Richard Branson’s Advice to Entrepreneurs: Take More Notes

British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson’s note-taking skills have helped him become one of the most successful businessmen in modern history. Learn why.
Matthew Ritchie
August 24, 2022
7 minute read

Richard Branson has come a long way from his days selling records out of the trunk of his car.

Since starting his first business—a magazine called Student—with less than $2,000 at the age of 16, the founder of the Virgin Group has gone on to run record labels and music stores, passenger rail services and airlines, and countless other successful companies.

In 2021, Forbes listed Branson’s estimated net worth at US$5.7 billion—the same month he became the third oldest person to fly to space while traveling aboard a test flight for his commercial spaceflight company Virgin Galactic.

Aside from a desire to rise above seemingly impossible challenges, he credits one simple skill to his success. 

“I am often asked what the most important practical skills are if one wants to become a successful entrepreneur,” he wrote in a 2019 blog post. “The first one that comes to mind is note-taking.”

According to Sir Richard, taking notes is “one of the most powerful tools” he has in his “bag of business tricks.” 

He's not alone: Microsoft founder Bill Gates is another famous note-taker. But he estimates that 99 percent of people in leadership roles don't do it, despite forming the backbone for many of his business decisions.

“I urge everybody to take notes, whatever they are doing, wherever they are going,” he wrote in one of his many blog posts on the topic, saying the process has helped him do everything from combat gender bias at work to come up with some of Virgin’s greatest ideas.

Here’s how to implement similar note-taking strategies in your own life.

How to Take Notes Like Richard Branson

1. Use Active Listening When Taking Notes

In a 2019 blog post, Branson recalls taking part in a gathering for his charity Virgin Unite with a group of local students from the British Virgin Islands, where he spotted a young girl “taking detailed, handwritten notes” during each of the talks.

“Having made her notes and considered them, [she] was able to ask some thoughtful questions to the speakers and develop the discussion further,” he writes. “She referred to her notes as she asked her questions, which I found so refreshing.”

What Branson seems to be describing here is called active listening. It's a skill many leaders and professionals develop that involves attentively listening to a speaker without distraction to show engagement, fully understand and reflect on what’s being said, and retain information—often in the form of note-taking.

According to Indeed, active listening encourages knowledge and understanding in the workplace. It can also help professionals identify and solve challenges more easily by ensuring they don’t miss out on critical information or important details during a talk.

“By really listening to people, and accurately writing down what they are saying, you are far more likely to remember it, and to take action based upon it,” Branson writes.

2. Be Selective About What You Write Down

Often, people struggle with deciding what’s important to write down when taking notes. As a result, notes can often become unwieldy and contain too much information that isn’t relevant.

Instead of trying to transcribe everything that comes out of a speaker’s mouth, Branson suggests focusing on two main things.

“Whenever I’m listening to anybody, I try to note down the points that most interest or concern me,” he writes

By focusing on what’s compelling and what needs more clarification, Branson suggests that it’ll be easier to “act upon” what’s discussed and remember it later.

Related: You’re Probably Taking Meeting Notes Wrong—Here’s a Quick Fix

3. Review Your Notes, So You Know What to Focus On

You probably realize Mr. Branson is passionate about taking notes by this point.

Still, despite his public championing of the skill, he often has meetings where no one takes any notes, calling it one of his “greatest frustrations.”

“This often happens with, for instance, politicians,” he writes. “We will have a meeting, talk about dozens of ideas to improve things, and they won’t write anything down. They might remember one of the ideas, but what about all of the others. They will have to muddle through and little will get done.”

According to Branson, reviewing your notes after a meeting can help business leaders spot “themes” and “issues [that] keep coming up” during conversations, know what to prioritize, and ensure no great ideas get missed.

4. Turn Thoughts Into Action

“You shouldn't just take notes for the sake of it,” Branson writes. “They need to be productive.”

To do so, Branson recommends taking notes and turning them into “actionable and measurable goals.” 

Although he doesn’t get into the specifics of how to do this, one of the easiest ways is to create a list of tasks or action items after each meeting to ensure you’re accomplishing your goals and making progress toward what you’re setting out to do.

5. Make Note-Taking Easy and Accessible

Like some people, Branson says he prefers a pen and paper for taking notes, saying it helps information “stick in my head more firmly.”

But he’s also been known to jot notes down on practically any surface, including menus, name tags, and even the back of his hand.

“It doesn’t matter what form your note-taking takes. I prefer a trusty notebook, but laptops and phones can do the trick,” he writes

The important thing, at the end of the day, “is to capture it,” whether it’s a great idea inspired by a chance encounter or something to follow up on after a meeting.

Taking diligent notes is one of the best ways to ensure you follow through on your business goals and dreams. Request early access to our next-generation notes app and make them a reality.

Whether you’re a sales superstar, in-demand consultant, busy recruiter, or someone who simply needs to schedule a lot of meetings, one thing’s for sure—you’ve probably booked a lot of them over the past two years.

Hybrid work has forced the majority of our meetings online, and while we appreciate being able to wear sweatpants during normal work hours, the time-consuming ballet that is sharing your availability, finding a time to meet, and adding it to your calendar isn’t quite as enjoyable. 

Speaking with everyone from solopreneurs to seasoned professionals, it seems like a lot of people find meeting scheduling software either costly, impersonal, or just plain boring. And Calendly and other alternatives don’t always cut it.

We hear you. 

Everyone is different, and so is how they work. Making good first impressions is important, and you shouldn’t have to pay a premium for them or basic customizations and integrations with your meeting booking system.

Nook Calendar’s meeting proposal feature is already used by tons of high-performing teams for selecting and proposing meeting times outside of their organization. 

Now, we’re making things even easier by letting you build personal pages with shareable calendar-booking links, right in Nook Calendar. Add them to your LinkedIn profile, email signature, website, or messages when finding a time to meet.

We think it’s the best meeting scheduling software out there, and we’re excited for you to give it a try, so let’s get started.

Here’s How to Set Up a Personal Booking Page in Nook Calendar

First off, if you’re new to Nook Calendar—hello! (If you’re already a Nook user, you can skip ahead.)

You’re going to start by syncing your calendar—either from Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook—and entering your work email address.

Once you approve any necessary permissions, you’ll set up your People Bar. Search for any connections and add the people you interact with the most when scheduling meetings.

From there, you can add any additional calendars you want to see (add your personal one, if you like, to further prevent any overlaps when scheduling meetings), integrate with Zoom (so you can launch calls straight from your calendar), and choose your preferred display setting—select Match OS, Light Mode, or Dark Mode.

Launch Nook Calendar, and you’re ready to set up your online meeting scheduler.

Now, the fun begins

You’re going to start by claiming your unique URL for sharing your meeting availability page. 

Your first name appears by default, but really, it can be anything. We recommend using your full name (e.g., /john-smith).

(You can always change your URL in the future, as long as it’s still available.)

From there, you want to complete your profile. 

Your profile pic is automatically pulled in from your Microsoft or GCal account.

But you can add your name, job title, welcome message, and links to social media profiles or professional website, so guests know a bit more about you when booking a meeting. 

Then, you can start setting your weekly availability.

Nook Calendar defaults to traditional time blocks—9–12 a.m. and 1–5 p.m. These are the hours someone can book a meeting from your personal page. Adjust them based on your availability. 

Your timezone is automatically set to your local time, but you can change it if you primarily work with people in a different timezone and it’s better to visualize that when setting your availability.

Choose which calendar you want to accept meetings in—it can only be booked in one, but Nook Calendar will automatically reference your availability in other calendars you’ve synced to prevent double-bookings when someone schedules a meeting.

Now, it’s time to set up some paramaters. 

You can set up your preferred meeting duration in either 15, 30, 45-minute or one-hour increments (or a custom time).

You can also add buffer time to give yourself a break between meetings, or set a lead time of up to 24 hours, so no one can book any last-minute meetings.

And you’re all set! You can preview what the page will look like, then share it with contacts or add it to your LinkedIn profile (we suggest adding it as a secondary URL), email signature, and anywhere else you do business.

Once someone books time in your calendar, you’ll receive an email and get a notification in the Pulse.

If you ever need to make any changes, you can access your personal meeting page in the bottom of the Magic Panel and make any adjustments—either to your weekly availability or personal information.

You can also remove your availability by simply creating events in Nook Calendar and marking them as Busy to block off time and prevent any bookings.

Nook Calendar’s new personal pages for sharing meeting availability are available on Web, iOS, and Android. 
If you have any questions or thoughts, we’d love to hear them. Hit us up in our Slack Community or contact us through Support.