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How Does Sam Altman Take Notes?

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If you want to know how Sam Altman takes notes, you’re in luck. The famous CEO of OpenAI loves to share productivity tips with other people, including strangers on the internet. In fact, we have a pretty good insight into his approach to work and note-taking.

 

This is how the magic happens.

 

“I highly recommend using lists. […] I prefer lists written down on paper,” Altman says.

 

The old pen and paper method sounds like a strange choice for a person responsible for the development of a cutting-edge AI. However, Sam Altman has some very good reasons for sticking to the classics and not using, say, a wearable AI recorder.

1. Taking notes as an excuse to think.

 

Altman is a self-professed multitasker. He needs to constantly reassess his tasks and look for new perspectives. Not only does he write lists, but he also re-writes them by hand.

 

“I re-transcribe lists frequently, which forces me to think about everything on the list and gives me an opportunity to add and remove items.”

 

Besides, several studies have confirmed that the information we write down is memorized more effectively than what we type, so that’s one more advantage to consider.

2. Politeness.

 

Staring at your phone or laptop in the middle of a meeting is disrespectful. It creates the impression that you don’t pay attention to your co-workers and would honestly rather leave. Sam Altman feels that checking your paper notes is better for the morale.

 

“I can access them [lists] during meetings without feeling rude.”

 

3. If it works, it works.

 

And the main reason,

 

“Many people spend too much time thinking about how to perfectly optimize their system, and not nearly enough asking if they’re working on the right problems.”

So… How Does Sam Altman Take Notes?

 

Sam Altman takes notes in the form of lists. He uses pen and paper. The most important tasks are marked with a star. Altman often re-writes his lists, which helps him focus and remain efficient.

 

Interestingly, he does not prioritize the items on his lists conventionally. There is no color coding, no system, and no discernible structure. (Bill Gates wouldn’t stand for that.) The items that make Altman feel good about his progress get done first and last. The sense of accomplishment is vital.

 

“The more I get done, the better I feel, and then the more I get done. I like to start and end each day with something I can really make progress on.”

 

If Altman finds a task too boring, he usually skips to one that is more interesting – unless it’s important, and that label applies to everything on a good list.

 

The main takeaway can be summed up in Altman’s own words: “Make sure to get the important sh*t done.” If you can get away with scribbles on a napkin, and if the scribbles work for you, keep it up. Focus on results, says Sam Altman. As we all can see, the technique pays off.

 

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How Does Jeff Bezos Take Notes?

If you know how Jeff Bezos takes notes, you have sneaked a peek into the mind of the richest person on Earth (as of 2024). That means a lot. Even if you don’t intend to become a billionaire, picking up some organizational habits from one is definitely a good idea.

How does Jeff Bezos take notes?

 

In the realm of corporate leadership, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, stands out not only for his ventures but also for his creative approach to decision-making. At the core of Bezos’s methodology lies his unique note-taking technique, which has garnered attention for its departure from conventional practices.

 

First of all, Jeff Bezos likes books and doesn’t like PowerPoint presentations. He deems them inefficient for meetings with CEOs.

 

Instead, Bezos champions the use of narrative memos. His preference for narratives over bullet points has become a hallmark of Amazon’s corporate culture.

 

Yes, we are talking about the legendary six pager memo.

 

Here is the gist.

 

Before each meeting, Bezos expects to receive a lengthy narrative memo that is written in a clear language and covers the topic of the meeting in detail. Everyone present receives a printed copy.

 

After that, participants read the memos in perfect silence for 20 minutes or so, allowing for individual reflection before group discussion can even begin. Writing in the margins is encouraged. This not only ensures that everyone is equally well-informed but also promotes a more thoughtful conversation, says Bezos.

 

But it’s not the six-page format per se that matters. According to Working Backwards, one the most comprehensive books on Amazon’s corporate culture, it’s all about thinking out of the box.

 

A good narrative memo, as Jeff Bezos stated in one of his interviews, can take up to a month to finish. The writer has to dissect the topic, consider all possibilities, and fit the information into six pages.

 

(If the meeting concerns a new project, the very first thing to appear is a press release for the hypothetical, non-existent product. In that, Amazon “works backwards”.)

 

There are several reasons the six page memos are productive:

 

  • unlike PowerPoint presentations, memos are structured and leave no room for interruptions or persuasion techniques

  • more time to think and come up with ideas

  • …which makes the following discussion messy in a good way

  • the writer cannot just wing it as vague language is not tolerated

  • you get to keep the main “script” of a meeting, plus your notes

 

In essence, Jeff Bezos’s note-taking technique reflects his commitment to excellence and belief in the power of well-structured notes. As Amazon continues to chart new territories and disrupt whole industries, Bezos’s narrative approach to decision-making remains a guiding principle for the company and a source of inspiration for CEOs everywhere.

 

Let’s write something!

 

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How Did Marie Curie Take Notes?

Marie Curie’s note-taking technique involved keeping separate journals for research and personal matters. Her lab notes are the most dangerous piece of writing in the world: due to continued exposure to radium and polonium, the paper will stay too radioactive to handle for the next 2,000 years.

 

On the flip side, the reckless experiments allowed her to win two Nobel Prizes in the span of eight years.

Marie Curie: Note Taking Gone Nuclear

 

Marie Curie was a very private person, and most of what we know about her life and note taking we owe to a biography written by her daughter Ève Curie. It’s titled “Madame Curie” and makes for a great read.

 

As for Curie’s note-taking habits, there are several things we know for sure.

 

First of all, Marie Curie kept her work notes separate from the personal journal, and her personal journal from the journal on her daughters’ development. This allowed her to focus on one thing at a time. Three journals allowed for three perspectives.

 

Curie would always write in a thick notebook and draw plenty of sketches (just like Thomas Edison). Interestingly, her physics notes were structured like a diary, or a school copybook. Each note was preceded by date. She numbered pages by hand.

 

marie-curie-note-taking-notes-journal

 

(As radioactive as they are, some of Marie Curie’s notes have been digitized. You can find them here.)

 

Secondly, Marie Curie would use journaling as a method of self-reflection. When her husband Pierre died, she started a new diary, describing her mourning in a detached manner. According to Ève Curie, it helped her mother process the tragic event and stay productive at the laboratory.

 

Marie Curie’s routine was so strict she did not let herself rest unless said break had been scheduled beforehand. Judging from the way she talks about her journals, it is highly likely the note taking time was scheduled as well.

The Power of Genius

 

One thing that stands out about Marie Curie as a person is her ability to maintain laser focus. When she was a teenager, her siblings would challenge each other to distract Curie from her books. It never worked. Sometimes she would admit she didn’t hear the family talking to her.

 

When Curie moved to France to study physics and mathematics, she was so poor she had to ration her food. Again, she did not let the physical hardships distract her from pursuing science.

 

And through it all, she would keep a journal.

 

Dedication, unwavering focus, and firmly separating work from personal life: these are the main lessons we can learn from Marie Curie’s note-taking techniques and productivity secrets. And as long as we do not carry radioactive material in our pockets like Curie did, we should be fine.

 

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Thomas Edison and His Notebooks

Thomas Edison’s notebooks are legendary for several reasons. For example, there are 3,500 of them and… But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

 

The Man Who Changed the World



Thomas Alva Edison was one of the most prolific and influential inventors in history, credited with many groundbreaking inventions, including but not limited to:

  • incandescent light bulb

  • phonograph (audio recorder & player)

  • kinetoscope (motion picture camera)

  • alkaline battery for electric cars

  • fuel cell technology



Edison founded the Edison Electric Light Company (later General Electric) to commercialize his discoveries and establish a market for electric lighting. Throughout his career, he held over 1,000 patents.



In addition, Edison’s legacy includes the establishment of research laboratories, such as the famous Edison Laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. He remains an iconic figure in the world of entrepreneurship – and one of the most talented people in history.

 

Thomas Edison Loved Taking Notes

 

Thomas Edison was known to be an avid note-taker, often carrying pocket notebooks (yes, multiple) to write down ideas. In the 1970s it took a team of historians a full year just to find all of his New Jersey notes, and they had to go “from building to building”.



The total volume of Thomas Edison’s notes?



3,500 notebooks, around 285 pages each.



5 million words. Thousands of sketches.



Thomas Edison’s notebooks were filled with a variety of content, including diagrams, calculations, lists, sketches, observations, and even (bad) attempts at poetry. He would often refer back to these notebooks when working on new projects or troubleshooting existing ones. (A productivity technique that Richard Branson swears by.)



thomas-edison-notebooks-page
A spread from one of the Edison’s notebooks



The collection is currently housed in the archives of the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in New Jersey.



What We Can Learn From Thomas Edison’s Notebooks



Although Thomas Edison was a messy writer, there was a method to his madness. Having this much material to work with, we can see pattern in the way he created and organized his notes, and we can learn from his mistakes.



#1. Write down everything.

Thomas Edison knew the importance of notes. He would write down everything, from to-do lists to ideas to observations about the world around him. And when words did not cut it, he would doodle and sketch.



#2. Always have a backup plan.

Backing up is easy when you have internet access, but Thomas Edison had to rely on copies. Sometimes he would write down an idea three or four times across different notebooks.



#3. Always have a recording device at hand.

Edison would have notebooks lying on benches and tables in the laboratory, grabbing the one that was closer. He would carry a dog-eared notebook in his pocket. These days we can use AI-powered wearables to take notes on the run, but Edison had to make do.



#4. Even the greats struggle to stay organized.

Edison would often lose track of his notes. He made several attempts at indexing his notebooks – to no avail. At the same time, he made his office staff reference the notebooks in lab journals. When that failed, he had researchers keep their own notes in the same fashion.



In conclusion, there is no doubt that Edison’s dedication to note-taking played a crucial role in his success. It helped him through patent struggles. It fueled his productivity. By meticulously recording thoughts and projects, he was able to organize his ideas, track his experiments, and make new discoveries. His notebooks serve as valuable resources for research – and a good example for entrepreneurs.

 

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How Does Richard Branson Take Notes?

If you know how Richard Branson takes notes, you get a glimpse of his mindset – and who would pass up that kind of opportunity?

 

Best known as a founder of Virgin Group, Richard Branson is a rock star of an entrepreneur. His unconventional wisdom has made him obscenely rich, but more importantly, he succeeds in making his dreams come true.

 

According to Branson, he owes a large part of his achievements to one simple habit: robust, consistent, everyday note-taking.

 

I urge everybody to take notes, whatever they are doing, wherever they are going, he says. Get out there and ask people questions, and write down the answers.

So How Does Richard Branson Take Notes?

 

Most business people are extremely private, and others (like Elon Musk) intentionally cultivate the air of mystery. Researching their productivity tricks is quite a task, especially if we are talking about top execs.

 

Richard Branson breaks the pattern.

 

For years and years, Branson has been nothing but transparent about his mindset and strategy. He enjoys being a mentor and an example. That is exactly why we know a lot about his note-taking methods.

 

First of all, Branson’s note-taking is underpinned by practical reasons. He makes a compelling case for why you should record everything:

 

Some of Virgin’s most successful companies have been born from random moments – if we hadn’t opened our notebooks, they would never have happened.

 

Indeed, most ideas are lost. We forget up to 50% of new information within an hour. You can’t rely on your memory too much.

 

Next, Branson elaborates on how his note-taking technique works.

 

Step one is active listening.

 

Become a great listener. […] Really listen.

 

Then he suggests you pick a tool. (According to Branson, phones are not ideal for the job; interestingly, most successful people hold the same opinion.)

 

It doesn’t matter what form they [notes] take – laptops and phones are better than nothing – but I prefer a pen and paper.

 

And when Branson takes notes, he writes down a lot:

 

I was the only person who took notes the entire time – and boy did I take notes, I ran out of white space and had to write over my notes, my hotel notepad, my report and even my name tag!

 

Finally, Branson always reviews his notes trawling for gold. While this step is commonly overlooked, it might just be the key to Branson’s success.

 

…when it is time to review my notes I can see which themes bubble to the top and which issues keep coming up. Using this practical evidence, I can decide what to prioritise.

 

You do not have to work in business to follow his advice. Students, doctors, managers, content creators – no matter who you are, taking notes is a great way to improve your life.

 

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How Does Elon Musk Take Notes?

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Note-taking habits can reveal a lot about a person, and it’s no surprise that so many people are interested in how Elon Musk takes notes. Some expect to discover a secret to his success, while others seek explanation for his controversial activities. After all, everything starts with an idea – and ideas have to be recorded.

 

So, does Elon Musk keep a secret journal? Does he use the Cornell method? Speech-to-text? Artificial intelligence?

 

“I never take notes,” said Elon Musk on X (formerly Twitter) in March, 2023 and didn’t elaborate.

 

The sentence-long post caused quite a stir. The comments ranged from approval to the snarky “we’ve noticed”. Some people questioned whether Musk was telling the truth: after all, acting contrarian would have been nothing new for him.

 

According to Elon Musk, a biography by Walter Isaacson, even as a young boy Elon Musk was exceptionally academically gifted. In later chapters, Isaacson cites Musk’s co-workers: apparently, he could show up to a meeting and casually recall the most minute details of his projects, previous meetings, and so on.

 

Maye Musk provides some more information, which make it seem like Elon Musk has a unique asset: his memory. In one of the interviews, Maye Musk says that as a child he “memorized the Encyclopedia Britannica” – at the age of eight!

 

The hypothesis about Elon Musk having eidetic memory has been floating around the internet for a while. If he does remember everything, that can explain his note-taking habits (or lack thereof). However, there is no actual proof. For all we know, Elon Musk could be using mnemonic tricks to memorize only the info he deems relevant.

 

Overall, Elon Musk likes to be mysterious, secretive, and random. His public image is carefully maintained, so we know very little about his creative process. The best we can do is to quote some advice on learning that he gave on Reddit a few years ago:

 

…I think most people can learn a lot more than they think they can. They sell themselves short without trying. One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.

 

This echoes the sentiment that most educators and scientists hold: re-invent the basics if need be, but you have to master them in order to understand the subject.

 

If you want to learn more about successful people and their note-taking techniques, subscribe to our newsletter or simply bookmark this blog where we post about all things efficiency.

 

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How Does Bill Gates Take Notes?

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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How to Write Good Field Notes

If your job involves any amount of field work, knowing how to take field notes is a must. Unfortunately, Field Notes 101 was never on the curriculum, so everyone I’ve ever met just wings it.

 

And I’m not opposed to winging it, don’t get me wrong; but.

 

The problem is that eventually people start making identical mistakes which could be easily avoided.

 

Carefully storing The Very Important Journal in a zip-lock bag is for weirdos, nobody does that. (Until you lose half your work to some water.)

 

Why would I remember where I put my notes from 2016? (Until you need them ASAP; they are across the map. Bonus: the ink has faded to a ghost of its former self.)

 

Who needs my tattered notebook? (Until your whole suitcase goes missing.)

 

All of the above have an obvious solution:

TAKE DIGITAL NOTES

 

Personally, I would suggest voice notes. The reason is very practical: typing is slow. It requires you to look at the screen and keeps your hands busy. Scripter here is a good way to make sure you record accurate voice-to-text notes. It works offline, too, which is a plus.

 

Digital field notes have another advantage: you can use hashtags and keywords to sort them by topic. Create a short list of your keywords to keep the system efficient. It functions much, much better than a physical notebook.

 

Sketching by hand is great, but you should always take photos of your sketches after you’re done. You can store them online for extra assurance, and Google Drive is your friend.

 

(Same goes for videos. You should always keep the backup copies in the cloud.)

 

Scan your old field notes and save them both locally and online. Do not store journals in a humid place like the basement. Avoid direct natural light.

 

And if you are not sure how to take field notes like a pro, there are always your colleagues. Do not hesitate to pick their brains on the subject even you think they might not like it. You might be surprised by how much people enjoy sharing note-taking techniques, life hacks, and general advice.

 

Finally, consider buying a water- and fade-resistant ballpoint pen for your writing. As I mentioned before, it really pays off in the long run.

 

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Secrets: How Taylor Swift Writes Her Songs

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Taylor Swift knows how to write a song: her tour boosted the US economy by $5 billion and caused a minor earthquake in Seattle. She has not only captured millions of hearts with her chart-topping hits but has also given us a backstage pass to witness her songwriting process.



And it’s a secret we are happy to learn.



All of the Notes You Took Before



First of all, Taylor Swift does not really mind sharing her creative journey with the fans. Not only is it a good PR tactic, but it also offers a unique perspective into the meticulous craftsmanship behind her iconic songs. Nothing is an accident.



We can see the hint of Swift’s method in her making-of-a-song video for “Delicate” (yet another hit). It’s four minutes long, and the song appears to be halfway done. But we can see the core principle of Taylor Swift’s songwriting ritual nevertheless.



So… How Does Taylor Swift Write?



Taylor Swift doesn’t actually write lyrics. She uses her voice.

 

Apparently, Taylor Swift really likes voice notes; she uses this method to compose most of her songs. (Sometimes she records them on the run; think Senstone.)



According to Ryan Tedder, Swift’s dedication to the note-taking habit is unparalleled. She persistently sends her voice memos ideas to collaborators, seeking their opinions and insights… sometimes too often.



In some instances, her non-stop creativity might lead to a flood of ideas, to the point where collaborators like Tedder may feel overwhelmed and “bad for their share”. It’s one voice note after another.



Another aspect of Swift’s note-taking habits is her ability to compose on the go. She often improvises sounds and syllables, playing with the tune and examining how they align until the perfect combination is found.



Productivity Hacks, Courtesy Taylor Swift



Even if you are not a content creator, you can still learn a lot from the way Taylor Swift creates lyrics. Now that we know how Taylor Swift writes her songs, it is easy to replicate her pattern of work. Her method works very well, especially if you are looking to boost your general productivity. From improvisations to constant sharing of ideas through voice memos, Swift’s approach is a finely tuned alchemy of creativity and collaboration.



(She would not be making billions otherwise!)



Key takeaways:

  • Voice notes. Recording is better than typing – and not just for songs. Patient logs, interviews, reports, and so on are more efficient when you ditch the keyboard. Devices like Senstone Scripter transcribe voice to text, which is a good way to streamline this kind of spontaneous note-taking.

  • Collaboration. Share some of your notes with trusted colleagues or friends. It usually helps you think, not to mention a second opinion is always good.

  • Improvise. Record your notes on the go. Do not wait for the idea to get stale, and do not think too much about how it’s going to look. Write before you edit.



Conclusion



Taylor Swift’s note-taking habits are a testament to the dynamic and collaborative nature of her creative process, and we can use them to enhance our own productivity. And she is not the only source of inspiration for that. Successful people have a long track record of taking notes. In fact, it seems like note-taking is one of the prerequisites to building a brilliant career.



This article is Part 1 of an upcoming series on famous people and their note-taking habits. More like this:

 

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How to Take Notes in a Meeting

note-taking-device-for-office

Knowing how to take notes in a meeting can spell the difference between success and failure. The devil is in the details, after all.



However, efficient note-taking is difficult to pull off, especially when dealing with people. You have to focus on what they are saying or risk losing the plot (literally). Not to mention basic politeness which implies active listening and eye contact.



So… How to Take Notes Efficiently?



First of all, come prepared. Choose the right tools. The pen and paper method is distracting, a laptop even more so. We suggest using a speech-to-text solution like Senstone Scripter, especially since it’s AI-powered.



There are many pros to using voice technology in meetings. That way you can bypass the constraints of typing speed, making sure nothing slips through the cracks. It also enables multitasking. You can keep your hands and eyes free to focus on work while the notes write themselves.



Furthermore, you can share your meeting notes with co-workers (if appropriate). This not only fosters collaboration but also ensures that everyone is on the same page. Voice technology makes sharing and storing notes easy because they are not confined to a page.



What Should I Write Down?



Your strategy should depend on the type of meeting you are hosting or attending.



It makes sense to record long stretches of important information completely. You can always review them later. Transcription means you are free to look up certain words and edit the text to your liking.



Sometimes it is useful to recap the meeting right after, recording your immediate thoughts, impressions, and ideas. Identify and emphasize action items or tasks assigned during the meeting. Recording these will help you prioritize and track progress post-meeting.



Keeping Things in Order



Spend some time playing with your recording tool of choice. Familiarize yourself with the device and/or app. The more comfortable you become with it, the more seamlessly it will integrate into your note-taking routine.



Apps like Senstone provide various sorting options, tags, and keywords. Establish a system for organizing your notes. Tag and categorize notes based on projects, topics, or deadlines. This makes it easier to locate specific information when needed.



By coming prepared, actively listening, and using voice-to-text to capture notes, you can turn each meeting into a truly positive experience. Experiment with different tools, incorporate best practices, and watch as speech-to-text revolutionizes the way you take notes, making your work life less stressful and more productive.



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