Why everyone should take notes

A view from above of Richard Branson writing in a notebook
Image from Tom Oldham
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 23 April 2019

Whenever I’m listening to anybody, I try to note down the points that most interest or concern me. Afterwards, I can refer back to these notes and act upon them. Often these notes form the backbone of the types of blog posts you see on my social media channels, or I use them to help tackle a philanthropy challenge, or a business opportunity. Many of the most effective people I know are avid note-takers – but many people still haven’t caught onto the value of notetaking.

At a recent Virgin Unite gathering, a group of local British Virgin Islands students joined the discussions. One of our young guests was Tatiana (I was taking notes!), who joined us to listen to talks from the likes of The Elders co-founder Graça Machel and denuclearization campaigner Erika Gregory. I sat next to her and was delighted to see her taking detailed, handwritten notes.

Having made her notes and considered them, Tatiana was able to ask some thoughtful questions to the speakers and develop the discussion further. She referred to her notes as she asked her questions, which I found so refreshing.

Tatiana holding a mic and speaking at a Virgin Unite gathering on Necker Island
Image from Virgin Unite

During a break (I didn’t want to interrupt!) I leaned over and borrowed her notebook. Inside I wrote my own note, commending her for her diligence. One of my greatest frustrations is having meetings with people who don’t take any notes. How do they expect to remember what was said, and act upon it?

Take note: if you don't take notes your ideas will be lost - Richard Branson
Image from Virgin.com

This often happens with, for instance, politicians. We will have a meeting, talk about dozens of ideas to improve things, and they won’t write anything down. They might remember one of the ideas, but what about all of the others. They will have to muddle through and little will get done.

Richard Branson sitting on a sofa and writing in a notebook
Image from Virgin.com

I urge everybody to take notes, whatever they are doing, wherever they are going. It doesn’t matter what form they take – laptops and phones are better than nothing – but I prefer a pen and paper. Then, when it is time to review my notes I can see which themes bubble to the top and which issues keep coming up. Using this practical evidence, I can decide what to prioritise.

Become a great listener. Get out there and ask people questions, and write down the answers. Really listen. Then when you look back, you can prioritise them and take action.