4 Smart Ways to Take Useful Notes in Meetings

Krista Gray
August 16, 2018

There is nothing worse than leaving a meeting, a conference call or a collaboration session and not being able to remember all of the things you said you’d do. Needless to say, learning how to take truly useful notes in meetings can transform your ability to do your job well. Since it’s probably been a hot minute since you had to study up in school, we put together a list of four smart ways to improve your note-taking game in no time.

1. Be prepared. It’s never a good idea to go into a meeting without knowing why you need to be there, so do your best to brush up on any agenda, topics, or goals beforehand. This way, you can better anticipate the questions you’ll want to ask or the specific info you’ll want to listen for. Whether you decide to take your notes on paper or a computer might vary based on why you’re invited to the meeting. For quick information you’ll want to email around anyway, digital notes might be the best way to go. For topics you’ll want to study later, you may want to opt to go the written route as writing things down has been proven to help with retention.

2. Keep it short. Concise notes are easier to read later on and taking short notes will help you get in the habit of jotting down only the most important things. Having trouble distilling a jumbled mess of info into memorizable chunks? The Cornell Notes Method is an easy and effective way to organize and streamline your written notes. To try it, separate your page into two columns and use one for general notes about the meeting topics and one for specific keywords that will help you remember it later. Then, review your notes within 24 hours and write a brief summary of what was covered at the bottom of the page. You’ll love having a readable but detailed record you can rely on later (especially when you find yourself feeling sleepy after a delicious, catered lunch).

3. Make it Colorful. Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a New York-based neuropsychologist and teacher at Columbia University, advocates for highlighting important points. “When we create our own notes, we listen and then process the information before we write or highlight,” she explains. Try incorporating some color by writing different types of notes (such as agenda-related items or HR to-do tasks) on colored index cards that you can pull out when your memory fails you — even better if your colored cards correspond with your digital calendar, Asana, or Trello dashboard to jog your memory.

4. Put it in your own terms. Relating new information back to something you already know has proven to help people learn and retain more. Unless you need to capture exact quotes or publicly share your notes later, feel free to relate concepts or tasks to anything that already makes sense to you. The same goes for the language you use in your personal notes — give yourself the green light to translate what you hear or read into your own speak as you go so it rings a bell later.

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