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Reducing The Cognitive Load Of Note Taking

Calls and meetings are, by nature, multi-tasking experiences. Taking notes on all the important moments, decisions, and action items from a meeting is mentally fatiguing. When note taking is done manually, it can be very difficult to stay engaged in the conversation while keeping an accurate record of what is being said. In this article, we will discuss the high cognitive load associated with traditional note taking, and techniques that can be used to help.

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By Elliot
August 24th, 2021

Writing things down is a time-honored practice that has been a staple of learning since the beginning of recorded history. From the pictograms etched in clay tablets in ancient Mesopotamia to the notes taken by students in lecture halls today, the act of capturing important information from verbal communication is an essential part of being human.

As you may have experienced yourself, however, the process of taking notes from a meeting can be mentally demanding. This is known as "cognitive load," a term that describes the amount of mental energy required to perform a given task. In the case of taking notes during a meeting, cognitive load can refer to the amount of brainpower that is exerted by a note taker in order to stay on top of what is being said. 

What Is Cognitive Load

The mental effort associated with cognitive load can be broken down into three main components:

Working memory - the brain's short-term memory, which is limited in capacity and retention

Attention - the degree to which a person is focused on a task at hand

Interference - the difficulty of filtering out distracting stimuli.

Cognitive load can be high when attempting to take notes during a meeting. A note taker may feel as though they must remember what is being said, write down what they hear, and maintain focus on the speaker while simultaneously trying to filter out distracting stimuli such as other voices, noises, or objects in the room. Even more challenging, the note taker is also typically expected to be actively participating in the conversation by asking or answering questions or commenting on the topic of discussion. It is difficult to focus on all of these things at once, which can place a considerable amount of mental strain on the note taker.

The Impact Of Cognitive Load

Taking notes manually is especially difficult if many people are involved in the conversation at once. Ideas can often be conveyed rapidly, so it can be hard to keep up with what is being said. When this happens, a note taker may forget information or record the wrong idea. This can lead to misunderstandings and confusion for the note taker as well as for anyone else who relies on the notes later.

The mental strain of trying to take effective notes can also have an adverse effect on a person's attention span and focus. This can lead to lackluster or inattentive participation in the meeting itself. This happens because people are typically more engaged in a conversation when they have something to contribute, and less engaged when they feel like they are just listening. 

The Split-Attention Effect

Split attention is a cognitive phenomenon that refers to the fact that it is difficult to perform two simultaneous tasks. This is especially true for tasks that require our attention to be divided between two different mental processes. For example, reading a book while listening to music is harder than reading a book without any background sound. One of the reasons for this is that both tasks compete for limited cognitive resources. The brain needs a certain amount of attention to process any given task. When it is forced to divide its attention between two or more tasks, the work that each task produces suffers.

The split-attention effect is a common occurrence when note taking. As previously mentioned, taking notes requires a person to balance three different demands at once: listening, processing what is being said, and writing down what is being heard. All of these tasks require the note taker to split their attention between multiple different demands. This creates an overabundance of cognitive load, which negatively impacts the note taker's ability to be effective in the meeting.

Why Note Taking Is Hard

While note taking may seem like a straightforward task, it is actually extremely difficult to perform when under significant cognitive load. A person who is trying to take notes while also actively participating in a meeting must be able to simultaneously:

- Maintain focus on the speaker.

- Listen to and comprehend what is being said.

- Write down key decisions, action items, and other details.

- Ask questions, add comments, and participate in the discussion.

This can be mentally taxing, as it requires a person to divide their attention among many different tasks. This mental strain has a significant negative impact on the note taker's ability to participate in the meeting and contribute meaningfully to the conversation.

Techniques That Can Help

To reduce the cognitive load of taking notes during a meeting, there are a variety of techniques that can be used to make the process easier.

1. Have Clear Goals For Your Notes

The first step in reducing cognitive load is to develop clear goals for your notes. A goal-oriented note taker will know exactly the information they want to extract from the meeting and will focus their attention accordingly. If you know what you are trying to get out of your notes, you will be better able to focus on the things that matter most to you.

2. Don't Write Down Everything

Note taking is often an exercise in eliminating redundancy and unnecessary information. Good notes are not a complete transcript of what was said, but rather a condensed account of the key decisions, action items, and discussion points. If you are trying to write down every little detail, you may have a difficult time staying engaged in the conversation.

3. Learn How To Organize Your Notes

It is also important to learn how to effectively organize your notes. When you are taking notes during a meeting, try to group discussions by topic so that it is easier to find information later. It is also helpful to use an outline format for your notes so that they are easier to read and follow.

4. Use AI Call And Meeting Capture

There are a number of solutions that can help reduce the cognitive load of note taking. One of the most effective tools are AI meeting assistants, which use machine learning to capture, transcribe, and summarize your calls and meetings in real time. These systems use sophisticated language analysis algorithms to identify the main themes of a meeting, organizing the key takeaways into an easy-to-read summary that can be reviewed at a later time.

5. Use Pictures And Diagrams

Another effective way to reduce cognitive load is to include pictures or diagrams in your notes. Some ideas are simply difficult to express with words alone. If the conversation is complex or has a lot of moving parts, consider breaking the information down into bullet points and diagrams. This can make it easier to organize and process later.

6. Create A Common Format

It is also important to develop a consistent format for your notes. Whether you decide to use an outline, bulleted list, or some other format, make sure that you can easily find information that you have previously recorded. Consistency will make it easier to locate the information you need when you need it, and for others who may need to access your notes at a later time.

7. Don't Focus On Perfection

Finally, it is important to understand that taking notes is not an exact science. Every person will have a different way of structuring their notes, and there is no single way that is going to be the most effective for everyone. A note taker should focus on what works best for them, and not worry about trying to follow a rigid set of rules.

How AI Note Taking Reduces Cognitive Load

Taking notes manually can be an extremely mentally taxing task. The problem is that for many people, it is the only way to take notes from a meeting. Thanks to advancements in AI and machine learning, however, note taking is no longer a burdensome task. Solutions such as AI call and meeting capture can significantly reduce the mental workload associated with traditional note taking. 

Transcription Alone Is Not Enough

Transcripts are often seen as the end goal of note taking. However, transcripts alone are not useful for people to take away meaningful insights from a meeting. A fully transcribed hour long meeting may contain 10,000 or more words (taking quite some time to read) and even perfect transcripts can be hard to follow: People interrupt one another, repeat themselves, fail to get to the heart of an issue, and so on. 

It is important to sum up the key points of a meeting. AI meeting assistants do this by using language analysis algorithms to generate high quality meeting summaries. AI algorithms can condense long discussions into short, easy-to-read summaries that allow people to quickly gain an understanding of the meeting's key topics and decisions. 

What Is Coming

Cognitive load is an important issue in today's world. From stress to inattention to burnout, it's clear that organizations need to find ways to reduce the mental load on employees. We expect companies to deploy more AI driven solutions to help reduce the mental burden of meetings and note taking. What started as basic audio transcription is now expanding to include summarization, topic segmentation, and even structured knowledge extraction.


Note taking is an important part of participating in any meeting. It's an activity that consumes a large amount of people's time. Unfortunately, note taking is not as easy as it seems. It involves focusing on many different things at once and often comes with a significant mental burden. This mental strain can have a negative impact on your ability to participate in the meeting. To help solve this problem, organizations should deploy AI solutions that can reduce the mental workload associated with traditional note taking. These solutions can significantly reduce the cognitive load and help employees to effectively participate in meetings.

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