Depending on your line of work, keeping minutes during all of your meetings might be among the most important actions you take. We’ve all experienced what it’s like to know that you’ve discussed an important point at a previous meeting but are unable to remember what the outcome was. You could reach out to the other attendees and see if they remember, but is it really worth bugging them about this?
Taking good meeting notes - or minutes - is the solution to these lapses in memory. Even though it feels like extra work in the moment, taking good notes during your meetings can end up saving you hours of time that could have otherwise been spent productively. Simply having a trusted source of truth for decisions that were made during a given meeting can take a lot of pressure off of your work when second-guessing yourself before an important presentation or demo.
There are a lot of articles out there that list all of the things you should try to keep track of in your meetings. Diving into the details and intricacies of excellent meeting notes is for a future article but the gist is as we mentioned above:
- Capture the points discussed
- Identify the decisions
- Specify the next steps
So, after you start taking diligent meeting notes, you’re all set right? While the notes are valuable in-and-of themselves, there are a few extra steps that you can take to add substantial value to both your own work and the work of your team as a whole.
In the rest of this article, we’ll take a look at the differences between writing and storing notes for your own use versus how you should write and store notes to benefit your entire team.
Taking meeting notes for yourself vs. others
Taking notes when you know nobody else but you will look at them is always easier than keeping things formal enough for your coworkers as well. When writing out your own thoughts, you can take shortcuts by using acronyms and symbols only you are familiar with, or only writing down the bits of information that you find important to your own projects as opposed to taking notes on everything that happened during that meeting. You can also freely note your own thoughts or jot down questions that you are thinking about but don’t want to interrupt the meeting with. Finally, you don’t have to go through the hassle of figuring out a way to get your notes in the hands of your teammates. You can just store them somewhere you can access and that’s that.
Even though it does take a bit of extra effort to clean things up enough to share with your teammates, we’ll argue that it is worth keeping your notes to a higher standard even if you are sure that you’ll never end up sharing them with others. But as you’ll see later on, sharing meeting notes with your team can even turn into a superpower instead of a time sink.
Concretely, let’s address the points we just mentioned above for why writing meeting notes for yourself is so much easier and see if we can fill in the gaps with a few simple tips.
1) You can take shortcuts and use acronyms or symbols to write faster.
Everyone’s notes look a bit different and part of the reason why is how we choose to condense information when in a fast-paced environment. Some people might only write in bullet points and capture the main ideas, others might use acronyms to shorten long words. Regardless of your strategy, you can take a few small steps to ensure your notes are always interpretable by others as well.
One strategy is to ‘clean up’ your minutes after a given meeting and format points clearly, remove obfuscated acronyms and symbols, and generally polish up the document. One could also argue that this task helps better remember what went on in the meeting by reviewing it an additional time. In an ideal world, it would be great if everyone had the opportunity to review every set of meeting notes, but the reality is that it is unlikely that you’ll be able to make time and polish your notes regularly.
With this in mind, another strategy is to provide a ‘legend’ of sorts to accompany your notes. For example, if you use exclamation points in your notes to denote something important like you see below:
- (!) The new software release goes live next week
You might just add a note at the top of your minutes saying that “Exclamation points denote crucial information” to help other readers quickly catch on to your style of notes.
2) You only write the notes relevant to you.
This is quite common and it logically makes sense that you would only note the points discussed that you will actually need to remember later on. However, this approach will certainly limit the usefulness of your notes to others, since everyone has a slightly different definition of what they consider to be useful.
One approach here is to try your best to be more thorough and write notes about every major point discussed. This requires more effort during the meeting itself and it can be challenging to know if the notes you are taking for topics you aren’t the expert in make sense or capture every important nuance.
Instead, you might try a more collaborative approach to meeting notes where everyone either contributes to a central shared document or people take their own individual notes pertaining to a specific agenda item that are compiled after the fact. You may find that having everyone just add notes directly to a document in real-time will save everyone the most time since you can already see who wrote what before adding your own notes. We’ll go into some more detail about this strategy further on in the article!
3) You can freely write your own thoughts without worrying about what your team members might think.
There’s an added layer of stress when creating meeting notes that you know will be shared with your professional colleagues. What if you missed an important point or misrecorded something? When worrying about these flaws, your instinct might be to just keep your notes to yourself to prevent any of these issues from becoming a reality, even if keeping your notes isolated could cost your team productivity.
Our counter-argument to that is if you write down questions you might have or things you weren’t certain about during the meeting, it is actually an opportunity for constructive feedback from your team members. Someone else might know the answer to a question you didn’t want to vocalize during the meeting, or your colleague might remember a few extra details about a certain meeting point. With this context, it may very well benefit your entire team to share your notes, even if you don’t initially feel very comfortable doing so. If you use software that lets you share and edit your notes with coworkers, then breaking down this barrier is even easier!
4) You don’t have to go through the hassle of sharing your notes after every meeting.
This is a pretty large blocker to a more fluid communication of information, and feeds into what we might describe as the “Best Practices for Storing Meeting Notes”. Even though it takes a bit of setup to get going, sharing your minutes can be automated almost entirely, and we’ll look at why the opportunity cost is worth it in the remainder of this article.
If you don’t have any processes set up around sharing your notes, the actual steps might look something like this:
- Writing your meeting notes in your personal notebook at work.
- Finding the time to sit down and transcribe the notes into a digital document.
- Polishing up your notes, and adding the related information (like date, purpose, and possibly additional formalities such as attendees or location)
- Sending out an email or message to everyone on the meeting or team who might find these notes useful.
- Uploading the notes to a central company location and ‘filing’ them away.
Each of these steps take time, and even if you take your notes on your computer, you still have to go through steps 3-5 every time anyway. In an ideal world, it would be nice to always be able to go back and review detailed meeting notes from any team’s meetings in the past to check on decisions, progress, or any other pertinent details. With the following tips, let’s look at how we can minimize the effort needed for excellent, shareable notes.
Tip #1: Keep your meeting notes digital
This might seem a bit controversial given some sources out there recommend you always take notes with a pen and paper after a popular study found that students could retain information better when writing with pen and paper as opposed to using laptops or tablets to write.
While this may be true in a classroom setting, taking notes at a meeting isn’t a task demanding that you rapidly synthesize and retain information - that’s a useful skill to have in a lecture hall, not a meeting room. Capturing important information quickly and accurately is arguably more important than generating a deep understanding of this information in the moment. For that reason, we recommend that you stick to your keyboard whenever possible.
In some meetings where no one else has their laptops out it may come off strange if you are the only one tapping away, but with modern meetings often being either hybrid or making use of projected presentation or other digital media anyway, it is generally okay to take notes on a computer. Besides, if anyone asks why you have your laptop out, they’ll likely be happy to hear that you’re taking notes that you plan to share after the meeting!
Keeping your notes entirely digital not only unlocks the ability to search through them easily later on but will also make the next steps much simpler.
Bonus Tip: Record your meeting audio
This isn’t included as a full tip because it’s often easier said than done to record a meeting. Though automatically transcribing the audio after the meeting can be very useful and mitigate the amount of important information that slips through the cracks, you should always make sure that everyone is comfortable with the meeting being recorded, whether they are calling in remotely or in person. And unless you have a team culture of recording meetings for the sake of compliance or utility, it can be challenging to start every meeting off by asking people if it is okay to record them.
Tip #2: Use a template!
This is a simple tip that can pay dividends down the line. There isn’t much to explain but the main point is that you should find (or create!) a template for your meetings that you like, and stick to it for all of your meetings. You may also elect to have a slightly different template depending on what team you are meeting with, but once you settle on a template that works, you can both copy and paste consistent information between meetings, and always remember to fill out critical information.
We have an entire post dedicated to meeting templates that you can take a look at if you’d like some free options or ideas to get started.
Tip #3: Collaborate on your meeting notes
Collaborating on your meeting notes with team members can be difficult to get started but we’ve seen it work wonders not only for generating quality notes, but also for improving everyone’s understanding of the meeting’s subject material.
Collaborative notes can take a few forms, but the most common strategy is to create a meeting document either on a Google Doc or another real-time note-sharing service and ensure that all meeting attendees have access to edit the document. You can then add a few of the main agenda points before the meeting starts and let people take notes whenever they want to add something to the document.
This way, if you are unsure about something in your notes, simply place the question in the document with a question mark and an annotation and see if someone adds relevant information on their own, or wait until it makes sense to pose the question out loud during the meeting. Often times you won’t be the only one with this question, so it helps everyone out!
A potential roadblock you might face with getting everyone to collaborate on taking notes is that if you just share a blank sheet with everyone, people might not want to start, or won’t know where to start. This is another reason why maintaining a solid meeting template is such a good investment as it makes note-taking straightforward for everyone involved.
Tip #4: Link your notes to calendar invites
The final tip we’ll share here will help you manage and quickly find the notes from any meeting, before or afterwards. Simply take the document link from your collaborative or shared minutes from the previous tip and add it to the comments of the related meeting. This way, everyone who is invited to the meeting can just click on that link when the meeting begins and have direct access to the collaborative notes. Furthermore, this is a great way to crowdsource the agenda for a particular meeting as well.
A strategy that works well here is to write out the portion of the agenda that you know will be discussed and then ask your coworkers about adding in any items that they would also like to discuss or feel you have missed. You can then review the collective agenda before the meeting to have a more complete picture of what it is you will be discussing.
Adding the meeting minutes link to your calendar invites is also a great way to keep track of the notes themselves. Now, if you ever need to review some information discussed in that meeting you had two weeks ago, you can simply flip through your calendar and grab the link that way.
And there you have it! Follow a few tips that, once put into practice, can substantially improve both your meeting experience and productivity after the fact. You’ll always have the information that you need at your fingertips and so will your team members!
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