I often draw a line down the page in my notebook that allows me to create two sections upon which to take notes. In the right column (approximately two-thirds of the page), I take traditional notes about the content of the workshop or meeting that I am attending. But in the left column, I make notes about the process of what is occurring. For example, if it is a training program, I may make notes about exercises to use in the future or training techniques that were utilized; at a meeting, I may note related ideas that the content sparks such as following up with someone about a comment they made or a dot idea that the discussion inspired.

This note-taking method has served me especially well at times when my mind is not stimulated by the content at hand. It causes me to pay more attention and to push myself to consider other implications about what I am hearing – even if that means theorizing about why the gathering is not going well.

I think this method can also be applied to the interview and hiring process. The traditional job description will outline things for the “right side” of the page – whether or not the candidate has the skills to accomplish the basic responsibilities. But a truly great employee needs to contribute on the “left side” of the page as well – providing unexpected insights, making connections and showing a fit with the culture of the institution. The two-column method can heighten your listening and make you more aware of whether the candidate does or does not possess the intangible traits that will distinguish them as an employee.

The next time you find yourself in a situation where you are taking notes, push yourself to do more than write down an abbreviated transcript of what is spoken. Use your second column to critically reflect and make meaning of the time you are spending in the session.

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