Taking efficient meeting notes may sound like a no-brainer, but how often have you referred back to previous notes that now don’t make sense.
It’s not always an easy task. Many don’t think about the consequences of missing a critical element that could be essential information to share with others or act upon yourself. No matter how daunting this task is, for most, it’s a necessary part of life.

Whether it’s a company meeting, addressing your staff, or meeting with a client who depends on you to take accurate action notes to execute in the future, you should take note-taking seriously.

To follow is some advice about taking reliable meeting notes without frustration.

Get Organized and Plan Ahead

Many meetings are a continuation of the meeting before that (i.e., monthly board meeting or weekly staff meeting). When that’s the case, you most likely don’t realize you will have the elements to set yourself up for success BEFORE the meeting begins.

Before the Meeting

When you have an organized meeting facilitator, they will email the agenda and minutes in advance. If this is the case, then you have the opportunity to set up your notes in an organized fashion. When possible, request a document you can edit. You can then load it onto your laptop and enter your notes directly into the agenda. No laptop? Create a document in advance that includes the agenda items and leave space for handwritten notes. Either way, you’re taking notes in order of discussion and won’t need to enter the topic as it’s already there.

During the Meeting

Unless you’re “on-call” for a client or someone from leadership, turn off your phone. A buzzing phone is one of the biggest distractions and could lend to taking poor notes and make you appear unprofessional to your colleagues. When you’re in the meeting, truly be there, no matter how boring or uneventful.

It’s unnecessary to write down everything verbatim, but separating relevant and “fluff” is essential. For instance, you don’t need to include hearsay – stick to the facts. If you are not sure of something being discussed, ask for further clarification. Of course, if it’s been explained repeatedly during other meetings, and you’re still unsure, it’s best to take it offline and ask someone you trust so you don’t give the impression of not paying attention.

For critical points that need more focus, underline those notes so you remember it’s important later. Try sticking to precise individual bulleted lines so it’s easier to decipher later. And, one of the biggest things to remember is to write legibly (if handwritten). The worst scenario is going back to your notes and not understand a word you wrote.

After Meeting Follow-up

Once you finish with your meeting, now is the time to ensure your notes are cohesive. If you can, plan your schedule to have at least an hour following the meeting to debrief. With this best practice, you’ll find that your notes will be more accurate as the content will be fresh on your mind. Now is also the time to ask a colleague to fill in the gaps if you feel you missed something, especially if it involves an action item that is your responsibility. Asking for clarification is normal and demonstrates you want to get it right. And, you won’t be stressing about being prepared for a subsequent meeting.

If you take handwritten notes, take the time to transcribe them into a document. If you wait until shortly before the next meeting, you’re bound to miss something as the content won’t be top-of-mind. However, if you take accurate notes, this will be less of an issue.

Note-taking doesn’t need to be something you dread, and if you follow some of the suggestions above, you’ll be more accurate, prepared, and an active attendee in important meetings.