Taking Notes

by Wells

I’ve always had mixed feelings about taking notes at meetings.  I don’t mind doing it per se, but it does make actual participation in a meeting a little difficult.  It’s hard to follow another person’s thought process and think critically about decisions when you’re focused on retaining what’s been said long enough to record it.

One thing my history of taking notes has made me realize is that some meetings are way more effective than others.  If you’re taking notes in a meeting and you realize you can put your pen down and just listen to people talk because no one will want to read over all the circuitous, nebulous, rhetorical crap that’s being said, you’re probably stuck in an inefficient meeting.  If you’re leading a meeting, watch the note-taker for cues on when you’re boring everyone and not making a point.

Just like meetings, there are levels of quality when it comes to notes.  If you send an email with a word-by-word transcript of the meeting, it will probably just be deleted.  The only thing people look forward to less than yet another meeting is reliving it in text form.  Your notes should have headers.  Paragraphs.  Bullet points.  At the very least, take a few steps away from your notes and look at the form of them.  The eyes need a break and the mind needs little bite sizes of information.

For really great notes, make sure you have the following elements clearly laid out:

  • Decisions made.  Listen for key words like “will be in charge of”, “will take on”, “will spearhead”, etc.  Your notes may be the only record of these decisions down the line, and you won’t want to have to make the same decisions twice.
  • Questions raised, and their answers, or
  • Questions that could not be answered at the meeting, and a deadline for answering each question.  If there isn’t a concrete end to questions raised at the meeting, the answers may never present themselves.  They’ll be put off and put off until the person who asked the question in the first place is suddenly being asked the same question by his boss.
  • Action items, along with the people responsible for carrying out those actions.

If you’re typing your notes and come across something you don’t understand or can’t remember the details, pick up the phone (or walk over) and ask.  Treat your notes like an important internal document that demand accurate information.  You don’t want to have to send revised notes to everyone.

And, yes, if no one is assigned to take notes, it’s in your best interest to volunteer once in a while.  It involves you in every process discussed at the meeting, and it never hurts to let everyone else see you pick up some slack for the team.