ADHD Study Skills: How to Take Notes

Editor’s Note: This week’s post was written by Award-winning Professional Organizer,
Judith Kolberg.

The first step to effective note taking is focused listening

Maybe it’s the school season, or that its “conference season”; whatever the reason, taking note and note taking is on the agenda. Note taking is no small task.

  • It starts with taking note — listening intently to the talking-head and getting a grasp on what is said.
  • Then it involves writing down both the most pertinent ideas and the relevantdetails and ignoring extraneous material.
  • Finally, good note-taking results in actually using the notes in the appropriate context.

Inattention and distractibility make note taking hard for everyone

Even people without ADHD find it difficult to take note and note-take. Inattention, which makes the ADHD brain struggle to focus long and hard enough to get information into the brain in the first place, and distractibility, which moves attention away from the task at hand, conspire to make taking note really tough. And figuring out as you listen and write what is important and what is not is also challenging.

Note taking Tips for the ADHD Student

  • Don’t look: Consider not looking at the speaker, but instead looking down at the paper or your laptop or whatever it is you are taking notes on. Sometimes knocking out some of the visual of looking at the speaker, can reduce distractions.
  • Use the handouts! These days, most speakers and teachers give handouts with the central concepts already on them. Write on the handouts. Use highlighting. Add your own comments or thoughts. Since you did not create the handouts, you have to put your own imprint on them so they live and breathe and work for you.
  • Share notes with a friend: Let someone else handle the details; go for the main concepts and ideas. You can often get the details from someone else’s notes, an audio recording, or a written transcript.
  • Use shorthand: Develop a simple short hand but be certain you understand it! You might write the word “details” like this “dtails”. The letter “t” can stand in for “the”. A long phrase that is repeated, like “note-taking” can be written out once, and thereafter written as “n/t”.
  • Try Mind Maps: Consider taking notes graphically by using mind maps. Click here for more information.
    Consider using note-taking software. Click here for more information.

Using Your Notes Effectively

Just a word about using your notes: separate your notes out by topic or subject and you’ll be able to utilize them better. Say you went to a conference on ADHD and took notes about medication and on memory and on ADHD humor. Separate them, make the topic prominent, and stick your notes where they will be used next. For instance, put the medication notes in a file to bring to your next doctor appointment to discuss with your doctor. In your calendar, on the date of the doctor appointment write “bring notes”. The notes on memory might just be for your own edification so call then “Don’t Forget” and file them under “ADHD”. Maybe you’ll want to use the ADHD humor notes in your next presentation. Stick the notes in with your presentation material. In other words, put notes where they are most likely next to be utilized.

Have you ever tried recording important lectures? Do you have your own shorthand? Have you ever asked someone to share notes with you? Let us know what note taking strategies have worked for you.


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