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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Meeting Dark Arts: Taking Notes

How many meetings have you sat through and looked around the table to see no one taking notes. If there is no need to take notes what is the point of having the meeting. Studies show if we don't write it down we will forget shortly after leaving the meeting.

I use three different mediums based upon situation or compliance limitations

  • Laptop Computer
  • Digital pen
  • Bound journal
For most of my daily activities I prefer to have the bound journal as the other two devices tend to distract from the personal connections that are such an important part of business. When conducting larger meetings around projects or business strategy we use the other tools for expediency. I have found that the simpler the method the more likely we are to do it on a regular basis.

First I use a modified version of the Cornell Note Taking System. I always carry a bound note book with me and start each meeting with a blank page on the left and right of the book. The right hand side of page is for the detailed notes and the left hand side I keep the action items and the meeting summary (which I write up after the meeting)


To make my notes as readable as possible, I expect to be referring to them at a later date, I use bullet lists marked by four different symbols:


- A dash for a general item of a statement made by someone
* An asterisk is an important fact
[ ] A square check box for a to do item assigned to myself
( ) A circle for task to be assigned to someone else, with responsible person


I indent my notes from the left edge of the paper allowing me to put my symbols in the left margin. For process flows or other visual diagrams I draw them right into the notes so their context is not lost. Because meeting handouts can be difficult to keep track of, I will also create short summaries or hold them to be stapled into the journal later.I also have a vocabulary of abbreviations that I always use similar to the following:


  • w/ with
  • w/w worked with
  • s/b should be

If you are a visual learner I would suggest incorporating differnt colors into your note taking either with "highlighters" or with colored pencils this is more a personal preference and I found that while I like using the multiple colors there was not enough time to effective take notes and engage in the dialog while trying to add color.


After the meeting I sum up each page on the bottom left section of the journal, often because there is not time to type up minutes right away. This way at the end of the day or when I had the notes to an assistant it is easy to add tasks to the calendar, send out the reminder emails, and follow up on the questions.


I take notes in every meeting I attend and go through a journal about every month.

If you liked this post you might like:
Meeting Dark Arts: Meeting Management
Meeting Dark Arts: Conference Call Etiquette
Meeting Dark Arts: Publishing Minutes


Written by Jeffrey Hurley in Stanley, Hong Kong

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