How to Take Notes in Meetings

Taking notes shows you’re attentive, helps you learn, and provides a reference after the meeting. Get-It-Done Guy has helpful tips on how to take great meeting notes. 

Stever Robbins,
August 4, 2013
Episode #117

Meetings. I just love meetings. No, I don’t. I hate meetings. At modern meetings, people sit around with their laptops open, dutifully typing in everything that’s said. Although we love to believe the laptops are making us more efficient, I know in my case, it’s really just an excuse to have a screen between me and the rest of the shudder meeting.

Taking notes shows you’re attentive, helps you learn, and provides a reference after the meeting.

As far as what to take notes on, check out my episode Taking Killer Notes. Always make sure you note the to-do items, decisions, and follow-up issues that come up in meetings. There’s nothing more embarrassing than showing up at the Capitol with your Zombie army, insisting that the world bow to your demands, and discovering that someone (that would be you) forgot to hose down the Zombies and make them presentable. Quelle horreur!

How to Take Notes in Meetings

How you take notes makes a big difference. First of all, do take notes. Taking no notes makes the rest of us think you are too clueless to realize what’s important. Even if you have a perfect recall, take notes for our sake, so we feel more comfortable.

How to Take Notes in Meetings

Taking notes makes people think you’re being attentive. You may even want to be attentive. That means you’re aware of whatever’s going on. I was attentive when I had my first big infatuation. I noticed everything. They painted their pinky fingernail black. Was that to be trendy, or are they sending a message? Black is spelled B-L-A-C-K. The second letter is L, which stands for LOVE, which mean they do love me! Yay! Don’t laugh. You’ve been there. You know you have.

Take Notes on Paper, Not Laptops

You can’t be that attentive with a laptop between you and everyone else. Jot notes on paper, keeping your attention on the group. Typing into a computer saves retyping later, but it kills the human connection. I know you’re thinking “Who cares about the human connection?” but don’t be so hasty. Promotions come from having the right skills and good relationships with the decision makers. Relationships with other humans get you what you want in life. Besides, until your Zombie Army wins, you need humans to infiltrate your enemies without leaving a tell-tale trail of decaying body parts.

Taking notes on paper isn’t just good for connecting to others; it’s also good for you by yourself. Taking notes on paper and typing them in forces you to mentally review the meeting a second time, which boots both memory and understanding.

Summarize and Organize Notes Afterwards

Record your meeting summaries in a different color or draw a box around them so that you can easily find them months later.

Finish your notes by summarizing anything important that happened and put this summary at the end of your notes. For some meetings, the summary will be  very short.

Quick and dirty tip: Record your summaries in a different color or draw a box around them. That way you’ll be able to quickly find and scan just your meeting summaries six months from now when you’re frantically trying to find the notes where you decided to go with Zombies instead of killer robots.

Don’t Organize Notes During Meetings

By the same token, don’t try to organize your notes during meetings. Just record the date, time, and meeting title, engage your eyes and ears, and jot down the to-dos, decisions, and information that needs to be captured. When you type in your notes later, that’s when you organize. Group action items together, decisions together, and reference information together. Now you can easily refer to the meeting’s key outcomes.

When Bernice returns from vacation, bring her up to speed quickly by reading the three categories. “Your action item is cleaning out the Zombie holding pens. Lucky you. We decided our mascot will be Melvin’s pet boa constrictor, to strike fear into the hearts of our enemies. And our survey says 20% of our Zombies are demanding 400-thread count sheets.” Actions, decisions, and reference information. There’s no need to point out that the lump inside Melvin’s boa constrictor has a profile disturbingly similar to Bernice’s missing Pekinese “Pookie.”

Use Technology

Using technology (I just love technology!), you can buy special pens and paper that record your notes as an image, import them into your computer, and recognize your handwriting so you can search your notes. LiveScribe makes a pen that uses special paper covered with teeny dots that tell your pen where it is on the page. The pen records the page image! It’s the best of digital entry with the human connection of real pen and paper. Plus, at the end of a long day, you can stare really closely at the dots and find shapes like a duckey, or a horsey, or Boticelli’s Stoning of Saint Stephen.

File For Future Retrieval

When you take notes you’ll need again, file them electronically or on paper. Name the file MEETING, hyphen, then the name of the meeting and the date. If you’re filing electronically in a tool that lets you add tags (remember when I told you how helpful tags are?), tag the notes with the attendee names, topics discussed, and decisions made, so you can find the notes by searching for those tags. If you are capturing your notes into an image, check out Evernote.com, which lets you store images and then indexes them by the words that appear in the image. I don’t know how they do it; I think it’s magic. 

I hope you were taking notes as you listened. Use a pencil and paper so your attention stays in the room, not in your lap. Record a summary at the end of the meeting. If you need your notes electronically, type them in. Review as you type, and group the to-dos, decisions, and reference information so it’s easy to view at a glance. Consider using fun technology to capture hand-written notes electronically, and file everything labeled and tagged in your filing system.


http://getitdone.quickanddirtytips.com/note-taking-tips-and-tricks.aspx  (link http://getitdone.quickanddirtytips.com/productivity/organization/taking-killer-notes-that-keep-you-on-top-of-your-game ) - My “Taking Killer Notes” episode
http://www.evernote.com - A service where you can store your digital images
http://www.LiveScribe.com - An electronic pen that takes note digitally

Notepad image from Shutterstock

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