Taking Notes In My MBA Program

Hello, everyone. I’ve been busy again. I’m currently in a financial management class in my MBA program and it’s, um, different. Or, at least it’s different for an English-degree holder. For this class and many others in the school of business, I’ve had to take a lot of notes. I have noticed over the course of my graduate program that my notetaking methods have changed.

I won’t be reinventing the wheel here, but it may be interesting (to me, anyway) to look back on someday to see how my notetaking methods change in the future. Hopefully someone finds it useful.

My notes on my Microsoft Surface Pro 7 and my disc-bound notebook system from staples

How I Take Notes

First, I should mention that I’m not a loyalist to any particular method. I’ve tried to be, but I find that I often need to use different note-taking methods for different types of classes and projects. For a few years during my undergrad studies, I used Evernote. Then, after a year or so, I switched to a simple Moleskine notebook and took ALL of my notes in it, including personal ones. Now, I’m back to digital notetaking, but I no longer use Evernote.

I currently use Microsoft OneNote. How I use OneNote also varies from class to class.

Handwriting Notes With the Surface Pen

I currently use a Microsoft Surface Pro 7 with a surface pen while taking notes. Like my disclaimer about note-taking systems, I also don’t claim any loyalty to any particular operating system or device. I’ve used Macs, I’ve used Windows, I’ve used Linux. For now, I’m using a Surface Pro with Windows 10. It’s the most compatible device with the tools and software I need to use for my MBA program.

For my first few classes that required dubious note-taking, I used the surface pen that I got with my Surface Pro and handwrote all of my notes in OneNote. I used the Cornel notetaking method. It was a good system for me to start with because I hadn’t handwritten notes in a while and I wasn’t sure how I wanted to use my notes. I was an English major for my undergraduate degree. Starting an MBA program was very different for me and I wasn’t sure what new habits I needed to develop for it.

The Cornell Notetaking Method

The Cornell notetaking method is great for studying. You can cover the right side of the paper and test yourself. You can do this by looking at the topics on the left side and answering questions. This method isn’t that much more work, either. You just have to remember to start your notes a little to the right of the page. You can always go back and add the topics/questions on the left later as long as you have room.

(With digital notes, it’s possible to just select all the text and scoot it over to the right if you forget. However, the process is a little clunky.)

I’ve also found that, at least for me, my handwritten notes end up much more organized than my typed notes. I would’ve thought it would be the opposite. The downside is that it’s harder to reorganize the notes if I change my mind about how I’ve organized them.

When I type notes, I tend to just type them in whatever order I encounter them. I don’t move them around as I go because I assume I’ll organize them later. The problem is, I don’t. When I handwrite my notes, I go through the trouble of attempting to organize them as I go.

The Outlining Notetaking Method

For my last few courses, I’ve switched it up and started typing notes in an outline format. I was first introduced to this by my third grade social studies teacher. She also happened to be married to a man named Eric Howard. (When she saw my name the first day of class, she thought it was a joke.)

I didn’t really find outlines useful until I had to do a lot of reading about topics I wasn’t interested in creatively – professional topics like business and human resources. Not that I don’t have an interest in some of that stuff. However, when you have to actually read a whole textbook about it, it gets sort of hard. I needed to do something with my hands as I read, so I started retyping information is shorter, more condensed sentences. It made it easier to take in. At first, I started writing in paragraph form, but after a few minutes, the outline form just naturally took over. I think that’s probably just because I like reorganizing information. But whatever, it helps.

How An Outline Works

  1. Writing Notes In Outline Format
    1. Easier to see
      1. Even if all you’re doing is reorganizing the same content from a book, your brain can take in and understand the information more easily.
      2. You can see the content in better context with other information.
    2. Faster
      1. In paragraph form, you’ll naturally write things out in compete sentences and repeat certain words to get your point across.
        1. Outline format can help reduce:
          1. redundancy
          2. time spent
            1. writing
            2. studying

Continuing To Experiment With My Notetaking Methods

I didn’t have to do much studying as an English student – I mostly just read a lot and wrote papers. There is a lot of that in my MBA program, but the type of content I’m reading and writing about is very different. Less creative, more dry. Difficult to find inspiring or to become mesmerized by. Some of it is still fascinating, but not quite in the same way as Morrison, Oates, or Hemingway. Experimenting with how I take notes is one way I keep things interesting.

I also occasionally try apps like Notion. It’s cool and useful in so many ways that it can be overwhelming if you’re not careful. I may even try Evernote again someday, if they ever up the storage capacity on it. (It was too hard to make it through my first year of college without upgrading due to the 60MB per month limit.) Microsoft OneNote is at least free, and your storage options are tied to your OneDrive and/or Microsoft 365 plans. I also bought myself a disc-bound notebook system last year and used that for a bit. It provides the added benefit of being able to reorganize the notes later, but without the chunkiness of a big binder.

I’ll continue to flipflop with how I take notes, probably at least until I manage to get through my MBA program. I’m kind of curious to see if how I take notes changes again over the next few months. Feel free to recommend any notetaking apps or methods in the comments below. I’m all about trying new things out. You can also just let me know how your day is going.