Bill Gates takes a lot of notes throughout the day, and he uses pen and paper. That is the short version. Turns out the founder of Microsoft has a deliberate note-taking system which helps him memorize business meetings and non-fiction books.
If you want to know the specifics, keep scrolling.
How does Bill Gates Take Notes?
In the now distant 2003, Rob Howard attended a 2-hour meeting with Bill Gates and other Microsoft employees. It inspired Howard to write a blog post which describes the meeting in great detail (as of January 2024, it’s still up on Grokable).
“The first thing I notice as the meeting starts is that Bill is left-handed,” writes Rob Howard. “He also didn’t bring a computer in with him, but instead is taking notes on a yellow pad of paper. I had heard this before – Bill takes amazingly detailed notes during meetings. I image [sic] he has to, given all the information directed at him. The other thing I noticed during the course of the meeting is how he takes his notes. He doesn’t take notes from top-to-bottom, but rather logically divides the page into quadrants, each reserved for a different thought. For example, it appeared that all his questions were placed at the bottom of the page.”
Perhaps the most obvious conclusion we can draw from this is that you should take your own notes. Do not trust summaries written by a colleague. Do not just relax and listen. Take notes during the meeting, hot off the presses, using a device like Scripter or regular paper. There are several reasons to do that (all of them good).
First of all, note taking won’t let you space out. If a piece of information doesn’t make any sense, you can spot it immediately. Additionally, processing things as you hear them helps you commit them to memory; Bill Gates can confirm:
“…Are you taking in new knowledge and sort of attaching it to knowledge you have? For me, taking notes helps make sure that I’m really thinking hard about what’s in there.”
Another curious detail is that Gates divides the page into quadrants.
Some speculate he adopted the Cornell note taking system. This could be true. The Cornell system involves dividing a page into sections, such as “Keywords”, “Questions”, “Main notes”, and “Summary”.
One more source that we can trust on the subject of Bill Gates and his note-taking habits is Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group.
“I was delighted to see Bill’s notes were scribbled on some crumbled paper he had been carrying in his jacket pocket,” says Branson.
Perhaps this is another lesson we can learn from Bill Gates: you should always have your notes with you, whether they are digital or physical. As the Scout motto goes, be prepared. You never know when you get the next great idea.
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