I started getting serious about CW ops when I started DX-ing about 4 years ago. That was the primary motivation to pick up my speed to something useful.
The 10 WPM AOCP code test was a distant memory (1981), and that speed is difficult to hold a conversation.
After many short DX exchanges, my speed picked up and I actually started enjoying the code, rather than just enduring it. Now my preference is a nice chat.
Thanks for the tips above, they are very helpful. The comment on redundancy is one I'll work on.
I try not to copy everything as it is sent, just points of information, and just let the rest flow. Remember, this a hobby for our enjoyment. We are not required to accurately copy down everything sent, that sounds like a job!
There is always a pencil and paper in front of me when I am operating, to scribble down notes.
Over the weekend, I played a bit in the ARRL 10 m Contest. It was an exercise in copying down callsigns and serial number exchanges, often at high speed. The last number I handed out was "035" or "T35" in the cut numbers format, so I was not aiming for a big score, just a few new states and countries on 10 m. Besides, it was too nice and sunny out, to sit in front of the radio all day!
73 and enjoy the code,