Note Taking Tips and To-Do Lists: How to Keep On Track This Holiday Season

. 5 min read

For most of us, the holidays are filled with equal parts stress and magic. In the midst of all the proverbial holiday cheer is the frantic rush to buy gifts, plan office parties, make sure work is finished on time, and iron out personal plans. With so much going on in such a short time frame, it’s easy for something to slip your mind and get lost in the shuffle.

Taking precise notes and making to-do lists are two of the best ways to stay on top of your holiday plans and ensure that you don’t forget anything important. Here are a few note-taking tips to make your holiday notes and to-do lists as effective as possible:

1. Organize Your Notes By Priority and Timeline

Given the ongoing supply chain issues faced by many industries, getting gifts for this holiday season may require more forethought than in previous years. If you want your gifts to arrive on time, you’re going to need to plan ahead and order in advance. If you’re planning a holiday party, you’ll also need to make sure that everything you’ll need is ordered, scheduled, or reserved well ahead of time.

To help keep everything straight, organize your holiday notes and tasks by both priority and timeline.

For starters, most e-commerce retailers provide estimated shipping times and order deadlines for ensuring your gifts are received on time. Caterers, venues, and other events vendors likely have their own deadlines you’ll need to follow as well.

Make separate to-do lists based on the deadlines and dates you’ve identified. For example, you might have one to-do list that needs to be completed at least a month out, one that needs to be finished a week out, and another that can be completed at any time before the holidays.

You might also consider organizing your to-do lists in terms of tasks that absolutely must be completed, tasks that you’d really like to complete, and tasks that you can complete if you have some extra time. Work that needs to be finished before the holidays would go in the first category, gifts you’d like to get for distant coworkers might go in the second, and orders for extra holiday decorations might wind up on your ‘if I have time for it’ list.

2. Look to Technology to Better Capture Notes

Most people think of notes as short chunks of text, but notes can come in audio form too. In fact, now that practically everyone carries around a smartphone, it’s often more convenient to pull out your phone and make a quick voice recording than it is to actually type something out.

But there’s one problem: unless you’re using Dictation or a similar tool, it can be difficult to refer back to the information captured in your audio notes. Typically, you’ll need to listen to your notes in their entirety to find a single point — if you have several unlabelled notes, you may have to listen to all of them to find the one you had in mind. And even if you are using Dictation, not all notes are searchable, which can make finding the right one tough.

AI note-taking tool, Otter, for example, automatically makes searchable transcripts of any audio notes you take with the app. As a result, you get the convenience of audio notes, as well as the ability to easily sort and search through them that you get from pencil-and-paper note-taking.  

Tools like Otter can help you remember things you need to get done as you think of them. At the store and remembered you need to order more holiday cards? Pull out your phone, open Otter, and record a new note. Otter will automatically transcribe it so you can refer back to your message later and add it to one of your master to-do lists.

3. Jot Down Gift Ideas in Your Notes

Picking out the right gift for a single person is hard enough. But when the holidays roll around and you need to pick the perfect present for several people in your life, the stress can add up quickly.

Often, the best gift ideas don’t come in a sudden flash of insight. Instead, they’re built over time, with little trickles of inspiration slowly forming a fully-fledged idea. Nevertheless, capturing those bits of information or moments of insight is important if you want to find the right gift — a strong note-taking workflow will help you do so.

For example, if you hear your coworker discussing his favorite album by The Smiths, note down that he’s a fan of the band. Later, if he talks about needing some art to spice up his apartment, take that note down as well. When it’s time to start gift-hunting, you can put both of these notes together to come up with a great idea: a great piece of The Smiths art.

This method is particularly useful when you’re getting a large number of gifts — you wouldn’t want to misremember and mix up your coworker who loves the Red Sox with another one who’s a Yankees fan, after all.

When you first start a to-do list or a new note for the holidays, it may seem like the best move is to have everything consolidated in one place. However, in most cases, that’s definitely not the way to go: having only one note page with information about everything from gift ideas to work scheduling and holiday party planning can quickly start to feel messy.

Instead, group your notes and tasks by topic. For example, you might want to make one to-do list or note page for gifts, one for scheduling, and one for party planning. This will help you stay more organized and reduce the feeling of overwhelm when you open your notes and see tons of tasks that still need to be completed.

Stay Organized This Holiday Season with Note Taking

Spreading holiday cheer isn’t effortless — it often takes hard work and planning. Using notes can help you stay more organized and ensure you get everything done on time while recording audio notes can be more convenient than writing out text notes.

In addition to implementing these note-taking tips, give Otter a try. Its automatic transcripts and searchable text will help keep you on-track and organized this holiday season.