Meeting Management

How to take meeting notes that help optimise your performance

While meetings are collective in nature, individual performance contributes a great deal to overall success. Meeting notes help you to optimise your performance in meetings, and this article explores how to take them effectively.

Robert Mitson
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Human beings are creatures of habit. What we make manifest in our routines determines a great deal in terms of our output. Despite the highly social nature of meetings, our behaviours and practices - such as taking meeting notes - during these points of overlap are instrumental in guaranteeing that our meetings deliver value. 

Ensuring that we have systems and processes in place to achieve is commonplace in all facets of our lives - both professional and personal. For example, we often keep to-do lists for more than just our work, and frequently rely on systems and processes to make sure that we complete simple tasks - such as waking up on time. 

When it comes to collaborating in the workplace, taking meeting notes is a vital system that we should all have in place. They help to provide a quick-reference guide for each meeting, and act as discourse markers in our work lives that can be referred back to at a later date. 

In this article, we explore the importance of meeting notes, before explaining how to take effective meeting notes so that you can optimise your individual performance in pursuit of collective success. 

What are meeting notes and why do they matter?

Meeting notes are an under-valued component of meeting productivity, and this needs to change. After all, meeting notes are the vehicle through which the contents of your meetings are communicated - both to yourself and others - beyond the confines of the meeting itself.

The best meeting notes are short and sweet, and provide a high-level overview of the story of a meeting. In this way, it is true that there are fundamental similarities between meeting minutes and meeting notes. Both are documents that record the goings on in meetings. 

The key distinctions between meeting minutes and meeting notes are as follows:

 

Meeting minutes Meeting notes Both meeting minutes and notes
For all participants For individuals mainly Provide a record of discussions, decisions, and actions. 
Formal More informal Give an overview of the time, date, title, location, and participants of a meeting. 
Structured More free flowing Help to ensure individual accountability over tasks and outcomes.

 

While meeting notes tend to be less structured and formal, they still need to have some structure, in order to ensure consistency and clarity. 

Meeting notes are vital to individual performance as they provide a clear overview of your role in projects and initiatives that are being driven forward in any given meeting. They also help you to understand the synergies between their role and the roles of others involved in the meeting process. By taking notes, you are able to keep track of discussions and the actions that arise from them, so that at a future date these can be referred back to. Over time, these meeting notes help to build a retrospective picture of the discourse of projects and initiatives that allows individuals to learn from mistakes and successes. 

If we think of meetings as a construction project, meeting minutes provide the blueprint for the overall project, whereas meeting notes provide the details of how an individual will contribute to the build, and provide a record of their experience during the project to help them to improve in the future.

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How to take meeting notes effectively 

So, now that we’re clear on what meeting notes are and why they are important, how do you take meeting notes effectively? 

While meeting notes are more free form than meeting minutes, it is still helpful to follow a structure that you can follow consistently. Here are six simple steps for taking meeting notes effectively:

1. Start with the meeting agenda

Thankfully, the contents of a well-run formal meeting shouldn’t be a surprise thanks to one document: The meeting agenda

As soon as the agenda for your meeting is finalised, the note-taking process can begin. You can either use the agenda itself as a starting point and annotate it, or you can use it to structure your meeting notes. From this, you should include: 

  • Time, date, title, and location of the meeting. 
  • Other meeting participants. 
  • Goals and objectives of the meeting and each agenda item. 


These details will prove invaluable when you refer back to your meeting notes at a later date, which is one of their primary functions, after all. 

2. Follow a clear structure 

While meeting notes are a space for personal reflection, reminders, and details, they should also be kept consistently. Your informal meeting notes should therefore be kept within the bounds of a consistent structure that allows you to read through the notes from previous meetings quickly and efficiently. 

For example, leaving space at the top of the page for the basic details of the meeting (time, date, location, title, and objectives) will help you to see at a glance when the meeting was and what it was about. It is also vital that you include any action items and follow-up initiatives very clearly in your meeting notes, so that you have ownership over delivering these and contributing to the outcomes of the meeting. 

3. Leave room for creativity 

As previously mentioned, your meeting notes should be less formal than the minutes from your meeting, and they are primarily for your benefit. This means that your notes are the perfect place to inject some creativity and let ideas flow. This could include scribbling thoughts and ideas down in a column at the side of each discussion point, or it could involve annotating your notes in a different colour after the meeting has concluded. This step is completely individual, and it is very important to find a way to express your individual creativity as your meetings progress. 

4. Use shorthand 

As your notes are for your eyes only, it is possible to put practices in place that save you time. Using shorthand, while it might not be understood by everyone (or anyone but you), will save you valuable time and avoid too much distraction from contributing to the meeting itself. 

5. Use a medium that suits you

Finally, format is important - but only to you. As your meeting notes should enhance your individual productivity, the medium that you choose should be the one that supports you the best. For many this will be taking physical notes that can be typed up at a later date, or could be direct annotations on the PDF meeting agenda or materials. Keeping your notes in a digital format is generally easier, ensuring that your notes are readily available, and eliminating the risk of losing them altogether. Whatever format you choose, it is important to be deliberate and consider the medium carefully.

6. Make time to write the up

An important step in taking meeting notes is consolidating your thoughts after the meeting has finished. Creating time in your calendar to write up your meeting notes, summarising the key ideas and, perhaps most importantly, solidifying your follow-up actions will help translate your participation in the meeting into real outcomes.

Level-up your meeting notes today 

The fact that meetings involve a range of people doesn’t reduce their individual need to be effective and committed to the overall success of meetings. Meeting notes are an essential tool for optimising individual performance amid the collective. 

By refining your own approach to taking meeting notes, you ensure that you are fully able to contribute - your place in the overall construction project is clear - and you should encourage your peers to do the same. What might, at first, appear obvious is actually far from it. By building effective meeting note taking into your daily habits, you will enhance your performance both during and after meetings, unlocking a new world of productivity for both you and your company. 

If you would like to learn more about meeting management and optimising your leadership meetings for success, stay connected with us.

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Robert Mitson
About the author
Robert is passionate about shaping and communicating value, and in his work as English Content Specialist he creates insight to help leaders across Europe to make every meeting count.