Improve The Quality Of Your Meetings
By Improving Your Note-Taking Abilities
“Just a sec, let me write this down so I don’t forget”. Sounds familiar? Irritating, maybe? This is how you avoid it.
Not all that happens during a meeting is about negotiations, tactics, budgets and sales techniques. Etiquette plays a big part in what goes down. There are plenty factors to take into consideration, amongst which culture is probably the most important one. However, there’s one thing everybody hates (and everybody forgets addressing) - unnecessary interruptions. But not without reason - we’re all guilty of them, so, despite the discomfort, we do our best to ignore them, recognizing them as not only our partner’s faults, but our own as well.
If you were to walk each morning through a tight corridor, bumping into everyone along the way - and having them bump into you, what would it feel like when someone passed you by without touching you at all? Would you remember that? Would you pay more attention to them next time you saw them? I know I would.
And that’s precisely what happens when you can take notes without disrupting the flow of the conversation. Now, don’t get me wrong - if it serves a purpose, breaking the rhythm of a discussion can be a good thing - for instance, changing the direction in which a talk is going can be far easier after a short break. But it should be a choice you can make.
Am I saying good note-taking is a means of empowerment? Yes, I do believe it is.
The Devil’s In The Details
Do your notepads/ word drafts look like an excerpt from Dune? If so, you might be writing too much.
The main issue with this is the mindset - you’re not taking notes for yourself when you’re writing everything down. Think back to your college years - did you scribble some words/concepts on your pad or did you type every single word the professor recited? I’ll go on a limb and say the former.
So, why is a meeting any different? You should take notes for yourself. Think about what’s really important and focus on that. Chicken scratch, shorthand writing works best - because you’re going to rework all of it into a follow-up anyway. Save time when you’re face to face with someone important, because live questions are more readily answered than emailed questions. Even if there are no questions to be asked, it’s better to have told someone a joke than have them wait 30 seconds for you to quote them on paper/digitally. It builds rapport.
The simplest two ways to reduce your written verbosity are:
- Using a mind map
Mind Maps are awesome because they do away with connectors and they’re visual. You can show what leads to what, how things are related by drawing squiggly lines between concepts. Just don’t use colours, it will look as if you’re idly doodling.
- Using symbols
What I’ve always liked about maths is the simplicity and the speed with which information is present. One symbol for the concept of “existence” - . One symbol for “belonging” - . You can use these symbols, or others like them, to reduce whole words to 1 character. This will render your notes illegible to most, but since they’re designed for your use, who cares?
Then there’s the SmartWisdom way, but I find it a bit too difficult to learn. It’s worth a look, though.
What’s In A Note?
We take notes so that we remember… but what exactly do we need to remember?
During my research for this article, I stumbled upon a journaling technique that you might find useful. Or not. But, regardless of that, it reminded me that we only have 3 main things we have to remember after any meeting:
- Due Events
- Due Tasks (we call these Next Steps)
- Opinions/Important Details
The Bullet Journal is aimed at optimizing your time around these 3 elements. And even though it doesn’t fully apply to a meeting, you can still take away the concept of simplifying what needs to be remembered and using category markers for extra speed and clarity. Have a look at the video below and we’ll see, after you’ve watched it, how you could write even faster.
The Fastest Way To Take Notes Is Not Taking Any
That headline is a trap. Of course notes need to be taken. Just not by you. If you can, have someone be your assistant for the meeting and write down as much as they can. If they’re not involved in the decision making or the negotiations, it’s the perfect solution.
If not, there’s still hope - don’t take notes when you’re being spoken to. Talk to your peers and arrange that, when one of you is actively engaging in a conversation, another one will be his note-taker. You can then compare and corroborate notes for an exhaustive and complete follow-up email.
Second-Fastest Way? The Analog Way.
You type faster than you write. That’s true. But you can draw faster with a pencil than with a mouse. You can insert symbols faster. You can write without looking at the screen or at the keyboard. However, if you prefer typing… choose a word processor with autocomplete features (text expansion) - like PhraseExpress for Windows, TextExpander for Mac or Autokey for Linux. If you’re a bit more technical, you can use Notepad++’s Autocomplete feature and define your own keywords and phrases.
Most Important of All - The Prep-Work.
Meetings are not pop-quizzes. You know what is to be discussed. So, what you can do is plot-out everything that needs to be discussed. Write down everything that you believe will be discussed, regardless of urgency. Do a bit of research on the most important topics and familiarize yourself with the words and concepts that are going to be used. Write them down a couple of times, by hand. This will increase your speed by removing mental processing delays.
To Sum Up:
- Only jot down the big points
- Have someone dedicated to taking detailed notes
- Favour symbols instead of full words
- Take Visual Notes/ Make Mind Maps
- Gather notes from all your team members
- Have all team members write down what is being discussed when they're not actively involved (speaking/showing/explaining)
- Do not take notes when being addressed
- Take time to mentally prepare