We Asked, You Answered: Note-Taking Strategies

You may be a speed demon on your keyboard and a whiz with your favorite note-taking app, but sometimes you may yearn for a break from the screen and the feeling of paper and pen in your hands. Here are some of the unique ways that association pros go old-school with note-taking.

The comfortable old habit of putting down information with paper and pen has some ink in it yet. Especially in this time of extreme digital fatigue, taking notes the old-fashioned way offers relief from the keyboard and screen and often allows creative juices to flow (you know who you are, doodlers and colored-pen lovers). And research has shown that manual note-taking can increase information retention.

Recently, we asked our readers to share their paper-and-pen note-taking strategies. Some methods are more experimental than others, but all of them help association pros get things done and remember important details.

Read on for a few examples—and possibly some inspiration for the next time you reach for paper and pen.

Brooke Massey

‌Educational Support Manager, Sigma Kappa

I start each new meeting/webinar/chat in my notebook with a different color from the previous one. This makes it easier to tell where one ends and the other begins.

Within the notes for one meeting/webinar/chat, I often use different colored pens to represent different things. Example: notes = one color, questions = another color, tasks = a third color.

Afterward, I go back and highlight things that are important to remember or that I know I will go back looking for, to make it easier to find. I also go back and check off the tasks when they are complete.

Amanda Pickett

‌Executive Director, Northwest Indiana Dental Society

I still use a steno pad with a fine-point pen. I like to highlight and mark tasks as they are completed. I have a leather cover for the steno pad (which has my initials embossed into it) that I’ve had for almost 20 years. It’s an old habit I will never break. I’ve tried the list and note apps and can’t break myself of the habit of pen to paper to memory.


Joyce Paschall, CAE

Associate Executive Director, Education and Engagement, ‌American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine

I write with pen on paper in a medium-sized notebook. I was using a spiral-bound version for years but recently switched to a disc version, within which pages (blank or written-on) can be easily moved. I have tabs for different topics and wanted to be able to adjust those from time to time, and the movable pages give so much more flexibility.

Vicki Lindberg

Meeting Manager, Association Headquarters

How I take notes depends on where/why I am taking them in the first place. With that being said, my preferred style is handwritten notes that I keep in a notebook. I write the date at the top of each page, and all notes for that day are written underneath and on to the next page(s) when necessary. My daily notebook contains everything from voicemail messages to action items, notes from meetings, and so forth. I often highlight notes to denote urgent information/action items. I will also switch back and forth from pen to pencil to help identify notes or action items from different sources. I have also been known to add a smiley face or some other doodle—the reasons for which I will not enter here :)

Telesia Davis

Senior Director for Education, Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association

I use spiral notebooks to take meeting notes—one each for the various types of meetings (e.g., meetings with volunteers, staff meetings, etc.). The spiral notebook I use has blank pages in the front for the table of contents. I fill in the date, topic/description, and the page number immediately following every meeting. (There’s a blank space at the bottom of each page where the number can be recorded.) This makes it easy to reference notes from previous meetings without having to search through all the pages.

My notes are usually brief summaries of major talking points, with attention to specific details I may need to reference. I always put a blank check box by action items for which I am responsible, a tip I learned from a board member at a previous association. That way, I can easily look back through my notes and check off action items as I add them to my task lists in Outlook/Teams.

Chuck Bowen

‌Director of Communications and Member Relations, Outdoor Power Equipment Institute/TurfMutt Foundation

I believe in ubiquitous capture, so I’ve always got paper and pen close by—a traditional yellow legal pad for work meetings, brainstorming, and outlines; a small pocket notebook for when I’m away from my desk; and a stack of recycled envelopes for quick to-do lists and as bookmarks/notepads in the books I’m reading. I also keep a physical task list and daily calendar for work.

Jennifer Blenkle

‌Director, New Product Development and Strategic Initiatives, American Physiological Society

My note-taking can seem a bit chaotic to others. I use a blank notebook (no lines) and a good pen (or two of different colors). My notes tend to look more like a mind map than meeting notes, with arrows connecting ideas and flows of thought. Bullets and abbreviations capture ideas and keep up with conversations.


(fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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