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Jan 8, 2013 by Patrick Icasas in Project Management 101 & Tools

The Art of Taking Notes

While the modern meeting is usually portrayed as long, boring, and mostly unproductive, it does serve a very concrete purpose—a discussion of ideas and plans that will affect how the organization works. The most important aspects of these discussions will have to be recorded, either for your use, or for dissemination to the rest of your team. As such, you’ll have to get very good at taking notes.

Picking the Right Recording Tool

The first thing you need to do is find a suitable method of taking notes. The two primary options for doing so are via pen and paper, or via computer. Which option to take really depends on you. Some people write too slowly to be able to keep up with a meeting, even if they use shorthand. But then others consider a computer to be too impersonal and rude, seeing it as a wall between you and the rest of the meeting attendees.

Whatever you opt for, you have to make sure that you’re a fast enough writer/typist to be able to keep up. Automatically assume nobody at the meeting will want to repeat themselves.

Pick What to Note Down

There’s going to be a lot of points to be discussed during the meeting, even if only about 20% of them are actually useful. That said, you can’t afford to miss anything important, or get any of it wrong. That’s why you have to pick and choose what to write down, and what to discard.

Here are the three most important items you should be taking note of:
1. Decisions
2. Action Items/Tasks
3. Follow-ups

Everything else is secondary to the discussion. Only note talking points if they have some bearing on the above list.

Organize Your Notes Later, But Do It ASAP

Conversations never flow in a logical manner, especially group conversations. People will jump back and forth between topics at seemingly random times, and wreak havoc upon your attempts at taking finely outlined notes.

Advice? Give up. Take notes as items are discussed, without paying any attention to formatting or structure or what not. Then, after the meeting is done, stick around in the boardroom or jump straight to your desk and then reorganize them while your memory is still fresh (and while you can still ask other people to clarify/remind you).

They’re Not Just For You

You may be the one who attended the meeting and took notes, but these notes aren’t just for your benefit. Your team will probably need to know much of the information you recorded—in addition to any meeting minutes you’ll have to give to the rest of the attendees.

This is where your writing skills come into play. You’ll have to draft a minutes document that is organized, concise, and detailed. Don’t worry if your first attempts turn out badly—you’ll get better the more you practice!

Image credit: Jacob Botter, Flickr

patrick-icasas
Patrick Icasas

Patrick Icasas is a former marketing project manager with 7 years of marketing and PR agency experience, managing creative projects for brands such as Nokia, Verizon Wireless, and Adobe. He now spends his time helping people make the most out of their project management software and entertaining his 5 year old daughter.

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