notes, understanding your ADHD and having self-compassion are two really important things. So that you are comfortable either asking for clarification when you miss a beat, which will happen. Or alternatively making a note to yourself to follow up later to get the clarification you need.
But when you have a structured process for taking notes, sure you’ll get less distracted and you’ll be able to remember more because you’ll have your notes when you need them. But you’ll also be more engaged and active than if you were just passively listening. And the process of taking notes will help you understand the content better, as well as make connections with what is being said by others and with what you already know. Also, because you’ll have the notes to review later, you’ll be able to take even a deeper dive into synthesizing and distilling the important information you need.
Well many articles you may read about note taking suggest just by the virtue of writing something down, you’ll be able to better recall it later. But, you know, I don’t think this is really true for ADHD adults. Sure, you may remember the information later. But maybe not at the exact moment that you need it.
So, rather than assuming you’ll have better recall just from taking notes, I would suggest you build the skill and rely on having an organized way to both take and store notes. So you’ll be able to refer to them when you need them. For example, if you’re having an ongoing meeting about a project, you might want to review your notes before working on the project as well as before the next meeting.
It really doesn’t matter where you keep your notes as long as you’re consistent so you know where to find them later. You may decide to take all your notes in one notebook for work until it’s full. And then, either recycle or store the notebook. Then recycle all of them after a year.
Alternatively, you may decide to take your notes and organize them electronically. This happens to be my preference. I use Evernote, which is the picture you see here. Then again, you may decide to use both. That is, you could take your meeting notes in a notebook and then either transfer the most important information from the meeting to your electronic notebook for that particular project. Or maybe take a picture of your notes and just paste them into the notebook. Again, it really doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as it works for you and that you’re consistent, which means you know where to put the notes and where to find them when you need them. So that you don’t have pads of paper or stickies all over and are left wondering where something is when you need it.
I’ve already mentioned a few times that it’s important to take your notes in a structured way. Not only will doing so help you focus and attend, but it will also help you more easily process them after the conversation or meeting. I’ll talk more about processing your notes in a bit.
Right now though, you may write your notes haphazardly. You’re not really thinking about what or why you’re writing. This may mean you have a difficult time making heads or tails of them when you look at them later. I know this probably happens. But when you have a structured process for taking notes, you’ll have a better chance of not only taking down the important information, but you’ll probably also have a better chance of understanding your notes when you need them.
One method you can use for writing your notes is to use categories or symbols, and it doesn’t matter what they are. You don’t necessarily need to use these symbols. The important thing is that they’re helpful for you in processing your notes later as well as focusing and attending while you are in the meeting or conversation. In fact, one of my former clients only used two symbols. One was for a task whether it was his or a follow up from something that he delegated and the other symbol was used for information he wanted to remember for later.
This other way of taking notes is where you have boxes and you put information in whichever categories you decide are useful for you. Again, this is just an example of how you might use it. But you should definitely put whatever categories are meaningful for you.
One of the reasons to use a structured way to take notes is so that it’s easier for you to process them later. And processing your notes is one of the most critical parts of note taking. Because, if you don’t do this, note taking is definitely not as useful. And you’ll be less likely to take what you need from each meeting. For example, you walk out of a meeting confident that you have all the information you need. Then later that day or days later, you look at your notes and wonder, what was I supposed to do? What does that mean?
What did Joe say about that project? Alternatively, you may not even be able to remember where your notes are. I’m sure this sounds familiar. To avoid this, you want to process your notes as soon as possible after the meeting. Ideally, you leave a little buffer after the meeting to do this. If not, maybe at the end of the day or within 24 hours, hopefully.
To process your notes means putting your to dos in your task management system, to do list, adding scheduled items to your calendar, emailing follow up questions to the appropriate person and adding factual information to wherever you keep your reference notes. Maybe an Evernote page for that project.
I’ve shared with you some of the reasons note taking can help You as well as a few suggestions on how to take notes and process them afterwards. But, like any of the suggestions I give you, you’ll need to take some time to experiment and see what works for you as you design and implement your notetaking strategy.