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Home MemNem's Blog Note Taking Capturing Inspiration - 43 Tips for Advanced Note Taking
Capturing Inspiration - 43 Tips for Advanced Note Taking

The Harvest WriterWe all have those moments.

Inspiration flashes in front of us. Ideas become almost palpable.

I've found that without a method for capturing inspiration, the inspiration is lost. Receipts, post-it notes, and the napkins are the graveyards of genius.

Today I wanted to share a few techniques. Knowing how to capture notes and ideas then organize them in a useable way is a key to learning. If you can’t remember what you’ve learned, then why learn it at all? I’ve scoured the internet, books, and my personal experience to bring you this article. I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

Overview – Advanced Note Taking

I’m going to go over three techniques for organizing your notes: email, Evernote, and the good old notebook. All of these strategies offer you a central method  to consolidate your notes and inspiration. I’ve tried to chalk this article full of useful tips and resources along the way.


If you’re the creative type, you may want to jump to my mind map article that describes how to take creative notes. I use both types of note taking depending on my mood and the purpose for the notes.

My Life Notes

I’ll start with the note taking system that I use religiously. Ultimately, my goal is to organize all of my notes and ideas into a central spreadsheet. I’ve found that important mental breakthroughs come at random moments throughout the day. Therefore, being able to offload them quickly captures your inspiration while clearing your mind. These advanced note taking skills works in tandem with our free Peak Learning Course, so if you like this article, try it out! Now let's start at the beginning.

Clutter Bins

For me, notes come from a few major sources: books/audio I read/memorize (read Mental Notes), online articles, TV, ideas, meetings, and focused researched. Often it’s not possible to enter these notes directly into a single spreadsheet. Instead, I’ll feed these notes into “clutter bins.” It helps me greatly to have a few places that I can gather clutter to sort it out later. For me, it clears my mind to be able to throw clutter into a file, box, or my inbox. I don’t have to think about it and it doesn't create a mess. I use my email, Evernote, IPad Paper App (for mind-mapping and creative notes), memory mnemonic Roman Rooms (read Mental Notes), and a good old-fashioned notebook.

My email is my most-used clutter bin. It works so effectively because I have developed a habit of clearing out my email every morning. I know that if I can get notes, ideas, or todo's into my inbox, then they’ll get to the right place. I take misc ideas and organize them into a spreadsheet with four columns: name, category, subcategory, and notes. In the “Notes” column I copy and paste the bulk of the notes.

Tips: Hitting “ALT-enter” in an Excel cell gives you a carriage return. Also, I generally add a “…” if a note extends past 1 line and resize the cell to a single line height. This makes the spreadsheet more manageable.

It’s important to have one system to consolidate all your notes. For notebooks, you can use a simple index system that I’ll discuss soon. I like using a spreadsheet because I can filter the idea by category and quickly group similar ideas. I can also search the entire document for keywords (ctrl F), which you can’t do with paper notes.

Tips for Using Email as a Clutter Bin

  • Text ideas and short notes straight to your email. Most phones can do this if you simply replace the phone number with an email address.
  • Clean out your email once a day or once a week. This habit will help you organize everything in your life. You can use your email to master note taking and your todo-lists. Your mind only handles about 7 lines of thought at a time (Working Memory). Don't clog it up with excess information.
  • If you’re like me you probably want to limit each spreadsheet page to 1 month of notes and then archive the ideas after a year. Review them when you need a boost of creativity from your past.
  • Linking to other important documents inside your master spreadsheet allows you to quickly navigate your system.
  • Here’s a copy of the Excel Template I use if anyone is interested in checking it out.

Consolidate into Projects

I take this system one step further. Once I have a collection of similar ideas, I’ll make a project document out of that category. This allows me to collect these notes into a coherent framework. By consolidating your categories of notes into project files, it helps you find holes in your understanding. Once I have a project over a certain topic, I’ll direct all my new notes about that topic from my email into that project document. The goal is to group similar notes together so they make sense. If you use hyperlinks between documents, this can become something like your personal life Wiki.

Project File Tips

  • Create “Clutter Bins” inside you project documents. I have a “Current Notes” section at the top of my project document where I can dump new ideas so I  can incorporate new notes at my leisure.
  • I create hyperlinks in documents to make them more like webpages. I’ll tab a few links across the top of my projects, and also link from my notes master spreadsheet to the major projects I’ve been working on. For example, I collect all my investing notes in one document. I add a hyperlink on my notes spreadsheet that allows me to get to my investing project or budget in one click. Also, my notes spreadsheet links to other important documents like my habit journal.
  • You can also drag and drop important documents or link to good website resources inside your word project.
  • One more tip: Use the headers in Microsoft word for your projects. If you create a basic word template for all your projects (incorporating header functionality), it’ll save you time and make documents that always look professional. The best part of this is the automatic Navigation Pane (view>Navigation Pane). This view option allows you to jump to any of your headers with a single click. No more scrolling for 5 minutes! So what? I’m a Word Nerd. At least I enjoy the small things in life. :)

Here’s an example of my Project Template. This shows you how to use the headers and the Navigation Panel (View>Navigation Panel).


1) Gather together all your notes and ideas into your email, Evernote, or other clutter bins.

2) Offload and categorize important notes in an excel spreadsheet.

3) For important project categories, schedule a block of time to work on that project. Offload your notes into a Project Document then fill in whatever blanks you're missing.


Using EverNote for Note Taking

One day I may make the transition from my spreadsheet system to using EverNote. This section outlines how to create a note taking system in Evernote.

Evernote is a great application. I suggest you get it for your tablet and personal computer. FYI - I have no stake in Evernote, I just love their application! Let me highlight a few of the relevant Evernote capabilities. You can use Evernote as your central note taking buffer the same as you would use your email. Evernote assigns every user an email address that will allow you to send the note/idea directly into Evernote. This app wasn’t around when I originally built my note taking system so I must admit I got a little jealous when I researched all the cool things Evernote can do. I feel like a crotchety old man who’s stuck in his ways... but I digress.

How to Email Information into Evernote

Go into the desktop version of Evernote and look under tools>Account Info. It should look something like [username] This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Tip: I suggest you save your address into your phone for quick reference.

From here it’s easy, you can email directly to your address and your notes will show up in Evernote.

Here are a few additional helpful tips:

  • Your email subject Line will become the title of your note.
  • Use the @ sign to direct your note into a specific notebook.
  • Use the # sign to add a tag.
  • You can export an entire notebook into an html file, then copy and paste directly into a word document in order to make a project file.

Example Subject Line

Subject: My_Note_Title @Notebook_Title #Tag1 #Tag2

Tip: I’ve inserted “N@Nb #T” into my phone’s quick text for a template to remember the order. Text the note straight into a journal with tags and you can keep your clutter bin uncluttered.

Note: You can’t create new notebooks through email by using the “@” or “#” in a notebook title or note title won’t work.

Check-out the Evernote blog for more useful tips.

Using Evernote in the same way as I use my excel document is also an effective strategy:

1) Consolidate all your notes and ideas into Evernote.

2) Organize them into notebooks and tags.

3) For important categories/tags, use the PC desktop version of Evernote to offload the information into a Project Document as discussed above. This will allow you to develop these ideas into a coherent project.

Note Taking in Notebooks

This section was inspired by Tim Ferriss’s article on note taking.  The goal is to index and summarize your notes in order to minimize the review time and create a reference number to any notebook. Tall order, huh? Here’s how I take notes in notebooks.

1. Index your notebooks and number your pages

This gives you a simple way to reference any notebook or page that you’ve ever written. Example: 12.54 would be notebook 12, page 54. If you want to save a few minutes only number one side of your notebook and count by twos.

2. Create a shorthand legend to mark significant notes for follow-up. I start a sentence with “!” to remind myself there is an action associated with some point. If I find a good idea, I’ll put a dot with lines around it making it look like a mini light bulb. This allows me to quickly consolidate actions and ideas before I retire the notebook to a shelf.

3. Summarize chapters of books, meetings, and pages of notes. Boil the information down to the core principles. Write this down on the side of your notebook or in a corner (be consistent). Summaries help you review notes very quickly.

4. Review notes periodically. Boil your notebooks into the core pieces of information then review the highlights of your notebooks after you complete them, a day later, then a week after that. This will help keep the information active in your brain longer than usual. You may also want to include shorthand (I use a circle) for information that you want to keep active in your memory. This allows you to dump that information into your MemCard Notecard App for long-term memory. This web app tracks your ideal review periods which maximizes your ability to learn new information.

More Tips for Note Taking on Paper

  • Box your summaries to help your eyes jump straight to it.
  • One popular option is to draw a vertical line ¼ from the edge of the left side of your paper. Write titles and summaries on the left, and record in-depth notes on the right (for more information click here).
  • Another note taking tip is to add a box at the top right hand corner to record important ideas, actions, and points to review.

Organizing your notes effectively allows you to benefit from them for the rest of your life. If you're interested, I also did a separate article on Mind Mapping and creative note taking. Click Here to jump over to that article.

If you want more information on how to maximize your learning take our free Peak Learning Course.

Email me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it with any questions or comments.

The next article in this series will discuss how to memorize audio books, lectures, or books while learning: Mnemonic Notes.

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Author Bio

Joseph Turn is a blogger and web developer at His blog discusses how to push yourself to your maximum potential and spark genius in everyday life.