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Success in Life and Work: Taking Notes and Doing Homework
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.

Want to get a job? A promotion? A raise? Want better relationships? Want to strengthen your social networking? Take notes and do your homework.

You may be missing outstanding uses of practical knowledge tools that you've been taught since grade school. Before I just tell you the use, I'd like you to think about this:

When we were in school, we were encouraged to take notes. It would help us remember the content and alert us to what was important to the teacher and likely to be on a test.

We were encouraged to participate in class by asking questions and having discussions with the teacher. It would help us because we remember what we do much better than what we hear.

We were encouraged to read the textbook, take notes from it, write questions about it for the teacher, do further research, make reports and so forth. It would help us remember more simply by repetition (which is the single most effective learning and memory aid), make better connections between the ideas presented in class and in readings, and make us better able to participate in class.

At work we are asked to read and write memos and reports, take notes and participate in meetings, organize and run meetings, keep records on our own activities and on the performance of our employees, write performance evaluations and so many more things that are just like what we were expected at school. If you did them well in school, you probably do them well at work. If you didn't do them well at school, you've had to learn to do better at work.

So, by now, we have a pretty good idea of the value and uses of note-taking, research and record-keeping. They're essential to business and career.

Now I'm getting to the other uses that few people seem to make of those very familiar knowledge tools. Start by using them in the personal/social realm, to build solid, mutually supportive relationships. Then, employing what you've learned from personal usage, form success-building relationships in your career or business:


When you're on the phone with friends and family, it pays to take notes about what they're saying. Later on, you can remember better when you need to pass on what you've learned in the conversations. But, even more important, you will have a reference to things of concern to the people for whom you care. You'll be able to ask about their concerns and issues the next time you call or see them. Being able to say "Oh yes, what happened with Naomi's decision on getting a tattoo?" is much more caring and focused than "So, how's your daughter doing these days?" They will be impressed not only with your memory but also with the apparent extreme attention you have paid to them.

Make a separate personal calendar/datebook for friends and family. In addition to entering the usual birthdays, anniversaries, planned meet-ups, etc., keep track of your actual activities together -- what you did, where you did it, who else was there -- and if the planned activities were cancelled, note briefly why. Color code the important days/events. If something was great to remember, for example, draw a big green circle around the date, or a big red circle around a bad experience. All this will help you find the references you will have in suggested files below.

Start keeping files on your friends and family -- just as you would if you were their counselor. Put those notes from phone conversations and the calendars. Expand upon those notes with details and your own thoughts and speculations. Why? Because nobody can really remember all the details, even of their own lives. And if you make a practice of keeping records of things like favorite songs, happiest experiences, biggest concerns, smallest concerns, hopes for the future, favorite activities, and so on, you'll be able to do what good friends and family do: be there at the right time, in the right place, with whatever is needed to help everyone enjoy themselves. Or get through the bad times. Or find the best new job. Or make the best choice. You get the idea. Yes, over years of experience, you'll remember a lot without a written record, but with a record, you'll have the equivalent of years of experience in a short period of time. You will create closer relationships more quickly and enrich long-term relationships immeasurably.

Career Development and Employment

Follow all of the above recommendations that I wrote for family and friends: keep records of your phone, email and face-to-face conversations with colleagues, employees, bosses, clients, suppliers, and whoever else to whom you relate in any significant way at work. People who show caring and understanding for others are considered an asset in any workplace.

So, in the calendar/datebook you keep for your work (your own property that you can take with you from the job, not anything the company would own or keep), track things like the receptionist's birthday and the important events in her kids lives (are you beginning to see why you need to write this stuff down?) so that you can ask about them later or bring in a card, for example. Why would you do something like that? Because people help their "work friends" just as they help their other friends. So when there is a piece of juicy information that just might help you position yourself for a raise, promotion, assignment to a great project, it would get passed on to you from a source who hears a lot of things others might not know.

And, I'm sure you can see the advantages of tracking information on your boss like the name of his/her spouse, name and ages of kids, what school he/she attended, favorite sports teams or lack of interest in sports. People like to work with and help others who are interested in them as people. At work as at home, it's all about the people.

Small Business

If you have a small business or professional practice, you'll apply the above suggestions to your employees, customers or clients and suppliers. There's a saying that "all things being equal, people would rather do business with someone they know and like." I say all things being equal, people would rather do business with someone they know and like who also knows and likes them.

C.S. Clarke, Ph.D. is a psychologist and performance coach who originated the Superperformance® concept in human performance improvement and publishes the sites® (Human Performance and Achievement Resources) and™ Superperformance is a trademark.



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