This is a slightly seperate question from before.

I was curious on hearing any tips from the community regarding: Preventing perfectionism when it comes to notetaking?

It can be trying to make the notes look perfect (aesthetically + information-wise it troubles me not understanding a couple of key points after having written a bunch of notes down and I'm reviewing them). I don't do color-coding and doodles, but I like underlining key parts of my notes a bit too much.

I feel like it's all about having this nice condensed packet of beautifully written notes for future review, which is wrong. I know some people will address how this is not a good way to get information in my brain and I agree you should address that, but also please address the perfectionism aspect of my notes because I will still have to take notes in life anyways and that is why I'm asking this question

This is tied to preventing perfectionism in general I guess too.

Note: I wouldn't say I have OCD as I'm not at that level in other aspects of life or to an extent in academics, but still it is a 'perfectionist attitude' or 'minimalistic, beautiful notes', etc

  • 1
    You have to recognise and control your own behavior.
    – Solar Mike
    Jul 11, 2020 at 13:35
  • 1
    @SolarMike Well, right now (I believe) I have recognized my behavior. I'm coming on here to find out tips to control it. I'm going to try and apply Daniel's (and any other poster's) methods in order to control my behavior. Feel free to give an answer below with whatever tips, methods, etc you may have for me!
    – user126252
    Jul 11, 2020 at 13:58
  • A friend and I once took a college "independent study" math course together. The professor simply had us sit for an hour three days a week and copy his carefully prepared written notes into our own notebooks. I didn't learn a thing and have no insight into that topic. I think the same was true for my friend.
    – Buffy
    Jul 11, 2020 at 15:04
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    Whats the actual problem with your behavior? My process is very similar. I need to get my notes into a very good shape and by the time I have done so, i usually have learned the material very well due to working with it and don't need the notes anymore - and if I need them later, I do have perfect notes to catch up on the topic. I'm not sure why this poses a problem? Can you elaborate what needs "fixing"?
    – Polygnome
    Jul 12, 2020 at 8:32

4 Answers 4


This question, combined with your previous one, makes me think that you are confusing two issues: transcribing information and understanding information. These are not the same thing. In fact, if you focus more on transcribing information in detail, but you might actually learn less than if you had taken no notes at all. See for example this article: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-learning-secret-don-t-take-notes-with-a-laptop/

I think you need to break yourself of the habit of taking too many notes. Here's what I suggest: read an entire chapter or lesson without taking a single note. Don't write anything down at all, just focus on understanding the material. Sit on your hands if you have to to prevent yourself from writing. If you don't understand the material, read it again (or maybe look in a different book, find a relevant website etc,). Once you think you have an understanding, try to summarize the entire chapter very concisely, for example just 10 bullet points. if you can't do it that concisely, you probably didn't understand it. Go back and read again.

After while, once you've broken yourself of the habit of taking too many notes, you can go back to taking a few short notes as you read.

Edit: To clarify based on Buffy's comment: I'm not suggesting this as a long term strategy. Long term you need to find a balance with the right level of note taking. I'm suggesting this as a short term (say a week or two) approach to get you out of the habit of excess note taking.

  • I'm not sure that going from one extreme to another is the best advice, actually.
    – Buffy
    Jul 11, 2020 at 14:57
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    Note also, that "applying information" requires more than "understanding it". That requires practice as well as reading and note taking. It is also much more likely to lead to insight.
    – Buffy
    Jul 11, 2020 at 14:58
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    @Buffy, your point is well taken. Going to the other extreme may not be the best strategy long term. I'm suggesting that the OP has a bad habit and that to break this habit, he should go cold turkey on it, short term. Once the bad habit has been broken, then he can focus on building up a better study routine.
    – Daniel K
    Jul 11, 2020 at 19:24

I was curious on hearing any tips from the community regarding: Preventing perfectionism when it comes to notetaking?

You shouldn't prevent perfectionism, and you shouldn't stop trying to make your notes as perfectly as you can. What you should do is to understand that aesthetics has little to do with perfectness. Perfectness is about how well your notes are taken in view of the purpose with which you take them. If the purpose is to help you recall what was said by the lecturer, and help you prepare for an exam, then the main criterion is completeness. If you fail to write down an important piece of information because your mind is occupied by making your notes aesthetically pleasing, then your notes are simply not perfect. And it goes without saying that you should ensure that your notes are readable and understandable for yourself. So completeness and clarity are the main criteria.

In short, remain a perfectionist, but redefine what is perfect.

  • I think you need to say more about "how to redefine perfection" to make this more valuable for the OP.
    – Buffy
    Jul 11, 2020 at 18:46

Perfectionism is a positive trait, and I share your sentiment about organization (which is what I assume you mean by "aesthetic looking" notes). However, I would recommend not worrying too much about this as you're taking the notes in class. Just try to write down as much as you can, and then you can rewrite/reorganize them later; this way you're actually copying them twice, which will help you retain the information.

Just be careful not to over-edit them for the sake of having a "condensed packet of beautifully written notes." The idea of notes is to help you remember the information, so the more comprehensive they are, the better. (They can be comprehensive and organized at the same time.)

  • One thing is that perfctionism regarding making notes look aesthetically pleasing and "condensed" takes time and I may not have that time. Currently I'm self-learning by reading a textbook, but I still don't want to be spending too much time making things look aesthetically condensed and all in the right order, logic, making sense, etc......... Would you add like to add any information to your answer now that I have given you this extra information?
    – user126252
    Jul 12, 2020 at 13:22
  • If this isn't for a class, then maybe you could slow down your pace rather than sacrificing the quality of your notes. For example, if you're currently spending 3 hrs. each night on notes (just an arbitrary #),then you could cut back to 1 or 2 hrs and pick up the next night. This will take you longer to finish the text, but in the long run, you'll remember more with organized notes.
    – Gemini
    Jul 13, 2020 at 3:27

One of the answers here suggests you go to the opposite extreme and not take notes at all. Another suggests that you just ignore the issue and be perfect, but maybe in a different way. I think both are misguided.

A scribe can take aesthetically beautiful notes with no knowledge at the start or at the end other than knowledge of the alphabet and a bit of penmanship (for notes on paper). It has nothing to do with learning.

I want to suggest that you learn to become more effective in your notetaking.

Of course, if you have tons of time on your hands and nothing better to do, then "wasting" time isn't an issue. But as you advance in your education, that will become less true since more will be asked of you.

Background: To learn something, you need to do more than see or hear it once. In order to make it part of your knowledge you need to reinforce the learning. In a course, the reinforcement usually comes from the instructor asking students to do various exercises, whether technical or not. The teacher also provides the second element: feedback. This gives you an idea about whether you have learned the right lesson from readings or lectures. Reinforcement can be negative as well as positive and I've had a few students struggle because they reinforced the wrong thing early on. But another thing that exercises do is to help you apply the knowledge to various tasks. If you can do that, then you have some assurance that you have actually learned it.

Advice. Let me suggest that you spend your time more effectively directed at learning, rather than copying. Since you are mostly learning from books, I'll give advice that would be different if you were learning from lecture.

Most books written for study are divided into chapters and the chapters are divided into sections. We won't go into the paragraph level of division that might be important if you were learning from scientific papers rather than books. But books also have page numbers.

I suggest that when you read a section of a book, you do so three times. The first time you just read it to get an overview. The second time you read it, perhaps later the same day, or the next day, you read it to try to extract the most important ideas that the author is trying to convey in that section.

But for the first two readings you don't try to take notes, or not your final notes, in any case. In the third reading you do take notes, but they are very sparse. What you want to capture in your notes is the single most important idea in that section. Capture it in as few sentences as you can. Two or three sentences ideally. You can also try to capture one or two subsidiary ideas, but make sure you note the relationship. On this reading you are taking notes, but you can annotate those notes with page numbers from the book you are reading so that if when you later look at the notes you don't immediately remember the details, you can go back to the place in the book immediately for more reinforcement. But use your own words, don't copy sentences. Don't be a scribe.

At the end of a chapter, you can take some additional notes. What are the key ideas of this chapter. Not all of the ideas, just the key ideas. If you can do this from memory, without rereading or looking at the section-level notes then you have probably learned something.

One level I've neglected here, which is to connect the flow of ideas through the chapters. One of the notes you can take, separately from the above, is how the key ideas of a section or chapter flow from and are connected to the ideas from the earlier sections and chapters.

You aren't just copying things. What you wind up with at the end is a structured outline of the book. And if you've been good about page numbers, then you can go back to the book if necessary to find the detail.

But, this "plan" for reading might not be a lot less "obsessive" than what you are now doing. But it will give you more than a faithful copy of the book that you already have in hand. The main idea here is to capture ideas from the readings, not words.

And if the book provides exercises for you, then do those. Ideally all of them.

Note that this "read it three times" idea was used as a recommendation for doctoral students who need to learn from academic/scientific papers. I don't know its actual original source.

  • >> Another suggests that you just ignore the issue and be perfect. << I didn't suggest ignoring the issue. I suggested rethinking the concept of perfectness.
    – Mitsuko
    Jul 11, 2020 at 18:46
  • Yes, @Mitsuko, I realized that just when you did. But see my comment on your post.
    – Buffy
    Jul 11, 2020 at 18:48
  • I just saw it. I'm too sleepy now to improve my answer and will possibly do that later.
    – Mitsuko
    Jul 11, 2020 at 18:50

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