Taking notes effectively is a skill you can bring with you as you climb up from an entry-level job to the dream executive position. Even if you have a secretary or an assistant to push pencil for you, at some point, you will need to take notes. For example, when you’re abroad attending an important conference or in an impromptu meeting with a client outside of the office.
We’ll give you a few easy tips on taking notes effectively, but first here’s why you need to master this fundamental career skill, if you haven’t yet.
Unless you have the memory bank of a super computer, you need to take down notes to remember things. Even if you’re good at memorizing stuff, taking notes will relieve the mind of that extra task of recalling things at the office. This is useful especially if you have other important things to juggle that are on your mind, such as the housing repair or your child’s schooling.
If someone is already taking the minutes for the meeting, shouldn’t you just sit down and talk and listen? Not really. Taking notes helps sharpens your focus on the key points of the meeting. Besides, while the minutes include more details of the discussion, your personal notes can focus on the most pressing issues that directly concern you.
Your notes can back you in case your coworker or boss raises doubts or questions about the items you’ve discussed a week ago. If you’ve taken down notes properly, you can even show enough details about the agreement or discussion that is sure to silence the doubts.
Take note of issues afflicting other departments that can affect your work; issues that you might forget—it’s not happening in your department, after all—or missed had you been listening passively. For example, you heard that the advertising team has just lost a copywriter; you could take note of this as a possible cause for delay to deliver your sales team’s promotional materials next month.
Now that you know how your notes can help you, here are some points to remember if you are to take down notes effectively:
Using pen and paper is less intrusive and easier to use. Using a tablet, notepad or laptop while taking notes can create a wall between you and the person talking. These devices make it look like you’re working on something else or chatting with someone even if you’re not. And it’s easier to get distracted with all those browsing and other files in your device. It may be a generational thing, but outside of tech companies, using pen and paper is still the accepted corporate practice when taking down notes. Call it nostalgia, but there is more eye contact when you use pen and paper. Incidentally, about using your phone to take down notes, it’s recommended to turn it off to avoid receiving calls or texts during the meeting.
It’s not just for court clerks or secretaries. Shorthand is still relevant especially when you’re listening to a speaker who talks fast (try using a tablet for that). It may appear daunting at first, but like learning typewriting skill, shorthand is easy to learn with enough commitment. Here’s a good advice on how to start learning shorthand fast.
If you don’t have the patience or time to learn shorthand (meeting is on three days) you can also practice mnemonics or visual note-taking. It doesn’t have much rules in it, just a good dash of creativity. For example, instead of writing “task A is assigned to Rob,” you can just use an arrow pointing task A to Rob. Instead of writing “important” just use an exclamation mark. Visualizing or drawing thoughts instead of writing them is faster; just make sure the illustration makes sense to you.
Plot the outline of your notes even before the meeting starts. A good starting point is to check the meeting’s agenda. Ask the secretary or your boss for a copy so you can already divide your notes according to the agenda’s main points even before the meeting starts. As the meeting rolls on, just fill in the important notes under each of the main points.
Don’t wait for the day to pass after the meeting. Prepare a written report based on your notes right away while everything is still fresh in your mind. Even if you’re not tasked to submit a formal report, you can use this document for your personal archive or as a proof in case a conflict arises about the discussion. Besides, while the visual notes are practical during the meeting, you might forget what those mnemonics and drawings stand for soon.
Taking notes effectively is a basic skill that you should learn whatever level your career is in now. Learn it and you’ll find it useful wherever your career takes you.
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