How to take perfect meeting notes

There’s a trick to taking notes from meetings I learnt a few years ago and have lived by and loved ever since. I thought I’d pass on the technique to anyone who is looking for a way to improve their note taking abilities.

The basic principle is that rather than just scribbling notes down on a page and having to trawl back through them blindly later, you start each new note with a symbol that indicates the type of note it is. I use five types of symbol which I will go through here.

1. The bullet point

Essentially every new note should have at least a bullet point to make them easy to distinguish. A bullet point doesn’t indicate that the note is anything more than informative.

2. The star

If a note has some particular piece of information that needs to stand out from the rest then it starts with a star. Notes that tend to get this are ones that are of particular interest or quickly summarise what I have been writing so I don’t have to read through all the bullet points.

3. The square

I’m a pragmatist and the square is the symbol I use the most. It indicates that this is a task that I need to do after the meeting. The square enables me to tick it once I have completed the task so I can see at a glance what actions I still need to perform.

4. The circle

The circle is similar to the square but indicates that someone else needs to perform a task (I like to write the initials of the person above the circle for easy reference). This is really useful if you need to know who said they were going to do a job to chase them up and make sure they have followed through.

5. The question mark

Finally we have the question mark. This indicates that something needs more research or looking into or is just a general question to ask myself after the meeting. It’s similar to the square in that it is normally an action to perform but it highlights more clearly that it is a question.

So, if any of you are unfortunate to be trapped in a meeting with me anytime in the future you can take a look at my notebook and at least have a better understanding of what I am scribbling!

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  1. I was taught another interesting meeting notes trick. My mind has a habit of wandering in meetings and presentations, but someone, at some point, taught me a technique for dealing with it.

    The trick is to give your mind permission to wander off, capture the wandering, and then get back to the meeting.

    So…draw a line down the side of your notes, to create a column, say, an inch or two wide, and whenever your mind drifts off (things like “must ask where he got his pen from”, or “must remember to pick up some milk on the way home” or “darnit, I forgot to send an email to bob earlier) jot the thing you’re thinking down in the column alongside your notes.

    I use this combined with thinks like boxes, ?’s and stars as you describe above. So if I have a question I want to ask at the end of the meeting, I jot it in the margin with a ?.

    This not only allows you to get focussed back on whatever meeting you’re in, but makes you look really clever by having intelligent questions to ask at the end! :)

    Hope that’s another useful tip for someone.

  2. My note taking is dreadful, so I’m going to give this a go.

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