Productivity

September 2, 2021

How to Take Better Meeting Notes (+Templates)

Your meeting notes suck (all of ours do)

Imagine...you're at the home stretch of an hour-long meeting that should've been an email. You wrote down a few key short-hand meeting notes that need to be completed.

After wrapping up, you jump to the next meeting and do the same thing.

Wash...rinse...repeat.

You finally have a chance to come up for air and review your meeting notes for tasks/action items/next steps.

Questions pop-up in your mind:

  • What did I mean by this exactly?
  • When am I supposed to do have this done?
  • Who said they would handle this part?
  • On and on. Without the context of every conversation and rough short-hand meeting notes, you find yourself working to track down answers and burning time.

    "Dang - this hits too close to home - how can I fix it?"

    Table of Contents

    1. Meeting Notes or Meeting Minutes?
    2. How to Take Effective Notes
    3. Pre-Meeting Tips
    4. In-Meeting Tips
    5. Post-Meeting Tips
    6. Meeting Note Technology
    7. Meeting Note Template
    8. Tips for Taking Meeting Notes
    9. Meetings are Useless Without Quality Notes

    Meeting Notes or Meeting Minutes?

    Meetings are the most effective way to get every stakeholder in the same place to collaborate, make a decision, organize ideas, and share information. So why do most people hate them?

    Easy answer: most are meeting wrong. It's not just about getting people in the same room...it's what everyone does with the information discussed after that's important.

    Two effective ways of capturing meeting information:

    While these methods are similar in nature, they have different purposes.

    Meeting Notes:

    Your own personal takeaways from a meeting. They are quick references to goals, ideas, tasks, deadlines, next steps, etc.

    Meeting Minutes:

    A formal record of what happened in the meeting.

    Including:

    • Meeting date and start time
    • List of attendees and who wasn't there
    • Meeting agenda
    • Key items/topics covered in the meeting
    • Any actions taken or decisions made and who is responsible for them

    Minutes are structured and taken from one point-of-view. Notes add your context and ideas.

    How to take great meeting notes

    With note-taking, people fall on a scale from taking too many notes (verbatim) to never picking up the pen/typing anything.

    Decision between actually listening or writing down everything

    People who take too many notes are forced to select some portions of a conversation and miss others. While the people who take nothing down can miss...well, everything. Neither of these methods work well.

    The best note-takers fall right in the middle of this scale. You want to keep your notes as simple as possible but not at the cost of anything important.

    What to include in your simple, yet all-encompassing notes:

    Key points on the meeting agenda: start with a quick summary of every item covered and the outcomes from the discussion. Make these quick (less than 3 sentences).

    Action items/next steps: what work needs to happen after the meeting. Either assigned to you or someone on the team. Write the brief description, add who needs to complete it, and when it's due.

    Questions/Ideas/Follow-ups: note any additional thoughts or inspirations come to mind during/post meeting.

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    Pre-Meeting Tips

    The last thing you want to do is head into a meeting without a pre-game plan. This is a one-way ticket to a wasting of everyone's time and make you look unprepared and...dare I say it...unprofessional.

    Create a pre-game plan

    Map out a tentative agenda

    Meetings rarely go exactly as planned, even with an agenda. To make the best use of your time while preparing for every scenario, map out the following template:

  • What you should understand beforehand (the google-able stuff). What's been discussed before & what will be covered today.
  • People you will be meeting with. Their roles, goals, pain, etc.
  • Questions you need to ask. What do you need to find out?
  • Questions others may ask that you need to have an answer for. Not always accurate, but it will help prep you for most things thrown your way.
  • Create a personal meeting agenda template before the meeting. You don't need to reinvent the wheel here, just needs to work.

    Feel free to check out our meeting agenda template!

    In-Meeting Tips

    So the hardest work is done. You've gotten all the parties in one room, your pre-game plan mapped out, and your coffee re-filled...now it's time to execute.

    Tips to running a good meeting:

    1. Establish the agenda/outcomes for the meeting at the beginning.
    2. Always focus on the current discussion, not your next point.
    3. Don't write every meeting note. Take down main ideas or specific action items. Use an automated meeting note taker.
    4. Stick to the pregame questions/goals template as much as possible, but allow room for new/unexpected ideas that come up throughout the conversation.
    5. With ~5 minutes left in the scheduled time, stop the discussion there and establish next steps and re-affirm post-meeting action items.
    6. Make sure your notes are clear enough to share with team members who aren't in the meeting.
    7. Use Pickle to find the context of your meeting notes in every conversation and easily share them across the team.

    Post-Meeting Tips

    Meetings are designed to create action (not another meeting believe it or not).

    Your notes are completely useless if you don’t reference or share them afterward.

    1. Meeting Notes = Knowledge Management

    Meeting notes are crucial components of your teams knowledge.

    You need to keep them somewhere public and sharable with other teammates that weren’t in the meeting.

    Keep in mind: notes are usually written in a short-hand form that only makes sense to the originator. Being able to provide context to the note for anyone to understand its reference is crucial as well.

    More on how to do that in the Note Tech section.

    2. Turn action items into tasks to complete or delegate

    Every meeting should end with action items and next steps. Otherwise, why are you meeting in the first place?

    To complete action items, you need to break them down into bite sized tasks and complete or delegate to the appropriate teams.

    3. Share your meeting notes across the team

    Notes need to be communicated and shared in the optimal way for your team.

    Where do you share documents? Slack, Dropbox, Asana, or maybe even email (ew)? Share as soon as you can so they're still fresh in your head.

    *Beware*: be prepared for criticism if your meeting notes are short-handed to the point of a foreign language, or you misinterpreted something.

    Either write out the takeaways in complete thoughts or use a Smart Notes tool.

    Note Tech

    Note-taking has been around since well...the beginning of pen and paper.

    While everything else in society has been digitized, somehow the majority of us still rely on the written word to communicate conversations and ideas. Talk about ancient.

    Considering how important capturing moments and trying to not forget something is, you should probably invest in something more reliable.

    Your transformation into a note-taking ninja is connected to new technologies taking your meeting productivity to the next level.

    Tools like Pickle let you time-stamp every crucial moment in your meetings and provide easy access to review and share across the team.

    Pickle Smart Notes
    Pickle Smart Notes

    Free Meeting Note Template

    Download the Google Docs version here.

    Attendees

    • List of people in the meeting with you

    Meeting Agenda

    • Include important discussions and decisions that need to be made
    • Ex. Map out the target account strategy this month.

    Questions and Answers

    • Note any questions asked and answers given

    Action items

    • Here’s where you’ll list action items, who is responsible, and deadlines
    • e.g.: Taylor will compile list of stakeholders at account by next Friday

    Ideas/general notes

    • Ideas or thoughts that pop up during the conversation

    Now you have an idea of what goes into meeting notes. Let’s take a look at how you can take those notes work more effectively.

    Tips for Taking Meeting Notes

    1. Writing vs. Typing

    Taking better notes is just as much a science as it is an art.

    Advancements in tech have granted us serious new capability, but most people still prefer the tried and true method: pen and paper.

    As the saying goes -"old habits die hard." So let's compare:

    Writing

    There's merit to sticking with the old ways.

    Studies have shown handwriting is more effective for learning and long-term crystallization.

    It's crucial for students to take notes by hand to have concepts settle in.

    The drawback: most people try to read someone else's handwriting, and it reads like a foreign language. Chicken-scratch short-hand notes are almost impossible to share without having to explain every part.

    Typing

    Typing is more efficient and leads to less redundancy (transferring from page to your notes software). It's more effective in a professional meeting setting to take complete notes and easily share across the team.

    The drawback: You multitask when on a laptop, and it can be tough to stay focused. Slack/email/social media like to butt into your subconscious during important meetings.

    2. Pick the right method for your meetings

    Optimize your ability to capture the most important information and keep meetings on track by adopting a time-tested formula.

    Note taking methods. Cornell method vs.  the Quadrant method.
    Note Taking Methods

    Here's a couple leading options to try:

    Quadrants

    Simply break your paper or Word Document into 4 sections:

    1. Questions: everything that you need answered in the meeting.
    2. Notes: any thoughts, discussion points, or ideas that pop in your head.
    3. Personal Action Items: things you're responsible for delivering (tasks).
    4. Assign to Others: what everyone else needs to complete or any info you need to pass on.
    Quadrants note taking method template. How to take effective notes.

    The Cornell Method

    Start by splitting the page into two columns:

    Key points on the left, notes on the right.

    Use the bottom portion for a summary and action items.

    3. Stick to short-hand (don't write everything down!)

    Keep your meeting notes short. Think bullets, not novels.

    There's time to fill in more context after the meeting. If you try to capture everything without a note-taking tool, you will miss important info that will come back to bite later.

    4. Use codes to simplify further

    If you want to take short-hand to the next level, incorporate some basic codes!

    For example:

    • ⭐ = key moment/topic
    • ✅ = a task you or someone else committed to
    • ❓= questions you need an answer to
    • 🔢 = Use numbers to slot tasks in order of importance

    5. Record your meetings

    Capturing your meetings in a recording is the only way to ensure you have the ability to stay organized and never forget a thing.

    While this is a great benefit, it could create another issue: no one wants to sit through the same meeting twice by watching a recording.

    Have your cake and eat it too by using a meeting productivity tool.

    It will help you capture the meeting & take quick time-stamped notes throughout, so you can jump back those exact moments any time you want.

    Also makes it super easy to use the coding system above and share action items to other team members with context.

    6. Focus on the future

    You don't have to take every note. But be sure to focus on the action items/tasks that need to happen post-meeting and hone in on them.

    Remember: are my action items clear, concise, and consistent?

    Meetings Are Useless Without Quality Notes

    People are in 6.9 meetings a day, on average.  That's insane.

    Half the time those meetings end with...scheduling...another...meeting.

    With more focus on effective notes and follow up, we would eliminate the need for most of these useless additional meetings.

    The Pickle Squad is on a war path to help end useless meetings.

    We want to make you so freakin' productive you will need to pick up another hobby to fill in all your free time.

    If you're down to take your calendar and sanity back...Pickle will help cut down on your stress and help your team thrive.

    Try Pickle today!

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