Effective Note Taking Skills: 4 Techniques To Use At Meetings

Category: Financial News
What are effective note-taking skills?
Effective note-taking skills involve pen and paper, first and foremost. Second, it is important to learn shorthand or visual note-taking. Highlighting key points during the meeting helps, too. Lastly, preparing a written report for yourself right after the meeting can help.

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 a 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. You could take notes with your laptop or mobile device with the trusty built-in notepad, which is a key office software.

Using devices for note-taking spells convenience. However, there are still some benefits to taking notes with pen and paper, as you’ll learn why below. In this article, we will discuss a few effective note-taking skills that you can apply immediately. These should help you focus better during meetings without failing to write down important matters being discussed or your own ideas.

note taking techniques

Importance of taking notes

Taking notes helps you remember

By taking notes by hand, you are forced to digest the information you encounter better. As a result, you can better remember what you have seen, read, or heard. This is backed by multiple experiments and research, such as the one conducted at Princeton University. In the experiment, researchers gave Ted talks to students and asked them to take notes. Half of the students took notes using laptops while the other half used pen and paper.

This showed the researchers that students who wrote by hand digested more information than their laptop-wielding counterparts. This happened because they had to engage with the information to better write summaries. While there was no difference in their ability to remember facts, the act of taking notes by hand enabled students to explain concepts in a more exceptional manner. If you’re an HR manager, consider checking equally qualified candidates for their note-taking skills. That can be the tie-breaker, especially when confronted by today’s HR challenges.

note taking benefits

Taking notes sharpens your focus

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.

Taking notes is your document of proof

Your notes can back you in case your coworker or boss raises doubts or questions about the items you 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.

Pinpoint side issues

Take note of problems 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 in delivering your sales team’s promotional materials next month.

4 Tips to Take Notes Effectively

Now that you know how your notes can help you, here are some points to remember if you are to take down notes effectively:

1.  Use pen and paper

Using pen and paper is less intrusive and easier to use. Using a tablet, mobile phone, 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, it’s recommended to turn off your phone to avoid receiving calls or texts during a meeting.

2. Learn shorthand

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 typing skills, shorthand is easy to learn with enough commitment. Here’s a piece of good advice on how to start learning shorthand fast.

If you don’t have the patience or time to learn shorthand (meeting is in three days), you can also practice mnemonics or visual note-taking.  It doesn’t have many rules in it, just a good dash of creativity. For example, instead of writing “task A is assigned to Rob,” you can simply 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.

3. Just highlight the key points

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 divide your notes ahead of time, 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.

4. Prepare a report right after the meeting

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 about the discussion arises. Besides, while visual notes are practical during the meeting, you might forget what those mnemonics and drawings stand for soon. However, if you are worried about making grammatical and syntactical errors, you can still rely on grammar checker software. You can find one built-in with your word processor, but there are standalone applications that have more powerful grammar, spelling, and syntax checking capabilities.

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.

What are the Best Tools for Effective Note-taking?

Above, we have discussed why it is still a good idea to jot down thoughts, ideas, and other things manually. But with smartphones, tablets, and computers, it is easy to set aside pen and paper and go digital instead when taking down notes. That is because it can be tiring to keep on writing, even when you use the shorthand technique. This issue is easy to remedy, however. And the first step you need to do is change your pen.

Most of us rely on ballpoint and rollerball pens to write. These make us exert pressure with our wrists that can, later on, lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. But with a fountain pen, you do not have to apply pressure because the ink flows smoothly.

Hold up, a fountain pen? Aren’t those expensive?

In the old days, they were, with brands like Parker, Waterman, and Montblanc. But there are now fountain pen makers that make the fountain pen accessible. And regardless of the price tag of the fountain pen, you can expect it to last for a long time, provided you care for it well.

Once you have a pen in hand, the next step would be to find the right paper. Not all kinds of paper are fountain pen-friendly, which can be frustrating. Still, a quick search on the internet can immediately point you to information that can help you choose. From that point on, it’s happy writing!

But if you find that taking notes on your devices work best for you, that’s fine, too. You can even improve your writing even as you type with writing enhancement software.


By Jenny Chang

Senior writer at FinancesOnline who writes about a wide range of SaaS and B2B products, including trends and issues on e-commerce, accounting and customer service software. She’s also covered a wide range of topics in business, science, and technology for websites in the U.S., Australia and Singapore, keeping tabs on edge tech like 3D printed health monitoring tattoos and SpaceX’s exploration plans.

Motor says:

I take notes on scrap paper. Once I don't need the notes anymore, I trash it. My boss uses a nice project management note book, that gives him a date and a record. I had a boss who used a thick spiral notebook.

When I take notes for a meeting presenter, I take a lot more notes because I'm noting the main topics and not just the topics that pertain to me. I also use my laptop. I type the notes into a Word document, proof read them after, and then send them to the meeting presenter to review.

It looks a lot like : Meeting, date, Persons present, Main topics discussed. Persons/locations those topics pertain too. Actions required, by who, and when due. Person who brought up a topic or point, and the information surrounding it in brief.

I have considered taking notes on my laptop in the place of my scrap paper, but in a past career path I was known for being a "gotcha" person due to my email archive and extensive arsenal of notes. I've decided perhaps relationships are more useful to me than fear and being right. Although it was finance, and the boss valued it, so there is a time and a place for different personas and strategies. Currently I'm in a 3PL situation where relationship and cooperation is more important than always bringing up what exactly was said and when and who took responsibility.

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