The Ultimate Guide to Capturing and Organizing Your Notes

What’s your system for taking good notes?

Most of us learned to take notes in school. My first experience with formal notetaking was in 7th grade history. The teacher wrote notes on the chalkboard for us to copy into a three-ring binder. We actually had to turn our notebook in and received a grade on them just for doing them. So there was no trying to discern what was worth writing down or guessing what was going to be on the test. It was all pre-determined for us. That’s why I enjoy it when a speaker says, “Write this down.” They are actually letting me what’s important and what’s worth capturing in my notes.

Of course, as our brains develop, we’re more capable of making our own decisions and solving our own problems.

On a daily basis, we’re deciding what’s important and what to focus on right now. And that’s getting harder and harder to do! More things and more people are competing for our attention. I don’t know about you, but I’m convinced I’ve developed a technology-induced attention deficit disorder. Technology should be helping us; not turning us into dopamine fiends.

But I digress.

Allow me to let David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, explain why our brains don’t do what we want them to do…

Most people are still using their head as their office. They’re trying to use their mind to remind, remember, prioritize, manage, whatever…

What do we do about this?

We implement a system that can rely on to help us with those things.

I love the book by Tiago Forte, Building a Second Brain. In it, he walks us through his method of organizing our digital lives. And since implementing his system, my brain feels lighter and more in control.

Read his book and dive deep into his methodology. What I want to help you with here is applying his system to the world of real estate assistants. I’ve also applied this system universally because it is built for that.

This system is built on the CODE acronym: Capture, Organize, Distill, and Express. This post will exclusively cover Capture and Organize.

Where to Capture

The first decision you’ll make is where to capture your notes. Think about:

  • what kind of notes you already have
  • where they came from
  • where you’re currently keeping them

When I started, I had handwritten notes in spiral-bound notebooks, tons of pdfs, Word documents, Google Docs, spreadsheets, Evernote, emails, Trello, and I’m sure other things I can’t remember because my brain is a crappy office.

Of course I still have notes in all those places, but moving forward, I’ve decided that I’m only using two: Evernote and Google Drive. Evernote is a good place to save web articles and handwritten or typed notes, and Google Drive is good for everything else.

There are many notetaking apps. I simplified my decision by choosing the two I use the most often. I recommend you do the same.

I personally pay for an Evernote subscription so I can use it everywhere. No matter where I go, what role I’m in, what company I’m with, what clients I’m coaching, or what my interests are, Evernote is there for me. I believe it’s worth the personal investment.

Since I have a personal Drive and a team Drive, I do keep two separate accounts. I highly recommend this because in the Express phase, you can use your team Drive to create a team portal.

What to Capture

As a real estate assistant, here are some things you’ll want to capture regularly:

  • meeting notes
  • class/course notes
  • book notes
  • podcast notes
  • webinar notes
  • blog posts
  • quotes
  • YouTube videos
  • important email notes
  • receipts
  • websites
  • social media content ideas and examples

This list isn’t exhaustive, so I’m sure you can think of some other things you want to keep. And that’s awesome! You can capture all kinds of things with this system.

Keep in mind that this system is for capturing things that don’t have a home somewhere else. For instance, I wouldn’t use Evernote to keep real estate contracts. You’re likely using an e-signature program like DotLoop or DocuSign. Those systems are designed to help you manage those files, so keep using them.

Once you’ve decided where you’re going to capture your notes, now you can organize them. Let’s turn again to Building a Second Brain. Forte suggests organizing your capture system using just four folders:

  1. Projects – Things I’m actively working on. Projects have an END date. Examples: an event, transitioning into a new CRM, building a team portal
  2. Areas – My roles and responsibilities. Make a sub-folder for each ongoing area of responsibility. Examples: transaction coordination, budget, listing management
  3. Resources – Things I’m interested in. Make a sub-folder for each category of interest. Examples: team building, culture, productivity
  4. Archive – Completed or inactive things. Examples: completed projects, things from resources you’re no longer interested in, past team member’s files

These four folders serve me so well! Everything for my work and my life just fits.

I highly recommend reading Building a Second Brain and going on this journey of organizing everything in your world so you can use your brain for thinking and not as a storage unit!

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