Want to learn a simple success habit and a shared secret of super successful high-performers like Richard Branson, Sheryl Sandberg, Bill Gates and Tim Ferriss?

A key contributor of success, this habit is consistently used by high achievers to capture great ideas as they come, review them and take action to realize those ideas to measurable outcomes! This when done repeatedly will turn into serial accomplishments which makes them super successful!

The habit so fundamental that it does not require power source or battery, no syncing to any other device or cloud storage needed!

As you may have guessed it by now, simple essential habit that holds the key to your success is …… (drum roll in the background)….

Taking Notes!!!

This simple habit is so fundamental that most of us ignore and overlook the importance of writing things down. However the super successful know the power of taking notes and have mastered the art of writing things down so they can implement those ideas to take necessary action to convert those ideas to reality.

Taking Notes is the simplest and most effective way to capture ideas as they come and convert them to actions resulting in success!

Businessman and founder of Virgin Group, Richard Branson, has been known to carry a notebook with him everywhere he goes, and credits writing things down as one of his most powerful success habits.

In his company blog post, Richard Branson says

“I can’t tell you where I’d be if I hadn’t had a pen on hand to write down my ideas (or more importantly, other people’s) as soon as they came to me. 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.”

And the Billionaire is not alone – here are a few others who swear by this simple yet powerful technique of capturing ideas.

Tim Ferris

Image from Tim Ferris Blog

Noted American Author describes his notes-taking habit in his blog.

 “I take notes like some people take drugs. I trust the weakest pen to the strongest memory”

If you want to learn his method of taking notes, here is his detailed blog post on how he does it !

Bill Gates

Computer Visionary and genius Bill Gates is known to be an avid notes taker. It is easy to imagine Gates relying on digital ways to record his notes, but surprisingly he is known to carry a yellow legal pad for writing and not a computer to his meetings!

Rob Howard, founder of CTO of Telligent describes his meeting with Bill Gates

“The first thing I notice as the meeting starts is that Bill is left-handed. 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 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.”

Sheryl Sandberg

Miguel Helft describes Facebook CTO Sheryl’s real story and her productivity hack in his Fortune column. He says,

 “Her days are a flurry of meetings that she runs with the help of a decidedly undigital spiral-bound notebook. On it, she keeps lists of discussion points and action items. She crosses them off one by one, and once every item on a page is checked, she rips the page off and moves to the next. If every item is done 10 minutes into an hourlong meeting, the meeting is over.”

And there are many more who rely on this simple technique for getting their stuff out of their head onto paper!

Infact two of J.K. Rowling’s most prized possessions are a pair of small notebooks, which contain her very first scribbling about Harry Potter!

Note-Taking has been popular throughout history and has been tied to the success of greats like Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, Leonardo Da Vinci and many others.

So, what makes this “Notes- Taking” habit so productive? And should you try this too?

Yes- backed by these successful individuals, this practice is definitely worth the effort!

It is time to get back to the good old basics of writing to remember things.

Here is why.

Writing down makes it real

An idea not written down is an idea lost. Written down goals are more likely to be achieved. You do not need to share your goals but do write them down, so you stay accountable. Writing things makes you process your thoughts at least some level and then most likely those goals will become part of your journey.

Outsource your memory

Best way to get stuff out of your head is to put it down on paper or if you prefer digital – you could use apps like Evernote/One Note or a digital notepad. You can outsource your memory and use your intelligence to process that idea and take action. If you record an idea as soon as it gets into your head, then you can save your brain energy to get stuff done rather than trying to remember the origin of that idea!

Relieves stress

When your mind’s swarming with multiple ideas and you are sucked into a busy- but not so productive day filled with meetings, emails, text messages, it is easy to forget those ideas and get through the motions of daily routine. But you will still feel overwhelmed with cluttered thoughts which can stress you out and hamper your focus on the task at hand. Writing down helps you record your ideas, clear your mind and complete one task at hand before leaping to another. By freeing your mind of excess load of information, your stress is reduced. You will experience more clarity in your thought process too.

Stay Organized

You can use color coding, bars, graphs, symbols to make the process fun and easy. Doing this will also help to stay organized. You can process and retrieve information better with well written notes.

Taking Notes also reveals a lot about a person’s character and makes them look good. When you take notes, you automatically pay attention to detail, your efficiency increases and it shows you don’t allow important tasks to fall through the cracks .

Remember the good old college days? Piles of notes written to synthesize and remember critical formulas in science, math equations /computer coding programs that you wrote multiple times to sharpen your memory and ace your exams? The underlined passages and scribbled notes at the side of chapters that came in handy when doing a project?

Well…you guessed it.

Turns out that fundamental habit that we moved on needs to be revisited.

 Taking notes is not old fashioned and uncool but rather is a key success habit that will help you turn your ideas into measurable goals. If you choose to take action and work towards those goals, then those scribbled vague ideas will soon turn into a success story!

So, next time your inspiration calls and when light bulb goes off in your head – do not forget to capture it immediately in your notebook! Those new possibilities and success that you have always dreamt of is in fact hidden in those fragments of ideas, quick thoughts scribbled in your notebook! Make a note of that!

This article was first published by the author in PGMAG 3rd Edition


  • Ash Rao

    Career Coach | Writer | Corporate Recruiter

    Ash Rao is a certified Career Coach and a HR professional who enjoys blogging about better careers, productivity and self-improvement tips.

    Her blogs have been published at Thrive Global, Fast Company, Social-Hire, Powerhouse Global Magazine and many other publications.

    As a career coach/recruiter she has helped many job seekers achieve their dream careers through targeted coaching on job search strategies, interview training, resume writing and building effective LinkedIn presence.

    She is one of the co-authors of an anthology book project  "Tough Road Creates Tough People" which is launching Oct 2019.