You thought your note taking days were over when you graduated; little did you know that you would be taking pen to paper for the rest of your life. Whether you end up in a corporate boardroom, the PTA or on a family reunion planning committee you’ll likely be forced to endure meetings. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s that the only thing worse than a meeting is another meeting to discuss everything you forgot in the first meeting.
At this point you might be wondering whether this applies to you. Is it really that difficult to write down what you hear? The answer is yes. In fact there have been numerous studies on effective note taking; The Cornell Note Taking System was based on such research. Although these studies and systems have been directed at students, their recommendations offer valuable techniques for taking notes and retaining information whether it’s in a classroom or a boardroom.
I’ve been working since I was 15 years old and during that time I’ve had the opportunity to meet and observe the work habits of many successful people, one trait they share is the ability to recall information. To write this post I sat down with several successful business women. I asked them to show me their meeting notes and asked about their note taking methods.
Here are some basics:
Record notes in the same place whether it’s notes about a phone call, a meeting with your child’s teacher or a meeting at work. Most people I spoke with have one notebook that they keep with them at all times. They also hold onto their old notebooks for reference, not indefinitely usually about six months to a year.
Some women used composition style notebooks, others prefer spiral bound and some prefer pads in portfolios.
The women I interviewed don’t use divided notebooks they just keep all notes in chronological order, but if you’re involved in many different activities it might help to keep one notebook, but divide it into sections using Semikolon’s Sticky Tab Dividers.
The Cornell Note Taking System recommends leaving a margin of approximately 2.5 inches on the left side of your paper. In that margin they recommend recording key ideas and facts for review. For meetings you could use that margin to note follow-up or other important issues or action.
Some women I spoke with don’t use the margin method instead they highlight or star action items.
Review notes as soon as possible after the meeting. Enter due dates into your calendar or task management program. Add additional information where notes seem unclear. The sooner you do this the more likely it is that you will remember details that you may have forgotten to write down.
If there is a printed meeting agenda it’s tempting to record notes on the agenda rather than in your notebook. Resist the temptation. If you are using a full-size notebook you can attach the agenda to a page in your notebook.
Otherwise simply copy agenda points into your notebook as you cover each topic.
Start each day with a numbered task list. Carry the list over from the previous day. Pull tasks from your prior day’s meeting and add to the list.
Here are some additional quick tips:
1. Try to just write down important points, if you try to write everything you hear you will fail.
2. Develop your own shorthand. Abbreviate commonly used words, names and phrases. One person I spoke with records initials rather than full names.
3. If possible, stop the meeting and ask for clarification if you have a question or missed an action item.
4. Leave space between points. If the meeting is informal you may jump back and forth between topics and will need to add additional information or clarification.
5. If it’s your job to record notes for the group send out an email with the typed notes as soon as possible. Record action items by person responsible at the top of the page, don’t forget to include due dates. Ask the other participants to confirm that the notes are correct.