I listen best with a pen in my hand

I listen best with a pen in my hand

Let me share a habit I have come to value highly:

I have learned that I listen best with a pen in my hand.

To listen well, I need to turn off the often whirling ‘background noise’ of my own thoughts, concerns and preoccupations. I need to give my full attention to the words someone else is using – as they have their moment-in-time to share their own passions, observations and proposals.

Very often, that’s not easy! Our own concerns often drown out almost everything else.

Putting key words onto a blank piece of paper can help enormously.

Trying to reliably capture a speaker’s ideas and concerns in a few (1 – 5) key written words forces me to listen carefully – to the words, and to the ‘narrative’ they convey.

When someone is conveying several concerns – or offering several suggestions – listing key concepts helps me to capture the full range of the discussion in real time.

In contrast, when I do not make notes, a few hours later I’m very likely to recall only one of the concerns or suggestions – or (frankly) only to remember a tone of concern, and not to accurately recall any of the details.

If it is worth my time to participate in a class, a professional meeting, a community discussion or a long-overdue chat with a family member, I want to “be fully present” – and fully prepared to engage with new ideas coming my way.

The habit of holding a pen and a piece of paper has become my simplest, surest way of “being fully present” when it’s time to shut up and listen.


What about …?

What about ‘listening with a laptop’?

No, not for me. I do mean ‘pen and paper’.

The only exception I could imagine working would be a ‘pen and tablet’. However, I prefer laptops to tablets, but even if I had a tablet … note that pen and paper (1) are easier to handle, (2) don’t need to boot up, and (3) don’t run out of power.

My laptop is a GREAT asset. However, when it’s time to listen, I lower the lid (to reduce visual distractions), and reach for ‘pen and paper’..

How do I save my paper notes?

Digitally, of course!

First, I capture a photo. You can (1) use the Microsoft ‘Office Lens’ app to quickly capture, resize, crop and save images to OneNote, OneDrive or any other favourite location, or (2) take a regular photo and ‘share’ it with yourself on any one of many apps.

If meeting notes I’ve made relate to a larger project, I may save the photo and then restructure the ideas covered in the meeting into more regular ‘indented point-form notes’.

This next second step helps me to reflect and build upon the most important or valuable ideas – shortly after the meeting.

Who, When, Where?

This habit of listening with pen and paper has worked for me – anywhere, any time – as a student, as a professional, as a member of my community and as a son, a husband and a father.

When it’s time to listen, I want to listen well.

P.S. – Note-taking with Mind Maps

NOTE: This habit of “listening with a pen in my hand” is strongly linked to a form of note-taking I learned – and learned to love – in university: Mind Mapping. Here’s the founder himself: Want to know more about Mind Mapping and Tony Buzan – the founder of mind-mapping? We can deal with mind maps in more detail another time. I share it here, now, because – if you saw the “photos of notes” I’ve mentioned above, most of them would be very rough, ready ‘mind-map’ sketches.

Why “rough”? Because the point of recording ‘key words’ is not to create ‘beauty’ on the paper – it’s to capture precious ideas as we listen. As we listen, we often experience a chaos of ideas coming at us faster than anyone can possibly write. Capturing valuable ideas quickly is our highest priority.

We’d love to know what you think of this …

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