Taking Personal Meeting Notes

Over the years I have come to appreciate the value of taking good notes in meetings. When I first started out, I often went into meetings with nothing as I foolishly thought I could remember everything. Over time I quickly found out that my memory was no where near the level I thought it was and I learnt the hard way in the value of taking good meeting notes.

A Mix of Old School & Modern Tech

Personally, when I'm taking notes in a meeting I find myself gravitating to one of two approaches:

  • Pen & a notebook
  • OneNote

The decision on what method to use is usually defined by whom I'm having a meeting with. If most of the people in the room are part of management or "non-techies" I go for the pen & paper option. The reason for this is that I feel that since they usually aren't so "reliant" on technology or technically inclined, typing on a computer while talking might be considered impersonal or rude.

On the other end of the spectrum, if I'm having a meeting with the team during a meeting such as a sprint planning, I will gravitate towards using OneNote on my laptop. The reasoning behind this is that typically techies love to use tools, so for them this is part of their nature and they won't consider it to be offensive. In addition, it also provides a lot of other productivity benefits, one of which is listed further on.

Simple Notes

Typically you never need to write down word for word what a person is saying. If you do, more than likely you will find yourself lost in the conversation which leaves you in a worse off situation. Below are some of the things that I try to do with regards to taking notes:

  • Point Summary
    Instead, of trying to write down what a particular person is saying, try to summarize what it to a single point and write that down.

  • List Your Questions
    If during the meeting you come up with a question and can't ask it at that point, make a quick note about it. Then when the opportunity arises, you present the question to them and then write the answer down as well. If you don't get a chance to ask it, you will be reminded later on and can then drop them an email.

What's Your Strategy?

In my personal experience I have come across two ways in which to take down effective notes. These are in either bullet point format or by doing quick mind maps. Being a cool blue personality, I tend to gravitate to the list option but either option works, so choose the one that fits with you.

  • List
    If you are like me and like items in a logical order the I would suggest this method. One thing to remember is to write down in point summary as trying to write to much will make you lose track. The items I tend to jot down are any to-do items, issues I need to follow up on and any important decisions that were made.

  • Mind Map
    If you are more of a visual and creative person then drawing a mind map will probably be just up your alley. How this approach works is that you write the main topic of the meeting in the centre and then draw branches off of it for any sub-topics arise. In those branches you would then write any relevant details pertaining to it. Just as in the list approach, concise summaries are key!

OneNote All The Notes!

I was introduced to OneNote a few years ago and since then I have become a big fan of it. Even my non-technical wife has come to appreciate it, so that is saying something :)

Usually if I take the pen & paper approach for meeting notes and find that I have written down some important points, I tend to quickly re-write the notes with a bit more detail in OneNote. By doing this, I have everything stored in one central place.

OneNote has a lot of productivity features which I really like, but those will be left for another post. For now, I would like to share one with you. If you use Outlook and OneNote on the your PC, OneNote will have the ability to hook into your calendar to see what you have scheduled on the day and automatically populate a page with the meeting details. This includes items such as who was present, the location, any documents that were attached in the meeting request etc.

To use this feature, click on the Meeting Details option on the Home tab (As highlighted in the image below). This will show you a list of meetings that you have for today and once you have selected one it will populate the details for you. Below is a screenshot of what will be created for you.

OneNote Meeting Details

If you find that OneNote is not for you there are other similar applications, such as Evernote, which aim to solve the same problem. Try them out and see what fits best for you.

Closing Notes

Just remember you to be good at taking meeting notes, you don't need to write everything down. Focus on the important parts and summarize the ideas that are being presented. Also, find a strategy that suits you and don't be afraid to experiment.

Lastly, If you have any ideas or ways of doing things that you would like to share, let us know in the comments section below.

Until next time...keep learning!

Mauro Da Silva

Learning everyday about software development, leadership & self improvement

South Africa