Best practices for note-taking on a laptop

If you are a programmer, probably, you can type faster than you can write by hand. It seems easy. You open a text editor, and you type. What's so tricky about it? How can we take useful notes?

A person typing on a laptop computer
Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

There are many different ways to take notes. Which one is the best? That depends on your personal preference and the task at hand. Some people prefer to type out their notes, while others find it helpful to take handwritten notes.

This article shows how to get the most benefits from notes taken on a laptop.

Why take notes on a laptop in the first place?

There are several reasons why you might want to take notes on a laptop.

If you are a programmer, probably, you can type faster than you can write by hand. Using a laptop, you can get more information down in a shorter amount of time.

Using a computer makes it easier to search through your notes for specific keywords or topics. However, if you use several note-taking applications at once (because you try to find the best one), you will never find your notes.

Also, you can share your notes with others electronically. Of course, you can scan or take a photo of handwritten notes. OCR will make them searchable. But if you want a text file, why don't you take those notes on a computer?

How to take notes on a laptop effectively

It seems easy. You open a text editor, and you type. What's so tricky about it? Nothing. Computers let you write useless notes effortlessly.

How can we take useful notes?

First of all, don't copy everything. What sense does it make to copy the entire content of a book or a website? Will you read it ever again? You may need it for reference or to get a quote. That's a good enough reason to make a copy, but will you read it?

Most likely, you won't reread the entire content. Therefore, you shouldn't write it down. Focus on the essential part. The most important for you now. It may become irrelevant in a week, but you won't make any notes if you start worrying about such things.

The Cornell method on a laptop

The Cornell method is a popular note-taking technique among people who take notes on paper. We divide the page into three parts: a margin - for keywords, titles, the central part - for details and drawings, and the footer - for a summary.

The Cornell method doesn't work while taking notes on your computer because you don't have a margin to write on.

If your note-taking app lets you click anywhere on the screen and type there (like OneNote), you may still use the Cornell method. If all you have is a text editor, you will need headers to mark the content sections and a separate summary section.

The content will be the same, but the graphical layout will be different. Using a computer isn't an excuse to forget about effective note-taking techniques. We can still use them.

What software to use for taking notes

I had to put this point here because many people constantly hunt for the perfect software setup.

IT DOESN'T MATTER!. It. Doesn't. Matter.

Use whatever you already have installed.

The most important hint

Add a lot of white space. Don't write a big chunk of text. It is unreadable.

You need less than you think you do. The content is what matters, not the writing method.